|Last Update: July 23, 2006
|General Map of the Railroads
Blue dots indicate the 1935 abandoned sections of the
Deschutes Railroad. Red dots indicate the Oregon Trunk Line
that today is operated by the BNSF and the UP jointly, and
continues to Bend, Oregon and beyond. Green dots indicate
where the Oregon Trunk and Deschutes shared track beginning
|Part One of a two part series
Click here to skip to part two
This part contains:
The History of both railroads,
the abandoned Deschutes Railroad from Moody to North Junction,
The currently active line from Celico to Paxton
|One of the last railroad wars to occur, happened right here in the state of Oregon. In the end, the dispute was settled,
but not after men died and property was damaged. Today, one line lays abandoned and the other still in use. This article
will discuss primarily the abandoned Deschutes Railroad and it's remains, as well as the abandoned sections of the
original Oregon Trunk.
The story is quite complicated, so what you will read here is a very abbreviated version. In 1908, construction of two
competing railroads was begun at the confluence of the Deschutes and Columbia Rivers. The Oregon Trunk railroad
was to connect with the Union Pacific on the south bank of the Columbia River, while the Deschutes Railroad was to
connect with the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railroad, located on the north bank of the Columbia River.
The Deschutes Railroad Company, a subsidiary of Union Pacific, was the first to take action on what was thought to be a
lucrative railroad route. Surveys were conducted as early as 1906 along the banks of the Deschutes River. It was
decided that the east bank offered the best route and the Deschutes Railroad began to survey and construct there. Not
long afterwards, the Oregon Trunk Railroad, which was incorporated in Nevada by investors from Seattle, with the sole
purpose of running a railroad down the Deschutes, began its own surveys and construction along the west bank of the
Over the next few years, the railroads would be involved in numerous legal disputes over accessing the river canyon.
Specifically, because at several points along the route, both sides were competing for the same ground. While railroad
wars were common in the 1800s because railroad companies were often rewarded with more land, the quicker they could
build, they had subsided by the 1900s. However, the dispute between the Oregon Trunk and the Deschutes Railroad
quickly deteriorated into essentially a railroad war. One of the last to occur in the U.S. Competing construction crews
would often blow up each other's supplies and black powder stores, dump boulders on the camps and even get into gun
battles! Men were even apparently killed. The local Sheriff had to get involved and made several arrests while enforcing
An old cemetery does exist on a hillside next to one of the most contested sections of the railroad, according to USGS
maps. A railroad camp existed nearby as over 1000 men once worked on two tunnels. The contested site is where the
two companies had to build tunnels right next to each other on the same side of the river, and many disputes occurred
here. No doubt people were injured and perhaps killed at this site.
By 1910, trains were beginning to run on the two lines. By 1912, construction was mostly complete and both
railroads would operate on mostly separate railroads on either side of the river for several decades.
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 used on the line. Later, the SP&S merged with Burlington Northern. The Deschutes Railroad was owned by
Union Pacific and operated as a separate railroad.
The first sectional abandonment occurred when the Oregon Trunk abandoned its line between South Junction and
Metolius in 1923, and began using the Deschutes Railroad track from South Junction into Madras and Bend under a
trackage rights agreement. This abandoned section had three tunnels, one of which still exists today and can be easily
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 costs of maintenance. From this time forward, the railroad was essentially a single line operated
by two companies.
Today, the Deschutes Railroad and Oregon Trunk names are no longer used; instead the line is jointly operated by Union
Pacific, who owned the Deschutes Railroad and Burlington Northern Sante Fe, who owned the Oregon Trunk. The line
is owned by and maintained by both companies. Generally, the line is maintained during the day and trains run a pretty
regular and busy schedule at night, although I've seen a number of trains running during the day as well. Recently, a
large amount of 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.
While somewhat jointly owned with the UP, it does seem that the tracks are primarily maintained and used by the BNSF,
with the UP using the line via trackage agreements that sometimes force it to run during odd hours.
|Celico to the Twin Crossings
|Both the Oregon Trunk and the Deschutes Railroad originate from the south bank of the Columbia River. The abandoned Deschutes
Railroad originated from near the current site of Miller. Nothing is left of Miller, but the line connected to the Union Pacific route that was
already built on the west bank of the Columbia River. The Oregon Trunk railroad originates at a place called Celilo. Originally a Native
American village located at a major fishing spot at Celilo falls, before the Columbia River dams were built. The Oregon Trunk had to connect
to its parent line by crossing the vast Columbia River and connecting with the Spokane Portland and Seattle on the north bank in Washington
state. Initially, before the bridge was built, building materials and later trains were shipped across the river via barges. Today, the
Deschutes railroad is long gone, but the Oregon Trunk survives still traveling over many of the original steel bridge and rock tunnels that were
built in the early 20th century.
The first ~23 miles of the Deschutes Railroad from the Columbia River south is now a combination of gravel roads and trails that is largely
gated from public vehicle travel. However, it is open to hiking and biking. What remains still existed on this stretch of the abandoned
Deschutes Railroad was a mystery to me until Ryan Mishler was kind enough to share some photos of some very interesting artifacts found
on a mountain bike trip through the area. (see below) From approximately milepost 1 to ~20 is a dirt road over the old RR grade, accessible
by bike. From milepost 20 to approximately 23 is a trail, possibly accessible by bike, but cut off by several large trestles that were removed or
burned after the railroad was abandoned.
From approximately milepost 23 (near Box Canyon), south to Maupin is open to vehicle traffic and accessible from Sherars Bridge or Maupin.
There isn't much to see in terms of history of the Deschutes Railroad, but its a great place to railfan the current BNSF/UP Oregon Trunk
operations on the other side of the river.
|The first 20 or so miles of the Deschutes Railroad was converted to a dirt road after the line was abandoned in 1934. However, today it is only accessible to the
public via hiking or biking. Ryan Mishler road about the first 10 miles recently and shared these photos, which show the old railroad grade. Ryan points out in
steep rock in the middle photo that was likely blasted out to make way for the original railroad.
Ryan Mishler Photos.
|Ryan discovered these interesting features, I believe located approximately 8 miles down the old railroad grade, at what would have been about milepost 9 on the
Deschutes Railroad. A short trestle and an abandoned railroad tool car. I'm guessing the trestle was left in place to allow vehicle access to this area after the
1930s, although it's clearly not used for that anymore. The tool car is more of a mystery. Whether it was placed here by the railroad and used prior to
abandonment or placed here by fisherman as a bunk house, who used the grade as an access road after it was abandoned, is not known. Approximately 3.5 miles
further to the south is said to exist the old Harris Ranch and a water tower used by the Deschutes Railroad. Both are indicated on 1974 USGS maps, but I'm not
sure what's left today.
Ryan Mishler Photos.
|The Twin Crossings
|Twin crossings is one of more interesting sites along the two railroad routes. This is as far north as I've explored, so this photo feature
begins here. This was one of the most contested build sites of both railroads, because both lines had to tunnel on the same side of the
river right next to each other. The tunnels would also be most significant in length of all the tunnels on the two lines, meaning the two
competing crews had to spend a significant amount of time together. A number of fights broke out and at one point one crew at to move their
camp due to the blasting activities of the other crew. Today, the Oregon Trunk tunnel and two steel bridges still survive today and are actively
used by the BNSF/UP. However, the Deschutes River tunnel was blasted shut sometime after 1935 when its line was abandoned. When
the Deschutes RR was converted to a road probably well after World War Two, the road was built over the site of the Deschutes tunnel, but a
few hints of the grade and some concrete abutments of small bridges can still be seen in the area.
|The two photos on the left are looking north from the site of the Deschutes RR tunnel. As you can see, there is literally no hint of the Deschutes grade here. Long
covered by rock slides, probably from the road construction as it was built over the tunnel. The two right photos are of the north bridge of the two bridges that
crossed over the Deschutes River. This is facing southwest. Heading south on the west bank, the Oregon Trunk crossed the Deschutes river, entered its tunnel on
the east bank and then crossed back over the Deschutes and continued down on the west bank again. This route was chosen to keep the line as straight as possible
in this particular location. In looking at the maps, it appears the S curve route that would have been the alternative wouldn't have been any more unusual that
other S curves on the route, leading me to wonder if the site was chosen just as much as a provocation to the Deschutes RR as it was a strategic location.
Photos: August, 2005
|These photos are of the south end of the tunnels. The two pictures on the left are facing south, showing the road that is now built over the old Deschutes grade
before it climbs up and over the tunnel. If you look closely in the second picture, you can see some indication of the old grade close to the river. The next photo
shows the south Oregon Trunk bridge that the line uses just as it exits the tunnel heading south. The two right photos were taken south of the Twin Crossings site.
Facing north, they show the abandoned Deschutes grade, converted to a road on the right and the active Oregon Trunk RR on the left. Photos: August, 2005.
|Sherars bridge is a location named after a man who built a bridge here in the late 1800s and charged people to cross it. Being the only
Deschutes river crossing for many miles, this was a major pioneer crossing even before the railroads were built through here. Today a
modern bridge is built in place of the original structure and highway is less important to Eastern Oregon. This is also a very important fishing
spot for local Native Americans who reside on the nearby Warms Springs Reservation. Both railroads built through here. Today, only the
Oregon Trunk survives. The Deshutes Railroad was abandoned in the mid 1930s and subsequently turned into an access road.
|The photos on the left are a cut that was probably dug out when the Deschutes railroad was built, but today serves as a cut for the highway and access road built
over the grade. The photos on the right are of the Sherars Bridge area, including the bridge itself and the falls nearby. The first photo is looking north with the
current active Oregon Trunk line in the background. The second photos is facing east, with the abandoned Deschutes line in the background, now converted to an
access road. Photos: August, 2005
|Sherars Bridge on the active Oregon Trunk line is the site of this railroad bridge and an abandoned loading dock. What exactly was loaded here and when it was
last used is not clear. Note the milepost 47.2. This is 47 miles south of the Columbia River, the beginning of the line. Photos: August, 2005
|Maupin is one of the major towns on the route of the active Oregon Trunk line and one of the only towns in which both the Oregon Trunk and
Deschutes Railroad passed through. Established long before the railroads, it began a major staging ground for construction crews and
served as a major stop on the line. Today, its a small town, and its importance to the railroad significantly reduced. It is still a staging stop
for maintenance crews and occasionally, maintenance equipment and in this case, locomotives, can be found parked there.
|The old Deschutes Railroad grade between Twin Crossings and Maupin was converted into a road and is open to the public. Most of the road is actually paved.
Along the route you have a great view of the Oregon Trunk Railroad on the west bank of the river. The land here is owned by the BLM and the BLM rangers patrol
this area and the several campgrounds that exist here, primarily for fisherman and boaters. Photos: August, 2005
|Maupin is a fairly small town, but a major town for the surrounding area, which is relatively remote and isolated. The BNSF's maintenance shops for a substantial
section of track are based here so you can occasionally see a engine and MoW equipment parked here. Note the mural on the side of the building depicting
early scenes of the building of the Oregon Trunk, in particular, the Twin Crossings tunnels. This short stretch of track was laid in front of the building as a display.
Photos: August, 2005
|Dant and more abandoned tunnels
|The Deschutes Railroad continued south out of Maupin on the same side of the river (east side) as north of Maupin. But unlike much of the
sections north of Maupin, the southern sections out of Maupin are not open to the public. And that's a shame, because they are among the
most interesting. The grade was turned into a gravel road after it was abandoned and the public can drive south about 4 miles before
running into a gate near Devil's Canyon. The gate is controlled by a private club called the Deschutes River club. The land beyond the gate
is, however, open to hiking and biking, from what I understand. Just not vehicle traffic.
Beyond the gate lies several tunnels, including tunnels that were converted for vehicle traffic and an abandoned tunnel that was bypassed.
About 12 miles south of Maupin on the old Deschutes Railroad grade is the site of Dant. Dant is actually on the west side of the river and
was actually serviced by the Oregon Trunk. It was a major Perlite Mine that was opened in the 1940s and operated through the 1950s. A
number of buildings were built on the site and a ferry built to access the site from the Deschutes Railroad side. However, the mine has been
long closed and only a few buildings still exist. See here for more pics.
About 1/2 a mile south of Dant, on the abandoned Deschutes Railroad side, is a tunnel that was converted to allow vehicles to pass through
after the railroad was abandoned in the mid 1930s. 5 miles south of Dant is another tunnel. I believe this tunnel is actually abandoned and
the road now bypasses it, but I'm not positive. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to visit or get any pictures from this area.
|North Junction is 20 miles south of Maupin on the east side of the river. This site is significant, because its the first location where the
Deschutes Railroad and Oregon Trunk joined and used the same track. At this site, the Oregon Trunk crossed from the west bank to the
east bank and connected with the Deschutes Railroad. Both companies used the same track for the next 10 plus miles until reaching South
Junction. The reason was that the Oregon Trunk would have had to build its west bank line on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. To
avoid the hassle they struck a deal with the Deschutes to share trackage rights. Initially, both railroads actually began to build two separate
lines right next to each along this stretch, before agreeing to share a single line. Today, the two lines still share this stretch of track, just as
they did before, only the names of the companies have changed. The Oregon Trunk is now the BNSF and the Deschutes Railroad is now the
UP. I haven't visited this site and don't have any pictures yet.
|South Junction, located 10 miles south of North Junction is where the two lines once again separated and went their own ways. Today,
South Junction is a major passing siding for the BNSF/UP crews that operate this railroad. But as recently as a few decades ago, it was a
still a major train order station, complete with a depot, bunk buildings and maintenance buildings. Today, only a few bunk buildings remains.
|By vehicle, South Junction is accessed by a very long, very steep, but well graded gravel road. Today little exists here that resembles a town, except for what
appears to a very small resort and a couple of older remaining railroad buildings or shacks. Of interest was two brown buildings siting side by side with Union
Pacific markings on them. Its not clear if they were cars, converted into bunk houses or what, but they appeared to be occupied by someone when we were there.
Note the huge pile of discarded railroad spikes that is nearly as tall as my father in law. Many appeared to be nearly new. I presume this was from a lengthy
section of track south of here was recently converted over to concrete ties. Photos: August, 2005
|Note the bunk houses. I believe these were related to the railroad and were probably occupied when the depot/train order station was in use here. Its not clear
who uses these today, but its almost certainly for recreational purposes. Note the tie removal crane and old speeder trailer that was pushed off into the weeds.
Photos: August, 2005
|While visiting South Junction, we were treated to two BNSF trains, with the southbound freight approaching first and taking the passing siding. The conductor
dismounts the locomotive and opens siding switch. He was kind enough to chat with my father in law for a brief moment, then climbed back aboard and continued
down the passing siding. As soon as he was clear of the switch, the signal turned from red to green. Photos: August, 2005
|A few moments later, the northbound train approached. In the days were cabooses no longer serve, the conductor on the mainline train has no choice but to
dismount and realign the switch before continuing on. At the other end of the siding, the southbound train's conductor will have to do the same thing on his end
of the siding. From this point along the line, the train is still several hours away from its destination of the BNSF Wishram Yard on the north bank of the Columbia
River. Interestingly, the signal light turned from green to red the moment the first engine passed the signal. Photos: August, 2005
|Gateway was just a small town along the railroad and probably is an even smaller community today, with not even so much as a store or gas
station. But it has one rare feature. A remaining abandoned depot. Its not clear when the depot was built, but it's construction is very unique
among depots. Its far more reminiscent of a barn than a depot. It's architecture is also very similar to the depot that once existed in Madras,
but is now gone. Gateway was also apparently known as Galloway to the railroad.
|The depot was locked up, but it was clearly abandoned and in rather poor shape. We were able peak inside through a hole in one of the doors. The interior
looked like it was later converted into a home, which might explain why it wasn't destroyed in the late 1970s. It almost looks as though the last residents just packed
up and left and the depot has not been touched since. One interesting aspect of the depot is the paint scheme. Note how some exterior walls were painted
yellow with red trim while others are painted white with green trim. I surmise that the yellow/red colors were actually the SP&S depot color scheme painted
sometime before 1970. The white/green color scheme is Burlington Northern would have used after it merged with the SP&S after 1970. It appears the railroad
began to repaint the depot into the new white/green colors sometime in the early 1970s before giving up. Photos: August, 2005
|It's not clear if a depot used to exist here or not, but it was a stop along the railroad, complete with a siding. Today, it's little more than an
abandoned siding or maintainence dump, where the railroad seemed to have at least dumped some old concrete ties.
|Paxton is now the location of a passing siding and probably regularly used for this. A third siding/spur exists here, but it's not clear what its original purpose was or
if a depot existed here. Although the location is called Paxton, there is no actual town nearby. Photos: August, 2005
|Click here for Part Two
The abandoned sections, the rest of the active line and historical photos.
|Click on the below links for addition information about this railroad and it's colorful history.
A link with a few photos of the Deshutes area today
|If anyone has any further information or pictures about the Oregon Trunk Railroad and/or
the Deschutes Railroad, please let me know. You can Email me anytime. Thanks.
|Return to the Railroad History Page
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|Copyright © 2004-2006 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
Note about the photos on this site:
Most photos were taken by me, except for those that are otherwise indicated. I usually allow people to use my photos for personal use or
websites. Simply Email me. I may not have authority to grant permission regarding some photos that were only loaned to me by others
specifically for this website. Every effort has been made not to include other's photos without the proper permission and credits, however, if
you see any photos which belong to you and that I don't have permission to use, I apologize. If you send me an Email, I will remove the
photos immediately or give proper credit, which ever you wish.
|It's a mystery why this depot still exists. The railroad seemed to adopt the policy of destroying all the depots along its tracks when it stopped using the last of them
in the mid to late 1970s as train order stations. The only ones to survive, in Metolius and Redmond were both moved and sold to another party. Note how the
railroad has put up two signs along the route. One for Gateway and another for Galloway (presumably it's former name). Also note the modern concrete ties which
were recently installed here. Photos: August, 2005