Wednesday, November 1, 2023

SP Jawbone Branch (Part 39) - A Ferro-Equestrian Archaeology Field Trip

A friend of mine said a number of years ago that he was a ferro-equestrian archaeologist.  That is a study of iron horse historical places and remains.  This post is another of my small ventures to one of the places where the ferro-equestrians once roamed.

Looking east to the mountains which will be my backdrop for Owenyo

So on the return from the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society 2023 Convention in Bakersfield, I decided to stop over in Lone Pine and then drive up the east side, stopping at Owenyo to do some in-person research of what remains of the buildings.  This would give me the chance to make drawings of the remains to build the models for my Jawbone Branch layout.

Edit 2023-11-02
Blueprint of Owenyo - rick olson 01_owenyo blueprint_sml owensvalleyhistory,com

A recent find on the website, helps see the locations of everything.  I'm happy I found this Nov 2, 2023, as I'll be able to help scale out the size of the buildings and some of the placement.  The original date is from Dec 31, 1923 and the revision date for the leasing of three structures is July 19, 1940.  The 1923/1940 dates explain why I don't see the water tank or the transfer ramp between the two gauges in the lower right corner.  Also interesting is the "To San Francisco to the left and Hazen to the right, so it must be SG to SF left and NG to Hazen right - perhaps because they're thinking to extend the standard gauge?

Transfer Trestle

Owenyo Trestle - SG side - unknown calander photo - Ronald Grau collection

I spotted the abutment remains from the road and pulled off.  Walking over, I found that the NG and SG around the area were actually on a bit of a fill.  Even the trestle approach grade was rather in a pit as well, probably from the old days when they dug down to get some more solid ground to put the trestle bents on.

Sadly, not much left of the transfer trestle other than these footings, looking northward.

I took some time getting out and measuring the dimensions of the foundations.  This should be the last piece of information, which should allow me to build an accurate model of the trestle for my layout.

The footings looking south, into the sun.

The SG track's pit has collapsed somewhat, as the transition from the grade to the trestle over the SG track has sluffed into the pit.  Although there must be some level of washing out the lower parts of the pit, because on a couple of the concrete footings for the trestle, even the connecting concrete is visible.  I think this means that the floor is about a foot lower than it historically was.

Owenyo Transfer Trestle - owensvalleyhistory,com - sp_narrow_g37a_sml

Looking at the above photo, shows that at the time it was taken, the wood bases of the legs are even with the ground, which means that concrete footings are completely buried.  The concrete footing bases seems to then be flush with the ground in the pit.  I'll be analyzing this more and covering the results in future posts.


Tell-Tail from 1954 - cropped - unknown calendar photo - Ronald Grau collection

With any vertical or horizontal obstruction the railroad had to put tell-tails to warn anyone riding on top of the cars that there was a problem if they stayed standing. - To my eye, I think this tell-tail isn't low enough to provide proper warning, but the ETT warns specifically about not shoving boxcars, etc onto this track.

The remains of the foundation for the tell-tails.

All that's left today is three and a half concrete blocks with rusting torched off pipes for the tell-tail.

Old Owenyo Road

60-10-Goods-Transfer-Platform-_sg-on-far-side__-Owenyo-V_2 - PacificNG

The old turn-off from the road into the area behind the Narrow Gauge still has remains of the old 'oiled dirt', which is still sticking together even after 65+ years in the desert.  

Owenyo transfer decks with road crossing looking north - owensvalleyhistory,com - ebay35_owenyo_sml - (Lightened)

As I pull up and park, the footings of the water tank are visible immediately off to my right, and a set of foundations to my left catch my eye.

Bulk-Transfer Conveyor

OWRN boxcar Owenyo Perlite Transfer from SPNG, SPMW water cars, Sept 19, 1950 - owensvalleyhistory,com - mark_van_klaveren04_sml

The transfer facilities at Owenyo include this bulk-conveyor at the south end of the main area.

Remains of the conveyor as it was dismantled in 1960. - Rich McCutchan owensvalleyhistory,com - daton01_t

Sadly, the end came for the conveyor in this 1960 view of the whole facility being destroyed.

Owenyo Conveyor Foundation - NW Side

Now, all of the foundations that remains of the bulk-transfer conveyor building.  Thankfully these cast concrete bits are still there!  I spent some time making drawings of this to base my model on.

Water Tank

Water Tank - Owenyo station with tank and 5501 RSD-5 - Andrew Brandon collection - Cropped

Turning towards the water tank and heading that way, to my surprise I find several other things in the area.  

Tank foundation remains at Owenyo

A couple of plugged concrete slabs, with what looks like remains of underground piping - perhaps part of the pump house-water tank or connection to the long gone SPMW water tank cars. 

Water Pump House

Owenyo SG water Tank - 1960 - Alden Armstrong - Cropped - 

The foundations of the pump house are there as well.  Thankfully, I think I can work out the base for my model now.  Looking in the foreground, left-front of the pump house tower shows the cistern that is still there today.

Water Pump House foundation remains

Also there is a large cistern which is half covered by a mound of dirt... almost in the road, where it crossed the yard.  I'm not sure if that was there 65 years ago, or if it was more recent.  There's an open cover about 12" in diameter, and the sounds of hollow space below.  I stayed clear of it, as I didn't want to find myself down a well or the like.

Company Houses?

1944 Fairchild Aerial photo - cropped

After the pump house, I decided to walk up past the company buildings and see if I could locate anything of their footings... however with very large bushes overgrowing the whole area, I decided not to look very hard.

Oil Pump House

Fuel Pump House & Tanks - Cropped Owenyo Hotel decom - Rich McCutchan - owensvalleyhistory - c_n_c40_owenyo_1960_859_sml

Next up, as I was walking to the north, I decided to continue and see if I could locate any of the old engine spot remains, and maybe get more information on the oil tanks and pump house located on the north curve of the wye.

Engine Spot remains.

I was able to find a very thick slab of oil-dirt or asphalt covering between the long-gone rails, but still covering the ties, which is where the steam engines sat 100 years ago, dripping steam oil and grease for nearly 40 years.

Engine Spot - end of track crossed-ties?

It seems that at some point the SP gave up on the wye, probably after the end of steam on the branch, I'm guessing around 1956-1960.

Remains of the Oil Pump House - Not much left of the tank structures.

There were a couple of small foundations and other patches of asphalt/oiled-dirt, but not anything that I could really recognize as anything of what the photos once showed there.

In Closing & The Long Trip Back

After about 2 hours looking around, I decided it was time to get going.  I quickly set up my tripod and shot a series of photos of the White Mountain range to the east for when I go to make the backdrop.  Then I hopped in the car to get going.  In hind-sight, I should have returned down to CA-136, and back to US 395 at Lone Pine, but feeling adventurous I continued north. 

Who says there's no water in the desert? Manzanar Road 2023-10-30 closed!

The Manzanar Road was closed due to flooding, so it forced me to continue on for another 5-6 miles of worse dirt road and old railroad right-of-way. Unfortunately, the heavy winter of 2022-2023 which kept snow on the ground for over 90 days at our house in Nevada, also did a number on these back country trails as well.

I would not recommend trying to drive the north-side access drive in anything other than a Jeep or 4-wheel pickup truck (which I happened to leave in NV!).  I did get through it, however with some new pin-striping and nearly getting stuck in soft sand about 5 times.  At approximately 4-5 places my vehicle found high rocks or badly worn tire tracks which could have high-centered lesser cars.  At one point the road was not passable to my vehicle, due to a fast rising trail of nearly 8", which would laterally high-center me.  This  requiring me to back out about 400 ft, turn around and then back track another 1/4-1/2 mile, then break trail across to the other road, about 50 yards away.  

Once I was able to get onto good road again at Citrus Rd, the rest of the drive back west to US 395 at Independence was without incident.

Jason Hill

Related Articles:

SP Jawbone Branch (Part 26) - Engine Spot & Water Track Detailing

Jawbone Branch Index Page - Main index for my Jawbone Branch (only) blog page.


  1. Interesting narrative. Thanks for sharing.

  2. If you haven't seen them already, you might be interested in the aerial photography that has for Owenyo. I think their 1947 coverage is a little sharper than the 1944 shot you have, and their viewer lets you follow along the whole line.

    1. Yes, I've seen them, and some are good and some are not. I'm going to be doing a whole analysis of one of the sets, which actually shows an engine working in Owenyo on the Standard Gauge! Unfortunately, a couple of their sets must have been taken when there was a dust storm in the valley as ALL of the photos in that set have a out-of-focus fuzzy look to them. Sadly, all the photos really are taken from very high altitude, and while they help in the general sense, they're not like some of the low altitude photos that I've seen for other specialized documentation.


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