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Byron C. Riblet: Inventor, Surveyor, Engineer

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Byron Christian “B.C.” Riblet was born at Osage, Iowa, on February 20, 1865, to William Jackson and Annie Bell (Sutherland) Riblet. Byron was raised on the family farm with his older brother, Walter, and younger siblings, Royal and Nelly. Graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1885 with a degree in civil engineering, he first worked for the Minneapolis & Pacific Railroad Company survey crew as a rodman.

Byron’s experience with railroad surveying brought him to Spokane in 1886, during the early street railway period. He was responsible for surveying the route for Francis Cook’s steam-powered Spokane and Montrose Park Railway line, the first motorized street railway in Spokane, serving Spokane’s south hill. Byron also surveyed and designed the layout of tracks and bridges for the Spokane and Palouse Railroad Company line and the Washington and Idaho Railway line connecting the Cataldo Mission to Wallace, Idaho. Byron conducted a general engineering business, designing and constructing the Ross Park Electric Railway, the first to use electricity in the city, and the Ross Park Hydroelectric Station, which began operations in 1889.

Byron served as designing engineer for the City of Spokane’s Upriver Dam, drawing the plans for its pumping plant and distribution system. He also designed 40 miles of electric rail lines throughout the city for the Washington Water Power Company. During this time, he and his business partner, John W. Strack, laid out many of the original plats for the City of Spokane and the surrounding area, including the Twickenham Addition (near Natatorium Park), Havermale Island, and the town of Mead.

In 1896, Byron became chief engineer for the Noble Five Mining Company at Sandon, British Columbia, installing a hydroelectric plant and his first aerial tramway. He devoted the following year and a half to engineering for various mining companies in British Columbia. Byron developed and patented improvements to aerial tramways, including self-dumping buckets and cable connections. His new business venture was born and, with numerous mines installing and rebuilding his tramways, success was guaranteed. The Riblet Tramway Company was officially incorporated in Spokane in 1911. By the 1920s, the company had landed contracts with mines in the Andes Mountains of South America. There, they constructed the highest tramway in the world at 16,000 feet, and another that was the longest at 34 miles. The Riblet Tramway Company designed and constructed approximately 300 miles of tramway systems throughout North and South America.

During the Great Depression, the mining business suffered an economic downturn. Around 1933, Riblet Tramway Company employee Carl Hansen convinced Byron to shift the focus to ski lifts, and, in 1938-39, their first chairlift was installed at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. Soon after this success, the company began to win contracts to design and build ski lifts around the country. In 1945, they helped the Mount Spokane Ski Club erect Washington State’s first chairlift on Mount Spokane. This is considered the first double chairlift in the world. The Riblet Tramway Company supplied their lifts to around 500 ski resorts across the country and designed and installed the A&W Skyride and gondola for Expo ‘74 in Spokane.

On February 14, 1893, Byron married Hallie Jane Chapman, the granddaughter of William W. Chapman, a former member of the House of Representatives from Iowa Territory and member of the Oregon Territory Legislature. Their wedding was a grand affair at All Saints Episcopal Church and included many of Spokane’s elite. The marriage produced twin daughters, Virginia and Josephine, and the family enjoyed many years at their Kirtland Cutter-designed home, known as Riviera, on the Little Spokane River before it was destroyed by fire.

Byron passed away on July 5, 1952, and his ashes were placed at Fairmount Memorial Park in storage. As wife Hallie, and daughter Josephine passed away, their ashes were placed with his. In 2021, the Spokane Historical Monument Committee and Fairmount Memorial Association collaborated with family members to have their ashes interred with this monument in memory of one of Spokane’s earliest prominent citizens and his family.

Byron’s partner John Strack’s family graciously donated the land that this monument is standing on.

Spouse: Hallie Jane Chapman Riblet,. 1873 – 1959

Daughter: Josephine Alice Riblet, 1893 – 1961


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