Miller to Metolius
Note: Some of the information on this page is excerpted from or is based on Brian McCamish's web page on this line.
In 1908, A near war broke out as construction of two competing railroads began at the mouth of the Deschutes River where it empties into the Columbia River. One of the railroads was under control of James Hill, who had ownership of the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway and others such as the Northern Pacific. It was built on the western bank of the Deschutes River starting at Miller. (Miller was the name of the junction with the mainline in Moody, OR; the name is no longer used.) A large bridge across the Columbia River to Wishram, WA was built sometime later.
The Deschutes Railroad Company, a Union Pacific subsidiary, was the first railroad to commence building. Some suspect that surveys were conducted as early as 1906 along both banks of the Deschutes River. The surveys concluded that the east bank of the river offered the best route for the Deschutes Railroad, which then began construction of their line. Not long afterwards, the Oregon Trunk Railroad, which was incorporated in Nevada by investors from Seattle, began its own surveys. They concluded that the west bank of the river offered the best possible route. They soon started construction.
Over the next few years, the railroads would be involved in numerous legal disputes over access in the Deschutes River canyon. Mostly because at one point along the route, both lines run right next to each other and for a distance even share the same rails. The friction between the Oregon Trunk and the Deschutes Railroad quickly became an all-out railroad war. Competing construction crews would often blow up the other people's supplies and ignite the black powder stores, dump boulders on the camps and even get into gun battles! In several cases, local Sheriffs had to get involved and make several arrests when enforcing court orders.
A few people were killed during the conflict, and it's interesting to note that an old cemetery exists on a hillside next to one of the most contested sections of the railroad. It's not known if the cemetery relates directly to the railroad, but there are no ranches or homesteads that ever existed within many miles of the cemetery. Near the site, over 1200 men once worked on two tunnels. The site is where the two companies had to build tunnels right next to each other on the same side of the river.
By 1910, trains were beginning to run on the line. By 1912, construction was almost complete and both railroads began operating on mostly separate lines on either side of the river. This went on for several decades. Trackage rights agreements were signed and both lines would operate the disputed single line section, between North and South Junctions.
From the beginning, the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway operated the Oregon Trunk Railroad. The SP&S Railroad was owned jointly by the Northern Pacific and Great Northern Railroads, and Great Northern locomotives were commonly seen hustling trains over the line. Later the SP&S merged with its partial owners to become the Burlington Northern. The Deschutes Railroad was owned by Union Pacific and operated as an independent railroad. In 1921, the first abandonment occurred when the Oregon Trunk abandoned its line between South Junction and Metolius. It then began using the Deschutes Railroad track from South Junction into Madras and Bend.
The next major abandonment occurred in 1935, when the entire Deschutes Railroad on the east bank from Moody to North Junction was abandoned. The Oregon Trunk agreed to allow the Deschutes Railroad to use its better built line on the west bank and share the costs of maintenance. From this time on, the railroad was essentially a single line operated by two companies. This abandoned section contains many interesting features. These include cars, trestles, a station, and more. The area though, is difficult to access. The only access to the old grade is a gated off gravel road in the state park at the mouth of the river and at Mack's Canyon 27 miles upstream.
Today, the Deschutes Railroad and Oregon Trunk names are no longer used; instead the BNSF (Oregon Trunk) line is jointed operated by Union Pacific, who owned the Deschutes Railroad and Burlington Northern Sante Fe, who owned the Oregon Trunk. The line maintained by both companies. Generally, the line is maintained during the day and trains run on a very regular and busy schedule at night. Usually 9-12 trains in a 24 hour period. Recently a large investment was put into the line to upgrade the rails and ties and it's expected this mainline will exist and prosper for many more years to come.
Some of the abandoned Deschutes Railroad line has been converted to a rail-trail between the mouth of the Deschutes River and Mack's Canyon Campground. The entire trail is in a roadless area, except for a public access road at mile 7 on the other side of the raging river and at the ends. Several old cars exist along the line and at-least two trestles, one still used for the path.
At milepost 12, there is an intact water tank. There is also a station near milepost 9 that appears as if the railroad just walked away from it. The sofa, ice box, stove, and other furnishings are still there, and are in remarkable shape! Just please treat these as a piece of history so that others in the future can enjoy them too. After milepost 17, there are three short bridges that are missing. Theses missing "links" in the grade are nearly impossible to get around, as it's a near vertical 75 feet drop to the river shore below. Bring water as it is scarce, except if you want to scale the hill down to the river, which can be very treacherous. Be watching on Saturday evenings for the once-a-week Union Pacific Local heading north on the other side of the canyon about 5:00 PM. It is a very unique way to witness history on a "then and now" basis.
Farther south, the line between South Junction and Madras is still very well preserved. This section includes the location of several huge trestles that used to exist. Part of the line parallels highway 26 in the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and is easily tracked. Along the line is a tunnel that is still open and in very good shape. The ceiling is about 30 feet high and shows evidence of steam locomotives. The grade near the Pelton Dam is a registered rail-trail and is nicely maintained. Views of the Cascades on this portion of the grade are awesome as well as the stunning view of the huge lake down the hill. Near the Madras city limits, along Willow Creek, one can look up and see the gigantic BNSF/UP Willow Creek Trestle that spans the small valley. The abandoned Deschutes Railroad line used to run to Metolius, but is now totally gone because of farms and the expanding town.
Thanks to Brian Edwards for contributing information.
When I was in high school, I read a book about the race to the Crooked River by 2 railroad lines. It has always stuck with me and I went online today to refresh my memory of what people and rail lines were involved.
I was visiting with a Madras High School classmate yesterday and telling her what I knew, which isn't that much, about the train history going south to Bend.
I grew up in Madras in the 50's and lived in a house on 2nd street with the railroad trestle and water tube in view of our back yard. I rode my horse a couple of times up Willow Creek and through the twin tunnels in the late 50's or early 60's. I never saw any remnants of track beds in Madras or knew where the track ran on the way to Metolius.
It was obviously the losing rail line. I would find it interesting to see where they ran. Sounds like one line came up through Gateway and the other through Warm Springs. I was not aware there were tracks that ran above Pelton dam but it is obvious when I think about it. I wonder how much money was put into the two lines and how much was lost by the one that was was not used?
What area is the cemetery and the two tunnels you mentioned? Also, I don't understand that on Saturday night the once a week UP heading north on a different rail?
In the early 50's my father had 50 Case or New Holland combines delivered by train up at the rail station in Madras. I remember a picture of a long row of combines coming south down the hill on highway 26 to his Case dealership at the bottom of the hill. It was quite a sight.
As a 3rd and 4th grader I would count all the train cars crossing the trestles over Willow Creek. Usually well over 100.
Do you know if they have any special passenger train ride up the Deschutes River to Bend? I know they used to do one about every year and always wanted to do it.
I was raised on the Oregon Trunk. My dad started for the SP&S in Feb. 1942. He was a Section Foreman at Nena for 20 yrs, until our house burned. Then he was at South Junction, then Maupin when he retired in 1976. Although our railroad house at Nena burned down March 1, 1964 and we lost everything including all pictures, we managed to find some later for other railroad people and got copies.
I have a ton of memories/information and several pictures about growing up at Nena. We lived 1 1/2 miles above the locked gate. We crossed the river in a rubber raft to get to the West side to our house.
My grandfather (my Dad's dad) worked at Frieda for years. He started when they were building the railroad and stayed until retired in 1945.
In the second sentence the railroad owned by James J. Hill was printed as Portland, Spokane and Seattle, It should read Spokane, Portland and Seattle or S,P & S railroad. It is a well done article.
Great article! I've been a river guide in Maupin for the last two years and I've followed this story a little bit, and read most of the book on the same topic. On a slightly different note, two days ago I saw a very short passenger train travelling along the rails. On the back I believe it said "Skagit River." Anybody know anything about passenger trains on the Deschutes?
I understand the two bypassed tunnels along Willow Creek on the present bike trail were blasted as military training during WWll.
Parts of the OT from Madras to Metolius are still visible, especially where it comes out to glance off the present hwy 97. It is very obvious at the junction of the two lines in Metolius.
I see where one can subscribe to this abandonment, I would like to see new posts on all the lines.
To the best of my recollection... because of the cool temperature provided by this old railroad tunnel, my father stored some of his potato crops here back in the 1960's...
Tunnel #5 (1.6 mi east of Mecca)at Warm Springs was used for potato storage, there are still remains of the wood doors and metal from the ventilation system. It is open to walk, access is closest from the downstream end. Tunnels #6 (2.1 west of Madras) and #7 (2 mi west of Madras)both on Willow Creek were blasted by the military but they were close enough together that the trail makes only one short detour.
Ken, Where did you come up with the numbers of the tunnels? Does anyone know anymore about the locations, lengths and conditions of other tunnels along the Oregon Trunk? Any good books on Oregon Trunk Railroad History?
M.A. Moody, at an unknown date, gained control of the Miller Toll bridge across the Deschutes. This bridge had rights back to the 1860's. A family named Miller apparently lived at a place called Miller Bridge (from an Oregon bio. on a son) in the late 1800's. As of 1919, an automobile toll ticket still refers to Miller Bridge. Reports have the bridge operating into the 1920's, but the Columbia Hwy. was the death knell. Moody may be shifting names of a site as well as the location. Moody Island is somewhere near all this where his holding were.
Added info.: Another family named Miller operating in Eugene around the 1870's was engaged in bridge building for railroads including the Oregon & California (a Villard holding then). So far, it is not known if they have anything to do with this Miller Toll Bridge which parallels the O.R.& N. line through here.
Found an Oregon Supreme Court case showing both Charles S. Miller & wife owning the bridge and debts related to a Moody: https://books.google.com/books?id=8rgDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA424&lpg=PA424&dq=charles+miller+toll+bridge+oregon&source=bl&ots=Xd3Dwclp_S&sig=ACfU3U3VHIE_93p7VcBYHkZ4cBkpt6pl9Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwis2J2k_IDgAhXLllQKHV09BDcQ6AEwD3oECAYQAQ#v=onepage&q=charles%20miller%20toll%20bridge%20oregon&f=false
Contrary to other reports, there is no mention of settler Thomas Jefferson Miller & family being the cause for naming the bridge. The Portland/Eugene Millers did build OR&N related bridges, but I could find no direct relationships. If there is one it might have something to do with grain & steamboats at Bridgeport and the Great Northern connection to this...this Hill-Harriman fight may have started much earlier in the days of Villard.