SOUTHERN PACIFIC'S MARCOLA BRANCH

Southern Pacific Railroad        _____>Marcola
Western Region                  /
Oregon Division                |
Cascade Subdivision            |
Marcola Branch                 |
                               * -Hendricks         
                              /         
Eugene Yard-----Springfield Yard----->Jasper- - > points South

History

The Espee's Marcola Branch was laid down to serve the timber industries of the Mohawk Valley, located at the confluence of the Willamette and McKenzie rivers. It runs northeast from Springfield, Oregon, through Lane County's beautiful green countryside, rugged and isolating despite its close proximity to I-5.

In 1896, the Southern Pacific purchased the Oregon & California Railroad, acquiring its infrastructure in the Springfield/Eugene area. In the same year, a railroad bridge was build across the McKenzie River (near the Hayden Bridge on Marcola Road). Track was laid through the valley, reaching Wendling in 1900, where the Booth-Kelly mill was booming.4

Soon thereafter, many more steam-powered mills sprang up all around the route of the Mohawk line, including that of the Fischer Lumber Company, which build a flume all the way down to the Marcola siding. Southern Pacific itself operated 3 mills directly in the Marcola area, ensuring a steady business for the line.

Other mills which opened during the early part of the century were Coast Range Lumber Company, Mohawk Lumber and Fischer Lumber, which built many additional track systems and trestles in the surrounding hills during the next 20 years.4

One of the largest mills to open on the Marcola Branch was Weyerhauser's, which still remains, a stinking hulk sprawling across northeast Springfield. For a while they operated their own train on this line, but service was discontinued by the late 80's.3

The Marcola Branch, like so many other dead-end branch lines, fell into dis-use when the industries it served went bust. Postwar labor disputes and depleted timber in the 70's and 80's served to hasten its downfall; the extremities of the line were abandoned sometime before 1987, by which time it was certainly more of a tax liability than an asset to its owner.

In October of 1900, the Springfield-Wendling branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad was built which gave an outlet for the timber cut by the Booth-Kelly Lumber Company. With the help of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the milltown started to expand even more. Lumber was shipped by railroad instead of having to haul it by wagon. You could also travel to Eugene and back in one day on the Southern Pacific freight and passenger train, called the “Wendling Bullet” (Polley 73).

Nick Wydra, "History of Wendling"2

Stations1 -

  • MP 646.6 - Mohawk Junction (southern terminus, intersection with Springfield main line)
  • 649.3 - Hendricks (Marcola Road & Vitus Lane)
  • 649.4 - End of present-day branch
  • (?) - Marcola (historical terminus)

Personal Experience

In the city -

I first became suspicious of this line's existence while jaunting through Springfield, OR. I was cruising down Marcola Road on my Raleigh Technium, having just turned left from newly rebuilt 42nd St, when a certain regularity caught my eye off in the woods to the north.

Sure enough, when my view switched from the path ahead in favor of the trees, I could see dark railroad tracks up in the woods, parallelling the road. Fallen branches covered the tracks in places, relics of a recent windstorm.

Further towards town, the tracks left the trees and crossed several small trestles, meandering quietly past decrepit feed stores and smithies. Just before reaching a grain elevator, where strings of hopper cars bulge , the rails are blocked with steel triangles, bolted down and carrying red reflectors to warn of the end of the active line.

At the next light, the line took a 90 degree turn to the south, now headed directly towards and perpendicular to the Springfield yard. After passing under the large and featureless Highway 126 bridge and performing the usual head check for sidings, my heart took a jump: a disused, weed-filled layup to the west held not one, but two Southern Pacific cabooses. Their maintenance record markings, as well as outlandish graffitos, indicated that they had last seen active service in the early 1990s.

On the way to the yard, the line passed a large chemical facility where tank cars are stored, while crossing several major arteries (Olympic Street, Main Street). Just past Main St. (the limit of public access) the tangle of the yard tracks began to unfold, and the gentle curve of the line sweeps past corrugated steel fences and patchwork walls.

In the country -

Naturally, my first trip to the line left me curious - I returned as swiftly as possible. Locking my bike up and walking to the abandoned section of the line, in the woods, and checking the fishplates of the tracks - I saw that the line was built in 1917 or shortly thereafter. Time to investigate - I hopped back on my bike.

An aged warehouse sagged blearily at Vitus Lane, a short ways out the line from 42nd & Marcola, but halfway down the road to it, the tracks ran out and the grass swallowed the rusted rails. I determined to follow nonetheless, to see what traces might remain of the old line: perhaps relics of the iron horse yet lingered.

I was rewarded speedily by a miracle in wrought iron, an intricately detailed bridge crossing a rushing stream, still shining, graceful decorations twining about its girders. Chainlink fence blocked access on each side, with thickets surrounding the approach along the empty right-of-way.

Over the coming crest in the road, I beheld the splendor of the Mohawk Valley - high foothills covered with Douglas fir, sun shining directly into the gently green bowl, covered with orderly plots of farms and fields. The road was straight and well-paved, the shoulder was broad and clear, the air clear, fresh and quiet. I was in cycling heaven.

After a couple of miles, I reached Old Mohawk Road, which leads back to the McKenzie River and the 1896 bridge - time to loop back. The rail line used to pass through fields between the two roads; these days it's hard to trace. Houses and yards straddle it. Much as with Roman roads, sometimes you'll see a street or fence still following the railroad property line; more often there is no indication of the tracks remaining in the area.

Primary source:

An old hand's letter to Trainmaster, concerning the Marcola Branch:6

Dear Sir;

I receive the Trainmaster bulletin published in Portland, Oregon, because I belong to their organization.

I see that you are requesting any information regarding the film "The Chartreuse Caboose". I was a brakeman on the Southern Pacific Railroad during that filming. I am now retired. I was working on a local in the vicinity of Springfield station of the S.P. at that time. The Springfield yard consisted of three tracks about fifty cars long with a lot of industrial spur tracks along with them. The film was produced by a person named Red Reynolds. He since has passed away. He was either from Hollywood or went there after producing the film. At the far east end of the Springfield tracks was a track that went to Marcola which was known as the Marcola branch. It was on this railroad that this was mostly filmed. I was on a switching run that was over this piece of railroad. We couldn't use it while they were using it for their filming which amounted to about two or three hours.

In the writeup in the Trainmaster they were in error in stating that they thought it was filmed on the Springfield - Lebanon branch. It was the Springfield - Marcola branch. Part of the film could have used the Eugene yard of the S.P.

The engine used for the film was one of the lightest engines the S.P. owned, partially because part of the tracks used was limited to the tonnage of the track limits. Also, the S.P. let them repaint the caboose for the filming. The track had a covered bridge on this branch line that was one of the restrictions for the use of the small engine. It was a big part of the filming. In the film, there was an episode where the caboose was to enter a spur track that was just before this bridge. It was a spur track for a mill located there. The engineer was Del Hebert, who has since passed on. A brakeman named Les Hinshaw rode the caboose in this move. Les Hinshaw has also passed on since this film was made. They had to make a movement called a "drop" or "flying switch", which required a move where the engine and caboose got up enough speed to let the brakeman uncouple from the engine, and the engine went away from the caboose to let another person throw the switch and let the caboose enter the spur track and brake, by hand, to stop it from going over the end of the track. It was interesting to watch the move.

My wife and I saw the movie after it was produced, at the only movie theatre in Springfield. Hope this information is of interest to you.

Sincerely,
John W. Beardsley
Eugene, Oregon


Sources: (links good as of 2/04)

  1. Depots of the Southern Pacific Marcola Branch - http://espee.railfan.net/depots/sp_depots_wr_oregdiv_cassub_marb.html
  2. "History of Wendling", Nick Wydra, Thurston High School 20 Mile Radius project - http://ths.sps.lane.edu/english/Period3/Nick/
  3. Joel's SP in the Cascades Page - http://spcascades.railfan.net/aboutcas.html
  4. Mohawk/McGowan Watershed Analysis, BLM, May 1995 - http://www.edo.or.blm.gov/planning/watershed_analysis/mohawk_mcgowan/mcgowan.pdf.
  5. Southern Pacific Oregon Division map, January 1st, 1975 edition - http://sptco.railspot.com/SP_Division-Maps/SP_Oregon-Division_ETT-No.6_1977.JPG
  6. Trainmaster, December 1997 (Trainmaster society bulletin) - http://www.pnwc-nrhs.org/trainmaster/1990/tm-1997-12.html

I plan a full expedition out to Marcola and Wendling later this spring. Documentation of the Marcola Line will continue at that time.