Borate & Daggett Railroad


By: Ron Grau



Thank goodness the weather cooperated... well at least until the evening.., for our annual “LONG Timer’s Hike.” Ron Grau and Larry Tidball passed out packets of information about the history of this interesting little line. It was a 3 foot narrow gauge branch line that ran for 11 miles from the Santa Fe Pacific at Daggett up to the little mining town of Borate. Built in 1898, the B & D RR rolled up the 7% grade (in one spot)! The little engines could only pull one or two cars at a time with that steep of an incline. This doesn’t sound like much for us peak baggers, but for a turn of the century steam engine.. .that would be the 19th as in 1800’s. . . 7% is saying something! WHEW.

About 9:00 am Saturday morning the trucks began pulling into the meeting spot. When it was determined that half the group was missing Larry and Ron headed in opposite directions to find “the missing.” Ron found them and when he returned he looked like a wagon master leading the wagon train.

Ron (who just had knee surgery) gave short little talk on the railroad and then we ventured forth to find artifacts. Larry and Barbee took the group to the remains of a processing plant. As the train drifted across the desert to connect with the Santa Fe Pacific it would stop here. A couple of people found spikes, and of course the usual purple glass and rusty cans. A photo op was the next order of business. All participants including dogs posed. They consisted of: Judy Hummerick, Linda McDermott, DAISY, Richard and Nancy Whitcomb, Neal Scott, Judy Ware, Audrey and Brian Smith, CHARLIE, Ron and Ellen Grau, BOGIE, Larry and Barbee Tidball, Barbara Reber, Edna Erspamer, Karin Leonard, Chris Sonenberg, Pat and Dean Acheson, Cinnamon the dog, Rich Gnagy, Ed Herman, Gene Mauk.

The caravan started up the grade and wove around the badlands of Mule Canyon. If you have never been to this area the rock formations and colors of the rock remind you of Utah. We passed by several “shooting galleries” and off roaders on our way to fmding a place to park. With all the gunfire, it was decided that Ron and Barbee would seek out a place to camp while the group did the hike. The rest of us headed down the former railroad tracks. I thought we had somehow time warped back to Tombstone, (or Iraq) but everyone seemed to take the background noise in stride. L a r r y Tidball lead the walking tour and showed everyone the washboards of the trestles. They still exist. We had to hike up and down the places where former trestle stood — 4 in all. We passed the Round Rock summer cottage. Summer cottage? 110 degree heat? It was more or less a lean-to. Once we arrived at the town site of Borate we could see remnants of track (wooden track with metal stamped on the top of it — not iron rail!) We assumed this was just track used by the ore cars from the mine. The train passed overhead on a trestle which was long gone. Many of the men were Cornish miners who immigrated.. Borate did not have any saloons or a red light district. Instead . . . are you ready for this? A reading room! The miners did tend to “make their own” spirits, however. Rhubarb brandy — euh! They mixed it with gin. Mahogany —3 parts gin, and one of treacle - in practice however, there is a technical difference between “treacle” and “Molasses” in that molasses is obtained from the drainings of raw sugar during the refming process and treacle is made from the syrup obtained from the sugar. In other words, the miners got snockered. They said they took these remedies for medicinal purposes. The nearest doctor was in Barstow.

We could see some rock work which may have been part of the Smitheram House. William and his wife Florence and their 4 children lived there. He was the Mine Superintendent.

We had lunch and snooped around the mine tailings. Found lots of calcite and gypsum. Then we headed back to the truck. Ka-Blam Ka-Blam. Varoom. ---- sound effects.

Ron and Barbee found a great camp spot and by 2 PM we were busy having our own hiker’s concoction of spirits. Some set up tents and got settled in while others put out appetizers.

A slight wind began to blow.

About 5 PM dinner started because some people wanted to head back to town rather than spend the night since we were so close to LA. Spaghetti, beef and vegetable soup, salad, ham, cake, black beans and sausages, corn bread. Everyone was stuffed.

The wind grew a little stronger.

Barbee and Mary Motherall made an excellent fire and Audrey started playing her guitar. Lots of great folk tunes and Beatle songs.

The wind is blowing.

Some broke out some more wine and listened to tunes while others told old DPS war stories and tales about continent lists, peak lists and country lists.

The wind is really blowing.

People drift off to bed.

The wind is blowing. . . I’m not kidding.

Chris heads for his tent. Oops. It’s not there.


Ron moves the truck to face into the wind.

Chris goes to sleep in his car.

The wind doesn’t let up.

The next morning Chris strikes out for the top of the nearest hill in search of his tent. In the distance he sees a dry lake. . . perhaps Searles near Baker. . . perhaps his tent is there.

The next morning Larry and Barbee took a portion of the hikers to go hike to the top of Calico.

On the way home, Brian and Audrey stopped at the Early Man site and guess what? Chris’s tent! (actually it is his girlfriends). A little worse for wear. Yes it has holes now, and so maybe a new one would be a good idea.

We are looking forward to next year’s railroad hike. Perhaps Rhyolite! Come join us ... it is a lot of fun.


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