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Steam & Excursion > This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!

Date: 09/07/19 03:26
This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: LoggerHogger

One of the most unique steam logging railroads in the U.S. had to be the Michigan-California Lumber Company logging line out of Camino, California.  The way this line was constructed to overcome one giant obstacle, was nothing short of amazing.

Originally built and the American River Land & Lumber Co., the very name chosen by it's founders was a gripping reminder of what they faced to build this line.  The connection they had to the outside world would be the small town of Camino, California, some 40+ miles east of Sacramento.  It was there that they wanted to build their mill. 

Even though Camino was not on the Southern Pacific, the company built the Camino, Placerville & Lake Tahoe Ry. that would finally connect with the SP at Placerville. 

Unfortunately for the founders, the timber land they owned that would supply that mill was several more miles to the north east of Camino and would need to be reached by rail.  This would not have been too much of a challenge but for the deep American River Canyon that was between Camino and The company's timber.  This was a problem.

The solution chosen was to build a pair of cable towers on each side of the canyon so that loaded rail cars could be swung out of the north cable tower and head for the south cable tower and empties follow the opposite path.  Unfortunately, the cable system was not felt safe for the use of raw logs loads, so another element to the solution had to be developed.

The founders decided they could build a rough-cut lumber mill at a spot in the center of their timber holdings called Pino Grande.  From here the narrow gauge geared engines would go up to the cutting areas in the woods and bring back raw logs for their first cutting in the Pino Grande Mill.  Then the rough cut lumber would be loaded on special cars that were designed to fit on the cable system built over the American River Canyon. 

Once across the canyon, the cars of rough cut lumber were taken over the second "section" of the logging line from South Cable to the mill at Camino.  Once at the 2nd mill at Camino, the lumber received it's second cutting and was loaded on box cars for shipment out the Camino, Placerville & Lake Tahoe Ry for shipment out on the SP.

In this photo we see Mich-Calif Shay #1 and her train of loaded cars filled with rough-cut lumber on their we down from South Cable to the mill at Camino in the 1940's.

When a fire at the South Cable on March 15, 1949 destrowed the cable, the operation was nearly out of timber and shut down for good soon thereafter.  Thus ended one of the most unusual logging operations in the Country.


Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 09/07/19 03:51 by LoggerHogger.

Date: 09/07/19 08:05
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: CPR_4000

It's hard to tell ... are those disconnects loaded with boards? They look like single trucks.

Date: 09/07/19 09:33
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: JLKirk

Those are 22' home-built skeleton cars fitted out to haul the finished lumber coming from Pino Grande down to Camino.  Hand brakes only with link and pin couplers.

Joel Kirk

Date: 09/07/19 11:08
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: railscenes

Amazing! Guess these logging operations never heard of the “law of diminishing returns”? Just getting a narrow gauge shay with enough light weight cars across the American River on a cable system to haul the rough cut lumber would make this flat lander to think twice about the risks of loss of life, limb and money. Wouldn’t the Michigan & California Lumber have other timber land to harvest closer to a mainline rail head? Was this operation unique, or were there other 2 mill operations using the cable system to cross rivers?
Thanks for sharing your photo and knowledge of this operation. Steve Rippeteau

Posted from iPhone

Date: 09/07/19 12:06
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: hotrail

Wow, Martin.  I am amazed at how much knowledge and great images you have.  We really appreciate your sharing them so generously.  
I love stories like this about the lines that were built to develop California and its natural resources.  The men who invested in and built this road really overcame a lot to harvest timber.  I wonder how profitable teh timber operation was and, taking into account the singificant investments in mills, the cable system, railroasds, etc., what sort of return did they make on their investment?

Also, if it was so hard to get across tbe American River Canyon, how did they get all of their logging railroadi infrastructure across the area where they had their timber holdings?

Date: 09/07/19 14:43
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: LoggerHogger

All of the locomotives were disassembled and taken across the cable in pieces and once across put back together again.  The same went for all the saw mill equipment as well.


Date: 09/07/19 15:52
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: railscenes

That is a real piece of work! When they shut down after the fire in 1949 was there anything left behind? Are there any towns near by that we could start a RR archaeology trek? Of course in our 21st Century USA developers have probably built a 4 lane highway into the area and built high dollar homes in the middle industrial ruins as a part of the ambiance to their modern neighborhood.
Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and research. Steve Rippeteau

Date: 09/07/19 17:29
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: callum_out

There never was a town on the North side (cable side), the South side at Camino is a nice little town
that's always had a substantial mill. Highway 50, the four lane, goes around the town.


Date: 09/07/19 21:20
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: lynnpowell

Pino Grande was a mini-company town, and at one time rated a US Post Office.  After the cable tower burned in 1949 shutting the railroad down for good, the Mich-Cal lumber company built a 10-mile long private truck road from the nearest highway to Pino Grande.  Logging in the area continued and the rough-cut mill at Pino Grande continued in operation, with it's product then being trucked to the mill at Camino for finishing.  Soon, Mich-Cal had the mill at Pino Grande disassembled, trucked to Camino, reassembled, and put back into operation.  Logs were trucked directly from the woods to the mills at Camino.  The loggers were no longer housed at Pino Grande, and were bussed to the woods from the Camino area.  Pino Grande was abandoned and left to fall into ruin.  I have heard that Pino Grande is now protected as a historic archeological site and admittance to the area is restricted.  Around 1986, about half of the milling operations at Camino were shut down and the unneeded facilities torn down.  In 1994, Mich-Cal sold the remaining Camino operations to Sierra Pacific Industries.  In 2009, Sierra Pacific declared the Camino operations uneconomical and shut them down, scrapping everything over the next year or so.  

Date: 09/08/19 11:37
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: coach

I have stayed in Camino recently, at the Camino Inn, which once housed loggers as a boarding house.  FANTASTIC place to stay, very affordable, old type wooden building with lots of history.  It's right in downtown Camino on the old road.

The mill in Camino has been shut down, BUT...........some old structures remain, such as the storage shed (huge) and some offices.

The old railroad grade from Camino to Placerville is now a bike path that is great to ride--a "rail-to-trail" conversion.

I've driven all the way out to SOUTH CABLE, where the ruins of both cable towers remain.  You can see the footings, the concrete bases, the old cables that spanned the canyon.  Bring binoculars.  The road you take out there is very, very twisty--I did it in a DODGE 3500 2WD, and that was probably a bit too big.  A small truck would be better, but it's doable.  You can see where the railroad once ran, and some curves where there used to be bridges.  At SOUTH CABLE, the chasm is amazing to see.  It is mind boggling that they built this cable system---consider that they had to drag the cables down one hillside, then up the other, to put the whole thing together.  It's really astounding.  And when you see the cables still laying there,  it really hits you.

There are GOOGLE photos of the cables laying in the river bed to this day, along with other cable hardware items, such as pulleys.

If you do go all the way out to CABLE, bring a good MAP--don't rely on GPS.  A good map shows the old road.

Also, a huge forest fire swept through this erea in 2014-2015 (I think it was the KING FIRE...), burning east and north of Camino, crossing the river, and burning into PINO GRANDE.  It's remote, there is still active logging going on on some parts of the land, so just be smart, careful and aware.  It's a great trip, very doable, and the history is amazing.  This cable operation is also availabe on VIDEO from CATENARY VIDEO titled "Narrow Guage Logging Railroads of El Dorado County."  Some clips of the cable operation can also be seen on YOUTUBE.  When you see the cable car the RR cars rode on to cross the river canyon, ask yourself if you'd ride it?  Some workers did, and some refused (acorrding to historical reports).  It was bare bones functional, riding high, high above the river, exposed to the wind and elements.  You've got to see it to believe it.


Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 09/08/19 11:41 by coach.

Date: 09/09/19 10:13
Re: This Steam Railroad's Terrain Dictated A Two-Part Operation!
Author: wingomann

Here's a great video of the operation:

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