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History - Railroads of the Mojave Desert:
Railroads around the Mojave National Preserve

The smallest railways

Completion of the Tonopah & Tidewater in 1907 led to construction of two tiny little railways connected with its line. These were both at Soda Station, which is to say Soda Springs, on the west shore of Soda Lake south of Baker, California. The Tonopah & Tidewater skirted the eastern shore of Soda Lake from the south, and just north of Soda Springs, cut across a portion of the normally dry, white lakebed to Baker Station. Soda Lake, of course, was a dry lake topped with white chemical salts, and with railroad transportation at hand, two groups of entrepreneurs decided to try to make a business of trying to harvest, purify and sell those chemical salts from the vicinity of Soda Springs. Thus it came to pass that by May 1907 the Pacific Coast Soda Company was building sheds and other structures at the south end of Soda Lake, and in October 1907 Russ Avery sold his 22 soda claims southeast of Soda Springs to the company. The Los Angeles Mining Review of August 8, 1908, carried an article describing the plant the company had built just south of Soda Springs and was in the process of enlarging, and the “narrow gauge track a mile and a half long” which it said extended out onto the lakebed. What sort of motive power this little railroad used is unknown, although it seems likely to have been a four-wheeled gasoline locomotive. The article in the mining journal is not the only evidence of the little railroad, for a mile and a half long grade, much of it still carrying little wooden ties, still lies on the lake today, and measuring the holes for spikes in the ties suggests that it had a gauge of 30 inches between the rails.

A few years later, around 1911, the Pacific Salt and Soda Company built a plant north of Soda Springs, to process the chemical salts, and it reportedly had a little railroad which, although it did not extend out onto the lake surface, did serve the plant itself. Measuring again spike holes in a surviving tie, this plant apparently had a railroad or tramway with a track gauge of 36 inches.

There is little information regarding either of these companies with respect to how long they survived or whether they made any money from their salt-processing plants, but from the remains today, both seem to have invested a fair amount of money in building such plants.

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