The story of the westward expansion is the story of the railroads. Beginning in 1862, the Union Pacific Railroad sought expansion opportunities along the western coast of the United States. To secure a foothold into California the railroads must cross the Mojave Desert and the depot in Kelso was crucial to accomplish this goal. Located at the junction of Kelbaker Road and the Kelso Cima Road, the Kelso Depot stands in testimony of the technological progress of the nations trains.
August of 1900, Montana Senator William A. Clark invested in a small Los Angeles based railway which would become the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad. In 1902, in mine owner made a deal to sell half of the stock to the Union Pacific even before the railway was completed.
In 1905, after 235 miles of track are laid, three warehouse men placed their names in a hat and drew out the winner John Kelso, for whom track siding #16 of the Salt Lake route was named. Later in 1905, Kelso was just one depot along the Salt Lake Route which now stretched from San Pedro, CA to Salt Lake City Utah. This new route opened southern California to the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1921, Union Pacific convinced Senator Clark to sell his remaining shares.
Additionally, in 1905 Senator Clark divested himself of some land in southern Nevada along another rail stop. This auction is considered the birth of Las Vegas, and Clark Country was named for the man.
Built in 1921, The Kelso Depot is architecturally styled as a Mission Revival and just one of several depots along the route which were designated as division points and provided facilities for operations and maintenance purposes. The buildings original design included a telegraph office, conductor’s room, baggage room, staff dormitories, a billiard room, library and locker. The spring water in the nearby Providence mountains allowed the location to service the steam engines. Additionally, the relatively steep 2% 2000 foot grade necessitated the use of helper engines by the steam locomotives of the day to crest the Kessler Summit.
Other depot locations included:
- Lynndyl, Utah
- Milford, Utah
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Caliente, Nevada
- Yermo, California
- San Bernardino, California
Union Pacific continued to operate the depot from 1921 to 1985. The depot provided much need infrastructure during World War 2, at which point the facility started a long decline in utility. Diesel engines improved efficiency and duration allowed the Union Pacific railroad to reduce their personnel requirements. The 1960’s introduced the second generation of more powerful and efficient diesel engines which eliminated the need for the helper engines. Combined with the cessation of passenger travel in August, 1964 the Kelso depot is destined to languish on the back roads of history. The Kelso Depot ceased operations as a train depot in 1962.
The Kelso Depot is currently in use as a Visitors Center of the Mojave National Preserve.