March 18, 2016:
Like many of the small towns in the Columbia Basin, Sprague seems like a ghost town, dormant under the vast blue sky. It was a sunny but cold March morning when I stopped by. A train roared through town just as I pulled up and parked along the street. After the long line of rattling, squeaking cars passed, the train’s rumble diminished until only the soft hiss of traffic on nearby I-90 could be heard. An cold east wind flipped a loose piece of corrugated roofing up and down, making it bang like someone was hard at work, hammering, building something.
That was an ironic illusion. Nobody was building anything in Sprague. It didn’t even seem like anyone was there. The main street was deserted, most of the buildings dirty, dilapidated; windows covered with plywood. There were still a couple of places with “OPEN” signs on them. One was Kathy’s Family Foods, housed in a bulky old white brick and stone building. Just past that was a low, red brick building with a sign hanging over the sidewalk that said “The Sprague Tavern”. While I was looking that way, a hooded, hunched figure came out of the tavern and walked off down the street. That was the sole pedestrian I saw while I was in town.
Closer to hand, next to where I parked, was an open dirt lot filled with the rusted and ravaged hulks of old trucks. A sign on one proclaimed “WELCOME, Dave’s Old Truck Rescue, Come on in, Look, Take Pictures, But Don’t…”. The last part was hidden but I imagine it said something like …”Damage”. They didn’t look very rescued to me; it was more like a truck graveyard. I imagine to a collector and restorer, it looks like nirvana. Those old trucks could be quite a source of original parts. Some looked like they weren’t quite beyond restoration.
I walked around and looked at the vehicles, took photos and wondered who had owned the trucks, how they were used, what their history was. At some point long ago, each truck was bought new and shiny, the pride of its new owner. Marveled over by friends and family as the latest in transportation technology. Driven with enjoyment and pride for a while. Washed and waxed, oil changed regularly, valued. Valued until they aged and became dented, broke down too often and eventually cost more to repair than they were worth.
That was probably the story of the entire town. Old, rusted, broken down, not quite forgotten but left to decay just outside of the modern world that rushed by on Interstate 90. Despite that, neither truck nor town was beyond restoration. Not an impossible task, but it would take a lot of energy, drive, skill and smarts to bring them back from the undead.
I walked around the block and found another old brick building with a cigar ad painted on a wall facing a small grassy plot. There was also an advertisement for Barbershop and Baths. The building itself looked like it had been a garage long ago. Just around the corner from that I looked up and spotted a towering spire across the tracks, so I walked up a small hill to see the local Catholic Church. I wonder how big the congregation is these days and whether the Church even staffs it anymore. Wikipedia calls it the Mary Queen of Heaven Church. It’s a beautiful building and probably worth a look inside. There’s a historic cemetery there, which I didn’t see. I felt pressed for time and took a few photos before returning to the lot and my car parked along the street. A utility pickup drove by and a car passed through town, so there was some life there after all.
It was time to leave. I still wanted to explore and was curious about what in the hell happened to this town, and to other towns like it. I got back into the car and drove off, heading west, out of town and into the windy, channeled scablands along Sprague Lake. I might return someday to look around more. For a town that seems so distant and isolated, Sprague is easy to get to.