Chapter 4

THE OROVILLE AND BECKWORTH RAILROAD COMPANY

J. E. Doolittle, W. D. Woodbury, N. W. Griswold, C. M. Oakley and A. G. Sheath filed papers on May 3, 1888 to incorporate the Oroville and Beckworth Railroad Company. As filed the articles stated it was to construct a railroad and telegraph in Butte and Plumas counties, and to also purchase or lease other lines of railroads at or near the route of the intended road. Authorized capital stock was $7,500,000, divided into 75,000 shares, with its principal place of business in San Francisco, California. The incorporators were also the directors of the new road and had subscribed for 220 shares of stock in the company. Plans were to use the middle fork of the Feather River and Engineer Seymour was engaged to survey the route.

The incorporation of this railway had given rise to considerable speculation concerning its object with the theory that obtained most favor being that it would eventually constitute a link in a transcontinental railroad that would use Beckwourth Pass as its Sierra crossing. Beckwourth Pass, according to the survey of the Sierra Valley and Mohawk Railroad, was 5,192 feet above sea level, or nearly two thousand feet lower than the crossing adopted by the Central Pacific Railroad, Summit Station being 7,017 feet above sea level. The pass stands at the headwaters of the middle fork of the Feather River, on the county line of Lassen and Plumas and a short distance north of the Sierra County line. It was news to most people to learn that a railroad had already built through the pass, and that rails had been actually laid down the western slope of the Sierra to within a short distance of the town of Beckwourth at that time. This railway was an extension of the Nevada and California Railroad, which ran from Reno north into Lassen County, but it was not under the same ownership.

The first railroad to build through Beckwourth Pass was a local narrow gauge line to serve sawmills. The Sierra Valley & Mohawk Railroad was formed on September 30, 1885 by the California Land & Timber Co. Work commenced on the three foot gauge railroad at Plumas Jct. on the narrow gauge Nevada & Oregon Railroad. The road began at Moran, a station of the Nevada and California Railroad lying almost due east of Beckwourth Pass, it was understood to have been the intention of the Sierra Valley Railroad Company to carry the line down Humbug Valley into Mohawk Valley, tributaries of the middle fork of the Feather River, the route then passing across country through the American Valley to the north fork of the Feather River, and down that valley to Oroville or Chico. The route was a circuitous one, but the engineering obstacles presented in the gorges of the middle fork were so great that the company did not deem it prudent to attempt to overcome them. By the end of 1886, rail had been laid eleven miles west over Beckwourth Pass into Sierra Valley. For some reason or other construction of the Sierra Valley and Mohawk Railroad had been suspended and there was no certainty about its resumption. In the meantime that portion of the road which had been built from Moran Junction to Beckwourth was idle. Nothing but construction trains had run over it.

The railroad acquired a new owner and a new name, the Sierra Valleys Railway in 1895 and extended to Clairville, making it 31 miles long. It eventually grew to 40 miles in length when the rails reached Davies Mill, the railroads farthest point west. It was acquired by the Western Pacific in 1917 and abandoned the next year.

The direct route from Beckwourth Pass to the Feather and Sacramento valleys lies along the middle fork of the Feather River, and, notwithstanding its rejection by the Sierra Valley Railroad Company, the engineers of the Oroville and Beckworth Railroad Company were said to be exploring it, and determined to, if possible, discover a feasible means of getting through. Once the passage of the canyons of the middle fork was accomplished, the route of the Sierra Valley railroad to Beckwourth Pass would be, no doubt, adopted although the articles of incorporation to make the town of Beckwourth, fifteen miles west of the summit of the range, the eastern terminus.

''Putting two and two together, I then draw my deductions," remarked a gentleman interested in railroad matters, “I am convinced in my own mind that the Oroville and Beckworth Pass incorporation is something more than a local organization. If it is to be built to Beckwourth only, it will be ending nowhere; it must be a link in some other line. The great sugar pine forests lie a considerable distance north, and to reach them Beckwourth would not be on the line of the route. If it is to be constructed to Beckwourth Pass, then there is surely some Eastern railroad organization interested in the scheme."

Some people had conceived the idea that the Union Pacific Railroad Company had something to do with the Oroville and Beckworth incorporation. The gentleman quoted above thought it much more likely that the Chicago, Rock Island and Colorado Railroad was the eastern corporation which aimed at entering California by way of Beckwourth Pass. The managers of that ambitious corporation were endeavoring to form a coalition with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company. An agreement had actually been arranged for that purpose between the Directors of the two companies, and a meeting of stockholders of the Denver Company, was to be held on the 22nd at Denver, having been called to ratify the compact. At the annual meeting of the same company it was announced by an advertisement appearing coincident with the above call that action was to be taken on a proposition to issue bonds to the amount of $5,000 per mile on the company's property and franchises, “for the improvement of the company's railroad, $3,000,000 to be issued at once.”

“It looks to me,” said the gentleman previously quoted, referring to these two advertisements which appeared in a New York newspaper, “that there is some direct connection between the course these two corporations are taking and the incorporation of the Oroville and Beckworth Railroad. If there is, then the middle fork of the Feather will, without a doubt, be adopted as the route to reach the Sacramento Valley and San Francisco, no matter what expense may be incurred to overcome the engineering difficulties presented.”

It was also thought that this proposed railroad may have been an extension of the Northern California Railroad which had made an expensive and elaborate survey up the north fork of the Feather River two or three years before. This was the former California Northern Railroad, which had been sold by the Central Pacific.

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