Let’s Talk About: Spruce Trail in Clallam County

Today:  The Spruce Railroad Trail is a 4-mile paved walking/biking trail along the north shore of Lake Crescent in Clallam County, just a few miles west of Port Angeles. It’s now part of the 134-mile Olympic Discovery Trail and hundreds walk this trail regularly. 

History:  Built near the end of World War I, the Spruce Production Division was organized to build a railroad line to transport spruce wood from the western Olympic Peninsula to the nearby lumber mills and ultimately to aircraft manufacturing plants in the east. The railroad was completed in 1919, a year too late for its intended purpose; it was abandoned in 1951.

Why spruce wood? And why Clallam County?

Spruce wood was the best for constructing airplanes………. and remember that World War I era planes were made of wood………..for it would not splinter, shatter or snap. And it was light and strong, perfect for the job.  

Demand for aircraft in Europe during World War I soared. The Aircraft Production Products Board of the U.S. wanted 3,000,000 board feet of lumber per month

(Here is a pix of 7,000,000 board feet……. it’s a wonder there are any spruce trees left!)

Sitka spruce was the ideal wood and was found mainly in WA, OR, CA and Alaska. The largest source was in Clallam County.  Harvesting of the wood began in July 1918 and provided all sorts of jobs, especially loggers and lumbermen. By the end of the war, nearly 100,000 people worked harvesting spruce wood for warplanes but the need was gone by the time the project was fully underway. The day after the armistice was signed (12 Nov 1918) the Spruce Production Division shut down and the many workers went home to find other jobs. 

The project cost $10,000,000 and did produce 88,000,000 board feet of wood which was enough to manufacture 12,000 warplanes. 

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