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Washington \ Apex Gold Mine Railroad

Apex Gold Mine Railroad.

By John A. Taubeneck

W   hile Washington isn’t known for its mining railroads it did indeed have several interesting roads of this type. One of these was owned by the Apex Gold Mining Co. located on Money Creek just west of Skykomish in eastern King County. Like many of its kind this road was steep, short, and unprofitable. Hard rock mining in Washington tended to extract more money from the investors than from the ground.

The Apex was located in 1892 by Alex McCartney who cut a trail to the mine and managed to pack out 400 tons of ore over the next couple of years. In 1897 McCartney sold out to John F. Stevens (of Steavens Pass and Panama Canal fame) and John Malony, both civil engineers with the Great Northern Railroad. Under their ownership 2000’ of tunnel was driven and enough ore was extracted to keep interest up.

In June 1903 the mine was sold again to Abner Griffin, A. L. Chambers, and Alex McCartney for the sum of $25,000. These men managed to talk King County into starting construction on six miles of wagon road to their mine. After expending $2900 the county put a halt to work on the road and left $8000 owing to the 95 workers. This debt was shouldered by the mining company and as they had no money to pay the men off they had to keep them employed. At this point Chambers and McCartney sold their shares to Griffin who was left holding the bag.

Down but not out Griffin kept going with his pack teams bringing from one to one and a half tons of ore down to the railroad each day. When a carload was ready it was shipped to the Tacoma smelter where it realized from $1000 to $1300 profit. By this time the company was $38,000 in debt and no one would take Griffin’s checks. A stockholder’s meeting was called and it was decided to pay out half of the income from the ore sales as a dividend on the stock which over night turned the Apex from a money pit into a glory hole. Within fifteen days of the dividend payment the stock price had tripled and $8000 had been raised.

On May 8, 1906 a forest fire swept through the village of Berlin reducing it to ash. Among the casualties was the Apex ore bunker with a loss of $7000. By the end of 1906 a Pelton wheel had been installed on Money Creek to power an ore concentrator, electric light plant, and saw mill. The wagon road had been completed to the mine and two miles of 36” gauge railroad was in place with enough rail on hand to build another three miles. A cable tram carried the ore from the mine to the end of the wagon road 1000 feet below. Shipments to the smelter continued by January of 1907. The total expenditure to this time was about $150,000.

With the completion of the ore mill sacked concentrates were shipped out rather than bulk ore. As the railroad inched its way up Money Creek from Berlin Station on the GN horses were used as motive power on the way up and gravity for the return trip. By the end of 1907 4.5 miles were in place. Despite bright promises it wasn’t until 1909 that the rails reached the mine six miles above Berlin. All during the construction there had been much grousing in the press by Griffin that the GN was going to get much business from this line but wouldn’t help pay for it.

With the railroad completed it was decided to order a 20-ton Shay from Lima and an unidentified gasoline locomotive. The gas loco was reported in route from the East in February 1910 but was never mentioned again. On April 30th the Shay (C/N 2300) was shipped from Ohio. Exactly when it arrived is unrecorded but on the afternoon of June 22nd engineer Robert Griffin and fireman Philip Bike took her out for a test run. Accounts are not clear but it appears the locomotive stalled or lost traction on a steep grade three miles up the line then the brakes failed to work. Griffin was killed in the wreck and Bike was badly scalded but it was thought he would live. This description of the wrecked locomotive was written in March 1913:

“The condition of the engine I found to be rather discouraging, as it had been wrecked and rather seriously injured. The cab was entirely demolished, many of the controlling leavers bent or torn off, the cylinders had all the small piping and trimming broken and torn off, and the steam dome appeared to be loose. The shell surrounding the boiler was forced out of place and needs a good deal of repairing.”

A rosy report in July 11, 1910 made no mention of the wrecked locomotive. It did mention that cars were being hauled up to the mine by a horse and let down by gravity. The mine closed not too long after this. By 1911 the stock price had fallen from $.17 to $.09 asking with 4 cents a share offered. In December the company filed for receivership and was denied. They were ordered to pay 20% of the labor claims at once and 30% within ten days. The Shay was sold to the Alaska-Gastineau Mining Co. of Juneau, AK in March 1913 for $8001, where is as is. A crew of men and a steam donkey were hired to get the Shay onto sleds then to move it down the road to Berlin. This was complicated by four to ten feet of snow on the road, continuing snow storms and drunkenness among the crew. After the engine reached Berlin early in May it was loaded onto the railroad then repaired at the Hofius shop in Seattle where it was found to be in better shape than first thought. On June 26th the locomotive was shipped to Juneau for use constructing the Salmon Creek Dam. When that job was finished the Shay was sold to the W. R. Hawthorn Log. Co. of Grapeview, WA in May 1916 for $2000.

On July 1, 1913 Abner Griffin was arrested in Laporte, IN on charges of obtaining money under false pretenses involving the sale of stock and bonds of the Apex Mining Co. These charges were eventually dropped. A receiver was finally appointed in August 1913. In November Griffin and others were brought to court in Seattle to account for the funds resulting from the sale of $500,000 worth of stock, $50,000 allegedly taken from the mine and $200,000 in first mortgage bonds. On March 12, 1914 the bondholders asked the court to foreclose on the mortgage.

The mine sat idle until it was leased by William J. Priestly in 1917. Sometime later Priestly purchased it. In September 1918 an ad was placed for a man or boy to drive a horse on the railroad for $75 a month. Priestly continued working the mine as a cottage industry using a gas speeder and later a Bulldog Mack* dump truck on the railroad. By the late 30’s a white horse was used to pull one empty four-wheeled car up to the mine. When the car was loaded it was allowed to roll back to Berlin with only a board against one wheel for brakes, the horse following at its own pace. By 1937 the state had decided to build a road up the Tolt River and down Money Creek. As part of this project Preiestly’s railroad right of way was acquired and the rails removed. The mine was closed in 1943 with a total production of about $300,000.

If you visit Money Creek today there is little left to see of all this activity. Construction of the road and later changes have removed all traces of the railroad. Berlin had its name changed to Miller River in May 1917 due to anti-German sentiment. The village has slowly returned to the forest. Still, this is a great day trip into the Cascades. Take Highway 2 to the Money Creek Camp Ground exit then follow the old road to the Money Creek road on the right. This is a good gravel road that will take you almost to the mine.

Revised: August 7, 2017.
1. Lima quoted a new locomotive fob the factory at $2885 crated for export. Another quote was $2700 at Seattle but not crated.

Reference Data Available Online:


Locomotive Roster

Historic References.

The metal mines of Washington By Ernest Newton Patty, Washington Geological Survey.
Description of the Miller River mining area and the Apex Mine includes a photograph of the lower tram house and a diagram of the mine.

Mining and engineering world, Volume 27 1907 #18 Published by Mining World Company, Chicago.
Brief mention of mine holdings and construction of the railroad.

Agricultural, Manufacturing and Commercial Resources and Capabilities of Washington, 1901.
Brief early mention of mining at Apex.

Washington \ Apex Gold Mine Railroad
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