This past weekend Tink and I returned to the area where I grew up to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday. On the drive home I stopped at a new Interpretive site that I'd been curious about. My book Logger in Petticoats talks about the railroad being built from Baker City to McEwen to help move the lumber from the mountains to the city where it can be used to build more stores and houses.
Tink and I walked the half mile path to see the old track.
"Stump Dodger" was the nickname the locals gave the railroad line from Baker City, Oregon to Prairie City, Oregon. It's evident by the name that the railroad didn't run over flat open land. No the track dodged through thick forest of pine and fir, up and down ridges and mountains to bring lumber to the sawmills.
David Eccles was an entrepreneur who traveled with other Mormons to Oregon. Crossing the mountains of Eastern Oregon, he saw they held riches of fir and pine trees. He returned to Utah and brought back his brother and three other families to help him build the Oregon Lumber Company. He acquired a contract with the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company to be their primary supplier of railroad ties.
With his connections, he managed to get first pick of the narrow gauge rails being pulled up by the Union Pacific Railway as they converted to the standard gauge rails. August 1890 the equipment to start the Sumpter Valley Railway arrived and Eccles began laying track. By October 1892 the railroad reached McEwen twenty miles away. It took four years for the railway to make it eight more miles to Sumpter, a mining community.
From Sumpter it rose up Huckleberry Mountain to Larch Summit(elevation 5,094 ft). A turning wye and station shed were built at Larch Summit where tourists would get off and view the surrounding mountains.
The railroad crossed Alder Springs five miles west of Larch Springs. A 60-foot-high trestle crossed the gulch. The track continued on to the town of Whitney which became incorporated in 1901. It was a logging community with a sawmill.
In 1904 the railway continued over Tipton Summit where a siding and station were built. The train continued to expand as timber grants were allotted. Continuing to White Pine and on to Curry before dropping down into Austin. The Austin House and stage stop had been in the area for years and now was a logical stop for the train. An engine house and other facilities were built. The train continued on to Bates. From there Eccles had two different directions the track could go. A bidding war began between Prairie City and Susanville to get the next spur of the railroad.
The line should have followed the easier route to Susanville, but Eccles laid the line up Bridge Creek and over Dixie Summit (elevation 5,277ft) and then switchbacked down the hill into the John Day basin and Prairie City.
I've always thought of switchbacks as long curving paths made to slow one's descent down a hill or alleviate the ascent of a climb. I was surprised to see that for a train a switchback is the train actually stopping and backing up to another switch where it is then swtiched to go forward. This is the track I found when investigating the "Stump Dodger" interpretive center.
Only a short spur of the original 80 miles of track works today. It is part of the Historic Sumpter Valley Railroad attraction in Sumpter, Oregon. www.svry.com