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Union Pacific Pilot Rock Branch

Union Pacific
Pilot Rock Branch

Fifteen miles south of Pendleton is the small community of Pilot Rock, named for a nearby large basaltic rock formation used as a beacon by passing emigrants on the Oregon Trail. The small community gained the notice of the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company in the early 1900's, and on 24 May 1906 the OR&N incorporated the Umatilla Central Railroad Company. The Umatilla Central completed a fourteen-mile long line running from the OR&N mainline at Reith/Pilot Rock Junction (four miles west of Pendleton) south to Pilot Rock. The railroad opened for business on 16 December 1910, at which point the OR&N leased the property and initiated operations.

Union Pacific maintained service on the line with a daily except Sunday mixed train, operating as Train #42 southbound and Train #41 northbound. Passenger traffic eventually fell off, but freight traffic remained strong, especially after Kinzua Pine Mills built a sawmill in the town. Kinzua and its corporate successor Kinzua Resources operated the sawmill until June 2009, when the company sold the mill to timber industry giant Boise Cascade. Boise Cascade operates the mill today as Kinzua Lumber, and its output keeps Union Pacific freights coming down the branch- now known as the Pilot Rock Industrial Lead- once or twice a week. This branch stands out as one of the last of the once extensive network of UP branches in eastern Oregon still operated by Union Pacific.