The Hood River Glacier, Hood River, OR., April 29, 1915, page 3


     Thirty-three years ago the people of Portland had their eyes turned to Multnomah Falls just as today, when the Columbia highway, which passes at the foot of the giant cascade, is nearing completion. And the eagerness and expectancy of three decades ago was brought about by the completion of a lap in a great transcontinental transportation system. It was here that the silver spike, commemorating the joining other rails of divisions of the completed O.R. & N. Co. line, was driven.
     The incidents of the former celebration are recalled by W. J. Baker, a pioneer conductor of the early railway lines of the northwest, who had charge of the train that bore the Portland party to Multnomah Falls for the driving of the silver spike.
     Mr. Baker, who is 64 years old, is a native of Iowa. In 1867, when his family was living at Boone, Ia., he was a passenger on the first excursion train ever run over the Chicago & Northwestern railway line from Chicago to Council Bluffs.
     "It was that day," he says, "that I was imbued with the ambition to become a railroad man. No sooner had I returned home then I applied for a position, and a few months later began work as a newsboy. In another month I was promoted to the position of freight brakeman."
     In 1868 Mr. Baker, following the conductor under whom he had learned the business, Morris Geheene, left the C. & N.W. Co. and accepted a position with the Union Pacific Co.
     "We ran over the old Bridger division," he says, "between Rawlins and Bryan, Wyo. I was a brakeman on this run when the Snake Indians, on March 17, 1869, raided the town. Forty or 50 of us all armed ourselves and pursued the Red Men. At Cherokee Springs, a short distance from the town, the Indians gave fight. None of our men were injured, but one of the Snakes bit the dust. The Indian was brought back to town. On the station platform he was scalped, and portions of the scalp given to the participants in the battle as souvenirs. Soldiers were out to quell the uprising."
     Mr. Baker later went to the Illinois Central lines, braking on the Iowa division. In 1870 he was promoted to a conductorship. While in this position he was in charge of one of the trains that conveyed Gen. Geo. A. Custer and his troop of cavalry to Sioux City in route to the Black Hills, where he engaged in his fatal encounter.
     As a memento of this trip Mr. Baker has in his possession a camp chair that was stolen from Gen. Custer's private baggage by one of his brakemen.
     "As soon as I knew the chair was taken from the train," he says, I began in some personal sleuthing, and discovered where it had gone. The brakeman became frightened and hid the article near a lonely little station. Several weeks later it came into my possession, but it was never reclaimed by the government."
     C. J. Pratt, formerly president of the Hood River State bank, now a resident of Los Angeles, was conductor of another section of the train conveying Gen, Custer's troops. There were several sections in the train.
     In 1880 Mr. Baker returned to the Union Pacific, taking up the passenger service. He remained with that line until he came to Oregon in 1882. "I first had charge of a work train on the O.R. & N. line, before it was completed, at Shell Rock, just west of Hood River.
     I was shortly transferred from Portland to Walla Walla, running to Riparia, where connections were made with Lewiston, Idaho, river steamers.
     "In 1884 I was in charge of the first passenger train ever brought through from St. Paul to Portland, my division of being between Wallula and Portland. Later I was stationed at Huntington. In 1885 I was blockade for 22 days at Huntington on account of the snows in the mountains, and was in charge of the first train run through from Eastern Oregon to Portland, after the tracks were cleared.
     Mr. Baker's marriage had taken place in the year before and his first child, Mrs. Harry DeWitt, was born 24 hours after he arrived on his memorable run from Huntington.
     In 1885 Mr. Baker purchased a tract of land in Hood River valley. For several years before he left railroading he had been studying books on horticulture. He and his family removed here in 1886. As soon as he was able to clear the land, Mr. Baker planted the first apple orchard set out in Hood River for commercial purposes. The place has been subdivided, and today the larger portion of it is owned by E. H. Shepard, editor of Better Fruit. W.M. Swick has 10 acres of the original Baker tract, on which today may be seen one of the premier pear orchards of the valley. Mr. Baker retired from orcharding 11 years ago, and has been engaged since in the real estate business.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer