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Oregon Pacific Railroad


Oregon Pacific Railroad



The completed Oregon Pacific grade at the top of Santiam Pass. U.S. Forest Service photograph.



Special Note:

This page is about a historical Oregon Pacific Railroad. It should NOT be confused with the modern Oregon Pacific Railroad, a shortline operating several pieces of disconnected track in northwestern Oregon. If the current Oregon Pacific has a webpage High Desert Rails staff is not aware of it; however, Brian McCamish has a good page on his website covering the modern Oregon Pacific at http://www.oregonpacificrr.com/



History

Corvallis had been the most important town in Oregon's Willamette Valley for many years. However, in the early 1870's that picture began to change. The city lost the state capitol when it moved to Salem, and the central lines of commerce started bypassing the community in favor of Eugene. The town knew it needed a railroad to ensure a lasting place on the map, but the best hope for one stalled out at Hillsboro, far to the north.

Colonel T. Egenton Hogg arrived in town in 1871 with big plans for a railroad that would place Corvallis not only on the map, but also on the line of a major transcontinental railroad. In October 1872 Hogg organized the Corvallis and Yaquina Bay Railroad, which did nothing of any lasting importance. On 6 July 1874 Hogg organized a second railroad, the Willamette Valley & Coast. The WV&C finally got things going, with ground broken at Corvallis on 17 May 1877. Hogg planned to run the railroad from Yaquina Bay, on the coast west of Toledo, eastward through Oregon and into Idaho where he planned a connection either with the Oregon Short Line in the neighborhood of the Idaho border or with a possible westward extension of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad.

The company expanded slowly, with only 10 miles of track completed after the first year. Hogg was having trouble financing the project, and on 15 September 1880 he incorporated the Oregon Pacific Railroad Company to take over to the WV&C.

Corvallis finally gained a connection to the outside world in January 1880 when the Western Oregon Railroad entered town from the north. Transportation magnate Henry Villard controlled the Western Oregon, and he recognized the Oregon Pacific as a potential threat to his empire, which at the time included the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company. If completed the Oregon Pacific would provide a shorter and flatter route east than his combined railroads, and he was determined to head off that threat. Corvallis had its rail connection to the outside world, but it did not help Hogg any as the Western Oregon refused to handle any traffic bound for the Oregon Pacific.

By the fall of 1881 Hogg had enough financing in place to get moving again. However, with land access cut off he had to use his port facilities at Yaquina Bay to bring all needed supplies and materials in by boat. On 31 December 1884 construction crews spiked down the last rails completing the Corvallis- Yaquina City line. With the route over the coast range completed Hogg then turned his attention eastward, with West Albany reached in September 1886. The company then built an impressive bridge across the Willamette River, and the first Oregon Pacific trains rolled into Albany on 6 January 1887.

Oregon Pacific construction turned to the northeast as they left Albany behind, with Shelburn reached by the end of 1887. After passing through Shelburn the construction crews started blasting their way up the Santiam River Canyon. By 1890 a completed grade wound up the west slope of the Cascades, passed through Santiam Pass, and ran a few miles down the east side of the slopes. However, the construction budget ran out for the last time as the completed railroad reached the small community of Idanha, 15 miles short of the pass. Hogg had his construction crews haul a boxcar and enough rails to lay a couple hundred feet of track up to the top of Santiam Pass, where they built a short stretch of track on which they reportedly pulled the boxcar back and forth a few times with a mule, this done to hold the pass for the railroad. Hogg then sent the construction crews 300 miles farther east, where they built a dozen miles of grade in the Malheur River Canyon to hold that vital passage for his railroad as well.

However, it was not to be. Additional money did not appear, and revenues were not enough to pay the bills on the completed railroad. The Oregon Pacific entered bankruptcy in October 1890, with Hogg appointed receiver. By this point many of the bondholders blamed Hogg for the failing financial state of the company, and indeed several million dollars of money loaned or advanced to the railroad since its beginning could not be found or accounted for in the books. The bondholders finally got Hogg removed in 1893. In 1897 lumbermen A.B. Hammond and E.L. Bonner purchased the railroad out of bankruptcy for $100,000. At the time the railroad's estimated scrap value was $375,000. The railroad operated 143 miles of railroad with 16 locomotives, 258 boxcars, and several miscellaneous passenger coaches. The company also had five ocean going steamships that connected the railroad with ports up and down the west coast.

Thus the first dream of a transcontinental railroad through Central Oregon ended. The citizens of Oregon's desert regions had watched the advancing Oregon Pacific with growing excitement. Hogg had made several personal inspections of the region, and he had planned to build two branches that would have done much to open up the high desert. One of these branches would have run from the mouth of the Crooked River northeast to the Columbia River at Umatilla, and the other from the Burns area southeast to Winnemucca, NV. Rumors of the eastward extension of the Oregon Pacific lasted for another decade, only to be finally ended when E.H. Harriman, who at the time controlled both the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads, purchased the company in 1907, primarily to make sure that the Hill family and their competing Great Northern Railroad did not get to it first. The Oregon Pacific remained independent until 1 July 1915 when the Southern Pacific officially purchased the company.

Southern Pacific turned the old Oregon Pacific into a branchline. The center portion of the line, from Albany to Shelburn, disappeared in 1930. The next cutback to the original Oregon Pacific came in 1937 when the westernmost part of the line, from Toldedo to Yaquina Bay, was abandoned. Idanha continued to see trains until 1950 when the Big Cliff and Detroit dams forced abandonment of the upper part of this line. The Army Corps of Engineers planned to re-route the branch around the reservoirs, but Southern Pacific decided against that. Further cutbacks through the 1970's and early 1980's saw the end of track retreat downstream, with some sawmill complexes just west of Mill City finally established as the end of track. Southern Pacific continued to operate the two remaining pieces of Oregon Pacific trackage until 22 February 1993, when they leased the Albany-Toledo trackage to the Willamette & Pacific Railroad, a new shortline. On the same day they leased the Shelburn-Mill City trackage to another new shortline, the Willamette Valley. Corporate reorganizations since then have seen the Willamette & Pacific turn into the Portland & Western and the Willamette Valley convey the Mill City line to the Albany & Eastern. Together these two shortlines continue to operate the last remnants of the old Oregon Pacific.


Map



The projected route of the Oregon Pacific through eastern Oregon, including the two contemplated branches.


Santiam Pass Today


Below are four photographs of the Oregon Pacific grade at the top of Santiam Pass as they appear today. All four photos taken in August 2004 by Jeff Moore.











References

Books

"Backwoods Railroads, Branchlines and Shortlines of Western Oregon" by D.C. Jesse Burkhardt, Washington State University Press, 1994.

"The Southern Pacific in Oregon" by Ed Austin and Tom Dill, Pacific Fast Mail, 1987.

"Railroads Down the Valleys", by Randall V. Mills, Pacific Books, 1950.

"Rails to the Ochoco Country, The City of Prineville Railway" by John F. Due and Frances Juris, Golden West Books, 1968.



More on the Web

Brian McCamish has much of the completed Oregon Pacific covered on his website on the following pages:

Southern Pacific Yaquina Branch

Portland & Western

Albany & Eastern

Be sure to check out the various links he has on these pages as well.


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