Oregon Trails: On The Right Track

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WHITE CITY, Ore. — For 130 years, the railroad has been the way many Southern Oregon businesses have shipped and received big loads at a low cost and the railroad helped build Camp White, when World War II needed troops trained to fight overseas.

The remnant of Camp White has been known for decades as White City, and the U.S. government tracks that circled through that sprawling post are still there.

Winding around between the warehouses, mills and old Word War II Camp White buildings, a bright yellow locomotive shuttles empty cars to Boise and other customers. For more than sixty years, an old Army training post has been the primary industrial park in Southern Oregon. And while many of the original buildings are gone, the tracks laid there by the U.S. Army 70 years ago are still at work.

“I think they had 13 miles of track, but it’s mostly spurs obviously, and it’s one of those railroads, but if you don’t live in Oregon, and you’re not a rail fan, you never heard of it. It’s done quite well, and it’s had its ups and downs, but apparently, with the new owner ship they’ve got positive plans to bring more business in here,” explained Railroad Historian Tony Johnson.

Johnson, who’s a historian with the local chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, says when this was camp white, the railroad connected to the southern pacific main line by way of the Medco logging railroad, which ran right through the Camp White area.

“Southern Pacific used to bring the troop trains up to, into Central Point, Medford and there’s a yard thee. And the old employees still refer to it as “G” year, for “government” yard. And sometimes the troop trains would be unloaded there and they’d bus them up to Camp White. Or they would run it on the Medford logging railroad and there was actually a ‘balloon Loop’ to where the entire trail cold turn around within Camp White and they would unload it there,” said Johnson.

All over the north end of the industrial park there are webs of steel rails, some seemingly going nowhere now, but for decades the railroad, now known as the Rogue Valley Terminal Railway, has carried wood products, charcoal briquettes, chemicals, fuel, and animal feed products. Anything that needs to be shipped in bulk. Off to the side sits some track maintenance equipment, spare rails, and nearby, old rolling stock and engines that are now museum pieces.

At first, Southern Pacific did the switching, sharing revenues with the old Medco line. Then, in 1951, this six mile line was built from the Tolo Junction to White City.

“It’s pretty much a straight route, other than the curve right at Tolo, it’s dead straight into White City, you know, on a fairly decent grade, 0.6%,” explains Johnson. “And so I guess in the railroad’s point of view, it was cheap to build and of course, the big benefit is all the traffic that comes outa here.”

He says it’s one of the few branch lines that Southern Pacific ever built. But in 1974, the Southern Pacific sold the little line and it’s been a separate operation ever since.

“This railroad has had some real rolling museums,” Tony says. “In fact the locomotive that they’re not using today was built for the New York Central in 1949. That’s a rolling museum!”

At the end of World War Two it looked like most of Camp White would be torn down, dismantled and sold for scrap. But this railroad continues to operate almost 70 years after the end of the war, continuing to serve industrial operators in this industrial park. In White City.

The former White City terminal utility railroad, known for years as the “WCTU”, was sold last year to a Wisconsin company and is now known at the Rogue Valley Terminal Railway.