The Borate & Daggett Railroad,
Forerunner of the Tonopah & Tidewater
by Delmer G. Ross
Professor of History
La Sierra University, Riverside, CA 92515

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Although first and foremost a mining railroad, the B&D carried both mail and passengers. Accommodations, though, were limited, at best. It appears that passengers generally rode the tool car, a flat car that was attached to the rear of the train. A ride on the tool car may not have been very comfortable, but it beat walking.

As with all railroads, there were accidents. The tool car figured prominently in one of them. Charlie Williams and four companions, who had suffered through a minor mishap at the mines, decided to quit. After picking up their pay, they were told that they could ride the evening train to Daggett if they hurried. They made it, hopping onto the tool car just as the train left. At that time there apparently was no wye or turntable at Borate, so the train began backing toward Daggett. Disaster soon followed. As Williams explained,
 

"We had topped the steep grade and was (sic) headed down the canyon at quite a speed, when our car jumped the tracks and began to careen wildly along the ties; soon it became uncoupled from the rest of the train and started on a wild trip around the curves. Finally it left the tracks entirely, cutting deep grooves in the clay banks of the canyon walls. It turned over scattering tools and equipment along the right-of-way. No one was hurt."

The passengers had been very fortunate.

Approaching the site of Borate, the berm of the B&D as it appears today. It continues on the hills to the southeast in the background.
Courtesy Craig W. Tice.

Overall, the Borate & Daggett Railroad proved quite satisfactory, providing virtually all transportation required between the two towns until the depletion of the ore at Borate caused the mines to be closd in 1907. Before that event, though, Borax Smith and the Pacific Coast Borax Company built the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad and developed other borate properties in the Death Valley area. With the closing of the mines at Borate, the town shut down. Some of its buildings were torn down for their reusable material, while a few were removed intact to the newly opened mines. The B&D was then taken up. It was officially abandoned in 1909.
 

A trainload of borax ore from the mines at Borate heads across the "big trestle," one of three needed between Borate and the mill at Marion
William H. Smitheram Collection
A present-day view of the same canyon,
many years after the trestle had been removed.
Courtesy Craig W. Tice.

Borate was not the only settlement affected by the closing of the mines and railway operation. Much like at Borate, everything at Marion that could reasonably be moved was transported to the operation near Death Valley, and the little community simply ceased to exist. Daggett -- which in 1900 had been larger than either Barstow or Victorville, and which for a time had been the heaviest shipping station on the Santa Fe Railway between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Mojave, California -- took on the appearance of a ghost town.

The two Heisler locomotives of the defunct B&D were stored at Daggett for a time. When construction began on the borax company's Death Valley Railroad in 1914, the Francis - which, with a tractive effort of 70,000 pounds, was the more powerful of the two locomotives - underwent refurbishing for use in the building of that line. Once that task had been completed, it was sold to the Nevada Short Line, where it was also No. 2. It eventually chugged its last working for the Terry Lumber Company, at Round Mountain, in northern California. Although it was photographed at the T&T shop in Ludlow in 1913 and again at Stedman about three years later, the ultimate fate of the Marion is unknown.

While there have been no trains for nearly a century, it is possible to drive an automobile over several miles of the old B&D right-of-way today. A dirt road, Mule Canyon Road, follows much of the old railroad alignment.
 

A wooden culvert under the berm of the B&D
in Mule Canyon as it appears now.
Courtesy Craig W. Tice.
A closeup view of the culvert shows its size.
Courtesy Craig W. Tice.

Probably the great majority of railroads that survived less than a decade can be considered failures - unless they merged with other lines. The Borate & Daggett, though, was extremely successful. Its main purposes were to reduce the cost of transporting ore from Borate to Daggett, and to do so faster than could be done by mule teams and wagons. While accomplishing those two goals, the railway was also expected to expedite the transportation of water, mine timbers, and other supplies, as well as people. It did all that, and more. The railroad was so successful that when the end of reasonably high-grade colmanite at Borate came into view, Smith and the borax company, after a brief experiment with an improved wagon road, wasted little time on other means of transportation.. They soon built the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad to within a few miles of their next source of supply.


 

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12/10/2002