McCloud River Railroad
Early McCloud River passenger operations...locomotive #12 and coach #01 at Bartle. Photo courtesy of Heritage Junction Museum of McCloud, Inc.
The history of McCloud River Railroad passenger operations can be broken down into two overlapping but not quite mutually exclusive eras. From its inception until 1964 the railroad offered regularly scheduled passenger, mail, and express service as part of its common carrier obligations. Then, between 1948 and 2010 the railroad and successor McCloud Railway Company operated various types of excursion trains for railfans and the recreating public.
Regularly scheduled passenger operations between Upton and McCloud commenced when the railroad opened. The railroad owned two or three combination baggage and passenger cars at any given point in time. Service expanded east to Bartle when that line opened. Competition from motor carriers operating over the improving highway network caused the railroad to purchase its own buses in 1927, which supplemented the trains through the middle to later 1930s and then replaced the trains altogether. The bus service lasted until 1964, when regulators allowed the railroad to discontinue the service after losing the mail contract.
A colorized postcard of the #11 with a passenger train in the McCloud yard.
The railroad did operate a special excursion program through its entire history. In the early years this consisted of special trains operated for trade or industry groups, special events, or picnic trains on major holidays such as July 4th. The railroad operated its first railfan excursion train in 1948, which was successful enough to prompt several more excursions in the first half of the 1950s. This first railfan excursion era cumulated with three special trips operated to Burney in early July 1955 as part of the Golden Spike celebrations marking the road's extension to that town.
#18 with one of the first railfan excursions the railroad ran about to cross Bear Creek on the Pondosa Branch. Travis Berryman collection.
Railfan interest in the McCloud River Railroad waned after the 1955 trip, largely because the road retired all of its steam locomotives by the end of the year and the railfan community went chasing still operating steam elsewhere. However, the near complete disappearance of steam locomotives in regular service by the end of the 1960s started a revival in interest in the McCloud River, and railfan excursions returned to the road. Between 1959 and 1960 the railroad handled the first of many excursion trains that used the road as a bridge between the SP and WP main lines; these trains usually operated as round trips from various points in the Bay Area. The success of these excursions prompted the railroad to restore its steam locomotive #25 to service in 1962. The first trip operated as a double header with the former McCloud River #19, borrowed from the Yreka Western. The #25 operated regularly over the road until 1975, mostly on trips sponsored by the Northern California Railroad Club and/or the Pacific Locomotive Association. Two outside companies, Mt. Shasta Alpine Scenic Railroad and the Shasta Huffen Puff, both tried their hand at regularly scheduled passenger excursions over the railroad, but both eventually failed. Declining interest and rising costs ended the steam excursion program in 1975.
Excursions returned for a brief period between 1982 and 1986 in a partnership the railroad developed with the Great Western Railroad Museum. This return to steam only saw three or four outings a year. The railroad did operate sporadic excursions for local school or other civic groups as well. In 1986 the railroad operated a special passenger train for Dicalite officials, which helped the company land a substantial new freight customer.
Steam locomotive #25 drawing water from the Bartle tank during one of the 1960-era excursions. Photo courtesy of Heritage Junction Museum of McCloud, Inc.
The McCloud River Railroad and then the McCloud Railway Company then remained freight-only operations up until 1994. That year Trains Unlimited Tours of Portola, CA, organized a special weekend of excursions over the road, the first to operate since the spring of 1986. Trains Unlimited brought a former McCloud River steam locomotive #19 from nearby Yreka, CA, for two days worth of excursions. The trips completely sold out, and many more people showed up to chase the excursion. That event showed the McCloud Railway management that the potential for passenger operations over the road was still there. The next excursions came in the summer of 1995 when a citizens group in Burney organized special excursions out of that town on the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays. The excursions were also complete successes, further demonstrating the potential of passenger operations.
The McCloud Railway Company decided in to enter the excursion business for itself. In July 1995 the railroad purchased two heavyweight passenger cars at auction, which the company shops rebuilt into first class dining cars. The Shasta Sunset Dinner Train commenced operations out of McCloud on 1 June 1996. The railroad started offering regularly scheduled short excursions from McCloud to Signal Butte about the same time.
In January 1996 the McCloud Railway successfully negotiated the repurchase of the #25, and the shops restored it to service by Labor Day weekend of 1997. The #25 operated on many special excursions over the road. In 1998 the McCloud Railway purchased the former McCloud River #18 from the nearby Yreka Western, and it entered the shop for a lengthy restoration. The railroad returned the #18 to service in early 2001, and it operated in one double headed excursion with the #25 on President's Day weekend before replacing the #25 in active service.
Steam locomotive #18 leads an excursion through Bartle in May 2002. Alicia Moore photo.
The early 2000s were golden years for McCloud passenger operations. The dinner train operated almost ever Saturday night, with Thurusday and Friday night runs added during the spring and summer months. The short excursion to Signal Butte ran the same day as every dinner train in the summer. The #18 powered several regular excursions each year; normal trips included Memorial Day and Fall Foliage round trips to Burney, with shorter runs on the McCloud to Mt Shasta line operated on major holidays such as July 4th and Labor Day, plus other special community events such as the McCloud Lumberjack Fiesta and the annual Civial War Re-enactment Days. The steam locomotive also ran for other special or chartered trips as needed. Finally, the railroad wrapped up every year with a grand New Year's Eve party train.
Unfortunately the good times did not last. Growing financial problems forced the railroad to sell the #18 in 2004, and it operated for the final time on McCloud rails in the late summer of 2005. The #25 remained stored in McCloud until the summer of 2007, when a movie production company leased and restored it along with many gaudy cosmetic alterations for some possible movie work that didn't materialize. In the summer of 2008 the railroad terminated the agreement and prepared the #25 for sale, partially funded by one last set of steam excursions in October and November of 2008. The #25 departed McCloud in March 2012. Meanwhile, the dinner train operations slowed substantially in 2009 as the Great Recession cut deeply into patronage, and it too ended in early 2010. Almost all of the passenger equipment has since left the property, and what's left needs complete rebuilding before it can again be useable.
The following links will take you to pictures and more information of different aspects of the passenger operations.
|Early Passenger Trains
||Bus Service, Including a Bus Roster
||Steam Locomotive #25
||Steam Locomotive #18
||Steam Locomotive #19
||Mt. Shasta Alpine Scenic Railway/Shasta Huffen Puff
||Shasta Sunset Dinner Train
||Signal Butte Excursions
||Special Excursion Photos