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Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!

Yellowstone Trail Teapot Station & Old Bridges

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I realize that a map may help locate sites in unfamiliar areas so I have numbered the photos in my four related Yellowstone Trail posts on the map. You will find the number in the caption of each photo.

The Yellowstone Trail before 1925 took a loop south from Spokane through Rosalia, Colfax, Dayton, Walla Walla, Richland, Grandview, Yakima, and Ellensburg, then converged with the later 1925 route at Cle Elem to cross the Snoqualmie Pass toward Seattle.

Spokane has much to offer, but as recent former residents we didn’t feel on a short trip like revisiting places we already knew by heart. So we skirted the metropolitan area and turned south off the 1925 Yellowstone at Davenport and headed for Rosilia on the 1915 route of the Yellowstone. We followed some great roads, paved or graveled. Our faithful Delorme GPS and laptop keep us from making wrong turns.


Monument Where the 1860 Mullan Road Crossed our Path (Map Location 9)

I urge you to register so you see the photos displayed with the text!

We intersected the old Mullen Road of 1860-61 at a monument placed beside it in 1926, then followed a small sign that advertised “Dine on the lake” to a charming resort (47.3246, -1176981) on one of the lakes in a basin scoured out by the Missoula Floods. Lunch was in a pleasant restaurant seated beside the window overlooking the lake, surrounded by pines and the green grasses of spring. Bo, the Malamute Wonder Dog lounged on the grass in the park, while we enjoyed the view.

I have driven Interstate 90 between Spokane and Seattle on business at least 30 times, and until we got off the flyway, I never knew this lake and resort even existed. Aren’t the two lane roads great!! When is the last time you had lakefront seats at a cookie cutter restaurant on the interstate?

I won’t digress too much, but the Mullen was like the western Yellowstone Trail of its time. It ran between Walla Walla and Fort Benton, Montana on the Missouri River where river transportation became possible.

It was the earliest surveyed long distance road in the Northwest and touched several places the Yellowstone later traveled. As you follow the Yellowstone between Walla Walla and western Montana you will encounter the Mullen in road names and even town names.

But this is a forum about two lane roads, so let’s return to the story where we reach Rosalia on the 1915 loop of the Yellowstone. As a quick reminder, prior to 1925, the route of the Yellowstone took a large 300 mile long dip or loop from Spokane south to Walla Walla, west to Richland and Grandview, north to Ellensburg through Yakima, then west again through Cle Elum where the two routes again coincide.

On the noth side of town is what appears to be the Model Garage advertised in the 1919 Automobile Blue Book. I can’t be sure and the local museum was closed, so I couldn’t confirm the identification. In any evet, it is a nice old garage.

Probably the Model Garage Advertised along the Yellowstone Trail in 1919 (Map Location 10)

Rosilia has restored an old service station in town, complete with a period gas pump. They were in the process of doing some paving around the building which spoiled the photo op, so I am including a photo from a year ago.

(Photo to Follow)

The highlight for Yellowstone Trail aficionados at Rosalia is probably the black arrow on yellow background sign on the abandoned Milwaukee Railroad bridge just south of town.


Yellowstone Trail Sign on Beautiful Milwalkee Railroad Bridge (Map Location 10)

While it has nothing to do with the Yellowstone Trail, just east of town on a hill is the site of the Battle of Steptoe Butte (May 17, 1858), where Lt. Col. E. J. Steptoe and his men got their clocks cleaned by the local residents, members of the Spokane, Palouse, and Coeur D’Alene tribes.. As you read western history, the Colonel pops up all over the place, usually in a favorable light. But this was not his finest hour. Much of the blame for the ignoble retreat rests on his shoulders, as he left Walla Walla ill equipped to fend off an attack. Had he been just a bit less lucky he might have enjoyed Custer’s fame, posthumously.

Of course the Indians paid very dearly for their success when Col. George Wright and his men later in the year retaliated and ruthlessly subjugated the tribes, killing all their horses and hanging Indian leadership at the peace parley. Wright got many locations named after him in the area, including parks, streets, and a fort. The Indians got Hangman Creek named to commemorate their participation.

I think Rosilia has the potential to be a real Yellowstone Trail stop, with the service station, the garage, a number of great buildings and a genuine old sign. I hope they recognize the potential. The town has a Norman Rockwell feeling, and with a little coordination they could do it up nicely. It continues to be one of my favorites along the old route.

You are now in the great Palouse wheatland of Eastern Washington. We drove for miles through the rolling hills covered in green springtime wheat, interrupted from time to time by another white house and red barn set back from the road among some trees. Between Rosilia and Colfax where the 1915 route turned southwest to cross the Snake River, you can easily spot the old road, and follow it if you like through Thorton and other small settlements.

We spent the night in Colfax. Not far out of town on the new road (exit north end of town) you pass the fair grounds. If you turn left (south) on Colfax Airport Road, and travel perhaps half a mile you will see on your right some county road buildings and out front a horse drawn road grader (46.8585, -117.4255). Graders such as this were common in 1915. They were usually drawn by horses (but later by trucks). Look carefully at the side photo to see the spring and seat for the teamster/ driver.

You are looking at the American Big Winner, Model 33. This was the big iron of 1915. Is it any wonder the roads were barely cut from the prairie or hillside? It would be fun to know if this baby worked the Yellowstone. Odds are it did, given its location.


This Old Road Grader Just Outside Colfax Possibly Worked the Yellowstone Trail (Map Location 11)

To view the images in 3D, stare at them until a third 3D image appears in the center. If you have problems, let me know and I will substitute red /blue images and send you a free pair of glasses.

The old road left town on a 12% grade at the south end of Colfax and wound its way through the burglet (smaller than a burg) of Wilcox and eventually to the Penawawa Ferry landing to take the ferry across the Snake River. We did the same, along a well graveled but little used road, throwing up a huge cloud of dust. The last half mile down to the ferry site is alternating rock and deep sand. We immediately high centered in the first section of sand and beat a hasty retreat. This is one place a small sedan does not belong!

However, you don’t get stuck in low clearance sedans. For very obvious reasons. When you hear the sand dragging on the crankcase of a sedan, you know its time to retreat. And retreat we did, back to the graveled road and on to the later Yellowstone crossing at the Central Ferry on a paved road.

There are at least a couple of old pre 1928 bridges just off the current road. One I spotted is at Meadow Creek Road (46.5966, -117.7826). The other is at 46.5241, -117.7835. Both can be viewed on Google earth. The second bridge represents an interesting lesson in road construction, new and old.

The new road crosses the draw on a massive fill in a little over a tenth of a mile. The old road makes a half mile loop to stay on an acceptable grade and crosses the head of the draw on a short bridge. It is clearly visible on Google Earth. When you see big cuts or fills you can be confident you are not on an old road alignment! Remember that grader?

The Yellowstone travels on to Dayton with its depot and historic main street and to Waitsburg, both small towns on the Trail and worth a visit. The Lewis and Clark Trail Byway runs through Dayton, and the expedition camped a couple of miles from here on May 2, 1806 on its way back from the Pacific Coast.
Railroad Depot in Dayton (Map Location 12)

As we drove around Dayton we heard the sound of a band playing. Heading toward the sound, we saw and heard a group of local kids marching down the street....shades of Music Man! You gotta love the American road!

Still Photo Of Dayton Kids doing the Music Man Thing (Map Location 12)

If you have broadband, hear and see a little bit of two lane Americana as the band plays on in Dayton. It is about 1MB so wait a bit for it to download.

The Marching Band!

Walla Walla is a bustling city with an interesting downtown. We had planned to stay in Walla Walla. But even this early in the travel season it was hard to find a place, especially when you have a 130 pound dog to accommodate. So we drove on to Richland, also on the Trail, and the site of the WWII atomic bomb development at Hanford.

We had breakfast at a small restaurant in Benton City, across the street from what was evidently an early garage/ service station. You can follow the Yellowstone in this area on the Inland Empire Highway, the name given to the road by either the state or the auto clubs.

We stopped in Grandview to see an old section of the road on the national register of historic sites, but didn’t find it. I should have looked at a map, but I thought for sure my nose for old roads would suffice. It didn’t. But now I have something to look forward to the next time we come through the area!

With some sadness we stopped at the Teapot Dome service station (46.3891, -120.2381) outside Zillia, its gas pumps forever frozen at $1.77 for regular. I recall a happier day only a few years ago when you could enjoy a fill up at the historic site, located just off exit 54 of the interstate on the Yakima Valley Highway.

Historic Teapot Dome Service Station. Visit it before it Moves! (Map Location 13)

We can report that the City of Zillah plans to raise the money to buy the building, and move it closer to Zillah. If successful, it will become a tourist information center. No doubt that will provide the 85 year old building, said to once have been the oldest operating service station in the country, a longer life.

The Teapot Dome station grew out of the Teapot Dome scandal of the Harding administration and was created by Jack Ainsworth. It began its life in 1922 in Yakima, was moved to the Zillah area in the early 1930’s, and moved again in 1977 for better access from I82. It is a shame that the station is not commercially viable any longer, and a credit to Zillah that it will not die an ignoble death at the hands of a drunken vandal.

I’m 99.9% confident that when the Teapot sold its last drop of gasoline in 2004, it was the oldest service station in at least Oregon and Washington operating out of its original building. If you use the 1922 date (others have placed it at 1928) I certainly am not aware of an operating station that is older anywhere in the Northwest.

The Yellowstone goes on to Yakima and Ellensburg, then to Cle Elum where it converges with the 1925 route through Waterville. But alas, we preferred US12 and White Pass over the shoulder of Mt Rainer with its terrific vistas and great little restaurant at Rimrock Lake. So we bid the Yellowstone goodbye for this time. We’ll be back! Edited by Keep the Show on the Road!
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Another splendid writeup with magnificent photos! Thanks for sharing!


I remember seeing a picture in the Ntl. Geographic of a fan of Hanford High School (whose team is called the "bombers":) with a mushroom cloud drawn on his forehead with the slogan: "Nuke 'em 'till they glow!" Oak Ridge High chose not to reflect its nuclear roots and chose the name "Wildcats". A pity, IMHO. "Smashers" (as in atom smashers) would have been a much cooler name:)

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Another splendid writeup with magnificent photos! Thanks for sharing!


I remember seeing a picture in the Ntl. Geographic of a fan of Hanford High School (whose team is called the "bombers":) with a mushroom cloud drawn on his forehead with the slogan: "Nuke 'em 'till they glow!" Oak Ridge High chose not to reflect its nuclear roots and chose the name "Wildcats". A pity, IMHO. "Smashers" (as in atom smashers) would have been a much cooler name:)


Thanks for the compliment and your story! It’s a great addition to the description. I agree, Smashers it should have been...unique and most fitting!


I enjoy the travel and photography, and even like putting the story together and posting, but the real icing on the cake is when someone like you takes the time to comment and add to the thread. It is much appreciated!!


Keep the Show on the Road!

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