It's fair to say that steamships, railroads, coal mining and the timber industry provided the foundation for building the northwest into the powerhouse economy we have today. The common ingredient during their hay days in the late 19th and early 20th century - they all relied on equipment powered by steam. Where did this equipment come from? Most parts and equipment were supplied by manufacturing companies based in the Midwest. The exception, focused on building anything powered by steam, was Willamette Iron & Steel Works based in Portland Oregon. Open for business all the way back in 1865, Willamette got its start building and repairing steamships for the burgeoning shipping business. As the country entered both World War I and World War II, Willamette was there to fill a need for minesweepers, patrol craft, submarine chasers and small lighters. Willamette built over 72 ships during WWII alone.
Midwest manufacturers of railroad locomotives were slow to fill the unique needs of the northwest timber industry Willamette stepped in and designed and built it's version of an improved Shay locomotive for use by northwest logging companies. Who was king of building steam donkeys used to power log yarding and loading? Between 1901 and 1931, Willamette built over 2,500 steam donkeys, filling the need as only a local northwest based company could do.
Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Estelle Hall collection, 1917 - 1927
The photo above shows a donkey engine purchased from Willamette by Merrill and Ring Logging Company in Clallam County. Notice how big it is. A Willamette 12 x 14 compound yarder like the unit shown above had as much or more straight ahead pulling power than the biggest 13 x 18 donkey then being built.
What happened to the company? Remarkably, despite the end of an era for steam power, Willamette found a way to continue to survive before finally closing in 1990. One of its last products manufactured - fire hydrants. 135 years is a long time to remain in a heavy manufacturing business. A whole lot of change during that time.