The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad

By Bill Jennings & Ralph Wyant
from Pacific News #55
believed to be January 1976 issue

Pullmans once ran the wearing desert miles from Crucero north to Death Valley Junction over a nearly forgotten railroad line, the historically unprofitable Tonopah & Tidewater. Only scattered remnants mark the 170-mile route from Ludlow on the Santa Fe north to Beatty, Nevada, but the T&T is a vivid memory even today, twenty six years after the last train ran. {March 1966 - ed}

The Tonopah and Tidewater originated as a method to get the borax ore out of the Death Valley region and to the processing plants of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, and had its early start in the 20-mule teams that had once climbed from the valley floor to Mojave, California, via Wingate Pass in the 1880's. The original construction of the Tonopah and Tidewater was out of Las Vegas, Nevada, on a route which was later used by the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad. Only a short 12 mile stretch of grade was ever completed by the T&T out of Las Vegas before the {San Pedro,} Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad (Union Pacific) refused to grant a connection in a move designed to prevent construction of the Tonopah and Tidewater in order that a similar railroad could be constructed by other persons.

Construction of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad out of Las Vegas was stopped and moved into California where a new terminal was established at Ludlow on the receptive Santa Fe. In November, 1905, the first rails were laid on the new grade out of Ludlow and construction then began in earnest towards the goal of Tonopah and the mining fields and the connection at Death Valley Junction with the borax coming out of the valley. {Lila C. mine at Ryan, 7 miles from DV Junction - ed}

The Tonopah and Tidewater reached Beatty with its rails in December, 1907, and never built any further. The mining fields to the north were now adequately served by several other new railroads, including the Las Vegas and Tonopah which had purchased the 12 miles of graded right-of-way out of Las Vegas and reached the mining fields ahead of the T&T. The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad was the last to reach the famous mining area and the last to leave.

In operation between Rhyolite, near Beatty, and Goldfield was the Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad which during its entire period of existence never ceased to be a 'problem'. On June 15, 1908, an agreement was signed which placed the stock of both the Bullfrog Goldfield and the Tonopah and Tidewater in the hands of a holding company and gave the operation of the combined railroad over to the T&T. Operations were carried out as if the entire route from Ludlow to Goldfield were only one railroad; the Tonopah and Tidewater. Through passenger trains were operated over the entire route and although two sets of records were kept, one for each railroad, the equipment was lettered for the T&T. In 1914 the agreement came to an end when the Bullfrog Goldfield joined up with the old rival of the T&T, the Las Vegas and Tonopah, and combined their parallel trackage between Beatty and Goldfield into one railroad abandoning the unnecessary trackage. As a result, the Tonopah and Tidewater again terminated its operations at Beatty, the actual end of its railroad. The new rail operations between Beatty and Goldfield were still known as the Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad but were controlled by the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad. For the next several years the T&T continued to operate with no changes.

In 1918, during World War I, the United States Railroad Administration took over operation of both the T&T and the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroads, as well as the Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad. As unnecessary, the Las Vegas and Tonopah RR. was forced into abandonment by the Administration and the T&T once again took over the operation of the Bullfrog Goldfield RR. on a temporary five year agreement which lasted for almost another ten years. In January of 1928, however, the end of the Bullfrog Goldfield was authorized and the final T&T train was operated south from Goldfield into Beatty on the 7th and the Tonopah and Tidewater once again operated on only its own trackage.

Through Pullman service operated from Los Angeles via the Santa Fe to Beatty during the late 20's although by 1930 there was only a single train each week which went up Thursday and returned Saturday to Ludlow.

In December, 1928, the railroad received a used gasoline powered rail motor car. The car was built by St. Louis Car Co. and was powered by a Winton 275 hp engine with two traction motors and a Westinghouse generator. The car was used between Ludlow and Death Valley Junction in an attempt to promote the Valley as a tourist attraction and hauled a standard Pullman car behind it for the trip. Following the abandonment of the T&T Railroad, the car, numbered 99, was sold to the Sonora Baja California Railroad in Mexico where it became #2501 and is still in service today as a pay and supply car.

In 1928 the Pacific Coast Borax Company began the closing of the Ryan and Death Valley mining operations which ended a considerable portion of the revenue for the T&T. The 3-foot gauge Death Valley Railroad, which met the T&T at Death Valley Junction, was abandoned in 1931. The Bullfrog Goldfield RR. had ended operations only three years earlier, and thus the two losses of revenue crippled the T&T with a fatal blow.

But still the T&T ran its lonesome miles, through Broadwell Dry Lake, into the wastes of Soda Dry Lake, past Baker where it crossed the present route of Interstate 15 and then headed for Beatty. Beatty, Death Valley Junction, Shoshone and Baker remain the only active towns on the old right-of-way in 1966. {Tecopa was still active at that time as well - ed}

In the interest of economy {with a small assist from Mother Nature's Floods - ed}, the 26 mile section of the T&T between Ludlow on the Santa Fe and Crucero on the Union Pacific was abandoned in the depression year of 1933. The Ludlow shops were picked up and moved to Death Valley Junction as the line continued to operated in agonizing spasms.

Pacific Coast Borax continued to pay for operating the T&T until 1938 flood damage increased costs to the point that abandonment petitions were filed in that same year. Actual abandonment was delayed both in the courts and out by possible new activity in the mines and local need for rail transportation. Truck transportation finally took over for the rail line in 1940 and on June 14th, 1940 all operations over the T&T came to an end. All track and equipment was maintained in accordance with the various agereements to keep the line available to returning to service.

Resumption of service never came, however, and with the advent of World War II, the War Department requisitioned the line. Sharp and Fellows Construction Company received the dismantling contract and began tearing out the line in July, 1942, starting at Beatty. By the following July all of the rail was removed and the Tonopah and Tidewater was out of a railroad to operatie on. Legal abandonment came on December 3, 1946, 4 1/2 years later. The 1940 provision was for substitute service by trucks, retaining the railroad for possible future use.

At Rasor, just north of Crucero, is the greatest concentration of memories. Still standing is the water tank, one of the few good wells on the line for both boiler and domestic water, and several old railroad buildings now in complete disuse. Theold ties mark the site of a cattle loading chute and a small car shed holds a tattered windsock that tells occasional airborne visitors where to land their airplanes.

From the air, the T&T stands out as an arrowstraight path across a long series of arid valleys, bottomed by dry lakes. At Death Valley Junction borax company buildings that provided the engine and car shop buildings are closed or torn down. At Crucero, a rusty switch or two mark the junction. At Ludlow, further south, the rails have left no signs. {Much of the engine house foundation remains, as well as several outbuilding foundations. In addition, many ties are in place indicating much of the engine facilities area. - ed}

Today all that remains of the T&T are the track scars, a jumble of half buried ties between Crucero and Rasor, the old water tank at Rasor and wonderful memories of a surviving few old trainmen. None of the steam engines survive. The last to be scrapped was the #8, built by Baldwin in 1907 and sold to Kaiser Steel in 1942, and used at the Fontana steel mill until replaced by a diesel.

The old cuts and trestles have faded into scars across the long remembering desert. Even if the mines come back, trucks will now carry the ore. The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad is a symbol of an age that is forgotten by most, of desert exploration days when railroads kept comapny with burros. As are the burros, the prospectors and boomtowns, the Tonopah and Tidewater is only a memory.

Copy of the Pacific News #55 supplied by Bruce Strange.


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