Several panels outline the history of the Kelso Depot Kelso: Why here?
The railroad town of Kelso arose because of the steepness of the grade beyond and the abundance of groundwater below.
The Cima Grade was too long and steep for locomotives to pull a train up without assistance. "Helper engines" provided the extra power. These engines required a "helper station," including a roundhouse, a wye track for turning around, fuel, and plenty of water for making steam.
Fortunately, a reliable source of water was nearby - first from springs in the Providence Mountains (visible beyond the tracks), and later from nine water wells.
Kelso's population crashed after World War II, due to reduced rail traffic and the increased use of powerful new diesel engines that didn't require servicing in Kelso.
Depot Days: Past and Present
Built in 1924, the Kelso Depot housed a train station, ticket and telegraph office, restaurant, reading room, and dormitory rooms for railroad employees. It was often called the Kelso Club, a Union Pacific term for employee boarding and recreational facilities.
As railroad technology improved and further personnel were needed, the Depot became obsolete. It was closed in 1985, and Union Pacific planned to raze the building. Concerned citizens intervened and the building was saved. It was renovated and reopened as a National Park Service Visitor Center in October, 2005.
World War II Boomtown
During World War II, troops, tanks, and trucks were shipped through Kelso by rail, creating the need for more helper crews and mechanics. Iron ore from Kaiser Steel's nearby Vulcan Mine was loaded onto freight cars here to be used in the wartime manufacture of steel.
To accommodate workers and their families, both Union Pacific Railroad and Kaiser Steel set up temporary housing at Kelso.
From the mid-1940s to 1985, this two-cell strap-steel jail was used to confine drunks and other unruly individuals for a night or two. The jail's original location was west of the Kelso Depot on the far side of Kelbaker Road; the jail's cement pad foundation can still be found their.
The jail was removed from Kelso in 1985, the same year that Union Pacific closed the Kelso Depot. It ended up in the backyard of Ron and Kay Mahoney in Barstow, California. Two decades later, Kay Mahoney donated it to the National Park Service when Kelso Depot reopened as a visitor center in 2005.
Richard Klepper grew up in Kelso, and remembers when the jail first arrived around 1944: Before that, the constable used a reefer car for a jail... In those days Kelso was loaded with drunks from both the... (Vulcan) Mine and Union Pacific.