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Steam & Excursion > One Of This State's Oldest Railroads Rich With History & Steam!

Date: 02/09/19 02:20
One Of This State's Oldest Railroads Rich With History & Steam!
Author: LoggerHogger

While the State of California has an incredibly rich railroad history dating back to the first transcontinental railroad, there is one railroad that can claim the title of the oldest operating railroad in the State.  This railroad was the Arcata & Mad River Railroad of Arcata, California on the northern coastal area of the state. 

The A&MR was begun back in 1854 and by the time the Central Pacific started building east from Sacramento, the A&MR was already a going concern.  The 1913 passenger timetable shown here demonstrates how important the little railroad was in this remote part of California.

By the time the A&MR was turning 100 years old, she was still operating and was even buying more steam power for the line.  The railroad had been converted to standard gauge in the early 1940's and started acquiring standard gauge steam locomotives to replace the retired 45 1/2" gauge power that had been the backbone of the fleet since the beginning.

One of the very last steam locomotives added to the A&MR roster was former McCloud River RR ALCO 2-6-2 #23.  This engine was painted and lettered as A&MR #11 by the McCloud crews before she was shipped to her new home at Korbel, California where we see her here switching the yards.

In this year that we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, it is good to remember those railroads that came before that historic line was even completed.


Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 02/09/19 02:31 by LoggerHogger.

Date: 02/09/19 10:32
Re: One Of This State's Oldest Railroads Rich With History & Stea
Author: 462pacific

If I remember correctly this line was known as the "Annie & Mary" so named after two of its 
female clerical employees. I remember that back in the 1970's there was a work (scrap)
yard just off of Hwy 299 near Blue Lake that contained several locos and assorted equipment off of the
A&M. I also remember a shay that sat on the line just north of Arcata for a considerable
time. Why I didn't take the time for photos is beyond me but good memories none the

Date: 02/09/19 12:18
Re: One Of This State's Oldest Railroads Rich With History & Stea
Author: JDLX

Fascinating little railroad with an interesting history.  The brief version goes something like this:

15 December 1854- Union Wharf & Plank Walk Company organized to build a two mile long wharf and rail line from Union (now Arcata) out into Humboldt Bay.  Impetus for the wharf was to expedite transport to and from the booming mining districts in the Trinity Mountains, the wharf more or less replaced the previous way of getting supplies to and from the mines, which had been mule teams coming up the valley from the Marysville area.  First mile of the wharf completed by late February 1855.  The railroad consisted of 6x6 redwood timbers topped with 2x4 pepperwood, the odd gauge reportedly set by the first set of wheels the builders could find. 

1875- Union Plank Walk and Railroad Company organized.  First steam locomotive purchased at this time.  By this point lumber hauled into Union and then taken out onto the wharf for loading into shallow drafted schooners in the Humboldt Bay to San Francisco lumber trade dominated the traffic base.  Iron straps added onto the tops of the "rails" to help them better withstand the traffic levels.  The railroad also built its first extensions, reaching a mile from Union to Isaac Minor and Noah Falk's new Jolly Giant mill (now the site of the Humboldt State on campus dining facility) by the end of 1875, then another mile to their Dolly Varden mill in 1876.

1878- Arcata Transportation Company, organized 1878.  Isaac Minor built another mill on Warren Creek in 1881, which prompted another three and a half mile extension up the Mad River. 

1881- Arcata & Mad River incorporated.  New owners invested in new locomotives, iron rails to replace the wood rails, and other improvements. 

1883- Korbel Brothers purchase A&MR and promptly extend the line another five miles up the Mad River to North Fork (now Korbel), site of their new sawmill erected largely to provide lumber for their wine barrels. 

1903- Korbels retire from the lumber industry and sell the entire operation to the Northern Redwood Lumber Company, organized by the Riverside Lumber Company and the Charles Nelson Steamship Company.  The shipping line ownership manifested itself in that A&MR continued handling all of its traffic out onto the wharf instead of handing anything off to the Northwestern Pacific after it completed the through mainline to the south in 1914.  The self imposed isolation lasted until 1925, when the railroad finally added a third rail to standard gauge the 7.5 miles from Korblex to Korbel.  Passenger service ended in 1931, then the entire railroad shut down in 1933 after Northern Redwood idled the Korbel Mill.  Northern Redwood reorganized in 1941 and secured a Reconstruction FInance Corporation loan to rebuild the properties, which included removing all of the narrow gauge rails and scrapping all of its equipment.  The railroad at that time abandoned the five or so miles of line from Korblex down through Arcata and then onto the wharf, retaining only the 7.5 miles from Korblex to Korbel.  

1956- Simpson Timber bought Northern Redwood and A&MR.  The Shay powered excursion trains operated from 1969-1971.  The railroad remained healthy until sawmill closures started cutting into traffic in 1978.  The end came when the NWP instituted a $1,200 per carload survcharge on all traffic moving north of Willits in July 1983.  Simpson trucked lumber to a reload on the McCloud River Railroad until the Eureka Southern reopened the line to Eureka in late 1984, but they opened a new truck to rail reload in Arcata instead of reopening the A&MR.  

1988- Simpson sold the A&MR to Eureka Southern, which reopens the A&MR and restors service to the last two sawmills on the line, the Simpson mill in Korbel and Blue Lake Forest Products in Glendale.  EUKA and then North Coast Railroad continued operating the old A&MR until 1993, when bad track conditions and an undermined pier on the Mad River bridge forced the railroad's closure again and the two shippers resorted to trucking lumber to reloads in Arcata.  North Coast Railroad let A&K Railroad Materials salvage the track materials to satisfy unpaid bills in late 1997.  North Coast Railroad Authority still owns the right-of-way, though it has been encroached upon in many places.  Will be intereting to see what happens to it given NCRA's imminent dissolution.

And yes, the A&MR was known for many years as the "Annie & Mary", reportedly after Annie Carroll and Mary Buckley, bookeepers in the North Fork and Arcata depots.  Here are three pictures, the sign on the old Blue Lake depot (now a museum), the old A&MR grade cutting through Blue Lake- note the A&MR train featured in the mural on the building to the left- and then the pilings of the wharf extending out into Humboldt Bay.  

Jeff Moore
Elko, NV 

Date: 02/09/19 13:40
Re: One Of This State's Oldest Railroads Rich With History & Stea
Author: SierraRail

Arcata & Mad River Shay #7 crossing Mad River bridge, September, 1969.

Date: 02/09/19 15:04
Re: One Of This State's Oldest Railroads Rich With History & Stea
Author: callum_out

That wasn't a scrap yard off 299 but rather the collection of a local historical society.


Date: 02/09/19 19:10
Re: One Of This State's Oldest Railroads Rich With History & Stea
Author: JDLX

Specifically the collection of the Northern Counties Logging Interpretive Association, an auxiliary organization of the California Department of Parks and Recreation (Fort Humboldt State Park specifically). A lot of the equipment had been stashed in one of the Eureka parks prior to moving to the site. NCLIA has since become Timber Heritage Association, they were forced to leave that site when the owner sold it out from underneath them, fortunately a short while later they were able to swing a deal to move the collection to the old Hammond roundhouse in Samoa.

Jeff Moore
Elko, NV

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