A Place Called Keddie

Written by: Gary Dolzall

Main Image Above > Keddie, California: Remote, sparsely populated – and among the most revered places in all of North American railroading! Keddie, along with Western Pacific’s magnificent Feather River Canyon route, is coming soon to Train Simulator.

On a railroad of countless awe-inspiring places,
Keddie, California became Western Pacific’s ultimate landmark,
as Gary Dolzall relates

North America is home to many remarkable and famed railroad landmarks, from the likes of New York Grand Central Terminal to Pennsylvania’s Horseshoe Curve, from Chicago’s steel “Racetrack” to Washington State’s Cascade Tunnel. And among the continent’s notable locations stands a remote place where silver trestles rise high over the rushing waters of Spanish Creek and the growl of diesels denote yet another battle with the unforgiving canyons and cliffs of the Sierra Nevada. That place is Keddie, California.

Western Pacific’s Feather River Canyon route, coming soon to Train Simulator, was (and is) an utterly remarkable stretch of railroad, where the awe-inspiring becomes almost standard fare. But even among all WP’s mountain splendor, Keddie, California took its place as the ultimate landmark on the 1,000-mile railroad. Fittingly enough, Keddie takes its name from the man, Scottish-born Arthur Walter Keddie, who in the 1860s dreamed of seeing a railroad built through California’s Feather River Canyon and lived to see it become reality a half-century later in 1909.

At an elevation of 3,243 feet above sea level, Keddie rests about two-thirds of the way up WP’s west slope climb to the Sierra Nevada Mountain’s summit at Beckwourth Pass. By any general measure, Keddie is an out-of-the-way place; according to a recent U. S. Census, Keddie has a population of fewer than 100 people and its post office, opened with the coming of the WP, closed fifty years ago. But by railroad standards, Keddie looms large indeed. Fittingly enough, it was at Keddie, on November 1, 1909, that the Western Pacific’s track construction gangs, working east and west, met on a steel bridge across Spanish Creek and there a WP track foreman, Leonardo di Tomasso, drove home the Western Pacific’s final spike.

For the first two decades of WP’s existence, Keddie was noted primarily as the location of one of the railroad’s many imposing steel trestles, but beyond such it was not a particularly uncommon place. That all changed in a big way in early 1930s, when Western Pacific’s Northern California Extension – nicknamed the “NCE” and now best known as the “Inside Gateway” or “High Line” – was constructed. The NCE was created to link the rails of the Western Pacific and the Great Northern, and at Keddie its construction added another trestle structure to the existing crossing of Spanish Creek. The connected trestles, along with a third rail leg through a short tunnel, became known as “Keddie Wye” and the place became assured of lasting railroad fame as a railroad theater.

Swinging away from the Western Pacific main line at the east portal of Tunnel 32 in Keddie, the Northern California Extension set down112 miles of new WP trackage north to Bieber in Plumas County, California and a connection with the Great Northern, which concurrently extended its line 91 miles south from Klamath Falls, Oregon. When work on the NCE began in August 1930, construction of the north-south route through the Sierra Nevada proved no less challenging than had been WP’s main line construction two decades before. Western Pacific’’s new route required the boring of eight new tunnels in the first 25 miles north from Keddie and even then a 1.5 percent grade was required for much of the distance north to Crescent Mills. Along with the new trestle and wye at Keddie, another massive trestle across Clear Creek was constructed across the valley and within sight of Keddie.

The Western Pacific-Great Northern “Inside Gateway” opened for traffic in November 1931 and allowed the two roads to compete directly with Southern Pacific for tonnage moving between central and southern California and the Pacific Northwest. The importance of the line continued and, in fact, even expanded during the late 1960s and into the Burlington Northern era, when WP and BN ran though trains with pooled power via the Inside Gateway and Santa Fe even became a partner in moving priority AT&SF-WP-BN traffic from Los Angeles to Seattle via Stockton, California and the Inside Gateway. Today, the ex-WP east-west main line is operated by Union Pacific, while the north-south Inside Gateway is operated as BNSF’s Gateway Subdivision. The rugged portion of WP’s NCE from Keddie to Crescent Mills is included in the upcoming Train Simulator Feather River Canyon route and will most certainly offer some excellent additional operating characteristics and challenges on the route.

Given its importance as a junction point on the Western Pacific, Keddie gained its own facilities snuggled on the ridges above Spanish Creek and in the steam era was the site of a four-stall roundhouse used to tend the WP steam locomotives then employed on the line as helpers. Keddie was also home to a handsome depot which, despite the sparsity of local population, was a regular passenger stop for the route’s famed “Silver Lady,” the WP-D&RGW-CB&Q California Zephyr. Through the decades, ever since the Western Pacific first stretched its steel rails across Spanish Creek, Keddie, California has been a siren to train-watchers and photographers – and that remarkable experience is coming soon to Train Simulator. – Gary Dolzall

Ultimate landmark: The tall trestles at Keddie which span Spanish Creek and form two legs of the “Keddie Wye” represent the ultimate landmark on a railroad where awe-inspiring is almost the norm. All screenshots by Gary Dolzall.

Ultimate landmark: The tall trestles at Keddie which span Spanish Creek and form two legs of the “Keddie Wye” represent the ultimate landmark on a railroad where awe-inspiring is almost the norm. All screenshots by Gary Dolzall.

The winter shadows lay long and deep across the valley of Spanish Creek as Western Pacific GE U30B 769 leads a freight off WP’s Inside Gateway and turns west across the Keddie trestle, bound for Oroville on Train Simulator’s upcoming Feather River Canyon route.

The winter shadows lay long and deep across the valley of Spanish Creek as Western Pacific GE U30B 769 leads a freight off WP’s Inside Gateway and turns west across the Keddie trestle, bound for Oroville on Train Simulator’s upcoming Feather River Canyon route.

Regardless of season, regardless of the angle from which it is viewed, the Western Pacific’s silvered steel crossing of Spanish Creek (above and below) is a remarkable and quite unforgettable American railroad landmark.

Regardless of season, regardless of the angle from which it is viewed, the Western Pacific’s silvered steel crossing of Spanish Creek (above and below) is a remarkable and quite unforgettable American railroad landmark.

KED#05
With westbound tonnage bound from Salt Lake City to the California Bay Area in tow, a quartet of Western Pacific General Electric U30Bs draw across the Keddie trestle (above) and approach the east portal of WP Tunnel No. 32 (below) on Train Simulator’s upcoming Feather River Canyon route.

With westbound tonnage bound from Salt Lake City to the California Bay Area in tow, a quartet of Western Pacific General Electric U30Bs draw across the Keddie trestle (above) and approach the east portal of WP Tunnel No. 32 (below) on Train Simulator’s upcoming Feather River Canyon route.

KED#07
The trestle span over which three Western Pacific U30Bs ride (above) was constructed in 1930 with WP’s Northern California Extension, joining the Keddie main line trestle that had been constructed two decades earlier. Creation of the NCE or Inside Gateway meant Keddie became a junction point, and a busy one where WP main line and Inside Gateway trains often converged (below).

The trestle span over which three Western Pacific U30Bs ride (above) was constructed in 1930 with WP’s Northern California Extension, joining the Keddie main line trestle that had been constructed two decades earlier. Creation of the NCE or Inside Gateway meant Keddie became a junction point, and a busy one where WP main line and Inside Gateway trains often converged (below).

KED#09
Western Pacific’s Northern California Extension, also known as the Inside Gateway or High Line, was constructed to link the Western Pacific and the Great Northern. During the late 1960s and into the Burlington Northern era, the route increasingly became an important artery for tonnage moving between California and the Pacific Northwest, often hosting pooled WP and BN power. With a WP U30B on the point, an Inside Gateway train swings around Keddie wye (above) and crosses Spanish Creek trestle (below). Note: BN motive power depicted is from the BNSF/BN SD40-2 DLC and is not included with the upcoming Feather River Canyon route.

Western Pacific’s Northern California Extension, also known as the Inside Gateway or High Line, was constructed to link the Western Pacific and the Great Northern. During the late 1960s and into the Burlington Northern era, the route increasingly became an important artery for tonnage moving between California and the Pacific Northwest, often hosting pooled WP and BN power. With a WP U30B on the point, an Inside Gateway train swings around Keddie wye (above) and crosses Spanish Creek trestle (below). Note: BN motive power depicted is from the BNSF/BN SD40-2 DLC and is not included with the upcoming Feather River Canyon route.

KED#11
Fabulous and famous Keddie, California. It is a Sierra Nevada railroading landmark that is recreated in all its scenic glory in the upcoming Train Simulator Feather River Canyon route!

Fabulous and famous Keddie, California. It is a Sierra Nevada railroading landmark that is recreated in all its scenic glory in the upcoming Train Simulator Feather River Canyon route!

Gary Dolzall

5 Comments

  • Awesome place in annals of railroad history! For anyone looking for more on the Inside Gateway, and for video of trains on the Keddie Wye, check out Charles Smiley’s DVD Empire of the North. It’s about the BN merger, but it has a nice long section on the Inside Gateway!

  • I cant wait to get this. I like that WP will be on here. But im also looking forward to making UP scenarios!

  • The picture of the wye (above) with the two trains over the trestles has a particularity.
    Both trains are directed to Oroville and from there to Roseville to end finally in the Bay area. The left branch come from the north, from Bieber, CA. The right branch is the one that goes across the desert and up to Salt Lake City, the eastern limit of Western Pacific railroad.

    Actually the north branch beyond Bieber, is were Northern Pacific territory started in that northbound line, so it would be normal seeing trains from that railroad crossing the wye during the steam era and early diesels. The Bieber branch finally connected to the Great Northern railroad territory in Oregon.

    Nowadays, both BNSF and UP trains cross that wye. BNSF will normally go to the north, while UP will go to Salt Lake City after meeting Winnemucca, NV where the route meets the Donner Pass line. A friend told me recently that the Feather Canyon River route was being used mostly as a backup for trains bound for the East when Donner Pass was slowed by the climate.

  • This one looks to be another great addition representing U.S. railroading history. Thanks for a great outline and history.

  • Outstanding to see the Western Pacific being represented. The Keddie Wye was an amazing piece of railroad engineering and it will be a welcome and in my guess top seller as soon as it is released..

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