Piute Logging Railroad

Map of the line, showing spurs. 

The completion of the Western Pacific’s highline in 1931 was not the only railroad development to make news. In the 1930s, Red River’s most unusual railroad logging line, the Piute, came to fruition—so named as it followed Piute Creek in its approach to Susanville.

Red River owned a large swath of timber west and north of Susanville. While they had already logged over its easily accessible timber in Mountain Meadows and Lake Almanor, the Piute line was not intended to service Westwood. The Piute was built to generate much needed revenue to sell timber to other parties, such as Fruit Growers and Lassen Lumber & Box. However, they had a back-up plan; should Red River’s timber sales fall flat, they could mill the timber at Westwood.

Long before the first rail was laid, the Piute line already had an interesting history. Before the railroad was built to Westwood, the Southern Pacific examined two westbound routes from Susanville. One would follow the Susan River and the other Piute Creek, each would make it to a destination to be known as Westwood Junction, south of McCoy Flat Reservoir. Why the Southern Pacific deemed the Susan River route superior is rather puzzling—it required twelve trestle crossings over the river, along with two tunnels. The Piute route would only require one or two minimal trestles and no tunnels. T.B. Walker even gave consideration of locating its first mill along Piute Creek, north of Susanville. In 1917, Red River conducted a preliminary survey of the Piute line, but the proposal was mothballed.

In January 1928, it appeared the project was resurrected when another survey of the line was conducted, though Red River officials did not make their intentions known. In May 1929, that changed when Fletcher Walker stated: “The Red River Lumber Company’s operation at Westwood in the way of railroad construction is nearly a year ahead of logging operation which leaves two of the company’s Diesel shovels and a number of caterpillars idle.

“The matter is now being considered by the directors of grading a railroad line between Susanville and the heavy timber on Piute Creek, so that the timber will be available for logging whenever the market at Susanville develops.

“In this way we would plan with water and level land, good mill site and timber opened up next to Susanville that some lumber company would be interested to put up a mill and to buy their supply of logs as in that way for a comparatively small investment, a lumber company could start a plant.”

For a moment the Piute appeared that it was going to be a lot more than a mere railroad logging line. In June 1930, Kenneth Walker gave a talk to the Susanville Rotary Club. The hot topic on everyone’s was mind was imminent decision by the ICC as to whether it would or would not approve the 200-mile rail link of the Western Pacific and Great Northern. The Susanville business community had high hopes for its approval and thought the new line would be very beneficial since it would open up western Lassen County to unlimited opportunities. The Rotary Club members became excited when Walker made the premature announcement that the Piute line was to be a branch line to connect with the Western Pacific. Two weeks later, however, Walker had to withdraw that statement.

Part II – Tomorrow

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