Chapter 3

THE OROVILLE & VIRGINA CITY RAILROAD COMPANY

Page 1

On March 26, 1867 William A. Bolinger, Robert C. Chambers, C. T. Kaulback, F. B. Whiting, Samual M. Goodwin, R. H. Fairchild, A. C. Cunningham, C. O. Bolinger, P. D. Shaw, and A. Chambers each subscribed to stock in a new company to build a railroad over the new survey line recently completed by Arther Keddie. The next day William A. Bolinger was elected President; F. B. Whiting, Secretary and R. C. Chambers, Treasurer.

The Oroville & Virginia City Railroad company was then organized and articles of association adopted at a meeting held April 2, 1867 in Quincy, California. C. T. Kaulback, S. M. Goodwin, F. B. Whiting, W. A. Bolinger and R. C. Chambers were elected directors and the capital stock was fixed at $5,000,000 of $100 shares. The principle place of business would be Quincy, California.

The articles of incorporation of the above company were filed in the office of the Secretary of State, at Sacramento, California on April 12, 1867. The object stated was to construct a railroad from Oroville up the north fork of Feather River to Junction bar; thence up the east branch to the mouth of Spanish Creek; thence up that stream and through American Valley; thence across the ridge by Spring Garden Ranch, to the middle fork of the Feather River; thence up that stream and through Beckwourth Pass to tap the Pacific Railroad at Truckee Meadows and continue to the state line.

About 110 miles of the route would be in California, and in compliance with laws of the State, the sum of $11,000, or ten percent of the $1000 per mile required to be subscribed for, was collected and paid to the treasurer of the company, which sum was to be expended in surveys, maps, etc. Arthur Keddie was employed to make a survey for the new road.

This was the route that the local people had in vain sought to induce the managers of the Central Pacific road to adopt for their line. It was the general opinion in Plumas County that this route was the least troubled with snow, the easiest grade, and in all ways the most desirable; and that the heavy expense of maintaining the Truckee line in working condition would compel the Central Pacific to change to the Beckwourth Pass and Feather River route.

The Central Pacific though had already looked at a route through the Feather River Canyon as shown by the report of Theodore D. Judah to the Central Pacific in 1862:

“Route via Oroville, Bidwell's bar, Middle Feather, and Beckwourth's pass. Commencing at Oroville, the line of observations was taken as follows;
Oroville, north fork, Bidwell's bar, south fork of Feather, Union bar, Kanaka bar, Bald Rock cañon, Indian crossing, American bar, Long ripple, south branch of Middle Feather, Milsop bar, Rinehart's bar, Marble cone number one, Marble cone number two, China wing-dam, French cabin, saw mill, Hartman's bar, Dollops wing-dam, Pyramid peak, Scrubby Jack's, Rich's point, Butte bar, Onion Valley creek, China bar, Last-chance ravine, Railroad ravine, Gap point, Webb's bar, Colby's, Minerva bar, Washington bar, Rich bar, Winter's creek, Sailor's bar, Nelson's point.

From Nelson's point, on bed of Middle Feather river, eighty miles from Oroville, for next seventeen miles, the river rising at an uniform grade without obstruction, the line of observations was carried to the north, across the divide between Middle Feather and Spring Valley creek, a tributary of the north fork of Feather, as follows:

Nelson's point, flume, top of divide road to Quincy, top of divide, foot of divide, Spring Garden ranch, Bear trap, Misenhamer's, top of hill, Cunningham's House, Jackson's, top of hill, foot of hill, Middle Feather river, ninety-seven miles from Oroville, at which point the line of observations again touches the bed of river, and is continued on as follows:

Lower ford, upper ford, Penman's, leave river at a point distant one hundred miles from Oroville. For next ten miles the observations were taken upon a line to north of river, as follows:

Leave river, top of Anthony's hill, Anthony's House, Poplar creek, point of river, 112 miles from Oroville. Thence via river as follows: Point at river, north branch Middle Feather, Beckwourth's House, foot of Sierra valley, Butte cabin in Sierra valley. Brigham's ranch, Marsh's Summit House, Beckwourth's pass, 131 miles from Oroville; thence the line turns to the south and follows, through Long valley and Pea Vine valley, to Truckee river, at Fuller's crossing, as follows:

Beckwourth pass, foot of pass, Long valley, road and ranch, Pond ranch, antelope springs, Alkali summit, Alkali lake, Pea Vine summit, Pea Vine hotel, Pea Vine valley, Truckee summit, Junction, Stone's road, Fuller's crossing of Truckee river—160 miles from Oroville and 238 miles from Sacramento.

The advantages of this route consist in its low grades and a lower latitude of summit than upon the other routes; but it also presents disadvantages which render it next to impossible for us to avail ourselves of its advantages in this respect. It is eighty miles further from Sacramento to Fuller's crossing of Truckee by this route than by our present location. The Bald Rock cañon, about 20 miles above Bidwell's bar, is a rocky gorge in the Feather river, rising with smooth grain to sides almost perpendicular, being 3,000 feet high on the north side and about 2,500 feet on the south side, the length of cañon being about one and one-half mile.

In order to avail ourselves of the lower grades, it is necessary to run near the river, or at an elevation sufficiently high to be above high water. This renders necessary the crossing of all the ravines and tributaries, many of which run in gorges of great depth near their mouth, and also involves the necessity of curving up into them and running down again, in order to procure a suitable crossing. From Nelson's point to and through Bald Rock cañon, about fifty miles, the river runs in a gorge ranging from 2,000 to 2,600 feet in height, at a pretty steep slope, which, near the river where our line runs, in many places is perpendicular and generally rocky. The course of the river between these points is extremely tortuous and winding, the spurs of the mountain on either side putting out sharply and running by each other, so as to lock across each other like the fingers of two hands thrust together. This involves the necessity of many tunnels, I estimated the number of tunnels upon this 50 miles at 28. The work of construction would, therefore, be vastly expensive and slow.

In view of our relations with the United States government and the Union Pacific Railroad Company, who are to build about 1,700 miles of road in the interior, and who cannot commence until we reach the State line; in view of the increased cost of the line by this route, and the increased cost to government of appropriations for eighty miles of additional road to the same point; in view of the additional time necessary to construct the additional length of eighty miles, and the physical impossibility of constructing the division from Bald Rock cañon to Nelson's point in one year, the time required in Pacific railroad bill, this route is reluctantly placed among the list of those denominated unavailable for Pacific railroad purposes in the present position of railroad affairs.”

This report from Judah had convinced the “Big Four”, Collis Potter Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins of the Central Pacific Railroad, that a route through the Feather River Canyon was not feasible.

As to the Oroville and Virginia City project, however, there was but little discussion among the citizens generally it being considered a speculative scheme, which it proved to be, affecting but little the interests of the county, which latter proved decidedly not to be the case.

A preliminary map of the new railway survey was completed under the superintendence of Keddie, the noted civil engineer of Quincy, Plumas county representing the first 77 miles of the Oroville and Virginia City Railroad, beginning on the north bank of the Feather River, opposite Oroville showed the figures of altitude accompanying the map as very surprising. It had not been believed it was possible that a passage for a railway could be found through the Sierra Nevada Mountains with anything like the easy grades and exemption from snow claimed for this. The character of the engineers coupled with the fact that they had been long engaged in the survey and were confirmed in their statements by the testimony of credible witnesses who resided along the line of the survey, in the worst places, removed any doubt about the figures given. These figures showed that the greatest altitude that would be encountered between Oroville and Virginia City was at Beckwourth Pass, and that would be less than 4,150 feet above sea level. The highest grades to be overcome were projected to be 67 feet per mile for 2½ miles, and 66.6 feet for 3¼ miles.

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