The In-ko-pah Railroad



Although the Carrizo Gorge area has the rocky desert terrain I love, it lacks the mines and mining towns I wanted to model. So my railroad is a fictional model rather than one based on a real-life prototype.

In the world of the In-ko-pah Railroad, the desert areas of southeastern San Diego County are still rugged and rocky, but are more geologically diverse and blessed with an abundance of mineral wealth. Gold was first discovered in this forbidding region during the 1880’s, and small mining operations sprung up in the foothills. Poor transportation and a lack of water made these early mines unprofitable, and most were soon abandoned.

By the late 1890’s even richer veins were discovered higher in the mountains. These new strikes were promising enough that investors were soon found to build a railroad from the valley to the mines. Narrow gauge was chosen over standard gauge due to the tight curves that would be required, as well as to reduce costs.

Carving a path through mountains of solid rock proved to be a Herculean task, requiring numerous tunnels, trestles, and bridges. High summer temperatures and damaging flashfloods, combined with the torturous terrain, resulted in costly delays. The railroad was finally completed in 1903, a year late and almost two million dollars over budget.

Boom times hit the area with the completion of the railroad. As the mines prospered, so did the railroad. Small towns sprang up around the mines. New strikes were discovered, not only gold but also tungsten and other minerals. Though less glamorous, these other ores kept the region -- and the railroad -- in business during the war years when gold mining was shut down as “non-essential”.

A spring of hot mineral water was discovered too, and during the 20’s and 30’s the Hot Springs Hotel was popular with movie stars and other celebrities. A steady flow of tourists and vacationers kept passenger service busy on the railroad even as mining waned.

As the years went by, the railroad’s fortunes rose and fell with the booms and busts of the mines. Some how it always managed to hang on through the hard times. Eventually new sources of revenue became available -- for instance, the owners of the hot springs opened a bottling plant and began marketing their mineral water nationwide, shipping it out on the railroad. A fireworks factory was built, taking advantage of the remote location where it would endanger no one. Modern mining and milling technology allowed old mines to become profitable again. Tourism picked up, with people coming to see and ride the old steam trains, vacation at the hot springs, and take in the spectacular scenery.

In the world of the In-ko-pah Railroad, steam railroading thrives and life is good.