It was one of those days that railroaders, particularly engineers, dread, but I was nor working. Rather, I was traveling in California's great Sacramento Valley. Why I was driving on a dreadfully foggy day such as this, I do not recall. Likewise, I do not know why I was way off of the beaten I-5 track, but here I was in Hamilton City, shooting away at "The Beets". I can only conclude that one of my buddies in Dunsmuir had tipped me off and I diverted from my usual southbound route to see what, I could (barely) see.

Southern Pacific's beet trains were an annual summer/fall event all over California four decades ago, but by 1991, the trains to Hamilton City were about all that was left. SP's ancient-looking beet "racks" (cars) had been cast off to private companies by then, because the cars were used up, and beet trains were too sporadic to keep SP interested in maintaining them. They were built in the early Post War, but looked fifty years older. One of my early trips as a brakeman a decade-and-a-half prior was on a beet train that kept ejecting and dragging car parts for a hundred miles. At one point, I actually had to rob barbwire off of a farmer's fence to tie-up brake rigging that was scouring ties and kicking up hellacious dust, and again, that was in the 70's!

Originating on the West Valley Line at Wyo, the Hamilton City branch connected with the Northern Electric (later: Sacramento Northern) at its namesake city, and once hosted both mixed trains and motor car service on SP down to Willows (see SP 2-6-0 #1714 at Willows, CA, c1910-11). In the mid-teens SP built the Colusa Branch out of Harrington up to a connection at Hamilton City, and henceforth the whole shebang was known as the Colusa Branch. The entire line below Hamilton City was abandoned in stages from 1973 to 1984. California Northern took over the operations of the West Valley, including the branch, not too long after these photos were recorded. It is still (barely) active,and the Holly Sugar locomotive seen below was reported as still there in 2014.

The SP train in these photos originated in Klamath Falls, and at Williams, the locomotives from the West Valley Local were coupled to the rear, and led the train to Hamilton City for switching.

The train arrived Hamilton at about 8:45AM, led by the local's GP9's 3788 and 3836, run by Engineer John Reginato, which drug the loads into the receiving track. The road power, now trailing, consisted of GP40-2's 7248 and 7664 with Engineer Carlos Sanchez. These locos were cut off and worked the empties. Likely, the road power was either reduced a unit, or two, somewhere after descending into Dunsmuir from the north (TT east). Alternately, it may have been changed-out completely. After completing the switching, the local power coupled to the rear of the outbound empties consist, which headed back to Wyo at about 9:50AM.

It is possible that the crews made a second trip to Hamilton with additional loads. Tony Johnson relates that he witnessed this, which was mandated by a shortage of track capacity at Hamilton. In this case, when the loads originally arrived at Wyo, the local's power cut-off from its train on the main west of the Wyo siding, which it then used to run around the loads. After latching-on to the loads, the excess were cut-off and shoved into the siding. Next the local's power returned to the remaining loads, coupled on and drug the train out onto the branch towards Hamilton.

Switching the Holly Sugar plant proper was the prize of the chase: ex-SP Alco S6 #1273, which was numberless, but sported HOLLY in its old SP number board. As mentioned, it apparently still remains at the Holly plant.

(click on thumbnails for large images)

Top: the abrupt end of the Hamilton City Branch just south of the Holly plant.

Above: the Hamilton City Branch as it stood before and after the Colusa Branch came to tow. The Colusa Branch (dashed line) was still merely a projection in 1913, when the map was drawn.

Right: SP 7664 & 7248 switch loads

Far Right: 3788 (& 3836) switch empties
Left: Holly Sugar's S6

SP Index

The Dome's Southern Pacific Train # 308 w/ Engine #1714 at Willows, California, 1910-11 shows a vintage photo of the mixed train that originated in Willows to serve the Hamilton City Branch in 1910-11, before the Colusa Branch was constructed.

Also of local interest:
- SP's Colusa Branch by Tony Johnson
- The Fruto Project's Webpage, which well-covers SP's Fruto Branch out of Williams
- Wx4's colorful USDA Bureau of Soils 1907 map of the narrow gauge Colusa & Lake RR
- Tony Johnson's history of the C&L in his SP's Colusa Branch history

Last revised:11/29/14