NORTH CALIFORNIA MINING COMPANY
Faced with the traffic declines caused by Harriman siphoning
freight traffic away from his roads, it was no longer a question of
buying a railroad just to have a transcontinental system; the
Gould’s were being forced to build a railroad. George Gould made the
decision to do so and would now have to finance and construct a
railroad slightly more than 900 miles in length through what was
becoming enemy territory, Harriman’s territory.
As it would happen there was at this very point in time a small railroad in California which its owners were anxious to dispose of. It was the Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad Company, running from a terminal on the Stockton water front southwesterly for twenty miles or so to the Tesla coal mines on the east side of the Coast Range, back of Livermore. These mines and the railroad were owned by those in control of the California Safe Deposit and Trust Company, an old established bank of San Francisco. It was controlled by John and James Treadwell, J. Dalzell Brown, who was the manager, and Walter J. Bartnett, who was its attorney. Of these four Bartnett furnished the brains and was the dominating spirit. The bank's funds had been used to assist the Tesla enterprise until the bank itself was seriously involved and teetering on the brink of becoming insolvent. Those in control were striving desperately to improve its condition.
Early in 1902 Walter J. Bartnett traveled to New York and while there approached Mr. Gould and Mr. Jeffery, then president of the Denver and Rio Grande with the prospect of buying the Alameda and San Joaquin. Buying this small road did not impress either Gould or Jeffery at this time though and they made no commitment to him. Bartnett must have made some impression on them though for Gould now gathered his advisors and began planning for what would be known as the Denver & Rio Grande's "Western Extension", the Denver & Rio Grande being responsible for construction and expenses, just as though it were a branch of the road. In addition, Gould would have to keep his activity secret until he could be assured of both physical and financial success, a most difficult proposition since Union Pacific people infested not only Missouri Pacific and Denver & Rio Grande Directorates but also the managements of banking houses that supplied funds for Gould's activities.
During these discussions Virgil Gay Bogue, Gould’s consulting engineer recalled his surveys for the Union Pacific in the 1880’s, and recommended Beckwourth Pass and a route through the Feather River Canon. Gould and his advisors were very much aware that the Harriman controlled Southern Pacific would not relinquish its hold on the territory which it had long possessed as its own in transportation easily. They also knew that the Southern Pacific had Oroville at the mouth of the Feather River Canyon, and it would be easy to have a construction gang follow the survey parties up the canyon. Therefore diplomacy, as well as secrecy, was absolutely necessary in obtaining a right of way through the Sierras.
In advising Gould to form a “mining company” first Bogue recalled for him an unhappy experience he had once had in locating another road, only to find the whole route plastered with mining claims of dubious mineral value, but through which rights of way must be negotiated. Gould, after hearing this, embraced the idea and turned the job over to the Denver and Rio Grande and its president, E. T. Jeffery.
Edward J. Yard, chief engineer of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad at the time, was then assigned the task of surveying the new route. In order to follow the advice given by Bogue, but being too well known in California to make an appearance, he recommended his cousin Henry Herbert Yard, a mining engineer with no railroad experience, to head a mining company as he had proven to be quit adept at such matters. This ‘mining’ company could then secure claims through which a railroad could be built as he had the peculiar ability to pioneer such a route through the Sierras for the new road without arousing the suspicions of the Southern Pacific in California.
A field party under H. H. Yard was dispatched to locate the line and in June 1902 Yard and his party arrived in Oroville. Surveying crews were immediately placed in the field up the North Fork of the Feather River and no time was wasted as the filing of eighty-four placer mining locations was made in the Butte County Recorder's office on June 30 and July 1. The locations were all signed by the same persons and embraced a tract lying along the North Fork of Feather River. It was thought by some that this could be the first step toward the building of a long-expected railroad up one of the branches of Feather River, connecting with the overland route at either Reno or Boca.
In mid-July the twenty railroad surveyors who had been at work on the North Fork of the Feather River broke camp with eight of them moving up to Big Rock Creek and the balance working down the stream from Big Bar to Big Bend. The surveys followed the water level of the stream as nearly as possible, but the roughness of the country compelled the trail diggers to pick their ground. When the trails were completed they were expected to connect with eighteen miles of road built by the Deling Mining Company, and that the way would be open along the North Fork from Big Bar to Prattville. All of this preparatory work was a costly undertaking in itself and could only mean that plenty of money was behind the enterprise.
By the end of July there had been filed in the office of the Butte County Recorder in Oroville 155 placer mining locations by one group of persons, all of whom, were strangers to the area. The locations were adjacent to or followed the course of either the North or Middle Forks of Feather River. The locators numbered eight, and in almost every instance 160 acres, the largest piece of ground that could be taken by that number, was claimed. Upward of 24,500 acres of land had thus been taken, most of it on the North Fork, beginning at a point where the Middle Fork left the Feather River and ending at the Plumas County line. On the Middle Fork a contiguous line of claims extended to a point about eleven miles from where that branch departed the main river. The names attached to the locations were W. H. King, H. Blakey, H. Tatu, J. B. Brown, J. B. Peterson, W. J. L. Keffer, J. M. West and R. F. Tompkins. To whom they were under the employ of had not been divulged.
The filing of the locations had caused much speculation as to the probable object of the locators, but it was thought that they were for the purpose to acquire land for a railway right of way, perfecting title eventually by patent. This theory was strengthened by the fact that a large surveying party was also at work on the North Fork of the Feather River near Big Bend.
It was certain that much money was behind the project, as it would cost about $60,000 a year to keep up the assessment work on these claims. The locations on the middle fork were believed to be for the purpose of gaining title to a roadbed to tap the large timber belt in that direction.
Articles of incorporation were filed on August 29, 1902 in Oroville at the office of the Clerk of Butte County which formed the North California Mining Company. H. H. Yard of Philadelphia was identified in the articles as one of the incorporators and general manager for the company. It was under his direction that the work of the company was being carried on. It was generally considered that he was a promoter, which was exactly the opinion that he wished to prevail to suit his purposes on behalf of the Denver & Rio Grande.
An office was soon fitted up in Oroville and his operations in buying land for cash and making many mining locations began to attract attention. He was a target for interviewers from several papers in California. The newspaper men were always cordially received, but Mr. Yard had a faculty for making the interviewer forget his object in the charm of his conversation and his adroitness in making a question lead to some valuable general information. Not a hint could be obtained from him, and all thought that he was in the employ of some timber and mining company. No newspaper man ever left Oroville satisfied with the result of his interview.
With nearly 25,000 acres having been located it was generally regarded as improbable that so much land would be wanted for mining purposes by any one company. Yard however, said that the only object the company had in view was that of mining. Whether a narrow or broad gauge railroad was contemplated he could not state, but he said that if present plans were carried out a road certainly would be run up the North Fork. There were now being filed in the office of the County Clerk of Plumas County, at Quincy, he continued, many more locations of mining claims which the new company would work in conjunction with its property in Butte County.