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How a Newcomen Engine WorksWater is boiled to create steam that pushes upward on a piston in a cylinder. Following Watt's improvements, many inventors attempted to adapt the steam engine to modes of transport on both land and water. Robert Strahorn was described by historian Randall Mills as "endowed with a ringing voice, a gift for rich phrases and an ingratiating presence.
ALL NORTH COAST RAILROAD PHOTOS ARE COPYRIGHTED BY THE WASHINGTON STATE RAILROADS HISTORICAL SOCIETY MUSEUM. J., for the 1867 Paris Exposition, a standard American 4-4-0 locomotive of the mid-19th century.
Strahorn was keeping plenty of secrets as he traveled through the West on behalf of wealthy individuals in the East, who hoped to get even richer because of railroads that were opening up vast western sections of the nation that had been labeled the Great American Desert. And rival railroad people also wanted details, so they could offset the plans or meet the competition in whatever way necessary. After his move to the Pacific Northwest he got involved in other ventures, notably involving water and power, where the backers were sometimes a mystery. He accompanied railroad surveying parties, doing publicity work for railroad companies, and organized and headed the publicity bureaus of the Union Pacific and Kansas Pacific companies from 1877 to 1884, splitting his time between Denver and Omaha.
Towns he helped develop were Hailey, Shoshone, Caldwell, Mountain Home, Payette, all in Idaho, and Ontario, Oregon.
He had done so even before he began work on the North Coast Railway, and some of the projects in which he was involved ended up later as part of a new corporation, the Pacific Power and Light Co. Hill planned to extend this line along the north bank of the river to Vancouver, where a new bridge would cany trains across the Columbia to Portland.

Strahorn already was a veteran of launching power and light projects along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad, his employer in previous years. Strahorn also was involved in railroad promotion on Puget Sound, and moved in 1898 to Spokane, which had been boomed by construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the early 1880s. The Spokane Press also reported the new company had bought out the Spokane-Columbia River Railway and Navigation Co., which had planned a line from Spokane, would bypass Connell and reach the Columbia River 28 miles above Pasco. One proposal called for reclaiming 50 million acres of the Great American Desert at the rate of one million annually.
Whether this had any effect on the North Coast is not known, but the railroad's history was destined to be brief under the North Coast name. The OWR&N main lines extended between Portland and Huntington, Oregon on the Snake River and between Pendleton and Spokane. He pointed out that the destination of settlers headed into the Pacific Northwest during earlier decades had been mostly Oregon.
In 1904, the company started a new power plant 11 miles above the mouth of the Naches River, a tributary of the Yakima River. The Strahorn organization then started work on a transmission line from Kennewick to Yakima. The public also speculated about other possible new railroad plans in those early years, during the last big splurge of railroad construction in the Pacific Northwest, before World War I.
Whether some of this might have been information provided to mislead a rival, Jim Hill's SP&S railroad, is uncertain. In December 1910, the business was sold to the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Co., which had been incorporated in November.

The company had cashed in on the influx of dry land fanners who grew grain, and some development of inigated agriculture east of the Cascades, especially in the Yakima Valley.
In April 1910 the Pasco, Kennewick and Yakima properties were consolidated into a new organization, the Yakima-Pasco Power CO.
Harriman (the latter a Strahorn backer) was particularly intense, involving lawsuits and other controversy in the Pacific Northwest. Hanford, whose name was used later to name an atomic plant, was one of the project's promoters.
At the time the North Coast extended from Attalia, an irrigation project in Walla Walla County north of Wallula to North Yakima (soon to be renamed Yakima). Partly in response to this, railroads now were developing the country north of the Columbia River, "setting off an immense tide of movement." The new settlers were writing to friends in the East "to come on," according to Scott, who especially cited the Milwaukee and OWRN companies as active in bringing in more population.
Considerable controversy centered around the business before it went into receivership in 1916. The railroad also owned a partially completed track from Ayer Junction on Snake River to Spokane by way of Marengo and Cheney. In 1917, voters agreed to formation of the irrigation district, which took over the property in 1918 but faced continuing problems in the 1920s and 1930s.
The company wanted land owners to sign contracts for use of the water pumped from Snake River.

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