Written by: Gary Dolzall
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