Willows and the Haines Cutoff

Chet Smith, Baker City, Oregon

When I was really young, the present highway to Haines didn't exist. You drove west out of town on Pocahontas Road to Wingville and on north coming into Haines on the west side of the railroad tracks. That route avoided the swampy middle of the valley. Then the state built the │Haines Cutoff,▓ the more direct route we have today.

Construction of the cutoff must have been a little before 1920, because the gravel for the new road came from a gravel pit on 10th St., now the site of Byron Henry's shop and lot west of Bulldog Stadium. I remember that right after WW I barricades, posts, and barbed wire were set up around the gravel pit, where an early model Army tank put on an exhibition showing the kind of obstacle course it could maneuver through.

About 1920, either Lion's Club or Kiwanis Club drove willow posts at measured intervals into the shoulders along both sides of the road. Since the area between Pocahontas Road and Chandler Lane is pretty swampy, almost all of the driven posts took root and grew rapidly. Soon they were growing out over the road causing the highway department and the power company to spent a lot of money keeping them trimmed.

It was never like driving through a tunnel, but there used to be a lot more willow trees between Baker and Haines. We╣ve lost a lot to the highway department, power company, dry rot, and accidents. I know of at least five times when trees have been involved in fatal accidents. Very few have hit the trees and walked away. One was a suicide ride.

The old gravel pit on 10th St. doesn╣t exist anymore. After WW II, local real estate agent Al Ullman, who later was a Representative to Congress from Oregon, acquired the gravel pit and filled it with sawdust from Tony Brandenthaler's sawmill. The sawdust fill limits the size of structures that can be placed on much of the lot.

Today the Haines cutoff is well-maintained asphalt with center and fog lines. For the first ten years or more after the road was built, every spring it broke up into huge frost heaves and became very difficult to travel. After spending much money and materials, they finally got it stabilized. We used to ride bikes to Radium on the new cutoff. I think the surface was oiled gravel. I don't remember that it had any yellow center line.


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