Nowhere to Nowhere" by Mike Pearsall
by Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg
Engines Roared in Owens Valley
In the lexicon of the Old West, few names conjure-up more
dreams of glory than that of the Carson & Colorado Railroad.
Henry Yerington and the moneybags of the Bank of California built
it; Lucius Beebe enshrined it; Carl Fallberg satirized it; while
time and the Washoe winds have all but erased its path.
It has been called, and fittingly so, the "Slim
Princess" owing in part to the fact that her rails were
spaced a mere three feet apart. It was also said to have been
built "300 miles too long or 300 years too soon." But
nevertheless, it survived in part even the greatest of the Nevada
short lines ... the famous and fabulously rich Virginia &
Truckee. It was in fact, the V&T and her wealth that financed
the Carson & Colorado, not only providing its northern connection
at Mound House, Nevada, now only a memory; but its visionary
plan of connecting the Carson River with the distant Colorado
River and all the silver and gold towns that would spring-up
between. Originated, planned, pushed, financed and built by the
Virginia & Truckee Railway in the early 1880's, the Carson
& Colorado was all too soon a waif, unwanted and then finally
unloaded on the unsuspecting but all powerful Southern Pacific
... just two months before news of the Tonopah gold boom resounded
across the great basin and over-shadowed the queen of the Comstock
herself, Virginia City.
Ore from Cerro Gordo, Candelaria and Tonopah rolled
over the Carson & Colorado, but never to the extent that
had been hoped. Wells, Fargo & Company's express rode the
rocking cars too, but the big silver and gold camps never materialized.
Struggling through sagebrush, Sierra snows, across Mount Montgomery
Pass and over the alkali desert, the C&C was subjected to
name changes, name calling and partial standard gauging, finally
ending its days as an isolated narrow gauge line in California's
Owens Valley, just on the east side of the lofty Sierra Nevada.
The final years saw Southern Pacific lettered on its cars, but
under flaking paint could be read the names of the Nevada &
California, Central Pacific and Carson & Colorado, while
journal box covers and other metal parts proclaimed them to have
been cast in the huge shops of the V&T at Carson. Still other
cars and engines ended their days on the valley run between Laws
and Keeler, after having served on the likes of the Florence
& Cripple Creek, South Pacific Coast and Nevada-California-Oregon.
Following the turn of the century, the Owens Valley
was robbed of its water by a distant, yet thirsty Los Angeles.
With the loss of water, the ground dried up and cracked. The
once rich mines had already played out and many farmers and ranchers
just quit trying and left the valley. The final years saw the
once grand narrow gauge making thrice-weekly runs down the desert
floor, serving the needs of Zurich, Aberdeen, Kearsarge, Manzanar,
Owenyo and Dolomite in its seventy mile coming and going between
Keeler and Laws. Oddly enough, not one single town boasted a
population in excess of 300 souls, while most could not muster
more than a few dozen citizens on a July election day!
Still the Southern Pacific narrow gauge struggled
through the sand in the desolate yet beautiful valley ... hauling
a mixed consist of borax, talc, soda ash and whatever else its
agents could drum-up to fill the wooden cars. The ranchers around
Laws provided a few carloads of cattle now and then, usually
in the autumn, but no longer did the three and four engine "Stock
Extras" blast up Mount Montgomery Pass and out across the
valley in the shadow of 14,501 foot Mount Whitney. just over
the Panamints was Death Valley, which at 282 feet below sea level
placed the highest and lowest points in the continental United
States within the confines of Inyo County.
When the end finally came in 1960 the amazing thing
was not that a part of the Old West had vanished, but that it
had lasted so long. This then is the story of the Southern Pacific's
Owens Valley narrow gauge. Operating in a land of barren contrasts,
the slim gauge defied economics, geography and progress to become
the last of her breed in the far west. Drifting across the desert
sands, smoking for all who came to watch, trailing a diminutive
and ancient consist, this was the Southern Pacific narrow gauge.
by Mallory Hope Ferrell (from his book "Southern
Pacific Narrow Gauge")
No. 18 makes
a stop at the Aberdeen water tank. The tank was filled by a windmill.
When there was insufficient wind, a water car would be coupled
behind the tender so the engine could make it between water tanks.
and sand" country of the C&C.
Engine No. 8
being turned on the gallows.
18 off of the gallows turntable at Laws.
Engine No. 9 adjacent to a standard gauge "Jawbone Branch"
Engine No. 9 adjacent to a standard gauge steam engine in 1951.
needed repair they were sent by standard gauge flat car to the
repair facility in Bakersfield. This is a photo of Engine No.
9 in February of 1951
Engine No. 8
crosses over the Owens River near Monola.
Engine No. 9
steaming through the desert of Owens Valley in 1953.
"Route of the Carson & Colorado
A string of
rolling stock shoved over the Owenyo turntable spur in 1946.
by Mallory Hope Ferrell
Run" by Mike Pearsall.
Engine #18 steaming
through Owens Valley.
Engine #18 boiling
out of the terminal yard at Laws in 1946 for a dramatic portrait
of action on the last narrow gage common carrier in operation
anywhere west of Colorado.
Engine #18 heading
north out of Owenyo on the run to Laws.
used on the Carson and Colorado Railroad, elsewhere?
curtesy of Don Kosur]
Carson & Colorado
curtesy of Bob Pilatos]