Although rushing north in the fall of 1886, the railroad from California still was more than a year away, and while Southern Oregon residents could only patiently wait, the parties in California had already begun.
No one thought it possible that the Southern Pacific Railroad work crew could make it to Mount Shasta before snow fell, but by early November, autumn still was clinging to trees, leaves still burned in brown, gold and flaming scarlet. The snow still was high up in the mountains.
The only remnant of the Southern Pacific's arrival in Sisson, today's Mt. Shasta, is the railroad's former freight depot. You'll find the yellow building downtown at Mt. Shasta Boulevard and Alma Street. It still sits beside the railroad tracks, but now it's a restaurant and the trains just keep whistling on by.
Pine trees stood motionless, while tall, dry grasses near the rails rustled and swayed away from the racing train as it sprinted to the end of the line. Bright bursts of sunshine briefly blinded the eye as rail cars suddenly exited dark, high-walled canyons.
Southern Pacific Railroad officials had arranged an excursion train of nine cars, a dining car and six Pullman Palace sleepers from San Francisco, with two additional cars added when the train arrived in Sacramento.
Nearly 400 passengers, men and women, had paid the $12 roundtrip fare for a three-day visit to the Strawberry Valley and Sisson, the newly platted town at the base of the "sublimely beautiful mountain."
The railroad had purchased the land for a town and a division headquarters from Justin Sisson, a California pioneer, born in Connecticut in 1826, who had crossed the Plains to the Golden State in 1848. Sisson had opened a hotel and tavern, where he offered his services as a mountain guide, taking hunting and fishing expeditions deep into the wilds of Siskiyou County.
The excursionists arrived to a "warm welcome" from a few of the nearby settlers at noon, on Friday, Nov. 5, 1886. The 3,000 railroad construction workers in the area, who spoke at least 20 different languages, stayed away. They were too busy taking advantage of the fine weather to continue their push to the north.
"The new town of Sisson is destined to be a lively place within a short time," said a Sacramento Union newspaper correspondent. "Town lots will be in demand, and next summer several buildings will no doubt be erected in the little city."
Many of the men on board the train had come specifically to bid in an auction of town lots, but most of the others preferred to fish, hike or ride horses. One small group rode the train a little beyond the station to watch railroad workers still piecing together the railroad at an average of a mile of track per day.
Carestastus Ryland, who may have been the newspaper correspondent, along with friend George Chesley, hiked to a spring-fed pool where fish were so plentiful they "captured a mess of splendid trout without hook or line." Ryland grabbed 13 and Chesley five.
Before they returned home, they got a chance to watch a bit of railroad history.
"We were witnesses to the inauguration of the first regular passenger train from Sisson to the (Sacramento) Valley."
The "end of the line" kept moving north until winter brought everything to a stop. The following spring, the railroad workers were at it again, and by December 1887, the rails had reached Ashland. There, with a stroke of a hammer on a golden spike, the "end of the line" instantly jumped a few hundred miles in two directions — to Portland and San Francisco.
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at email@example.com.