The Ludlow & Southern Railway

By Delmer G. Ross

Professor of History,
La Sierra University,
Riverside, CA.

Successful mines generally produce great quantities of ore that normally is extremely heavy when contrasted with its volume. Consequently, the ideal way of handling it is to process it right at or nearby the mine itself. By so doing, it is possible to avoid the problem of transporting many tons of ore any great distance, usually an exceedingly expensive proposition unless there just happens to be a railroad available for the purpose.

Railroads, it seems, are made to order for mining operations. They excel at transporting large volumes of very heavy cargo at relatively little cost. This is generally the principal motivation for transporting large amounts of minerals such as coal and iron ore by train today.

These factors of mining and railroad operation were just as valid a century ago as they are now. And that is the reason why the Ludlow & Southern Railway was built in 1903 to serve what was then known as the Buckeye Mining District, a promising mineralized region located some 55 miles southeast of Barstow, California.

While this narrative is not intended to be a comprehensive history of the railroad, it does provide information on why it was constructed and why it eventually failed. Although, like those responsible for initiating the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad that was soon to be constructed just to the north, the builders of the Ludlow & Southern may have expected their short line to survive the mines it was intended to serve, such high hopes had been dashed many times before. Unfortunately, they would be again.

It all began when John Suter, a roadmaster for the Atlantic & Pacific subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, who at the bidding of his employer, commenced a vain search for a source of water in the desert surrounding the little community of Ludlow. Instead of water, he discovered several promising outcrops of gold and copper ore some eight miles south of town. As soon as he could, he began mining operations. In the late 1890s, though, Suter sold his mines and many of his claims to a group of New York railroad and mining investors.

Late in 1901 the new owners sent their first shipment of ore by wagon and train to a stamp mill they owned in Barstow. When they received the report that the first 1,000 tons of ore from the Bagdad had yielded more than $17,000 after milling, they concluded that one thing their mine desperately needed was better transportation facilities. It would then become even more profitable. Therefore, they determined to build a railroad from the mines about eight miles north to the main line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe at Ludlow. The Santa Fe then could complete the task of hauling the ore the remaining fifty-three miles to the mill at Barstow.
 

A view of the Randsburg-Santa Fe Reduction Company's fifty-stamp ore mill located in Barstow. During the early years of the Bagdad Chase Mine its ore was milled here.
 

Thus the Ludlow & Southern Railway came into being. It was incorporated in July 1902, although men had started surveying the route of the proposed line earlier, in May. By the end of the year the entire roadbed had been graded, and the crossties were put in position on the ground shortly thereafter.

Now the problem was the lack of rails. Second-hand rails had been purchased from the Santa Fe, but they had not yet been delivered. When they finally arrived, in April, the laying of track was speedily accomplished and the standard-gauge Ludlow & Southern Railway was open for business in June 1903. The entire cost of building the line was approximately $80,000 -- at $10,000 per mile, an almost absurdly low expenditure even for those days. Most of the funds came from profits of the Bagdad Mine.

Equipping the new railroad was not overly expensive either. This was because virtually all of its rolling stock was purchased used. The first locomotive was acquired from the New York Central, as was a passenger coach which was reputed to have been at one time the private car of United States Senator Chauncey M. Depew, a former president of that railroad. Doubtless it was no coincidence that Depew was one of the investors owning Bagdad Mining and Milling, which had purchased Suter's mines and claims. He also owned part of Randsburg-Santa Fe Reduction, the milling plant in Barstow, and part of the Ludlow & Southern. The L&S's second locomotive was a nearly new Baldwin switcher built in 1905 and originally used by the Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad. When the locomotives were renumbered for L&S service, the former T&G switcher became Number 1, and the former NYC locomotive became Number 2. Number 3 was another Baldwin switcher. It appears that the L&S also acquired a Heisler geared locomotive, but just when and where is not clear.

Although water was lacking, nature contrived to help the L&S in a different way. The mining district, at an elevation of 2,400 feet, was 600 feet higher than Ludlow. Consequently the surveyors were able to plan a line that ran downhill for all but about a mile of the eight miles to Ludlow, with reasonably undemanding grades all the way. Thus, when loaded with ore, the train had a nice, easy downgrade run; on the upgrade pull, it would generally be running light. The resulting savings in fuel and water consumption were substantial.
 

AT&SF tracks go through Ludlow, while those of the L&S depart to the right and those of the T&T, including the balloon track, are to the left.
 

From the AT&SF tower, the L&S tracks are just visible at mid-right,
 

Compared with today's wages, salaries of L&S employees seem appallingly low - but so were expenses. In January 1905, for example, the engineer earned all of $4.50 per day. The conductor collected $4.02, the fireman received $3.00, and gandy dancers got a magnificent $1.75 per day - all before deductions. Even as it is today, not all L&S employees took home as much as they earned. Deductions included purchases at the store and rent. Rent was eight to twelve dollars per month.

Because of its lowly beginnings involving second-hand rails and rolling stock, and its short length, some folk tended to look down their noses at the L&S. Bill Garner, a timekeeper with forty years of service with the Santa Fe once called it "a jerk-water line" that "must have been wired together with baling wire." Certainly it might have seemed that way when compared with the mighty Santa Fe. But the L&S accomplished what it was called upon to do -- to haul ore out to Ludlow.

Meanwhile, the Bagdad Mining and Milling Company merged with the Benjamin E. Chase Gold Mining Company, which operated a nearby mine. The new corporation was known as the Bagdad Chase Gold Mining Company. Its several mines in the immediate vicinity were operated as one, known as the Bagdad Chase.

Rochester, the hamlet at the southern terminus of the L&S also for a short while known as Stagg, was a rather unusual gold mining town -- at least for California. It was dry. That was because it was a company town. Bagdad Chase's General Manager E.H. Stagg would not allow the sale of liquor in town. Nor would he allow it to be brought in -- not even by individual miners. And to help insure that it would not be, he gave his brother, Ike, the job of engineer on the L&S, the miners' sole means of public transportation into the mining camp. Furthermore, Stagg refused to allow prostitutes in the camp, and he prohibited all kinds of gambling. Just why he was so strict may have been related to the fact that his wife and three daughters lived in Rochester. Certainly he hoped that production would not be harmed by drunkenness. When asked about his rules he explained,
 

"The era of a rip-roaring old-time camp is past. . . . Intoxication should no more be a feature in a mining camp than in any other well-regulated community."

 
So, if someone felt the need for entertainment or some alcoholic refreshment, he had two choices. He could go to nearby Ragtown, a small village of the Buckeye Mining District about three miles north of the Bagdad-Chase -- if one was in a hurry, about a forty-minute walk. And the walk was downhill virtually all the way to Ragtown, which was just fine until it was time to return. The other possibility was to take the train out to Ludlow -- at an average speed of twelve miles an hour, about a forty-minute ride. Travel time was about the same either way.
 

A ticket to Ludlow. Although the Ludlow & Southern had been been in business for slightly more than two years when issued, this ticket is quite straightforward. Ludlow and Camp Rochester were the only places served by the L&S. Ragtown wasn't even a flag stop,
 

The advantage of Ragtown was that the program of enjoyment would not be cut short by the departure of the return train to Rochester. The miner could take his pleasure until he ran out of money or until shortly before his next work shift was scheduled to commence back at the mine. Incidentally, the term, "Ragtown," or sometimes, "Ragdump," was a generic name applied to any pleasure-oriented, parasite community growing up alongside a strictly regulated company town -- especially if it offered female companionship in the form of dance-hall girls and "soiled doves," the generally accepted euphemism for prostitutes. If they developed any degree of permanence, most such settlements soon acquired other, more respectable sounding names.

In the summer heat or windy, winter cold of the desert, riding often seemed preferable to walking. So, for the convenience of the miners, a passenger coach was attached to the ore train that left late every afternoon for Ludlow, a railroad town that at one time boasted a population of 1,000. The return train left at night, giving the men an hour or two to wet their whistles in town -- where "Ma" Preston operated a saloon, poolroom, restaurant, hotel, and store..
 

A ticket to Camp Rochester. Although the date is incomplete, this is a very early ticket because it carries the name of the Ludlow & Southern's first general manager, E.H. Stagg.
 

Born Mathilde Pascaline Vigneron in France in 1850, Ma Preston was often called "The Queen of the Desert." To some people such a nickname constitutes an indication that she operated a brothel, although there is little or no evidence that she did, at least not in Ludlow.On the other hand, it appears that she may have earlier, from the late 1880s to the early 1890s, when she and her second husband, Thomas Jefferson Preston, had lived in Calico. Dix Van Dyke, a desert writer who knew Ma personally, and who did not hold her in particularly high esteem, states unequivocally, "Mother Preston . . . had been a brothel keeper in Calico." Germaine Moon, a French historian of the Mojave who probably has researched Ma Preston more than anyone else, vehemently disagrees.

This photograph, said to be of Ma Preston,
was taken a few years before she retired
to France with more than $250,000,
a significant fortune in those days.

 

Be all that as it may, considering Ma's various business enterprises, it is not surprising that there is no evidence to indicate that she attempted to discourage prostitution, either. That she could play poker with the best was well known. But the main attraction was her saloon. Thus, on paydays, when virtually every thirsty male in Rochester who could do so rode into Ludlow, the train came to be called the "Whiskey Special." Those who could pay their fare rode in the passenger coach, while those who could not, or perhaps would not, rode on flat cars provided for them.

Rochester was dry in another sense, one totally unrelated to alcoholic beverages. There was little or no water available; in fact, none except what little might be caught during a rainstorm in a barrel or other container strategically placed under the eaves of a building. And it did not rain often. So water was brought from Newberry Springs by Santa Fe tank car to Ludlow which likewise had no water of its own. It was then transferred to two large, vat-like, upright wooden tanks mounted on an L&S flatcar, and hauled by rail to Rochester. While the Santa Fe charged up to two cents per gallon for water delivered to desert miners in small amounts, it assessed the mining company a very reasonable $1.55 per thousand gallons.

When it came time to provide postal service to Rochester, a difficulty quickly surfaced. San Bernardino County already had another Rochester, a small grape-growing community near Cucamonga. So Post Office authorities in Washington requested a different name. Rochester was often called Stagg, after the Bagdad Chase's General Manager. But Stagg's name now had to be passed by because, in an effort to prevent confusion with Ludlow, Colorado, the post office in nearby Ludlow had been named Stagg. So Rochester was renamed Stedman, in honor of J.H. Stedman, one of the original New York investors in the property. Nellie A. Black became the first postmistress of Stedman on March 28, 1904. The post office was a tiny frame structure near the store.

By then Stedman was beginning to look like a permanent town, not just a makeshift mining camp. Forty "thoroughly modern" three-, four-, and five-room cottages were being built to house the men and their families. The construction contract even called for them to be painted! A telephone line stretched to Ludlow, and there were rumors of a proposed schoolhouse -- rumors that soon proved to be correct when it was built.

Prospects appeared bright in the Buckeye Mining District, now often called the Stedman District. A total of 115 men were working in the Bagdad Chase mines, and the L&S was hauling 200 tons of ore out to Ludlow every day. After a significant decline in productivity, though, the company put its Stedman District mines up for sale.

Production rebounded after the Pacific Mines Corporation bought the mines and the L&S in 1910. This was accomplished by modernizing the mines and concluding an agreement with the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad to maintain and operate the L&S. In reality, this was nothing new. For several years additional equipment had come from the T&T, leased on a temporary basis as required. This was facilitated by the fact that at the time T&T headquarters was located in Ludlow. So, beginning in 1910, T&T work trains handled maintenance on the L&S line and T&T locomotives and cars could sometimes be observed on L&S tracks. It was a reasonable arrangement that doubtless benefitted both railroads.

 
Only half a dozen years later, though, in 1916, the Bagdad Chase shut down because once again it was no longer profitable. Because the Ludlow & Southern Railway had been developed as a mining railroad, and nothing more, its fortunes were intimately connected with those of Stedman and the Bagdad Chase Mine. The railroad remained very active, with at least one train in each direction every working day until the mine closed down in 1916. Then, because there was no more freight nor any passengers for it to haul, it ceased operations as a common carrier.
 
The remains of an old ore mill in Ludlow in 1988. Water, essential to its operation, was expensive because it had to be hauled in by rail from AT&SF wells located some 36 miles west at Newberry. Photo courtesy Karen A. Ross.

Some of the L&S rolling stock was sold, including locomotive Number 3, which was purchased by the Utah Copper Company. But the tracks were maintained in reasonably good condition in order to provide transportation to Ludlow for the only permanent inhabitant of Stedman, the mine caretaker, who operated a motor car for the purpose. Had there been any need to, however, the L&S could have been pressed into service again at almost any time.

If 1916 marked the beginning of the end of the L&S, 1932 definitely continued it. Sometime early in the year -- apparently no one knows exactly when -- a particularly heavy cloudburst created a flood that completely washed out almost an entire mile of track. With the mine mostly idle, and the damage amounting to more than twelve percent of the entire line, it was not economically feasible to rebuild. Later that year, the engine house burned down, and the cab of Number 1, the only still serviceable locomotive the L&S owned, was destroyed in the blaze.

Three years after the fire, in 1935, the rails were removed by the San Francisco firm of Botsford and Smith. The rails and what remained of the usable rolling stock were sent to the Philippine Islands. There, they were once again put to use, this time on a sugar plantation. When American forces under General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines during the second World War, former L&S locomotive Number 1 was discovered still to be in operation.

What was left of locomotive Number 2 was cut up for scrap in 1937, though, for some reason, its tender was left intact for another twenty years. Interestingly enough, its bell was donated to the Asistencia de San Bernardino in Redlands, where it occupies the upper position in the bell tower. The only remaining passenger coach, an old wooden one resting on crossties laid on the ground -- its trucks had been removed four years before and sent to the Philippines -- burned in 1939.

Unlike Stedman, which emptied abruptly when the Bagdad-Chase mines closed in 1916, and never fully revived, the demise of the L&S was a piecemeal affair. It gradually declined for more than forty years, until 1957 when the last tender was finally removed.

All that remains of the L&S today are portions of the roadbed marking the former right-of-way. The old berm may be observed in Ludlow just south of the point where the tank cars constituting the town's water supply are generally spotted; it starts parallel to the Santa Fe rails, then turns southward. The present road between Ludlow and the site of Ragtown uses much of the L&S right-of-way over the pass between the two, and the L&S berm can be seen where it diverges to the west of the road, about half way between the pass and Ragtown. A reasonably good view of what remains of the L&S can be observed from the top of Swede Hill, just west of today's Ragtown monument.
 
In December 1988, driving on the berm of the L&S approximately one-quarter mile west of today's Ragtown monument. Less than four miles of berm remains today, and much of it is cut by washouts. Photo courtesy Karen A. Ross.
 

All Photographs, except those otherwise marked, are:
Courtesy of the Mojave River Valley Museum.
 

Copyright 2000, Delmer G. Ross
All Rights Reserved

 

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02/02/2002