AGE OF STEAM ROUNDHOUSE MUSEUM

Yreka Western steam engine #19 arrives at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio, in June 2017. The museum acquired the legendary engine for $400,000.

Editor’s note: Part I of a two-part series.

One of the joys of retirement is that it gives me time to visit over coffee with friends. As the readers know, I devoted a great deal of my energies to what I hope is bringing happy times through tourism, the Cottage Grove Carousel, and now with Bohemia Mining Days.

In speaking with younger folks – 30-40 years old – regarding BMD, the topics that constantly come up are the Lemati Gang, the Cavemen from Cave Junction, and, of course, the memories of the train ride on the Blue Goose. The Goose excursion train ride and BBQ at the end of the track, before the turnaround, while sitting on hay bales listening to Western swing music were a big part of BMD celebration, when Jean and I came to South Valley.

One of the highlights of riding from Cottage Grove to Culp Creek/Disston on the Blue Goose Passenger Train was a holdup by the Lemati Gang of bandits riding horseback and boarding the train. This was an outstanding event for locals as well as the tourists. This RR line closed in 1987 and is now the Row River Trail, Rails to Trails, used by bicyclists and hikers.

The question of what happened to the Lemati Gang and the Cavemen from Cave Junction often comes up. The answer all boils down to changing the culture and the acceptance of stage plays with firearms. This, of course, spills over into the only insurance policy available for this type of stage acting today – which is Lloyds’ of London at a very costly rate.

There is what I call a love affair with that beautiful Steam Engine #19. I am often asked the origin of that engine. It was built in 1915 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Pa. The style/classification of the locomotive is a Mikado. In railroaders’ terms it is called simply a Mike. The engine is a 2-8-2 locomotive and weighs 90 tons and was built as a coal burner, but converted to oil.

The designation of the wheel alignment 2-8-2 is two leader wheels/pilot wheels, eight driving wheels, four on each side, and two trailing truck wheels under the fire box. The engine was built with a 5,000-gallon tender but was later converted to a 4,000-gallon tender. 

An identical engine, #18, was built in 1914. The two engines, #18 and #19, were united on the Yreka RR in the early 1970s. The #18 saw service for the McCloud River Railroad for many years. The #18 and #19 moved freight and lumber. Engine #18 was sold to Virginia and Truckee RR in 2005, was totally restored in 2007 and is an active member of the Truckee RR from Carson City, Nev., to Virginia City, Nev. 

Many short-line railroads used the Mikado as their road engine. They were used for freight and limited passenger service. The Mike was popular throughout the western hemisphere as a logging locomotive to haul lumber and logs.

Engine 19 was ordered and delivered to the Caddo Choctow RR and Caddo River Lumber Company in Rosboro, Ark. The engine, today, is the property of the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugar Creek, Ohio. It is completely stripped, meaning the boiler jacket is off, all tubes are removed, the fire box is removed, all side rods, journals/bearings, axles removed. The engine is undergoing a complete restoration. In dismantling the engine, the restoration crews found many broken parts that were undetectable over the past 102 years. 

The engine was purchased by the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum from the Yreka Western RR out of northern California. 

It was purchased through a sheriff’s sale for $400,000. Through the years, the engine saw service on several short line RRs, including a mining operation in Mexico. It eventually came to Eureka, Calif., and in 1971 was brought to Cottage Grove, Ore., to operate on the OP&E as a tourist attraction/passenger train.

The OP&E RR was started in 1904 as OP & Southern. It was renamed OP&E in 1912. The short-line junction connected with the Southern Pacific Main Line, at Cottage Grove. The SP line was known as the Siskiyou Route. At that time SP was the main carrier of freight and passenger service from Portland to California. SP built the Cascade Route in 1926, which today is used by Amtrak and is a main freight carrier from Eugene to Oakridge and into Central Oregon through Klamath Falls. SP was sold to Union Pacific /Santa Fe.

Southern Pacific maintained the freight Siskiyou line for service to Creswell, Cottage Grove, Sutherlin, Roseburg, and further south for freight service. The Siskiyou Line was bought by COR in 1996 from SP and is operated as a freight line today, servicing the Willamette Valley, Umpqua Valley, and the Rogue, and to the south. The line still has spurs that service Cone Lumber at Goshen, a spur line goes into the old Bald Knob log pond veneer plant at Creswell, an active spur into the old Bohemia plant site at Saginaw, and then the abandoned spur line connecting with OP&E in Cottage Grove, and three spur lines going into Weyerhaeuser plywood, sawmill, and Lam plant in Cottage Grove, and numerous other service spur lines south into California.

Another short line owned by OC runs from Eugene through Veneta, Noti, Florence, and south to Coos Bay and Coquille. It was abandoned for several years, but became important enough to be rehabilitated with Federal Government money and investment by OC&E. Many jobs were created by this rail system and many tax dollars paid to the schools and county through the freight service.

OP&E Short Line was first built for logging and supplying the Bohemia Mines. Originally constructed at 18.5 miles, it was shortened to 15.5 miles, ending at a hairpin turnaround at Culp Creek. It serviced Bohemia Plywood and Lumber Company Mill, as well as the excursion passenger train through the beautiful country and lakeside between CG and Disston/Culp Creek.

The original investor in the OP&E RR was J. H. Chambers, who had a partnership with the Woodard Lumber Company. Chambers is also responsible for the only remaining covered RR bridge west of the Mississippi. That RR bridge is over the Coast Fork of the Willamette River at Harrison Avenue, South Cottage Grove. The bridge serviced the logging RR from Cottage Grove through Gowdyville and over the mountain to Lorane. Chambers had a small sawmill at Lorane, along with timberland. He built the RR to haul larger logs to his mill on the east side of the Coast Fork of the Willamette River. 

The millsite was called Chambers Mill, and occupied land between Harrison, where the fire department is today, and all the new housing development is today. That was all millsite. From 1925-46, the mill operated as a sawmill and was a major source of employment in the area. The mill burned in 1946. The site was cleared and sold to Warren Daughtery and used as a “pole yard” for telephone and light poles. The railroad was closed in 1951.

The Cottage Grove Historical Society has many pictures of the mill site and of the early RR covered bridge. The bridge, being higher than River Road – there was a long railroad ramp that raised the track west of River Road. River Road had a raised ramp/bridge over the railroad tracks. There are pictures of a flatbed truck crashing through that ramp.

Next week: A look at how the RRs and Hollywood merged in our area.