In Search Of Hambone, California
by Katy Tahja, March 1, 2017
Why, you might ask, would anyone try to get to Hambone, California? Where the heck is it anyway? And what’s there when you get there? If you are married to a railroad fanatic who loves abandoned railroad grades you might find yourself just about anyplace in California…like rural eastern Siskiyou County.
The combination for me of five consecutive days off work and decent weather put hubby and I on the road looking for railroad archaeology, but first we made a stop at an inn we’d been driving by for 45 years. If you drive up Highway 101 just after you cross the Klamath River there is a turn off for Requa and the historic Requa Inn at the mouth of the river.
The inn is a century old and is being lovingly restored by a family of Yurok native descent. There are 10 cozy rooms, no TV or phones, a restaurant and a lobby and library with fireplaces and picture windows overlooking the river. It’s the kind of place that surrounds you with history. Native populations have inhabited Requa for centuries and there is a wealth of myth and legend about the area.
When you look out the inn’s windows facing south all you see is river and forest. That’s the same view a native fisherman would have seen 200 years ago. The hand of modern man is all over the north shore since Requa is a popular fishing destination. No roads link Requa with the next Yurok town a dozen miles upriver at Pecwan, but a tribal transit system takes members by boat up and down the river. Jet boat cruises are available for people looking to view wildlife from the water.
After Requa we traveled north and east through Oregon. We highly recommend the beer and food at Klamath Basin Brewing in Klamath Falls, and then our travels took us back south into California in search of elusive Hambone.
A mini-history lesson is offered here. When small logging railroads were built the owners had to decide which big mainline railroad they would hook on to. These bigger railroads would allow lumber mills to distribute their products around the USA and send their lumber to shipping ports. The McCloud River Railroad, on the south side of Mt. Shasta, began in 1901 with 18 miles of track between Mt. Shasta City and McCloud. The railroad owners made the decision to build east and hook up with the Great Northern tracks, later owned by Burlington Northern-Santa Fe. These rails ran from Klamath Falls, Oregon to Bieber on Highway 299 and from there south the lines belonged to Western Pacific reaching to the San Francisco Bay Area.
The McCloud River Railroad eventually had 95 miles of track. To reach from Bartle, east of McCloud, to Lookout Junction on the Great Northern tracks you passed through Hambone, California. Photos on the Internet show there was a section shed for storing tools and parts in Hambone today (if it hasn’t fallen down) along the abandoned railroad grade.
When times were prosperous railroad lines expanded and built branch lines like the one from Bartle through Hambone to Lookout Junction. When times were bad you abandoned the branches, pulled up the rails and railroad ties and concentrated on keeping some part of your rail operation alive. The railroad line from Bartle to Lookout Junction became history when it was torn out in 2005. The McCloud River Railroad ran out of lumber resources to ship and became an excursion and dinner train ride. In the 1990’s we took the Shasta Sunset Dinner Train and enjoyed a delightful trip and meal, but tourism could not sustain even limited rail service and it ceased operation in 2009.
Would you believe railroads practice recycling? Actually they always have. If your railroad built a branch line into new timber and you cut it all down and shipped it to the sawmill you then tore up the iron rails and railroad ties and re-laid them to go on into your next logging site. As a historian, this practice makes it danged hard to state “The railroad tracks were right here.” Yes, they might have been for a while, until they were moved someplace else. Knowing where the “somewhere’s else” places are, and when this happened, is the sign of a good historian. Luckily, the old railroad grades and roadbeds leave good clues. When McCloud River Railroad abandoned the tracks east of Hambone to Lookout Junction in 2005, A&K Railroad Materials recycled the rails. Ever wondered where those used railroad ties you see in retail garden centers for making raised beds came from? Now you know — abandoned train lines.
On our little winter road trip we first drove down from Klamath Falls to Adin on Highway 299 and took county roads and gravel roads west to Lookout Junction. There was snow on the ground but you could see the junction and the snow covered dirt roadway that was the old McCloud railroad grade. However, bad luck struck when we tried to get from Bartle to Hambone. Snowfall gets serious around the base of Mount Shasta; we would have needed snowmobiles to get to Hambone. We realize we’ll have to come back in summer to drive the dirt road into Hambone and on to Lookout Junction. Disappointing, but that’s what happens when you go exploring in mucky weather.
Hambone (in the summer)
After staring at atlas and national forests maps for so long I was again delighted by place names. (I amuse easily). Siskiyou County is home to many native groups so you get names like Ukonome, Ogaromtoc, Billbokka and Nawtawckt. Critters figure into place names like Kangaroo Lake, Caribou Road, Yellow Jacket Ridge, Bug Gulch, Golden Hoof Road, Toad Mountain, Horse Pocket, 10 Bear Mountain, Bunny Flat, the town of Gazelle, Elk Lick Ridge, and Chirpchatter Mountain (noisy insects there)?
Sentiments gave location names like Hopeless Pass, Hell Hole Ridge, Paradise Lake, Damnation Pass and Hello Canyon. Discoveries at a site, I believe, gave names like Six-Shooter Butte, Coffee Can Creek, and Tombstone Mountain. Then there were just fun place names. Did Emigrant Road have lots of newcomers traveling it? Applesauce Gulch perhaps had apple trees growing there, but Five & Ten Divide, Ulcer Point and Pickle Camp? What caused their naming? Nowadays on-line gazetteers and place name reference sites could answer my questions, if I had the time to sit in front of a computer for hours, which I refuse to do because I hope to be out exploring old railroad grades with my hubby and someday getting to Hambone.