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Abandoned and Historical Railroads in the Northwest
|Last Update: March 5, 2005
|The Condon Kinzua & Southern Railroad extended from the south end of this line from 1928-1977. Check out
Jeff Moore's website on the the Condon Kinzua & Southern.
|The line from Arlington to Condon begins at the Columbia River, in the town of Arlington where it connects
with the current east-west Union Pacific line that run along the south bank of the Columbia River. Today it
runs south to Gilliam, at a major waste dump. From Gilliam south to Condon and beyond the line is
abandoned. The grade is easily defined and in some places you can even drive on the railroad grade, which
is little changed from the days when it was in use.
John and I explored this line in early March, 2004. We found some very well defined grades, piles of old
railroad ties and even quite a number of railroad spikes along the grade. Unfortunately, the bridges we had
hope to find intact were all torn out, although we were able to find the remains. The area the line runs
through is miles of rolling prairies and farmlands in the north central Oregon Columbia basin. The railroad
runs through some of the more unpopulated lands in Oregon.
In 1905, the Union Pacific (formerly the Oregon Railway & Navigation Co.) finished the line between Arlington
and the town of Condon. The line served mostly agriculture, some small industry, logging and at least one
mine. Today, the line south of Gilliam is abandoned, but Union Pacific still operates trains from Arlington to
Gilliam near the site of a mine quarry. Today, the mine quarry appears to be gone, but very near by is a giant
waste transfer station, which the railroad serves.
In 1928, a line was built from Condon, 24 miles to Kinzua and called the Condon, Kinzua and Southern. This
line served several logging operations and eventually terminated at a large mill town called Kinzua that was
built in 1937, by the Kinzua Pine Mills Co. This section of track between Condon and Kinzua was abandoned
and the tracks pulled up when the mill and town closed in 1976. This short line only operated one engine in
its last days. A GE 70 ton, numbered 104, that was acquired new in 1951. A Heisler - 3 truck steam engine,
built in 1929 for the line was used for several decades and actually survives today. It is currently being used
by the Mt. Hood Scenic Railroad in Elbe, Washington, in active tourist service! In it's earlier years of
operation, several other steam engines were used.
The line between Gilliam and Condon was rarely used after the late 1970s and was finally abandoned in 1992
and torn up in 1993.
I plan to explore the remains of Kinzua at some point in the future. The mill town was destroyed, but maps
and rumors indicate that at least one building still exists and I would imagine some other remains might be
worth exploring. I have heard that seedlings were planted on the old town site, so perhaps nothing remains
to explore. But I would like to at least try to located the old grade.
|The following historical information is Courtesy of Jeff Moore. Jeff currently has a website about the
historical McCLoud Railroad, in northern California, that is very interesting and worth checking out.
The Condon Branch connected with the Union Pacific mainline at Arlington. The line ran up Alkali Canyon to Rock Creek, where it
climbed out of the drainage bottoms. The line then closely paralleled Highway 19 (John Day Highway) into the town of Condon, where the
branch ended. The line was completed in 1905. Total mileage was around 43.5 miles.
The line existed primarily on agricultural traffic until 1927, when the Condon Kinzua & Southern Railroad was completed south from
Condon. The CK&S provided around 90 percent of the traffic handled over the Condon branch until the short line closed in 1976.
The Condon branch generated very little traffic after the closure of the CK&S. However, long-term viability of a portion of the line was
assured when the 2,000 acre Gilliam County landfill near Turner Butte, 11.5 miles from Arlington, started receiving municipal trash by
rail. Union Pacific asked for permission to abandon the line beyond the landfill in early 1992. The last shipper on the line, Condon Grain
Growers, filed a protest to the abandonment petition, stating that UP’s failure to guarantee a certain number of available cars had forced
them to use trucks and barges instead of the railroad. The ICC granted UP permission to abandon the line in September 1992, noting
that an uncertain car supply did not adequately explain why Condon Grain Growers had not shipped anything over the railroad in over 18
months. The last run to Condon took place late in 1992 when a couple locomotives made the long run up to Condon to retrieve a cut of
grain hoppers that had been ordered by the elevator in town but never loaded. The line beyond the landfill was scrapped by 1993.
The first 11.5 miles of the branch remain healthy, as a couple trains a week carrying containers full of trash from Portland, Seattle and
other metropolitan areas make the run to the landfill each week.
|The UP line crosses the highway
here to reach the transfer station.
Interestingly, not far up the road, the
UP used to cross the highway to
reach a mine, but today there is no
sign of that crossing. The line
orignates from behind the camera
and ends just up ahead.
|This was the beginning our exploring of the UP Condon branch. The
end of the line today, is Gilliam, a major waste transfer station. Here
you see 3 Union Pacific locomotives waiting to off load shipping
containers of presumably garbage. From here south the line is totally
abandoned and the tracks removed.
|The last quarter mile of the original UP line to Condon. The UP closed the line shortly after
the waste transfer station and probably uses this section of track to clear the highway
crossing switch and head back to Arlington. The two tank cars parked here are out of
service rusting hulks that were likely put here as a buffer to help stop any runaway cars
or trains before they ran out of track.
|The end of the line. The
tracks were torn up here
in 1993. The last trains to
run past this point did so
|This is the bridge site at Rock Creek. This appears to have been the largest bridge on the line between Arlington and
Condon. Most of the line was built up over rolling hills and large bridges were not needed. Obviously the bridge was taken out
and only a few pilings remain today. The B&W photo was taken by and is shown here courtesy of Geoff Barnes. It shows
the Rock Creek bridge as it appeared in August, 1992. This view is facing south, which the same view as the photo to the left
|Several miles south of the Rock Creek bridge, you can drive on the grade. Because the grade doesn't really go anywhere,
it gets very little traffic, except from possibly local ranchers. The grade appears exactly as it did when the trains used to
run here, except for the lack of ballast, ties and track. Note the built up sections and cuts in the hillside to keep the grade
nice and level.
|The section you could drive on was fairly short. Beyond
here the grade disappears for a while as farmers plowed
it under to expand their property.
|Still driving along the grade, I began to notice railroad
spikes and other metal remains buried in the dirt. It
appears that when the tracks were removed no effort
was made to save the spikes and track connectors. Only
the ties and track were removed. Here you see several
piles of rail spikes that I dug out of the ground in just a few
|Stacks of railroad ties east
of Rock Creek. We noticed
about half a dozen of these
piles scattered throughout
the valley. They've been
laying here for more than 10
years. I guess nobody
|More shots of the grade as we got closer to Condon. A few short sections could be driven on if
one wished. Although grade was occasionally interrupted by wash outs, small bridge removals
and plowed fields
|These views show the praire of north central Oregon. The weather on this day was exceptional for
this time of year. John taking a picture from the truck, just before we had to leave for home.
|Arlington Depot in 1962. This where the Condon branch seperated from the UP mainline near the
Columbia River. Courtesy, Salem Public Library Historical Photos Collection.
|Geoff Barnes was kind enought to send me these photos of the line he took when he visited the area in August, 1992. The photo on
the left shows the Rock Creek Bridge, facing south, before it was torn down. The view on the right shows a small spur that existed just
to the north of the Rock Creek bridge. At one point,a water tank used to exist on the left side of the tracks at this location, according to
USGS maps. Here's what Geoff had to say about his visit:
I took a trip to the Condon branch in August 1992 just to see what was left. Didn't find any rolling stock along the line but took a few
pictures. Here are a couple of shots taken at Rock Creek. It looked as if Rock Creek was where the section crew spent some time as
there was a short spur track, a small track car and assorted railroad hardware on hand. I remember the tracks were pretty well
rusted over and farther up the line toward Condon there were bushes that had grown up around the tracks that made it obvious that
not a lot of trains went through.
|These two photos show the line in approximately the 1930s or 1940s. Left photo shows
the Rock creek area and bridge from a distance. The right photo is from Mikkalo, Oregon.
Courtesy, Gilliam Co. Historical Society. Thanks to Tim Ball for pointing these photos out.
|If anyone has any further information or pictures about the Union Pacific Condon branch or the
Condon, Kinzua and Southern RR, please let me know. You can Email me anytime. Thanks.
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