Darius Kinsey, the Ansel Adams of the logging industry, shot the Pacific Northwest’s wooden bridges.

The railroad revolutionized bridge building. By the 1850s, when the steam engine was coming into its own and America was voraciously exploiting her natural resources in pursuit of industrialization, a spate of new bridge technologies were developed. Because railway bridges had to bear massive weight and moving weight as well, the basic bridgea beam over waterhad to be strengthened by adding support piers or by undergirding the structure with an elaborate scaffolding called a truss, a structure made of elements arranged in the form of a triangle.

In sharp contrast to Europe, America possessed vast and abundant forests. Wood plentiful, economical, and easy to shape and maintainwas the material of choice for a young nation eager to connect its expanse from end to end with bridges. Timber bridges could also last a long timeif they survived their dual enemies of fire and weather. By the end of the nineteenth century, loggers in the Pacific Northwest had exhausted the forests located closest to roads and waterways. The locomotive gave access to immense new tracts of timber, which was fashioned into bridges to cross rivers and ravines, provided rail ties and energy to run the trains, and made it possible to cut still deeper into the forests.


The restless energy of the logging industry was captured in a series of extraordinary photographs, three of which are shown here, taken over a period of fifty years by Darius Kinsey (1869-1945). Considered the Ansel Adams of the logging industry, Kinsey traveled throughout the Pacific Northwest loaded with a hundred pounds of camera equipment. He created a photographic record, ostensibly of locomotives but also preserving for history the temporary wooden bridges built for them. He sent the negatives back to his wife, Tabitha (18751963), for printing in Seattle, where she maintained a fully equipped darkroom. Darius wasn’t the only photographer in the family; his younger, equally accomplished brother Clark (1877-1956) also documented the timber industry. Soon enough, the brothers decided to divide and conquer: Darius shot in the territory north of Seattle, and Clark operated in the woods south of Seattle.

The legacy of Darius and Tabitha Kinsey, seen here in a self-portrait taken in 1900, is a body of nearly 5,000 photographs that document the Pacific Northwest’s landscape and logging industry.

In order to reach a timber stand on the north side of the Skykomish River, Bloedel Donovan Lumber Mills constructed a wooden bridge in 1920 at a cost of $60,000. The 70-ton (64-tonne) locomotive traveling across the bridge in the large photograph is a Climax Number 11 built in 1923. In 1935, when much of the transportation of timber was being contracted to truck loggers, planks were laid down, and both trains and trucks shared the bridge until the mid-1940s, when rail service ended. Wooden bridges too would be replaced with more substantial iron ones. To provide a strong structure at minimal cost, the builders of this pile-and-beam bridge over the Sauk River ingeniously used logs above and below the ties to form the spans.

In 1940 Kinsey fell off a tree stump and broke five ribs. He never took another photo. He spent the last five years of his life cataloging his work; Tabitha survived him by eighteen years. Both died not knowing of their heroic contribution to photography or how the logging industry would transform the landscape.

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