Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad

Explorers of the Mojave Desert in southern California are bound to have heard the stories of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. The Tonopah and Tidewater flanks the western edge of the Mohave National Preserve as travels south to north from Ludlow, California to Beatty, Nevada and up to Tonopah, Nevada utilizing the Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad. Many of the off ramps, sites and historic monuments along Interstate 15 are associated with the standard gauge railroad.

More details
Tonopah & Tidewater #1 was a Baldwin 4-6-0 steam locomotive, originally built for the Wisconsin and Michigan Railroad, later going to the Randsburg Railway on the Santa Fe as their #1 (later #260). Went to the T&T in 1904 and used in passenger and shunting service. It was scrapped in 1941, and the bell was saved by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society at Pomona, CA.
More details Tonopah & Tidewater #1 was a Baldwin 4-6-0 steam locomotive, originally built for the Wisconsin and Michigan Railroad, later going to the Randsburg Railway on the Santa Fe as their #1 (later #260). Went to the T&T in 1904 and used in passenger and shunting service. It was scrapped in 1941, and the bell was saved by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society at Pomona, CA.

History

Francis “Borax” Marion Smith
Francis “Borax” Marion Smith

In the early 1900’s, owner of the Pacific Coast Borax Works, Francis Marion Smith owned the largest Borax mine in the world, which is located in Borate, CA. Corporate expansion found him looking into old Borax claims located in the Black Mountains, east of Death Valley. Originally, “Borax” smith used a steam tractor to haul the ore one hundred and thirty seven miles into Ivanpah, CA. The harsh desert proved too much and the plan is soon abandoned.

In 1904, Smith conceived a plan to connect a railroad from his mines to the nearest points of the Santa Fe. He hoped to connect up north to Tonopah to exploit a mining boom in the region, which include Rhyolite, Goldfield and Beatty Nevada. On July 19, 1904, Francis Marion Smith had incorporated the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad Company in New Jersey. Smith served as president, and associates DeWitt Van Buskirk as vice-president with C.B. Zabriskie as secretary-treasurer, and John Ryan as superintendent and general manager.

Originally, Smith worked with William A. Clark who was a Senator from Montana. Clark headed the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad and proposed that Smith build the Tonopah and Tidewater out of Las Vegas as a cost effective solution to haul his Borax. In 1905, Smith sent personnel and soon discovered that he would not be allow to connect to the Los Angles and Salt Lake Railroad. This right of way is probably due to the fact that Clark is planning his own rail to Beatty, which would become the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad.

Following this disappoint, Borax Smith sold his assets and holdings after negotiating with Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and settings up a terminus is Ludlow, CA.

Tonopah and Tidewater Route

The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad covered a distance of approximately 230 miles, traversing the challenging terrain of the Mojave Desert.. Many stops along the railroad were named for associates of Borax Businessman Francis Marion Smith. Sections of the route runs through the Death Valley National Park, and certain sections of it have been made into hiking trails for tourists. Other parts of the route are easily accessible to back road explorers, and much of the former railroad bed parallels California State Route 127 between Baker and Death Valley Junction, California.

Tonopah and Tidewater Stops

More details
Originally a Deleware, Lackwanna & Western locomotive numbered #671, was sold to the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad around 1906, and supposedly became either their #2 or #3. Later sold to the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Co.in 1910 and became their #2.
More details Originally a Deleware, Lackwanna & Western locomotive numbered #671, was sold to the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad around 1906, and supposedly became either their #2 or #3. Later sold to the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Co.in 1910 and became their #2.
  • Ludlow
  • Broadwell
  • Mesquite
  • Crucero
  • Rasor
  • Soda Lake ( ZZYZX )
  • Talc
  • Riggs
  • Lore
  • Valjean
  • Dumont
  • Spretty
  • Acme
  • Tecopa
  • Zabriskie
  • Shoshone
  • Fitrol Supr
  • Gerstley
  • Jay
  • Death Valley Junction
  • Bradford
  • Muck
  • Jenifer
  • Carrara
  • Post
  • Gold Center
  • Beatty Junction
  • Beatty

Railroad Summary

NameTonopah and Tidewater Railroad
LocationSan Bernardino, California
Nye County, Nevada
GaugeStandard
Operational1904 – 1940

References

The Amargosa Opera House

Recently, on a whim, my wife and I loaded up the jeep and opt to just explore the desert West of our home town of Las Vegas and ended up at the Amargosa Opera House. Our original idea was to drive to the winery’s in Pahrump, Nevada. After the winery our plan was to drive up to the townsite of Johnnie, Nevada. The best laid plans were for not. We discovered that the mines of Johnnie, Nevada are located on private property.

The Arargosa Opera House is located in Death Valley Junction, California.
The Arargosa Opera House is located in Death Valley Junction, California.

Honoring the wishes of the Johnnie mine site property owners, we opted to do some exploring. We headed easy through the small town of Crystal, Nevada and drove past the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The AMNWR was closed, as the result of, a Government Shutdown.

As our wandering journey continued, we opted to travel South and soon discovered the small desert haven of Death Valley Junction and the world famous Amargosa Opera House.

Death Valley Junction was founded as the town of Amargosa. The town was founded at the intersection of SR 190 and SR 127 just East of Death Valley. Founded in 1907 when the Tonopay and Tidewater railroads ventured into Amargosa Valley.

Corkhill Hall

The Amargosa Opera House began life as Corkhill Hall in 1923-24. Alexander Hamillton McColloch designed the building, which was built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The building is a Spanish Colonial Revival style and organized as part of a much larger U shaped complex. The complex features included company offices, dormitories, dining room, store and a 23 room hotel. Corkhill Hall served the small complex as a location for dances, church services, movies and meetings.

The small town, as with many others boomed and busted with the borax industry. During WW2, the valley train tracks were removed. This was done in support of the war effort. Amargosa began to decline in the mid 20th century and slowly edge towards oblivion. In 1967, a flat tire and a performer Marta Beckett forever altered the sleepy little town.

The Opera House

In 1968, Amargosa changed it’s name to Death Valley Junction and Marta Beckett rented the Corkhill Recreation Hall. She oversaw repairs to the facility and repainted the interior with murals for the next five years. In her newly renovated Opera House, Mrs Beckett performed for the next 40 years. On February 12, 2012 Mrs Beckett performed her last show.

The Amargosa Opera House features original hand painted murals by Marta Becket.
The Amargosa Opera House features original hand painted murals by Marta Becket.

Such is life in the Mojave, filled with interesting characters who cherish and thrive in a harsh environment. Sadly, on our visit to Opera House was not open and I was not able to photograph the interior. However, while visiting a young ballerina was being photographed by under the trees outside of the old opera house. A testimony to Marta Becket which we are sure would make her proud.