Wind River Basin


From Wyoming Tales and Trails

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This page: Dubois continued, Tie Hacks, Togwotee Pass

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Table of Contents
About This Site

"Tie Hack Memorial," Togwotee Pass, 2013. Photo by Geoff Dobson.

On the base of the Memorial, constructed by the Wyoming Tie & Timber Company in 1948, is a plaque:



At one time, Wyoming was the principal source of railroad ties in the United States. The tie areas of the State were mainly in the Medicine Bows which supplied ties for the Union Pacific, The Big Horns which provided ties for the Burlington System and the Northern Pacific, Upper Green River which also provided ties for the Union Pacific, and the Wind River which provided ties for the Chicago and North Western. For discussion of the tie industry in the Medicine Bows see Encampment and in the Big Horns, see Ranchester.

In 1914, the Wyoming Tie & Timber Company began cutting railroad ties in the Togwotee Pass. Ties were also cut in Union Pass where the remains of some of the old log flumes may still be seen. The ties would be floated down the Wind River to Riverton for use on the Chicago and Northwestern. Tie Hacking in Wyoming, however, dates back to the coming of the Union Pacific in 1868 when tie hack camps sprang up in the Medicine Bow Mountains to serve the Railroad. At the beginning of the 20th Century, tie hack camps were located in the Big Horn and Wind River Mountains. Tie camps all bore a similar structure. There was a headquarters camp which included a commissary, possibly a small school, provision for mail and housing. The headquarters camp for the Wyoming Tie & timber Company was at DuNoir near the present site of the Brooks Lake Lodge. Out in the woods there would be smaller subordinate camps.

Ties being moved on come-along.

In the beginning, the ties were all cut by hand. Tree would be felled with a two-man cross cut saw. A tie hack would then cut off the limbs. The trunk be notched with a double bitted axe ever eight fees. The trunk would then be scored on two sides. Using a broak axe, the tie would be shaped to a thickness of seven to seven and one-half inches, flat on two sides. The timber would then be cut into eight foot lenghts. This was mostly done by eye.

Pushing ties into river near Dubois.

The ties would then be stacked, twenty-five ties to a pile, five wide and five high. Using a "come-along" the piles would be moved to the edge of the river or a flume to be floated in the Spring when the water was deep and fast moving with the snow melt to the mill. The mill serving Wind River was in Riverton.

Tie Hacks near Dubois.

Some of the hacks escorted the ties down river to Riverton on what was known as the "Long Walk". Their job, was the dangerous task of pushing the ties along and clearing tie jams.

Spring Tie Drive, Washakie National Forest, 1924.

Clearing a tie Jam on the Wind River.

The tie hacks were necessarily brawny. A green tie might weigh as much as 150 pounds. Many were Scandinavian. One of the tie hacks, Albert Wickstrom known as the "Big Swede," was the former wrestling champion of Sweden. A challenge of a wrestling match between Hugh Livingston and Wickstrom was made for Thanksgiving day, 1916. but most of the time, winter entertainment consisted of drinking and gambling. Thus, throughout prohibition, the Dubois remained pretty much open. The bars continued with gambling, and even the drugstore had slots. In the winter, the tie camps were cut off and access to town was by skiing. The tie camp commissary did not sell alcohol. Thus, some of the hacks made their own hootch using dried fruit boiled in a pressure cooker hooked up to copper tubing as a condenser. Booze made with prunes could have a laxative effect Some would drink vanilla extract. Earl Easterday, a Tie Hack in the late 1930's, recalled, "At one time there they sold more vanilla up there in the tie camp than all the rest of the county put together."

[Writer's personal note, when I was in college, one summer I sold Watkins Products, famous for its vanilla extract, double strength. I sold more vanilla that the rest of the Watkins line of spices put together. Maybe I was naive, but I genuinely believed it was used in baking. My mother-in-law was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and, thus, always used imitation vanilla which had no alcohol in her baking. Meanwhile, out back in a small barn, my father-in-law, a former prohibition officer, would make his own wine. One day during the holiday season, my wife's Aunt Rose and Uncle Douglas came to the house bearing some home made egg nog. My mother-in-law was reassured by Uncle Douglas that the rum flavor was purely imitation. Thus, my mother-in-law was persuaded to try some. She declared it to be the best egg nog she had ever had. Somehow, I have the impression that the flavoring was not really imitation.]

Teton Lumber Mill, Dubois

The last of the major lumber mills in Dubois closed down in 1987

With the end of timbering in 1987, jobs were lost and the population actually declined from its peak in 1980 of over 1,000 to less than 900 in 1990. Indeed, in one sermon, the rector of St. Thomas, The Rev. Lynn E. Cunningham, lamented the hardships that had been visited upon the town, the Outlaw Saloon, and the liquor store:

There are unsettling realities about this town. Dubois in effect makes its living by being a great place to get away to, particularly for summer residents. But there is precious little economic base for the town. The town has no economic taproot, as it used to. There is no longer a lumber mill and industrial logging. The ranching economy is much reduced. Not much manufacturing goes on here, although Dubois is lucky to be spared the kind of coal and natural gas boom development that is overwhelming some of our sister towns, such as Pinedale and Gillette.July 8, 2007

The Reverend Cunningham continued, "A look at the local real estate listings is revealing of the hard times: most of the major, local, retail buildings are up for sale, including the Outlaw Saloon, the Merc, Absaroka Western Designs, Daylight Donuts, the Country Store, and others." He noted his concern over the condition of the Opp Shop and the liquor store.

Outlaw Saloon, 2006.

The loss of population and the town's dependence upon tourism has made the road over Togwotee pass even more critical. Even after paving, however, the road remained narrow and subject in some areas to landslides and in the winter to avalanches. With the change in the economy, some residents find it necessary to travel over the pass twice a day to Jackson for employment. Snow may be found as late as June.

Togwotee Pass, approx. 1952.

The Pass was named after a Shoshoni guide Togwotee ("Lance Thrower") by military surveyor William Albert Jones (1841-1914) who laid out a military road through the pass.

Togwotee Pass,Winter, undated.

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