Old railroad lines
create new adventures

n By Mark Clark

D

o you like puzzles?  Do you like putting together disparate pieces of information to solve a mystery?  If so, you’ll enjoy looking for the remains of the extensive network of logging railroads in Klamath County. 

To find those remains, you’ll have to get out and hike around.  Once you’ve located them, you’ll be able to follow the old train beds, traveling the same route loggers and train engineers did years ago.  With luck, you’ll find some old wood pieces from a track or, if you are really lucky, perhaps a railroad spike or some piece of railroad equipment.  

Close your eyes and imagine the sounds of a steam locomotive and the rocking of the freight cars - the past is as close as you imagine it to be.
Railroads and logging are closely linked in Klamath County.  In the early 20th century, the county had the largest stand of old-growth timber in the lower 48 states, but there was no way to bring it to market.  When the Southern Pacific railway line arrived in Klamath Falls in 1909, it created an economic boom that lasted for decades. Logging railroads snaked up almost every drainage basin in search of trees to feed the mills.  At the height of the boom in the late 1920s, Klamath Falls was the largest shipping point between San Francisco and Portland.

In more recent years, logging trucks and roads have replaced railroad locomotives and train tracks as the means of removing logs from the forest. The logging railroads were abandoned and their steel rails removed. The road beds, wooden ties and a variety of other detritus was abandoned where it stood, however, and the traces of those days still remain for those who know where to look.
One of the easiest ways to explore the legacy of Klamath County’s logging railway days is to hike or bike the OC&E Woods Line State Trail. Originally built as the Klamath Falls Municipal Railway in 1915, the line stretched from Klamath Falls to the tiny town of Dairy.  It was renamed the Oregon, California and Eastern railroad in 1923 and extended to the vicinity of Sprague River.  The line’s primary customer was the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, which eventually purchased the line in 1974 and operated it until 1991.  After the railroad grade was abandoned, the easement was converted into a recreational trail.

The trail extends some 100 miles from Klamath Falls to Bly and Sycan Marsh, with the first eight miles from Klamath Falls being paved.  The trail passes through farmland, forest and open range, affording many scenic views.  

One of the most interesting sections of the trail is Switchback Hill, located near the junction of Bliss Road and Forest Road 22. Built as a “temporary” measure to avoid the cost of constructing a tunnel, the switchbacks were used throughout the life of the railroad. Located at a way point on the OC&E trail, the location is well marked, and there is a logging railroad car on display. 

If you proceed down Forest Road 22 to the bottom of the hill, the curve of the road bed is visible as it ascends toward the summit.  A short walk on the trail leads to the intersection of the OC&E with the roadbed of the logging railroad of the Shaw-Bertram Lumber Company and the Big Lakes Lumber Company.  A lonely flat car is hidden in the weeds here. The dirt path leading from Forest Road 22 to the OC&E trail is actually the bed of the Nine Lumber Company’s logging railroad, which was only a mile long and used horse-drawn cars to bring logs to the main rail line.

If this taste of railroad history interests you, we suggest you purchase a copy of Discovering Klamath: Tours Through History in the Land of Lakes (2012), a publication of the Shaw Historical Library.  The book contains a number of suggested tours of the area’s logging railroads, as well as tours related to other historical topics. For a broad historical overview, Jack Bowden’s Railroad Logging in Klamath Country (2003) is the definitive treatment of the topic.

Happy hunting and we hope you enjoy your search for this piece of the Old West.