With DirtFish celebrating its 10-year anniversary, it’s a good time to look back not only at the history of the company, but the history of the site as a whole. As you may know, DirtFish sits on a 315-acre plot of land that was once a logging mill, and the site has a lot of history dating back over the past 100+ years.
We dug into the history books, archives, and museums to give you a full history of all things DirFish, from the property itself, to the growth as a company, and beyond!
The Mill’s Fast Rise to Success
In 1914, the Weyerhaeuser logging company and Grandin Coast Lumber Company both owned hundreds of acres of land mixed together in the Snoqualmie, Washington area populated with seemingly endless amounts of trees. The two companies decided to join forces for a logging business on the land, and they called it the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company (SFLCo).
The mill was built over the next two years under the direction of W.W. Warren, with the machine shop being the first building erected. The mill pond, also known as Lake Borst, was created out of a pre-existing oxbow that formed off of the nearby Snoqualmie River.
To house single workers, a boarding house was built that would later be turned into a hotel. Family housing was built in the form of single-family cottages in various neighborhoods surrounding the mill site itself.
Mill No. 1 was the first mill on the site, and housed an 11-foot bandsaw, which was necessary for cutting the massive Douglas Firs down to size. Two years later in 1918 Mill No. 2 was be completed with a smaller bandsaw to focus on other types of lumber.
The Snoqualmie mill was one of the very first all-electric mills in the country, as large burners were used to power turbines that supplied power to not just the mill, but surrounding areas as well.
At this time, all of the labor at Mill No. 2 was carried out by the US Military, as was more than half of the work at Mill No. 1. This was all being done as a part of the Spruce Production Division of the US army. WWI required a large amount of lumber to be used by the government to build airplanes, ships, and other utilities for the war efforts, making this a necessary task for soldiers to undertake.
Thanks in part to the war efforts, SFLCo was a very early example of equality in the workplace, both housing and employing many Japanese immigrants in the area, as well as opening up traditionally male office jobs to women during the war efforts, and continuing to do so after WWI had ended.
By 1924 SFLCo looked like an entire town, because it basically was! The last of the 250 houses for workers had been built on the site, it had its own YMCA, post-office, general store, 50-bed hospital, and school facilities.
The mill was also on the cutting edge of technology, being the second all-electric mill in the nation, it was powered entirely by giant burners held on-site, the smoke tower of one being one of the remaining buildings today.
SFLCo was also one of the first mills to convert from steam to electric donkey motors, high-power motors to pull large fallen trees to other forms of transportation. This change required running electricity out into the forests, but meant that there was a significantly reduced fire risk, and an increase in speed, safety, and efficiency of work.
WWII and the Decline of SFLCo
The busy mill continued into the 1940’s and WWII. Once again, the US government needed all hands on deck as the need for soldiers and materials grew. Many of the male workers either volunteered or were drafted into battle, and unfortunately the Japanese community that had still been thriving at the mill was interned by the US government.
During this time the women of the mill stepped up even more than they did during WWI and started to take over not only office jobs, but also milling and logging operations. There was a concentrated effort supporting the troops who were overseas that included an in-house newsletter sent to every soldier who had been working in the mill prior to being deployed.
After WWII business was still booming for SFLCo, at least for a while. The mill was still operating with a high output, and more ventures were still being explored. 1951 even saw the opening of a new Silvacel Insulation plant making use of the sawdust by-product on-site.
At the time, enough power was produced by the mill’s turbine generators to meet the needs of a city of 35,000, which was about 30 times the population of Snoqualmie at the time.
By the late 1950s in the post-war era, SFLCo no longer wanted to worry about the upkeep and repairs on the now aging cottages, and employees wanted to own their own properties, so the 250 homes were sold off for $100-$150 each, with the catch being that buyers were be responsible for the ~$3,500 moving cost. Many of these homes still exist in the Snoqualmie area today.
1959 brought the last addition to SFLCo, a 200 employee Plywood mill. The original Mill No. 2 would shut down and be dismantled a year later.
1989 was also arguably the most important year for the mill’s legacy in the current era
Over the next few decades work continued without much change at the mill, other than a very gradual slowing of production. As it got closer to the 1990s, the mill began considering layoffs and other cost-cutting measures to stay afloat.
In 1989, a fire broke out in the plywood plant, and Mill No. 1 was shut down and disassembled for unrelated reasons. This left the mill’s main purpose being the dry kilns, and land turned into a finishing area for wood that had been milled at Weyerhaeuser’s White River Mill in Enumclaw, Washington.
1989 was also arguably the most important year for the mill’s legacy in the current era, as the pilot for the cult-classic television show, Twin Peaks was filmed on location, with all mill footage in the show featuring SFLCo, and the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Office made from the mill office, which still stands as DirtFish’s headquarters today.
By 2003, the Weyerhauser logging operations on the site had all officially shut down, and SFLCo finally stopped the last of its operations. Over the next few years, the site was mostly dismantled and cleaned up its years in service, but was not used for active work again.
In 2010 Snoqualmie Mill Ventures company bought the dormant property with plans of taking the property and once again making it a profitable plot of land, this time not with milling, but with racing.
The idea was originally called Ultimate Rally Experience. Ross Bentley was brought on as president, having had experience as a professional racing coach, and having written multiple books about racing and driving strategy.
Rally veteran Greg Lund who was active in the US for a while in the 90’s was also enlisted as the general manager for the new rallying venture.
One of the first hurdles was getting employees. Lund and Bentley held a massive group hiring process looking at 40 plus people from inside and outside their own personal circles. Out of those 40, three were brought in as instructors, including current Program Operations Manager Nate Tennis.
The company acquired four Vermont Sports Car-built Group-N hawk-eye Subaru Impreza WRX STI rally cars
Forest Duplessis who had worked previously at another North American Rally School led the charge of designing the new programs, starting with a one-day and three-day program, and from there using what had been established to create the two-day, half-day, and other potential class schedules.
The team of instructors were Tennis, Adam Newell, Ted Anthony Jr., Don Wooten, and Duplessis, who was lead-instructor.
The school’s first vehicles were top notch. The company acquired four Vermont Sports Car-built Group-N hawk-eye Subaru Impreza WRX STI rally cars. Full Rally America race-spec, these cars were all previous race cars that had been used by the likes of Dave Mirra, Tanner Foust and Ken Block at the X-Games and other rallies around that time.
As early as April 2010 DirtFish had cars prepped and ready for display at the Olympus Rally press stage that month, the first public appearance of what was then Ultimate Rally Experience.
Sometime while setting everything up, the name was changed from Ultimate Driving Experience to the now world-famous DirtFish, but not before Travis Pastrana and Dave Mirra visited and got some practice in their former competition cars.
By the late summer of 2010, most things were in place for DirtFish.
The school acquired four hatchback STI cars from various backgrounds that were built into an easy-to-drive, and easier to maintain fleet of beginner-aimed cars, while the Group N cars were still used for one and three day classes.
The land had been properly prepared and divided into different courses for the students to learn on.
The fleet of five instructors were trained and ready for teaching.
Publicity had been taken care off with celebrity endorsements, public appearances, and even a magazine article where first-time drivers attempted to use the Group-N cars to put down a faster time on a course than Chris Duplessis in his Rally America Scion xD.
DirtFish had its official grand opening on September 28, 2010, and classes slowly started to grow in popularity.
The company was in a league of its own at this point. Most rally schools at the time followed the platform of teaching students on something much more basic, say a near-stock Fiesta or something similar, and keeping a built rally car for a “final test” or just instructor-driven thrill rides.
Obviously this doesn’t describe every rally school, but it’s a fairly common set-up for high performance drive education (HPDE) schools. It’s a setup that works reliably, but DirtFish wanted to put everyone in the real car for the whole class.
Re-prepping cars quickly became an issue for the relatively small shop and crew that was on hand. Typically, race cars are only used for a few days and then have a month or so to rebuild before the next event. The DirtFish fleet needed to be ready to go the next day, and that was a tall order.
If that wasn’t enough, some of the beginner students were having issues learning stick with the Group-N cars. Can you imagine learning how to drive a manual on a dog-box with an aggressive racing clutch? Might be a little rough, and the equipment will likely get worn a little too fast.
With the ESPN coverage, more and more people started visiting DirtFish from all over
While the teething pains of the new business were taking course, DirtFish was about to take its first step into the limelight. 2011 marked the first year Rally America ran the Global Rallycross Championship as a multi-event championship, and DirtFish was chosen as a location for a round.
With the X-Games holding the “Super Rally” competition for the first time one year earlier, the budding motorsport was ready to explode in popularity, and ESPN was on board to broadcast the races, including the round from DirtFish.
With the ESPN coverage, more and more people started visiting DirtFish from all over.
While DirtFish is most known as a stage-rally focused business, the growth of DirtFish went alongside the growth of rallycross in the US. Many of the new drivers to the series had little to no experience in AWD dirt racing prior to rallycross, so to learn, many came to DirtFish.
DirtFish was even the home base for the Red Bull Dodge Dart GRC team of Travis Pastrana and Bryce Menzies for 2013.
With the company becoming more of a household name within the rally community and having sponsored many competitors and events across the globe, DirtFish played host to another round of GRC in 2014, where an exciting new expansion, the RWD Subaru BRZ was shown for the first time.
The naturally aspirated, rear-wheel-drive BRZ was the perfect platform for learning car control on a more delicate level, and also allowed DirtFish as a company to expand its offerings to fit the needs of more of their clients in an exciting way.
This excitement was shown during the unveiling at the 2014 GRC event, as stuntman, Terry Grant used a few of the freshly prepped BRZs to put on a small exhibition at the intermission of the event.
The next year DirtFish expanded again, this time into the world of competitive racing. DirtFish Motorsports debuted by running a full GRC Lites season with Tanner Whitten, before expanding to a two-car team in late 2016, and running in every GRC and ARX season since.
This move opened up DirtFish to prove their caliber in the real racing world, while also continuing to expand their brand. The Lites team was successful to the end with Conner Martell and Fraser McConnel managing to win back-to-back championships in the ARX2 class.
DirtFish Motorsports has also built and campaigned two stage rally cars utilizing in-house talent for the builds and driving in the ARA National championship, finishing third overall and second in the L4WD class with Sam Albert behind the wheel of DirtFish’s WRX STI and Michelle Miller navigating in 2018.
Today, DirtFish teaches over 3000 students a year, and is still looking at new ways to utilize the property of the old Snoqualmie Falls Mill
Most recently DirtFish has added a media division dedicated to centralizing news and content for all forms of rallying world-wide in one place.
Today, DirtFish teaches over 3000 students a year, and is still looking at new ways to utilize the property of the old Snoqualmie Falls Mill. DirtFish hosts multiple events around the year including DirtFish Summer Fest, and MoDD Rallycross Fest. The DirtFish property is also being used more in its totality than ever, with local car groups, community school programs, and more utilizing parts of the property for their own driving events.
While it’s been a great ride so far, we’re excited to see what the next ten years holds and hope to continue growing the sport of rally in America every step of the way.