This trail began as a railroad owned by the City of Klamath Falls and named the Klamath Falls Municipal Railway. After beginning construction in 1917 and reaching Olene a year later, Robert Strahorn, the contractor and major proponent of the project, offered to buy the railroad from the city. The sale was made and the Oregon, California and Eastern (OC&E) Railroad was born. By 1923 the tracks reached Sprague River and by 1928 they reached Bly where they ended. Originally Strahorn had planned to connect Klamath Falls, Lakeview, Bend and Burns through a hub at Silver Lake. Hauling the prime ponderosa pine timber that lined the routes – estimated in 1925 at 26.1 billion board feet – would have generated significant income for the project. However, limited up-front funding prevented completion of his plans. In 1925, the Southern Pacific System took over the line with intentions of continuing it to their line in Lakeview. Those plans were never completed either. Eventually Southern Pacific was forced to share operation of the railroad with Great Northern.
In 1939, Weyerhaeuser Timber began building what was then called the Sycan or East Block logging railroad (later called the Woods Line). It began near Beatty, Oregon and headed north across private lands and into the Klamath Indian Reservation, paralleling Strahorn’s proposed route to Silver Lake, although it continued only 45 miles north of Beatty to the Sycan Marsh. Timber in the area was cut and hauled by truck to the railroad where it was reloaded onto the trains. The trains brought the logs to Beatty on the Woods Line and then on the OC&E Line to mills in Klamath Falls and Bly. Finished products from the Bly mill were also hauled on the line to Klamath Falls. Eventually Weyerhaeuser’s load became more than Great Northern and Southern Pacific were willing to maintain. In 1975, Weyerhaeuser bought and rehabilitated the OC&E. Over the years, Weyerhaeuser gradually finished harvesting it’s lands and could no longer support the railroad. The last load of logs came down the Woods Line on February 2, 1990. The last engine left the OC&E on September 25, 1991 after hauling equipment back to Klamath Falls.
Great Western Railroad Museum offered to purchase the line from Wayerhaeuser so that it could be preserved as a tourist attraction, but their bids were not acceptable to the firm. The rails were removed in 1992 and 1993 after the system had been railbanked and deeded to the State of Oregon. Work then began on creating a world-class trail along the original railroad grade.
For more details on the history of the OC&E and Woods Line, see TrainWeb and a history developed by the OC&E Rails to Trails Group.
Today the OC&E and Woods Line make up the 105 mile long OC&E Woods Line State Trail, a part of the Oregon State Parks system. It is a non-motorized trail used by walkers, joggers, cyclists, cross-country skiers, and equestrians. Thirteen interpretive signs along the route highlight historic points for visitors. The trail surface varies from smooth asphalt to compacted gravel to loose rolling gravel. Some of the surface is suitable for bicycles and some isn’t.
The full trail is a bit much for us to explore in one shot, so our plan is to divide it into seven sections and write about each one as we complete our adventures. We’ll republish this article each time we add a segment. Our division of the trail is:
Unlike the remainder of the trail, this section has nice, smooth asphalt pavement. The trail actually begins a bit west of Washburn Way in Klamath Falls, but I started at the main trailhead which is about 1/4 mile east of Washburn Way off of Crosby Ave (N 42˚ 12.445′ W 121˚45.117′). It’s behind the Safeway store so refreshments are within walking distance. If you are interested in the equipment used on the railroad, you can travel to the west end of the trail and check out one of the locomotives used on the line. The caboose, shown above, is located at the main trailhead and parking is available. It serves as a visitor orientation center when it is open. For you rail fans, this caboose was originally a Southern Pacific model obtained by Weyerhaeuser when the firm purchased the OC&E in 1975. In addition to information in the caboose, there is an information panel located next to the trail.
Other trailheads are located at:
The first half of this section is urban although generally quite quiet. It is heavily used by pedestrians year around, bicyclists in the summer and cross country skiers in the winter. There are a couple of points of particular interest. Wiard Park, at the Wiard Park Trailhead, offers a great place for a picnic. Facilities include a playground, covered picnic area for groups up to 200 people, gazebo for groups up to 25 people, restrooms, basketball, sand volleyball, horseshoe pits, softball, and open space. The Friends of Wiard Park are currently planning to add a water spray park.
About a mile from the main trailhead, you’ll cross an 1898 vintage steel bridge (shown in the photo below). Since it pre-dates construction of the OC&E, it was probably purchased used. Rail experts suspect it came from somewhere on the Southern Pacific system. It crosses the A Canal, the main branch of the irrigation system that serves this area.
As you cruise eastward, past Highway 39, you’ll find that the buildings give way very quickly to a pastoral countryside. You’ll see cattle, raptors of various sorts and a variety of small birds along the way including marsh wrens in their favored habitat. If you look closely, you’ll also see remains of the railroad’s past, including bunkers from one of the log hauling cars and old signs, along the trail.
This segment of the trail ends, with its pavement, at the tiny community of Olene. Here you’ll find another trailhead parking area and the Olene Store. It makes a great rest stop if you’re making the round trip from Klamath Falls or continuing on the trail toward Dairy. It’s an old time country store and gas station that retains the original ambiance. This break through the mountains is known to the locals as Olene Gap. It is a geothermal hotspot and there are hot springs in the Lost River here.
While this segment of the trail is great for road bikes, the next segments eastward require fat tires for any level of comfort and safety, so plan accordingly.
Section 1: Being flat, straight, smooth, urban and suburban, this section of the trail isn’t very adventurous. It is a fun ride and very safe for kids, even on tiny bikes, as long as they respect the stop signs at intersections and cross all roads carefully. Wiard Park offers a great opportunity for kids to take a rest and enjoy the playground. The scenery is ok for the urban sections and improves once past that area. There is variety in the switch from urban to rural segments, the bridges, and Wiard Park but, for the most part, the trail is flat and straight. The history associated with the logging railroad era is a strong point of this segment. The trailhead caboose with its information and the various interpretive panels along the route highlight that history. Overall, I rated this segment of the trail at 4.8 on our scale of 1 to 10. If you’ve experienced this segment of the trail, please offer your impressions in the comment form below.
All text, photography and videography by Jerry Haugen, Pathfinder. ©2010 Global Creations LLC
Tonsfeldt, Ward. Mills Along the Lakeshore: The Lumber Industry on the Winema Lands 1910-1936. Winema National Forest. 1987.
Tonsfeldt, Ward. Reconnaissance and Evaluation of Historic Railroad Systems: Chiloquin and Chemult Ranger Ranger Districts Winema National Forest. Winema National Forest. 1995