2. McCloud River Railroad History 1896-1900

Steel over the Mountain: A Railroad Arises

The economic of the time period was ripe for expansion. The rush of gold fever had pretty much subsided in California, and the new mother lode was timber. Wood was needed by the new breed that had settled in California. Wood was needed to build the towns and industries, the growing agricultural industry in the verdant valleys in the south needed wood boxes and the railroads needed ties to string their ever lengthening coils of steel into America.
As the Central Pacific railroad builds north from Sacramento CA into Oregon it passes by the little settlements of Upton and Sisson CA at the western base of Mt. Shasta and into the territory of two turn of the century entrepreneurs George Scott and William M Van Arsdale. Scott and Van Arsdale were owners of several sawmills in the area and with the arrival of the railroad (several years earlier) they were looking to expand. Not finding any room to expand in Sisson or Upton they looked over to the west side of Mt Shasta and bought the bankrupt sawmill belonging to Friday George. It is surmised that since Scott and Van Arsdale were on the board of the bank which accepted the bankruptcy of Friday George, they were in good position to take advantage of the situation. A traction road connected the area of the new mill in Squaw Valley , now named Vandale in honor of it’s owners and that was soon transformed into a railroad grade. By 1896 mill expansions had been made, the grade was nearly completed between Upton and Vandale and four miles of track were laid until work was stopped by winter snows. 1897 saw the creation of the McCloud River Railroad Company and the McCloud River Lumber Company, although separate entities they were run as one and had the same owners and executives. This year also saw the completion of the track to Vandale and the railroad was open for business on August 1st. Scott and van Arsdale soon sold (1902)their share in the company and moved onto other interests. With the exodus of Scott and Van Arsdale, Van Dale was renamed McCloud (after the river whose name , it is surmised derived from a trapper named McLeod, of the Hudson Bay Company many years before) and soon the lumber company began to build a town on the spot. The lumber company owned everything, from the modern company houses (indoor plumbing and electric) to the shops and other accommodations. This town was solely for the employees of the lumber company and railroad, who rented the houses out at reasonable rates. However if you lost your job with the lumber company or railroad you lost your home as well.

The railroad was completed over a circuitous course, with two switch backs and an advertised 4% grade that was bemoaned by many railroad men as being more like 6%. While in the intervening years one of the switchbacks (at big springs) was eliminated, the switchback at Signal Butte and for it’s entire 100+ year history the Railroad has always run engine first up the hill, (at least to Signal Butte, Pierce the actual summit is a little past that) and caboose first down hill.

Route Completion 

Click To Enlarge Pictures Below

* Images taken from Post Cards, Viewing Objects and Original Products

** Images Courtesy Of The McCloud Heritage Junction Museum Please see interchange page for more info on this.

*** shown by permission of the Siskiyou County Museum