McCloud River Lumber Company
Narrow Gauge Plant Switching Railroad

In its first years of operation the McCloud River Lumber Company produced green lumber in McCloud, which the railroad would haul to the finishing factories in Upton. The lumber company shortly started building drying kilns, planing mills, box and sash/door factories, and other facilities in McCloud. Higher graded lumber would be kiln dried and stored in various drying sheds, while the lower shop and similar grade lumber tended to be air dried in massive drying yards that once surrounded the sawmill buildings. Like many other similar operations the lumber company turned to a narrow gauge railroad to move lumber around the increasingly sprawling complex.

The first recorded documentation relating to this operation is a contract for 500 tram cars that Scott & Van Arsdale signed on 22 September 1902 with the Allis-Chalmers Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The contract called for the cars to be built to the following specifications: "28-1/2" gauge track, trucks 5'6" center, each car detailed as follows: 2 trucks to each car, one wheel pressed on and riveted, the other to run loose; wheels to be 20" diameter with chilled thread 3" face axles 2-1/4" rough in center, 2-3/16"turned in boxes, 2-1/16' bore in wheels; 4 boxes 5' x 2-3/16" babbitted with oil cellars, loose wheel to have one #1 compression grease cup and be held on by 1/2" washer and 1/2" pin through axle; 2 hook and staple bolts to each car to pull same- 3/4" iron; 4-3/4" x 14" bolts, 2 wrought washers for bunks; 3 rods 1/2" x 28" nuts and cast washer on each end; 8 bolts 5/8" x 10" for truck boxes.." The lumber company paid $10,500 for the cars, plus an additional $184 for sixteen "24 inch chilled wheels with 2-7/16" shafts and over hung boxes for four transfer cars suitable for about 5" or 6" width of timber." Allis-Chalmers was to ship the first 300 cars as soon as possible and the remaining 200 about February 1903. In subsequent correspondence dated October 1903, Allis-Chalmers admitted to Scott & Van Arsdale that the company "lost a considerable amount of money in filling the order for these five hundred lumber cars and could not furnish you with any more at the same price, or any of the material at the prices we quoted on the parts for cars furnished."

The railroad used horses, humans, and gravity as motive power through the first years. Small gas mechanical locomotives started showing up around 1912, which subsequently gave way to battery electric locomotives in the early to middle 1920s. These in turn were replaced with diesel mechanical power in the later 1930s, consisting of one Plymouth, two Vulcans, and one of the old General Electric battery electrics rebuilt with a Buda diesel engine. Rolling stock consisted almost entirely of small 4-wheel wood and steel carts. The company did number them, but no rosters seem to have survived. Work equipment consisted largely of a small steel wedge plow amd a succession of rotary snowplows used to remove snow during the winter months.

The role the railroad played changed through the years. In the early years the tram would handle almost all lumber throughout the complex. Rubber tired lumber carriers, forklifts, and the closure of most of the factories eventually reduced the operation to mostly moving green lumber from the sawmill to the planing mill. The railroad finally closed in 1970. The company quickly scrapped out all of the rail lines threading throughout the complex and burned the wooden carts to recover the metal pieces, but a few ended up on display in yards or other places through town. The company sold one of the small diesel mechanical locomotives and a few steel tram cars to a tourist railroad in Oregon but stored the other three in a shed in the mill until the early 1980s.

Map of the building arrangements and trackage arrangements around the original Mill #2 on the south side of town. The tracks once extended through town to the newer mill complex.

Map of the main sawmill complex most typical of the way things were laid out in the middle 1930s.

Many tram cars loaded with lumber are visible in this view taken from the roof of the crane shed. T.E. Glover collection.

A postcard view of the east side of the sawmill buildings with several tram cars visible. Jeff Moore collection.

The small Plymouth switcher in front of one of the factories, likely in the late 1930s. T.E. Glover collection.

Crew working on one of the battery electric locomotives while plowing snow on the narrow gauge. Jeff Moore collection.

One of the Vulcans, what appears to be the Plymouth, and a horse at work probably in the late 1930s. T.E. Glover collection.

Another view of one of the Vulcans, again probably in the late 1930s. What appears to be one of the battery electric locomotives is visible to the right. T.E. Glover collection.

One of the principle roles the narrow gauge played was in moving lumber into and then out of the vast lumber yards around the mill. This painting from the Specify Shevlin Pine booklet in the Advertising Materials section of this website shows the stacking machines at work.

In 1938 the massive crane shed, which had a storage capacity of eleven million board feet of lumber, burned to the ground in a spectacular fire. The lumber company immediately set out to build a new shed. Several tram cars are delivering lumber to the effort. T.E. Glover collection.

Six of the straddle carriers that started replacing the narrow gauge in the 1940s. Ray Piltz photo, Travis Berryman collection.

In 1969 C.G. Heimerdinger Jr. arranged for a walking tour of the McCloud sawmill and its narrow gauge railroad that occurred the day after one of the regular excursions with the #25. The lumber company put on quite a show for the small group of photographers, including spotting its locomotives and equipment at various points around the sawmill for the photographers. These rare views are all by C.G. Heimerdinger Jr.

The small GE battery electric rebuilt with a Buda diesel rolls some empty cars through the mill.

A closer view of the GE/Buda.

The GE/Buda elsewhere in the mill.

The Plymouth locomotive.

Another view of the Plymouth, this one in one of the sheds for the narrow gauge equipment.

The Plymouth doing some switching near the planing mill.

At one point during the day the lumber company ran the Plymouth up one of the raised platforms around the complex.

The Plymouth starting to roll off one of the ramps down from the platform.

The Plymouth crossing a standard gauge spur after rolling off the platform.

The Plymouth heading away from the photographer and into the mill complex.

The rotary snowplow in the mill. This one is said to have been built around the frame of a Caterpillar Sixty tractor.

The end of the narrow gauge. Several tram cars await the torch in the mill. Wayne I. Monder photo.