Borate and Daggett Railroad

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Borate and Daggett Railroad
Borate & Daggett RR in Mule Canyon on way to Borate.jpg
Borate & Daggett railroad in Mule Canyon, on it's way to Borate, California
Reporting mark BDRR
Locale Daggett, California to Borate, California
Dates of operation 1898–1907
Track gauge 3 ft (914 mm)
Headquarters Daggett, California

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 three miles to the east of Calico.


The mines at Borate were discovered in the winter of 1883 when prospector Barret Stevens sought silver deposits east of the town of Calico. He instead found a rich vein of borax ore in the area later called Mule Canyon. William Tell Coleman, head of a rich company which mined borax in Death Valley, took control of the properties of borax ore in Mule Canyon and planned to open a borax mine to supplement his existing one at the Harmony Borax Works. He never got the chance to mine in Mule Canyon, because on May 7, 1888, his borax industry collapsed after losing $1,000,000. 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 twenty-mule team to haul the ore to the railhead at Daggett where the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad 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. He ordered a steam tractor from the Best Tractor Company to test its ability to haul ore. The miners at Borate named her Old Dinah. 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 kept the mules working for a little while longer.

In 1897, Smith constructed 11 miles of 3 ft (914 mm) gauge railroad track from Borate to Daggett, 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 to Alameda for packaging. A town grew to supply the mill workers, and was later known as Marion.

The railroad owned two steam engines, both Heisler locomotives. They were named "Francis" and "Marion". Colemanite borax ore from the mines at Borate was carried in wooden, side-dump ore cars. A few flatcars completed the roster of rolling stock. During the construction of the railroad in 1896, it was reported that one of the two saddle-tank locomotives, 'Sanger', from the nearby Calico Railroad (also known as the Waterloo Mining Railroad) was used in the construction of the line towards Borate. It was needed on the steep grades ascending to Borate, and was only in operation for a few months until PCB obtained its first locomotive ("Marion"), and "Sanger" was sent back to Waterloo.

In 1907, the ore at Borate neared depletion. 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 at Daggett until about 1913 when 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 and was sent to Death Valley Junction. Marion was sold to the Modoc Lumber Company in Aspgrove (later renamed Pine Ridge), Oregon to work their 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 and all its properties 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 elsewhere.

Marion worked in Oregon until Forest Lumber Company bought the Pine Ridge operations in 1925, and regauged her and the lumber line. After 1939, the mill burned down and ceased operations. Marion, like Francis, disappeared.

After the railroad ceased operations in 1907, some of the equipment was shipped to Ludlow, California to help construct the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, and some the old rolling stock was stored near the mainline at Daggett. In 1914, all the ties, rails, rolling stock and other equipment were transferred to Death Valley Junction to be reused on the new Death Valley Railroad, and later the rails were reused on the United States Potash Railroad until the old rail was replaced with newer, heavier rail donated by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in 1941.

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 rebuilt to standard gauge 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.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]