Sumpter Valley Railroad, Baker County, Oregon


     The Sumpter Valley Railway was Oregon's most famous and long-lived narrow gauge railroad. It its glory days it ran from Baker City to Prairie City, a distance of 80.1 miles and carried logs and lumber, machinery and merchandise, gold and cattle, as well as passengers until its demise in 1947.

In 1884 the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company reached Baker City and completed a rail connection with the rest of the world. In 1889 David Eccles, with considerable timber holdings in the area, made a return trip to Baker City. Local logging and lumber business was brisk, and the coming of the railroad opened a vast new market. So, on August 15, 1890, with David Eccles as president and C.W. Nibley, John Stoddard, Wm. Eccles and F.M. Shurtliff as board of directors the Sumpter Valley Railway were formed. Joseph A. West was superintendent. It was easier, faster and more economical to build a narrow gauge (3' gauge) railroad than a standard gauge. Too, there was narrow gauge equipment readily available at reasonable price stored at Pocatello, Idaho; so the S.V.R.R. was built a narrow gauge.

     Construction started from the Oregon Lumber Co. mill site in South Baker, with roundhouse and shop building. Grading and track lying proceeded up Powder River toward tall timber. The first locomotive to arrive from Pocatello was ex-Utah Northern #385, a 4-4-0 Baldwin built, and it was put to work immediately on a construction train. By October, 1891, rails reached milepost 22.5 at McEwen. A tie mill was constructed there and a small town sprang up. As the timber was harvested, rails were extended to Sumpter, mile-post 29, in 1896.

     Now the moving of heavy mining equipment into Sumpter was a much easier task. It was also much cheaper and quicker for Sumpter merchants to stock their stores. Grading and track lying continued up and over Larch Summit and into Whitney. By 1901 milepost 43.4 was reached. Whitney boasted a large mill and several logging spurs that brought logs down to it; the Sumpter Valley hauled many carloads of green and finished lumber from it., Rails reached Tipton, milepost 51 in 1904, and on down to Bates-Austin milepost 60.2 in 1905. At one time there were two large sawmills at Austin and quite a large mill complex at Bates, where there were company houses for married workers and a large hotel with bard and room for single workers. There were several logging branches working the hills and valleys out of Bates-Austin. Grading and track were completed over Dixie summit in a series of switchbacks and sown to Prairie City to milepost 80.1, completed in 1910.

     In 1933 service was cut back to Bates. The last passenger train operated July 31, 1937; and the last train ran on the Sumpter Valley Railway in 1947. (W.A. Wilt, S.V.R.R. Restoration)

Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration, Inc.

    In 1970, a small group of people met to explore the idea of restoring the Sumpter Valley Railway.  Among those in attendance were Nils Christensen, Bob Church, Joe Hayse, Leland Myers, Laura Hayse, and Jack Gyllenberg.  As a result, a non-profit organization was formed dedicated to acquiring, restoring, preserving, maintaining and operating a portion as an historical and educational operating museum.

   From the years 1971 to 1976 the membership grew and amid cries of joy, from the hard working restoration crew, No. 3 steamed her way proudly onto the low-boy of Benís Transfer for the trip to Dredge Station, and return home to Sumpter Valley.

   In 1977, the White Pass and Yukon Railroad in Skagway, Alaska, provided S.V.R.R. with two original SVRy Schenectady 2-8-2 type locomotives, numbered 19 and 20, with the stipulation that they be removed from Skagway by July 1 of that year.  The restoration association president and volunteers put this huge loading and transportation task together.  Anderson Tug and Barge Co. of Juneau was contracted to haul the two rod engines to Seattle.  Union Pacific again helped by hauling them, plus a steam powered narrow-gauge snowplow from dockside to Baker.

   Baker County has cooperated at Dredge Station and has erected a day park nearby, with picnic tables and restroom facilities.  CETA crews helped with the rail laying task.  They have, with the wildlife Commission, put in a series of nature trails, to allow visitors to see many forms of wildlife in their natural habitat.

   From Memorial Weekend to the last weekend in September, volunteer crews fire up the engine and make four runs each Saturday, Sunday, and Holidayfor the increasing number of tourist travelers on the Sumpter Valley Railway.

   Officers for the 1986-87 year are: President, J.D. Lethlean, II; Vice-President, Scott Hutton; and Treasurer, Janet Shepardson.  The Board of Directors include:  Leland Myers, Dale Lethlean, Ray Dielman, Steve Masters, Dale Olsen, John Britschgi, Bill Wilt, Norman Myers, and Bill J. Robinson.  (W.A. Wilt, S.V.R.R. Restoration)

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