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Building the Last Train to Nowhere
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Author:  Saveitforparts [ Tue Jul 11, 2017 5:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Building the Last Train to Nowhere

I'm sure most of you have heard of the "Last Train to Nowhere", a collection of railroad artifacts from the Council City & Solomon River RR that are rusting away on the tundra near Nome, Alaska.

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While researching for my forgotten short line project, I found quite a few construction photos from this line. This wasn't one of the railroads I was focusing on, but I hadn't seen these photos before and decided they were worth scanning. I figured they might be of interest to some of you here, as they show the beginning of a railroad whose end is very well documented in tourist photos.

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The CC&SRR was founded in 1902 and had its first delivery of rolling stock in 1903. The railroad got off to an inauspicious start, as the lightering scows went aground in rough weather and at least one locomotive fell into the surf.

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The company seems to have landed most of their supplies and equipment successfully, although a bit damp.

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The railroad's headquarters were at "Dickson", also known as Solomon, a camp at the outlet of the Solomon River. Like most of the Seward Peninsula's southern coast, this barely qualified as a sheltered small boat harbor, and had no good place for large ships to dock. Miners, equipment, livestock, and anything else coming ashore did so on scows and small boats, often with the same results as seen above. As with nearby Nome, frequent storms smashed any attempt at building a permanent wharf.

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Author:  Saveitforparts [ Tue Jul 11, 2017 5:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

With long summer days the CC&SRR was able to work their men in 10-15 hour shifts. The company quickly constructed the start of a "permanent" dock, bridges, a bunkhouse, tent camp, office building, machine shop, water tower, and engine house.

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Author:  Saveitforparts [ Tue Jul 11, 2017 5:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

Track laying went ahead slowly due to the marshy tundra and permafrost. Unlike some later Alaskan short lines, this was intended to be a permanent standard-gauge railroad built to high standards. Track was graded and ballasted. A third locomotive was brought to Dickson in 1904. Rails were initially laid for 10 miles the first year, but construction began to slow and the line was only 35 miles long by 1906.

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Author:  Saveitforparts [ Tue Jul 11, 2017 5:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

By 1907 the company was deeply in debt, being unable to make a profit on the incomplete route. Backers claimed there were no engineering difficulties standing in the way of completing the line, only financing issues. On-site managers started selling off rail and materials to the nearby narrow-gauge Seward Peninsula Railroad, possibly to keep paying the work crews.

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Work seems to have ground to a halt in 1907, with the inevitable bickering, bankruptcy filings, petitions, and legal wrangling that often killed young Alaskan railroads. The buildings and equipment were mothballed and maintained for a number of years, likely with the hope that new financing or reorganization could save the project. However, a major storm in 1913 flooded the entire headquarters area and destroyed the docks and bridges, putting an end to the CC&SR.

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Damage to the railroad facilities after the 1913 storm:

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Eventually the buildings all burned, rotted, or were picked apart by locals for use as construction material (wood is a rare commodity on the Seward Peninsula).

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Today the locomotives, some cars, and various other rusting "stuff" can be found just off a public road that follows the former grade up the Solomon River.

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Historic scans courtesy of the Alaska State Archives, B.B. Dobbs Photograph Collection, PCA 12. 1913 Storm photos courtesy of Alaska's Digital Archives (http://vilda.alaska.edu/). Modern-day aerial photo courtesy of Alaska Shorezone Project (https://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/mapping/szflex/)

Author:  QJdriver [ Tue Jul 11, 2017 7:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

Out-Bloody-Standing !!!! Thank you so very much for this series of posts, Mr saveitforparts !!!!

Author:  Les Beckman [ Tue Jul 11, 2017 9:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

From the date of its construction start and the fact that the engines seem to be high drivered 0-4-4 Forney's, can we assume that they were ex-elevated railroad locomotives made surplus by electrification?


Les

Author:  Brian Norden [ Tue Jul 11, 2017 10:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

Les Beckman wrote:
From the date of its construction start and the fact that the engines seem to be high drivered 0-4-4 Forney's, can we assume that they were ex-elevated railroad locomotives made surplus by electrification?
That is my understanding.

I just checked Steam Locomotive Information and it indicates New York Elevated RR.
http://www.steamlocomotive.info/vlocomotive.cfm?Display=1551
http://www.steamlocomotive.info/vlocomotive.cfm?Display=1552
http://www.steamlocomotive.info/vlocomotive.cfm?Display=1553

Author:  Dick_Morris [ Wed Jul 12, 2017 2:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

The late Keith Christensen was an expert on Alaskan railroads and at various times owned the Apollo from the Apollo mine on Unga Island, a Class A Climax from the Wild Goose Railroad near Nome, and an 0-4-0 from near Dawson City. He once told me that at least some of the trucks at this location had been built by Climax.

Author:  Saveitforparts [ Wed Jul 12, 2017 10:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

Here are a few Historic American Engineering Record photos from 1982, courtesy of the Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/ak0201/)

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And a 1905 topo map of the Dickson yard and tracks:

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Another 1905 image showing one of the passenger cars. The train is not moving, but the wind is blowing hard making it look like it's going fast!

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Author:  ted66 [ Thu Jul 13, 2017 11:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

I thought the two locomotives abandoned at Eagle Lake, Maine were out in the boon docks!

But these make those look like down town. What was the railroad supposed to carry?

Ted Miles

Author:  tomgears [ Fri Jul 14, 2017 12:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

Thanks so much for sharing! Those photos are amazing!

Author:  Kelly Anderson [ Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

ted66 wrote:
What was the railroad supposed to carry?


I have the same question. What was the goal? How long was the line supposed to reach? I was surprised to read about it reaching 35 miles. That's a long trip in a tiny Forney.

And rhetorically, why the hell did they build the terminal right on the beach?

The photos show way more of a railroad than I imagined from previous viewings of the derelict engines. I assumed that some solitary dreamer off-loaded them there, and went bust without building anything else. Fascinating.

Author:  John T [ Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

The goal was to make a fortune providing transpostation to the gold mines in the aria. By 1906 the Opher Creek mines had produced $4.5 millinon. Lets not forget the steam donkey that is also there. It was built by the Pioneer Iron Works at Olympia, Washington and is the only known serviving example of their product.

Author:  Alexander D. Mitchell IV [ Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:44 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

One has to remember that in this era, the railroad was still the telephone or automobile of the 20th century and the Internet of the 21st century. The railroad was how people and commerce got into the heartland and to the frontier (literally, in this case). If you found enough gold (or silver or copper or lumber trees or coal or the like), a railroad line shortly followed. If you lacked a rail line, you weren't going to flourish or even survive.

This is why the post-Civil War "railroad mania" came about, and why so many rail lines were built that, in all fairness, should never have been built, even before automobiles came about.

The Strasburg Rail Road itself is an early example of the "build a rail line to the main line that bypassed us before our town withers away" approach.

Author:  John T [ Fri Jul 14, 2017 2:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Building the Last Train to Nowhere

According to Clifford in Alaska Yukon Railroads the CC&SR only built 7 miles of track at a cost of $1.2 million. Production of the mines peaked in 1905 and the railroad shut down in 1907.

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