Wouldn’t it be wonderful to step back in time? Back to when a person could hop a train in Medford and ride to Butte Falls? When train whistles shrieked their warnings to folks crossing the tracks, to kids playing on the tracks and to the occasional animal that wandered to the roadway, hoping to get to the other side and greener pastures. Back to a time that the landscape of southern Oregon was dotted with lumber mills, rapidly creating sawdust while churning out sticks of lumber, remember that?
Well, other folks might, even if you don’t.
More than a hundred years ago, the tiny lumbering center of Butte Falls was one of those sleepy little places. One that depended on the abundant timber and a mill to turn those forest giants into manageable pieces that went into the building of homes. That railroad meant more than just the materials to build homes, it was the stuff of livelihoods in the area. It meant higher paid jobs for those that worked in the woods, in the mills and of course, those who daily rode the rails up and down the grade from Medford to Butte Falls.
Fortunately for us, there are a group of folks who never quite grew up, who still hear the shrill whistle of a steam and who cannot get the steam out of their veins. They are the Southern Oregon Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, and their members like toys—big toys.
Some fellas like the model trains, happy to have their 1/60th replica churn around a circular pathway in the basement or garage. But the boys at NRHS like the real thing. They like to breath the smoke from the wood-fired boiler, hear the clank-clank of the steel wheels as they move down a standard guage railroad and hear the squealing brakes at the end of the line. Go figure.
NRHS is proposing to build their line in the city of butte Falls, very near to where the original Medco tracks used to haul raw logs and finished lumber to Medford.
They are doing it, first of all, because they love it. Secondly, a person needs a really large playing field to put their toys. Butte Falls fills the bill on those accounts, because they have an expanse of land that is relatively flat and is very close to the original roadbed where engines churned a hundred years ago. The town itself also needs the boost of bringing people to dining and other establishments. In a nutshell, the railroad makes sense.
Chapter members Ric Walch, John Powell and Allen Dobney are working with community members Hugh Simpson, Ruthanne Bray and Connie Erwin to realize their dream. Also involved for the community are Joyce Hailicka and Chriss Bray.
The committee first polled the community and received a positive response from more than 98 percent of the responders. A majority of those favored the idea because of the possibility of an influx of tourism and income for the area. Others felt it important they bring history alive and still others felt it would build pride and awareness of Butte Falls.
The next step is building a working relationship between the city of Butte Falls and NRHS. The meeting for this step is scheduled for March 13 at the Community Hall, beginning at 6 p. m. Those with interest in the project should plan on attending this important meeting.
NRHS has one of the original engines, Medco #4, available to place on the tracks. It is waiting in storage in Medford at the Railroad Park, just to the north of the Rogue Valley Mall. The boiler for #4 has been restored at a cost of $115,000, which is one of the more costly parts of the restoration. NRHS anticipates it will take another three years and $55,000 to complete the job on the rest of the engine.
While the project may seem an insurmountable task, remember that several other local railroads around the west have been restored to their former condition and are running on a regular schedule to give tourists a round trip on their short line tracks. Construction will take some time, because the building of the line will be from the ground up, and crews will be volunteers from the club and community.