Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad

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Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad
Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad logo.gif
Abandoned bed of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, crossing Soda Lake at Zzyzx, California.
Reporting mark TT
Locale Ludlow, California and Beatty, Nevada
Dates of operation 1906–1940
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters Ludlow, California

The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, the T&T, was a former class II railroad extending roughly 200 miles (320 km) in eastern California and southwestern Nevada. [1]

The railroad was listed as a common carrier, however it was built by Francis Marion Smith the "Borax King" and his Pacific Coast Borax Company primarily to transport borax to processing and market. The line is now completely abandoned.


Its mainline route was through remote reaches of the Eastern Mojave Desert. It ran north from its terminus at the Santa Fe Railway railhead at Ludlow, California; northwards east of Death Valley through the Amargosa Desert and Amargosa Valley, to terminate at Beatty in Nye County, Nevada. [1]

It had spurs, to the mining town of Goldfield; and via its Death Valley Railroad from Death Valley Junction to company borax mines in the Black Mountains. It did not reach its namesake town of Tonopah further northwest. [1]

Construction and territory[edit]

Grading began on the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad—T&T line on July 30, 1905. 50- and 65-pound rails were laid starting on November 19, 1905. The line was completed on October 30, 1907, with the T&T tracks ending at Gold Center, Nevada. From Gold Center the T&T reached into Beatty, Nevada with joint trackage rights with the Brock Road Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad. The T&T also reached Rhyolite, Nevada over the Bullfrog Goldfield trackage via the connecting wye at Gold Center. [1]

From 1908 to 1914 the Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad, which also serving the mines around Beatty, was combined into the T&T, and then combined again in 1918 after the demise of the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad. The T&T owned and ran both lines under a "new railroad identity" from 1920 until January, 1928.

The T&T also had a 7-mile (11 km) branch that ran from its mainline at Death Valley Junction, California to the Lila C Mine with the station named "Ryan". At Horton, California the T&T separated from the narrow gauge Death Valley Railroad —DVRR. The DVRR ran for 21 miles from Death Valley Junction west to Devar, later renamed Ryan, and different from the Lila C. Mine's Ryan, via Colmanite and was abandoned in 1931. The T&T branch had 3 rail tracks (both narrow and standard gauge) from Horton to Death Valley Junction. The T&T branch was built in 1907 and the DVRR was built in 1914. The branch to the Lila C. was removed not long after all operations were transferred to Devar−Ryan.


Originally a verbal agreement between Smith and William A. Clark was to build a line from Las Vegas to the Lila C mine. However grading was stopped in 1905, due to Clark apparently changing his mind. Clark was the owner of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, and he built the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad instead from Las Vegas north to Goldfield. In response, Smith started his own competing railroad, the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, to the Goldfield boomtown in direct competition with Clark.[2]

The "San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad", whose name was later shortened to the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, is the present day Union Pacific mainline route between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

Once the gold mining boom ended, the T&T railroad struggled to survive, as borax shipping came to comprise the majority of its business. As Death Valley area mining ran down Smith developed new mines in the Calico Mountains of the central Mojave Desert near Yermo, and built the Borate and Daggett Railroad to haul product to the railhead in Daggett. In 1926 Smith acquired a borates mine in the western Mojave Desert, and began production at the open-pit U.S. Borax Boron Mine in 1927. The company town of Boron was developed close by. Later U.S. Borax developed methods to process material from Searles Lake in the Searles Valley of the Northern Mojave Desert, building the company town of Westend and a siding on the Trona Railway for shipping to the railhead at Searles, California.

By 1927 the line relied upon whatever traffic could be found. Over most of its existence, the Pacific Coast Borax Company had made up the losses from the railroad's operations. A railcar was bought to replace the already worn out steam locomotives and to cut costs on running the T&T line.

Discussions for cessation/abandonment were started as early as 1930. After the major Mojave River flood of 1933, Ludlow was abandoned and operations ran north from Crucero, a Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad railhead. The 26 miles (42 km) of track between Crucero and the T&T's connection with the Santa Fe Railway southwards at Ludlow was placed out of service on October 8, 1933. After the flood of 1938, applications for abandonment were pursued.

By 1940 the entire line was out of service and on July 18, 1942, scrapping began at Beatty and terminated a year later at Ludlow. Final abandonment with the I.C.C. was approved on December 3, 1946.


After the T&T was abandoned and torn up in 1942, most of the rolling stock was scrapped or shipped away for the war effort. The only known pieces of rolling stock known to exist up till this day, are only a few rolling stock cars and a motor-driven railcar.

T&T Caboose #402 is known to be stored at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, in moderate condition but sorely needing repair.

A boxcar and flatcar have also been preserved, they are now located at the Orange Empire Railway Museum at Perris, California.

Old Railcar #99 was reused as a maintenance vehicle for the Ferrocarril Sonora-Baja California Railroad. It was cut in half after its frame was cracked at some point, and it worked until 1967 when it was retired and stored away at the old railroad shops at Benjamin Hill, Sonora, and is currently awaiting a buyer to preserve it.

Former stops[edit]

Many stops along the railroad were named for associates of Francis Marion Smith [3][4]

See also[edit]



External links[edit]

Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad images