History of the line

The survey began in 1855 by Lieutenant Robert Williamson of the U.S.Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, he was joined by Lt. Henry Abbot to explore and determine the best route for a railway from, the Sacramento Valley to the Columbia River, Oregon Territory.

Along the way the two survey parties split, Williamson went North-Easterly, while Abbot went in the direction of today's Siskiyou route.
Williamson's route roughly follow's todays Natron Cutoff, (Eugene-K-Falls-Black Butte junction) It is believed that, the reason the easier Williamson route was not first used, is that the less populated area would be less profitable, less business, less passengers, less revenue.

Oregon & California RR

Construction began in 1868,by 1873 it had reached Roseburg, but construction suddenly stopped, and didn't continue for nearly 10 years, because of national financial panic of the times, and fund mishandling.
By 1881 construction restarted but only made it until 1883 to Phoenix where workers were sent home, the O&C was out of money. Southern Pacific which was a growing company after controlling and operating trains of the Central Pacific over the Sierra's, wanted to get into Oregon in 1885 Central Pacific workers, mainly Chinese, began on, to the Siskiyou mountains.

Siskiyou Mountains

"Siskiyou" is a Cree Indian name for a particular type of bob-tailed racehorse, one of which perished in 1829-1830 on A. R. McLeod's ill-fated journey over a pass later named for the "siskiyou." The Cree were in the area as part of McLeod's Hudson's Bay Company expedition, and had been recruited far away in their homeland in eastern Canada. (so says Wikipedia)
In 1887 Southern Pacific took a 40 year lease on the O&CRR and they (SP) continued to move onward toward the Calf. line. There was some work already done, by O&CRR, some blasting, some surveying, and mapping. When SP Engineers started in 1887, four years after O&CRR went bankrupt, they looked at things differently.
The original O&C plan was to have a long loop, and tunnel at Buck Rock. This route also was exposed to warming rays of the sun to help melt snow, but the SP thought that the longer route meant more fuel, more dollars in the long run. So blasting at Buck Rock ceased, and a shorter but steeper route was planed.

As the more expensive steeper route was under way, SP had problems with every mile. On the way up, you come to tunnel 15, this normally could be a cut in the side of the mountain instead of a tunnel, but the way that the track loop's around, goes through tunnel 14, (which is almost 180 degrees inside), there would not be enough ground to support the hill and track above. The track coming out of tunnel 14, is almost directly above the portal of tunnel 15, going the other way! Then we come to TUNNEL 13, at the summit of the Siskiyou Line. Famous for being the site of the "Last Great train robbery of the west", it is on a decline to the south of the summit and the grade inside is at 3.2%, the grade just to the north of the summit is 3.67% the steepest of all of SP. When construction ended in 1887, there was a celebration in Ashland, with dignitaries from Portland and San Francisco driving the golden spike.

back to
History index page



This is a very brief account of the truly historic events that occurred in the construction of the Siskiyou Line. Most of my information is from "The Siskiyou Line" a documentary by Bert and Margie Webber. this is an incredible book, with an enormous amount of detailed info, pictures of my subject, plus lots of info about connecting lines and valley lines of days gone by.

[ Home ][ info ][ Prototype ][ Model ][ Park ][ History ][ Live Steam ][ Links ]
this site owned and maintained by R.Wrede, all rights reserved.