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Joesph Branch Logging Railroads

Joseph Branch Logging Railroads

Typical northeastern Oregon landscape. J.B. Bane photograph.

Oregon's northeastern corner contains a fascinating and diverse landscape of park-like open grasslands intermixed with stands of mostly Ponderosa pine on the ridgelines and side hills of drainages, a few of which are deep canyons carved by several major rivers. The forests, while extensive, were somewhat more difficult to log than a lot of other areas due to the topography. Despite this, commercial logging and lumbering commenced as the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company built its main line through the region in the early 1880s. Logging railroads remained initially scarce in the area, as most loggers used log drives in the rivers to move logs down to sawmills built on or near the new railroad.

The logging railroad era in northeastern Oregon really began as the OR&N extended its La Grande to Elgin branch along the Grande Ronde and Wallowa Rivers to a final terminous at Joseph, Oregon, between 1905 and 1908. Several large timber capitalists had been acquiring blocks of timber through various means in anticipation of this railroad one day being built, and as such were prepared to commence operations after the railroad had been completed. These operations mostly logged and milled Ponderosa pine, and like most pine loggers of the era a large proportion of the output was shipping boxes, largely for the agricultural products of eastern Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado.

For a variety of reasons the logging railroad era in northeastern Oregon did not last as long as the operations out of Bend and in the Klamath Basin. The sparser nature of the timber and rough to extreme topography heavily favored truck logging as that technology matured, which coupled with the industry economic turmoils of the later 1920s led to an early demise of the railroads.

Five companies are known to have built logging railroads tributary to the Joseph branch. These pages seek to tell their stories.

Map showing the rough layout of the logging railroads built off the Joseph Branch. As with the other logging railroads covered on this site, these maps only show the main and some branch lines contructed to the best knowledge available to me. Almost all of these operations had numerous temporary spurs built into the cutting areas that are generally not shown on this or any of the other maps in this section.

Following are links to pages on the companies known to have built and/or operated logging railroads tributary to the Josepth Branch. Each link will open in a new window, simply close that window to return to this page.

Nibley-Mimnaugh Lumber Company

George Palmer Lumber Company

Grande Ronde Lumber Company

Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company

East Oregon Lumber Companies

Principle reference for materials in this section is the book Oregon's Joseph Branch, History through the Miles, written by Barton Jennings and published by TechScribes, Inc., in 2019. A very special thanks also goes out to J.B. Bane who provided a lot of notes and resources and almost all of the photographic materials used in this section. Other principle resources consulted in preparing this page are as follows:

- Logging Railroas of the West by Kramer Adams, published 1961 by Bonanza Books.

-The Heisler Locomotive, 1891-1941, anonymously written and published 1982 by F.G. Kline, Jr.

-The Shay Locomotive, An Illustrated History by Richard A. Henderson, John C. Benson, Geroge R. Kadelak, and Steve Hauff, published 2021 by White River Publishing.