Last Update:  June 7, 2005
The line that would later be known as the Falls City Branch of the Southern Pacific, had its beginnings in 1901 as the Salem, Falls City and
Western Railway.    It was originally constructed to haul logs from the vast timber resources west of Falls City.   By 1903, the line was
completed from Dallas, west to Falls City.   By 1905, the line was completed further west to Black Rock.  From Black Rock a number of
logging railroads would branch out into the woods.  

In 1907, Southern Pacific took over operation of the line from Dallas to Black Rock with logging companies, like the Great Western and
Willamette Valley Lumber Company, operating the logging railroads that ran west from there.   For a few years, the line was still known as the
Salem, Falls City and Western Railroad.   By 1909, the line was extended east from Dallas to West Salem, ending near the banks of the
Willamette River.  Southern Pacific owned tracks on the east bank of the river and ferried passengers and goods across the river to its Salem
depot where passengers and freight could continue on their journey.

Plans for construction of a new bridge across the Willamette River began around 1907 and by 1913, the bridge was completed.  The bridge
was an extensive 5 span through truss bridge, including a center draw span for river traffic.   The west approach to the bridge was a large 90
degree curving wood piling trestle.  The completion of this bridge, created a major rail connection between the east and west sides of the
Willamette Valley.   By 1915, the entire line was entirely under Southern Pacific control and would eventually be known as the Falls City
Branch of the Southern Pacific.

Southern Pacific provided gas powered rail cars to transport passengers from the logging communities on the western end of the branch for
many years, using two McKeen cars, number 1 and number 2.   But by 1930 this service was discontinued.  Until 1945, mixed trains operated
out of Black Rock and Falls City, including occasional passenger cars.   Until that time, logging  was the primary source of traffic on the west
end of the line, but following the end of World War Two in 1945, logging began to decrease and what remained was converted over to truck

By 1962, the line between Black Rock and Falls City was abandoned.   By the mid 1960s, runs to Falls City were very rare.   In 1965, the line
was cut back to Buman.  Buman was the site of a connection to a short 3 mile long spur that lead to a lime quarry.  Although rarely shipping
by rail in the later years, Southern Pacific was not allowed to abandoned the branch until 1968.   By the early 1970s, the line was cut back to
almost Dallas, extending west from Dallas only about 1.5 miles.

By 1964, several sections of track that were used to reach the Willamette River bridge were removed in Salem.   Southern Pacific continued to
access the bridge and the West Salem industrial area via Front Street trackage.  The line from West Salem to Gerlinger was rarely used after
1964 and by the 1970s track between Gerlinger and West Salem was mostly abandoned.

The Southern Pacific Front street tracks were removed by 1980 and Burlington Northern took over the switching operations in West Salem.  
To do this, a connection was made from the east end of the Willamette River bridge to the Oregon Electric tracks.  At some point in the early
1990s, this service was discontinued and rail traffic ceased using the Willamette River bridge.    Also at some point the bridge was donated
to the City of Salem who now owns the structure.  

The only remaining segment of the original Falls City branch is a 5 mile segment between the ex-Southern Pacific Westside line at Gerlinger
and Dallas.   Today, Southern Pacific is long gone, absorbed into the Union Pacific.  The lines in this area are now leased and operated by
Portland & Western Railroad.

Plans are being proposed to eventually convert the Willamette River bridge into a pedestrian bridge.  If that is not successful, the bridge will
likely be eventually demolished.

So far, I've only explored a few sections of this abandoned line.  As I visit other areas, I will be sure to add more information and photos.
Maps of the Southern Pacific Falls City Branch
I made these maps to show the location of the railroad grade and specific features as they are today.   Maps also indicate when certain sections of the line were
abandoned.   Black Rock is shown on the far left map, Salem is shown in the far right map.
Note regarding photos:
Color photos were taken by me unless otherwise indicated.   
B/W historical photos are courtesy of the Salem Public Library historical photos collection and are shown here by specific permission
Salem, Oregon
The Willamette River draw bridge.  This was the last part of the Falls City Branch to be built, completed in 1913.   A close observer will note that the dates on the
bridge are stamped 1912.  That's the date of construction, but it didn't actually open to rail traffic until 1913.   I'm not sure of the exact date rail service ceased,
but it appears to have been sometime in the 1980s.   As of the spring, 2005, the bridge was almost entirely intact, rails and all.    The concrete counter weights are
still in place.  Only the tender and engine house on top of the bridge are missing.   It's not clear when this bridge was last raised, but I've read that it was disabled in
that respect long before it was actually abandoned.  This section of the Willamette does not get a lot of major river traffic.   Photos: May, 2005
So far, I've only visited the east approach to the bridge.   It's fenced off, but you can see that it's been essentially untouched since it was last used by trains.   The
rails were realigned around 1980 to line up with the Burlington Northern tracks on Front Street.  Although this was a Southern Pacific bridge, Burlington Northern
was the last railroad to use it, between 1980 and when it was abandoned to gain access to industries just on the other side of the river in West Salem.  The folks
pictured are my parents in law and wife.
Photos: May, 2005
These photos were taken from the east side of the bridge on opening day in 1913.
 Courtesy of Salem Public Library Historical photos collection, Ben Maxwell
These photos were taken from the air in 1948.   They show the single highway bridge along with the railroad bridge.
 Courtesy of Salem Public Library Historical photos collection, Ben Maxwell
The 6 left photos were taken in 1952 and show just prior to and during construction of the second highway bridge.  They also show fairly good views of the railroad
bridge.   The far right photo is from 1964 and shows the major flooding of that year.
Courtesy of Salem Public Library Historical photos collection, Ben Maxwell
Dallas, Oregon
So far, I don't have other modern photos of the Dallas area, but they will be forth coming.  The left photo was taken by Matt Wolford in 1998 and shows the remains
of some trackage in the city of Dallas.   The next photo shows one of the Dallas railroad shops in about 1920.   The middle photo shows two Willamette Valley
Lumber Tank steam engines parked in Dallas in 1945.  This was around the time that the logging railroads west of Black Rock had ceased logging by trains and
these engines are boarded up awaiting their fate.  Photo on the right is the Dallas depot as it appeared in 1960.
B/W Photos:
 Courtesy of Salem Public Library Historical photos collection, Ben Maxwell  Color Photo:  Courtesy of Matt Wolford.
Black Rock, Oregon and west into the woods
There's not a lot left in Black Rock from what used to be a major logging railroad hub, mill and town site.   Today, few remnants remain.  A couple of modern
houses occupy the area.   In the left photo we found what appeared to be a donkey sled remains on the side of the road in Black Rock.   I'm pretty confident they
are the same remains pictured on the right in 1967 at the same spot.   Color photo: March, 2005 - B/W Photo:  
Courtesy of Salem Public Library Historical photos
collection, Ben Maxwell
This is one section of abandoned railroad near Black Rock.  This section was part of the railroad that led to the woods and was likely the first section to be
abandoned in the mid 1940s.   Photos: March, 2005
Abandoned bridge remains in Black Rock.  Beyond this bridge, logging trains headed up into the vast woods for almost half a century, half a century ago.   
Photos: March, 2005
The two left photos show the Great Western Mill in Black Rock around 1910.  Not long after the railroad reached Black Rock and logging operations into the woods
began.   Middle photo shows the logging operations west of Black Rock, photo date unknown.  The two right photos shows the Salem, Falls City & Western McKeen
self powered cars used by Southern Pacific to transport passengers to and from the logging towns of Black Rock and Falls City.  
Courtesy of Salem Public Library Historical photos collection, Ben Maxwell
The remains of the town of Black Rock as it appeared in 1960.  Within a few years, the railroad here would be gone and today there's barely a trace of either it or
the town site.   
Photos: Courtesy of Salem Public Library Historical photos collection, Ben Maxwell
Matt Wolford photos
These photos were sent in by Matt Wolford who extensively explored the abandoned railroad grades west and north of Black Rock.  The one on the left is the
remains of a burnt Willamette Valley Lumber Co. Trestle about 2.2 miles west of Black Rock.    On the right is an abandoned Willamette Valley Lumber Company
railroad where the ties are clearly still visible.  
Photos: Courtesy of Matt Wolford, taken 1999.
The great abandoned steam locomotive mystery

Somewhere, somehow a rumor got started years ago that a steam engine was abandoned in the woods west of Black Rock.   Many local old
timers claimed to have seen it or knew of someone who saw it.  But whether it exists or not is still a great controversy.   

As the story goes, a crew was out picking up the rails on an abandoned logging railroad, when one of the bridges that separated them from
Black Rock collapsed, trapping them and the locomotive, deep in the woods.   The crew was able to walk out, but a steam engine and car
with a load of rails supposedly remains somewhere lost in the woods to this day.

One story I've heard 3rd hand is that people have hiked to the site and specifically recall the brass bell still on the locomotive.   A number of
people have searched for it, including Forest Service officials, but to no avail.   One theory is that in fact what started the rumor was the
discovery of one of the many steam donkeys that were left behind.   One famous one being abandoned at Berry Creek falls just southwest of
Black Rock.  But that one was recovered in recent years.

It's certainly plausible that such a locomotive could have been abandoned, had it been ripping up track in the last years of logging operations
after World War Two, where scrap was worthless and steam engines were literally being discarded.   It wouldn't have been worth trying to
recover an old locomotive at that point.    There are also a large number of old grades that were never converted into roads and no doubt
probably have not been explored in years.   

However, this area has been logged a number of times since and is has been used by a large number of hunters over the years.  For
someone not to have found it and recorded the location by now, is pretty hard to believe.

For now it remains a mystery.  Extremely intriguing.   Since much of the land that it could be located  on is now gated off from public access as
private timber land, if indeed it is hiding out there somewhere, it may remain hidden for quite some time.
Related Links

Marc Reusser's "Steam in the Woods" Willamette Valley Lumber Co. Page.
A page about one of the logging companies that operated extensive west and north of Black Rock

My Portland & Western Railroad Page
Operates the remains of the United Railways branch
If anyone has any further information or pictures about this railroad, please let me know.    
You can
Email me anytime.  Thanks.
Copyright ©  2005 Brian McCamish,  All Rights Reserved

Note about the photos on this site:
Most photos were taken by me, except for those that are otherwise indicated.   I usually allow people to use my photos for personal use or websites.  Simply Email
me.   I may not have authority to grant permission regarding some photos that were only loaned to me by others specifically for this website.   Every effort has been
made not to include other's photos without the proper permission and credits, however, if you see any photos which belong to you and that I don't have permission
to use, I apologize.   If you send me an
Email, I will remove the photos immediately or give proper credit, which ever you wish.