Between Glendale and Riddle, Oregon the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad takes a scenic detour from Interstate 5 and civilization through Cow Creek Canyon (green line on the map above). When the Siskiyou Line was originally surveyed in the 1800's it followed natural drainages rather than tackle the mountains of southwest Oregon. For years the Southern Pacific was the sole means of transport through the Canyon.
Riding with Rick:
Cow Creek Canyon
Today a Bureau of Land Management road parallels most of the railroad, albeit on the opposite side of Cow Creek from the tracks. There are a handful of grade crossings that are protected with crossing lights and one set of gates. In addition there are periodic dragging equipment and hotbox detectors, however, no public power supply extends through this remote area of Douglas County. Except for a couple installations with propane powered thermal generators and two more with solar collectors, the safety devises in the Canyon run on battery power and these batteries must be changed periodically. Rick Perry invited me to accompany him (and help out) as he made his monthly inspection rounds through the Canyon and changed out 17 of these batteries.
A note about directions on CORP: I refer to our direction of travel from Riddle to Glendale as going south as per CORP's convention. Of course, Southern Pacific designated this direction as west and CORP north would be SP east.
After "putting on" near the now closed Glenbrook Nickel quarry near Riddle, Oregon, (MP 541.3) we head south. In this picture, we are about to pass signal 5396, the last semaphore for 32 miles to Glendale. The Southern Pacific had removed all signals from this stretch before CORP took it over. Ironically back in 1921, according to a Portland Division Timetable of that year, this section had Automatic Block Signals while the track from here to Roseburg did not: the exact opposite of the situation today.
CLICK HERE for a view of the Amtrak Talgo passing this signal in June 1999.
Three miles south of the last signal we arrive at the first dragging equipment detector in the canyon. This one is solar powered as evidenced by the collector array mounted near the case. The "paddles" are visible between and on either side of the rails in the right side of this picture. Inside the equipment case are the batteries at the bottom and a few electrical components above them. The voice of the "SP Lady" which announces "No Defects, no defects" or "Engineer, Stop Your Train" is housed in the blue box. Part of Rick's inspection routine is to electrically shunt the rails and kick the paddles to activate the "SP Lady". He also checks battery electrolyte levels and voltages and records it on cards seen here slightly below and to the left of the blue box. On top of the case is a Sinclair antenna to broadcast the SP Lady to train crews. Having driven through the Canyon a few times on the BLM road, I had the impression this line was pretty flat and just followed the creek. So, it was surprising to see this abrupt "summit" in the rails as they pass through a small cut. The rails appear to drop away dramatically, but in a few hundred feet have leveled back out along the Creek. Near the site of Byers we pass the footings of an old water tank. At MP 530.8 we pass what's left of Tunnel 1 which was bypassed in the mid 1970's. Both ends had rock piles up into the openings. This is the north end and shows part of the concrete portal constructed in 1923.
Cause for this bipass was a huge tree and its root system fell through the weakened lining of the tunnel. Rather than try to clean up the mess, the SP opted to build a shoo fly around it, something that had been considered earlier, anyhow. The 15 degree curve pictured was laid out by the company engineers after the local MOW people had laid out a 12 degree curve - go figure. Thanks to Mike Yoakum for the above info.
An unusual "inside out" view of the tunnel lining gives us a look at how the tunnel was constructed and what's behind the concrete lining in other tunnels. Rick got curious about what was inside Tunnel 1 and climbed up the loose rock with a flashlight to inspect. He seemed a little nervous at first for fear of encountering larger four legged critters, but when his flashlight failed to illuminate any eyeballs, he peered in finding "nothing but a bunch of rock." Your Web Master stood back, camera at the ready to record Rick's reaction to any eyeballs staring back.
This opening is the last remnant of the tunnel we could find on the "south" end. Beyond this is only rock -- no portal or even concrete chunks.
Click on the image to the left to continue the ride with Rick deep into Cow Creek Canyon as he inspects more detectors and grade crossing signals and replaces batteries. All Images and Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Larry Tuttle
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