Borate and Daggett Railroad

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The Borate and Daggett Railroad was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad built to carry borax in the Mojave Desert. The railroad ran about 11 miles from Daggett, California, USA to the mining camp of Borate 3 miles to the east of Calico.


The mines at Borate were discovered in the winter of 1883 when a prospector called Barret Stevens went looking for silver deposits east of the town of Calico to claim for himself. He instead found a rich vein of borax ore in the area that would come to be called Mule Canyon. William Tell Coleman, a head of a rich company which mined borax out of Death Valley, took control of the properties of borax ore in Mule Canyon and planned to open a rich borax mine to supplement the one he already had at the Harmony Borax Works. But sadly, he never got the chance to mine in Mule Canyon, because on May 7, 1888, his borax industry had collapsed after losing one million dollars. But that was not the end of the borax operations there, Coleman's business associate and long-time friend, Francis Marion Smith bought his company and consolidated the company as Pacific Coast Borax, and moved the mining operations from Amargosa to the new mining camp of Borate about three years later.

At first, Smith used the famous 20 Mule Team to haul the ore to the railhead at Daggett where the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad came and shipped the borax to Alameda, California to be processed and packaged. In 1891, Smith decided to find a more economical way to haul the borax instead of the mules to lower the expenses needed to care and haul the wagons. He ordered a steam tractor from the Best Tractor Company to see how well it could haul the borax ore opposed to the mules. The miners at Borate thought she looked like an impressive machine and named her Old Dinah. However, the tractor was only used for a couple of months, as it was said that she was problematic to run and expensive to maintain and feed, so Smith locked her away in disgrace and kept the mules working for a little while longer.

In 1897, Smith finally decided to build a narrow gauge railroad to haul the borax from Borate to Daggett, he constructed 11 miles of 3 ft (914 mm) gauge track, with dual gauge track from the middle point at Marion to Daggett to allow the narrow gauge engines to haul the borax ore to the railhead in 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge boxcars to reduce time transferring between trains. He also built a large roasting mill on the Calico Dry Lake to purify the borax before shipping it down to Alameda for packaging. A little town grew around there to supply the mill workers, and it would later come to be known as Marion.

The railroad owned 2 steam engines, both Heisler locomotives. They were named "Francis" and "Marion" after Francis Marion Smith, the "Borax King" and founder of Pacific Coast Borax Company. Colemanite borax ore from the mines at Borate was carried in wooden, side-dump ore cars. A few odd flatcars completed the roster of rolling stock. During the construction of the railroad in 1896, it was reported that the two saddle-tank locomotives, 'Emil' and 'Sanger', from the nearby Calico Railroad (also known as the Waterloo Mining Railroad at the time) was used to assist in the construction of the line towards Borate. They were also reported to have worked on the line temporarily for about a year until 'Marion' arrived in 1899.

In 1907, the ore at Borate began to run out of borax crystals. Once Smith discovered richer borax deposits in the Lila C. Mine in Death Valley, north of Daggett, he moved his headquarters there and the last B&D steam train ran into Daggett at the end of the year.

The two locomotives were stored away at Daggett for a while until about 1913 where they were taken to Ludlow, California to be refurbished for work on constructing the Death Valley Railroad, another narrow gauge line built by Smith and PCB to haul borax. Francis was the engine thought to be in better condition for the job and was sent up to Death Valley Junction. As for Marion however, she was sold to the Modoc Lumber Company in Aspgrove (later renamed Pine Ridge), Oregon to work their narrow-gauge lumber railroad. After the Death Valley Railroad was completed, Francis was moved to the Nevada Short Line Railway to work until he was sent to Round Mountain, California to work for the Terry Lumber Company. In 1919, Terry Lumber sold the locomotive to the Red River Lumber Co. and the engine worked until 1925, the mill shut down due to a large fire, and Francis disappeared with no records of her being scrapped or moved somewhere else.

Marion however, worked in Oregon until Forest Lumber Company bought the Pine Ridge operations in 1925, and regauged her and the lumber line to let more trains run on it. After 1939, the mill burned down and ceased operations. Marion, like the Francis, disappeared too.

After the railroad ceased operations in 1907, some of the equipment was shipped to Ludlow, California to help construct the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, but a bit of the line was kept near the mainline at Daggett to store the old rusting rolling stock. In 1914, all the ties, rails, rolling stock and other equipment were transferred to Death Valley Junction to be reused as the new Death Valley Railroad, and then later on the same rails were used once again on the United States Potash Railroad until about 1941 when the old rail was replaced with newer, heavy-duty rails donated by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.

History of "Marion"[edit]

2-truck Heisler locomotive #1 "Marion" was built at the Stearns Manufacturing Locomotive Works of Erie, Pennsylvania in February, 1898 with the plans of Charles L. Heisler with the build number of #1018, and worked for the following railroads:

The engine was reported to have been heavily rebuild and regauged to standard in 1922. The engine's current state is not known since it was lost after 1939.

History of "Francis"[edit]

No. 2 'Francis' at Daggett, California circa 1910

2-truck Heisler locomotive #2 "Francis" was built at the Stearns Manufacturing Locomotive Works of Erie, Pennsylvania in January 1899 with the plans of Charles L. Heisler with the build number of #1026, and worked for the following railroads:

The engine's current state is not known since it was lost after 1925.

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