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High Desert Rails

Oregon & Northwestern #4 leads a northbound freight through country typical of eastern Oregon on its way to Seneca, Oregon. Photo by and courtesy of George Landrock.



In the rain shadow of Oregon's Cascade Mountain range lies an arid land. Much of this region is volcanic in origin, with recent lava flows breaking the surface in many places. Most of the landscape is vegetated only with perennial grasses and shrub species such as sagebrush and rabbitbrush.

Except for the fertile farmlands in the deep soils around the Columbia River, land suitable for agriculture in this region is hard to come by, and water is ever scarcer. Human habitation since the arrival of Europeans was until recently very sparse, and much of the region continues to be un-inhabited to this day. Livestock was the one industry that found a niche in most of this country, and ranching remains one of the most predominant economic forces in this land.

However, the western edge of this high desert county is thickly timbered along the toe slopes of the Cascade range, and vast forests are also found in the Blue and Ochoco mountain ranges that run along the northern edge of this land. The remoteness of the land and the lack of navigatable waters kept most timberman at bay until the introduction of railroads into the country made large scale timber operations feasible. A symbiotic arrangement quickly grew between the railroads and timbermen, as the timber industry needed the railroad to haul their products long distances to markets while the railroads needed the revenues derived from the movement of forest products to build their lines into a country that otherwise was unable to support the construction or operation of railroads.

This website seeks to tell the stories of those few railroads that penetrated into this great dry country, plus a look at a few others that tried and failed. Comments, contributions, questions and corrections are always welcome. This web page was created and is maintained by Jeff Moore.



The management of the former Yahoo! JSS2 (Jefferson State Shortlines 2) group has decided to expand the content of the group to include all eastern Oregon shortlines, including (but not limited to) those featured on this website. The group homepage states "Eastern Oregon Shortlines provides a forum for those interested in the shortline and regional railroads and their predecessors east of the Cascade Range in Oregon. Also, because of their historical connection, this group also includes the areas of Northern Nevada and Northeastern California served by the former Oregon-California-Nevada and the former Modoc Line within its boundaries. First class railroads of this region are discussed only as they relate to these shortlines."

Please consider joining this group. Registering with Yahoo! is required to join.



A map of Central and Eastern Oregon with major railroads shown, courtesy of Martin Morisette and modified by Jeff Moore. Not all lines may be shown.



This page was last updated on 18 March 2014. Update Index



The Railroads of the Oregon High Desert

Underlined names are links to pages profiling each railroad.

Class One Railroads Shortlines
Union Pacific Big Creek & Telocaset
BNSF & Predecessors Blue Mountain Railroad
Southern Pacific City of Prineville Railroad
Condon Kinzua & Southern/Kinzua Pine Mills
Logging & Industrial Railroads Great Western Railway/Lake County Railroad/Lake Railroad
Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company Idaho Northern & Pacific
Mount Emily Lumber Company Klamath Northern
Owyhee Dam Railroad (Pending)
Malheur Railroad
Shevlin-Hixon Lumber Company Modoc Northern
Oregon California & Eastern/Weyerhaeuser Woods Railroad
What Might Have Been- Projected Railroads Oregon Eastern Division of the Wyoming/Colorado Railroad
Oregon Pacific
Oregon & Northwestern Railroad/Edward Hines Lumber Company
Harriman's Cross-State Railroad
Sumpter Valley
Intermountain Western (Pending)
Union Railroad of Oregon
Nevada-California-Oregon Walla Walla Valley
Wallowa-Union Railroad (Pending)



Please be sure to visit our sister site, McCloud Rails.




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