Searles to Owenyo

The Lone Pine Branch

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Facing north at the end-of-the-track on the SP Lone Pine Branch near Barlett, CA. Photo by Mike Palmer, 1997.

This segment was formerly the northern end of the the Lone Pine Branch, or the Jawbone Branch, which was approximately 90 miles long and extended north from Mojave through the Jawbone region and Owens Valley to Owenyo (a few miles north of Lone Pine). The branch line itself was built around 1912 and was used to help build the Los Angeles Aqueduct. It was built as standard gauge, and there was a transfer station to the SP narrow gauge at Owenyo. (The last segment of this narrow gauge line lasted until 1960!)

Today at Searles, the SP (now UP) branch interchanges with the still-active shortline Trona Railway. Further north, at Inyokern, the branch used to interchange with a long-abandoned and deteriorated US Government Railroad that extended east to the China Lake Naval Weapons Station.

In 1997 the former Lone Pine station was converted to a private residence with "No Trespassing" signs across the driveway and large dogs on the old platforms. By 2003, it had been converted to a book store.

The SP line north of Searles has been out-of-service since some time between 1972 and 1984. The grade is still visible from many sections of US Route 395, although the rails were removed at the four US Route 395 grade crossings north of Inyokern. In 1997, when the pictures on this page were taken, the track had already been removed a long time from Owenyo south through Lone Pine to Bartlett, the site of an abandoned industrial building next to (dry) Owens Lake. Some of the old grade is used as a dirt bike trail, though it is hazardous because most of the small bridges have been removed.

In 1997, the remaining track south of Bartlett was in poor shape, and in one section the northbound lanes of US Route 395 were built over the ROW when the highway was expanded to four divided lanes in that area. The remaining track south from Bartlett to Searles was removed around 1999. This area is mostly desert and there are virtually no trees along the right-of-way. The line south of Searles is still very active with mineral shipments from the Trona. Searles itself is only a junction point (no town), about a mile east of US Route 395.

Thanks to Mike Palmer for contributing information about this route.

Historic ICC Abandonment Filings

SOUTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD
Docket Number: 20510 Date: 1/20/1959 Section: 1(18)
App. for auth to abandon the entire Keeler Branch of its railroad between M. P. 506.300 at or near Laws and M. P. 576.935 at or near Keeler, a dist. of approx. 71.33 miles and (2) that portion of the Owenyo Branch between M. P. 519.115 at or near Lone Pine to the end of the branch at or near Owenyo at M. P. 523.256, a dist. of approx. 1.141 miles on the San Joaquin Division all in Owens Valley, Inyo County, Calif.
Length: Unknown Citation: 307 ICC 808  
Also under this filing: The Keeler Branch   

Any interested in the Lone Pine Branch; LA & San Joaquin Div. timetables 3, 4 & 5, 1983 1984, green cover, all have the Lone Pine branch grade charts included. Phil Serpico has written a nice hardback book called, "Jawbone, Sunset On The Lone Pine."

Paul McGuffin
Green Valley, AZ
12/2/2008

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Thank you both for some great pictures of this line.

Does anyone know if railroad companies out west in desert areas ever had problems with wind or dust storms covering over the tracks with sand?

Kevin M. Smith
Cicero, NY
1/4/2009

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Sand and Dust: Yes...it you have ever driven along I-10 from the Palm Springs area to Indio, California, you can see miles and miles of Tamarisk trees. I was told they are originally from the Gobi Desert or north Africa. Southern Pacific planted them in the late 1950s to keep the sand off the rail and switches. I was once stuck in the siding at Salvia, when the west switch was covered in sand. I think the Santa Fe also put these trees in an area east of Amboy, Calif.

Paul McGuffin
Green Valley, AZ
9/3/2009

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The November 1987 issue of Railfan & Railroad has an article about the (still active) Trona Railway which also talks about the SP Jawbone branch.

- The SP line north of Linnie (site of a lumber mill) to Lone Pine was taken out of service in 1981

- The entire SP line north of Searles, through Linnie to Lone Pine, was abandoned in 1982

- The US Navy China Lake line was abandoned then too, but they added a siding along the Trona Ry for US Navy shipments.

Mike Palmer
Torrance, CA
6/26/2010

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The spur into NAVWEAPCEN (Naval Weapons Center), or NOTS (Naval Ordnance Test Station), China Lake received not only gear for use by the test groups, but REALLY bad case ammunition and leaking bag gun propellant (silk bags). This "bad ammo" was shipped via silver/aluminum painted box cars - unloaded using grounded gas-engine forklifts and was disposed of by the EOD detachment at a site North of Burrough's (B Mountain) Mountain - usually by burning, but sometimes by setting of charges with .45's at 100 yards, which was a bit of a trick in and of itself....Those EOD guys were tops. BTW the best place for great food was the (as I recall) Three Sisters in Inyokern...owned by three gals who played in Big Bands during the late 30's and 40's. It is still possible to walk the old ROW and find an occasional spike and bits of tie...the tie bits make great display stands after planing and routing. Also, original concrete revetments for testing 18" Naval Rifles (which never panned out due to the end of WWII)may still be accessible.

Paul Kalff
Fremont, CA
11/23/2010

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Does anyone know the original owner etc of that neat old Mid-Century office building with silos behind it at Bartlett? I remember it still looking to be in service with cars parked in front of it in the 1980s. Now it appears to be a private residence? I would love to know what it was originally used for.

http://abandonedrailroads.homestead.com/ca_sp_lonepinebranch.html

Second photo down on this link you can see the place I am talking about way off in the distance.

Brian
Los Angeles, CA
2/7/2011

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Brian, I was also intrigued by that abandoned plant and did a little research. Apparently, it was a facility operated by Pittsburgh Plate Glass (PPG) before it shut down and became privately owned. If you Google 'Pittsburgh Plate Glass' and 'Owens Lake', you'll get more info.

Keith
San Diego, CA
2/17/2011

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Even though most of the Lone Pine Branch is gone, sections of the spur into the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station still exist on the base itself. I work in a nearby building and will occasionally walk along the right of way during lunch. The track appears to be in pretty good shape considering how long it's gone without maintenance. The tie plates are stamped "Colorado R.R.S. Co." The locomotive house also still exists, albeit in dilapidated condition, but is fenced off and inaccessible.

Jeff
Ridgecrest, CA
12/22/2011

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Brian and Keith,

I can help on your question about the PPG Bartlett Plant and its office building- though I'm two years late w/ what little I know about it. My dad was a chemical engineer who worked at that plant from the late '50s until the plants closing in 1968. My understanding is the plant made soda ash (Sodium Carbonate)- a compound that was used by PPG's glass division to make glass. There used to be a calciner (big rotating cylinder where a heating process took place to cook off the water from the liquid salt slurry taken from Owens Lake. I see the calciner is gone now. My dad explained to me that the brine taken from the lake had to be fully saturated at 10.0 ppg density for the extraction and manufacturing process to be even marginally profitable.

In the winter of 1967-68, the Sierras took an abnormally high volume of snow fall. When the Spring of '68 came around, there was strong speculation that the aqueduct, which was uphill from several small towns on the East side of the Sierras, would overflow and decimate a town. It was decided to purposely breach the aqueduct directly above Owens Lake and let the excess water from the snow run off drain into the lake basin. The large volume of fresh water from the aqueduct draining into Owens Lake dropped its salinity to the point that every day the plant stayed open was another day it lost money. The plant was shut down in the Summer of '68 and Lone Pine was indeed decimated- not by water but by the loss of those jobs at the plant. For a ten year old boy and his three sisters, it was a hard transition to move from hiking and fishing in the Sierras to the swamps of Lake Charles, LA (there wasn't a mountain or hill for 200 miles). My dad finished his career w/ PPG at the LC plant in 1980 and immediately moved back to California.

Dean Oneal

Houston, TX

06 June, 2013

Dean
Houston, TX
6/6/2013

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Thanks for the great info, Dean! I just drove by the plant again this week during my annual trek to the Sierras for skiing. That plant still fascinates, so I Google it each year after my trip to see if new info has been posted - you came through! :)

Keith
San Diego, CA
2/23/2014

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You comment that the line went out of service between 1972 and 1984. I have a photo from a family holiday in April 1977 when we paused at Inyokern for an ice cream. There were still two tracks and one is being used by a local freight headed by an SD45 road number 9100

Roger Bratby
Wirral, United Kingdom
6/16/2014

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The Godzilla movie (2014) has a train passing trough Lone Pine. That was funny to watch :)

Travis
Los Angeles, CA
6/25/2014

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Anyone interested in seeing some of the scenery around Lone Pine should check out the 1954 Spencer Tracy movie "Bad Day at Black Rock". It also has some footage of some SP "black widow" F7 A-B sets pulling a string of 7 "daylight" coaches. The color and sound is excellent.

William Gardei
Derry, NH
11/17/2014

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