Facebook Page
High Desert Rails- Railroading in Oregon's Outback

This page was last updated on 26 December 2023. Update Index

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.

Map of the Central and Eastern Oregon railroads.

Eastern Oregon Shortline Railroads, a new book that is in some ways an outgrowth of parts of this site, arrived on store shelves in October 2016. Click Here for more information about this book and where to find it.

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/Palouse River & Coulee City/Columbia-Walla Walla Railway
Southern Pacific City of Prineville Railway
Condon Kinzua & Southern/Kinzua Pine Mills
Logging & Industrial Railroads Great Western Railway/Lake County Railroad/Lake Railway/Goose Lake Railway
Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company Great Southern Railroad/The Dalles & Southern Railroad
Joseph Branch Loggers Idaho Northern & Pacific
Klamath Basin Logging Railroads Klamath Northern
Mount Emily Lumber Company Malheur Railroad
Owyhee Dam Railroad Modoc Northern
Shevlin-Hixon Lumber Company Oregon California & Eastern/Weyerhaeuser Timber Company
Other Industrial Operations Oregon Eastern Railroad/Oregon Eastern Division of the Wyoming/Colorado Railroad
Oregon & Northwestern Railroad/Edward Hines Lumber Company
What Might Have Been- Projected Railroads Sumpter Valley Railway and Associated Logging Railroads
Oregon Pacific
Union Railroad of Oregon
Harriman's Cross-State Railroad
Walla Walla Valley
Intermountain Western
Wallowa-Union Railroad
Nevada-California-Oregon Other Shortline Railroads

Please be sure to visit our sister site, McCloud River Railroads.