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Essentially Ashland

Trains and the people passing by

It must be the little kid in me, but I have always enjoyed the thunder and rumble as a diesel locomotive pronounces itself present on the tracks near the spot where the Golden Spike was ceremoniously driven in 1887 to commemorate the opening of the last rails of the transcontinental railroad system. This spot was most close to 8th and A Street here in Ashland.

From 1887 until well into the 20th century, the railroad did the heavy economic lifting for our Valley, exporting primarily lumber and fruit, both of which grew in abundance until replaced by clear-cuts and subdivisions, two of many of the footprints of man.

In 1926, rail passenger traffic was routed through Klamath Falls, this to avoid the multiple locomotive expense incurred by a steep and treacherous Siskiyou Pass grade, and also a happy distancing from the miscalculated murderous memories of Tunnel 13 in 1923 wherein the nervous brothers DeAutremont used too much dynamite and won a Nobel Prize of their own: The largest manhunt in the history of the world.

Automotive traffic supplanted the passenger train detour and Ashland began to recover just in time for … The Great Depression.

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Annette and at the Golden Spike Centennial Celebration.

Every railroad town with running water and shade trees near the tracks had a makeshift shanty town for the itinerants passing through. In the Great Depression most of the riders were men in search of any job. They were collectively referred to as “hobos” and Ashland has seen many since the railroads first came through.

The tradition continues today.

Ashland’s Hobo Jungle, a place by the railroad tracks favored by many of our passersby, was attacked by the city a year and a half ago with large backhoes. The resultant destruction remains. Developers are circling, ready to churn our past to their profit.

The railroad has just expressed to the city that the 20-acre property is to be sold as a whole, not as parcels. This means that the city will not be able to purchase a few acres as open space. I doubt if the railroad would spend an estimated $4 to $5 million unless they had a buyer in hand, ready to extract as much value as possible, then move on.

One thing that could be slowing down the undertaking a tad is the excavation and removal of 115,000 cubic yards of toxic soil. For many decades after the opening of the railroad, no thought was given toxic materials. It was simply dumped with as little consideration of the consequences as possible, rationalizing the whole “dump and run” philosophy as reasonable in a country with seemingly endless natural resources.

That was then.

How this property is developed is essential to the character of the town. We all need to get it our best thoughts and ideas, for once done, we will live with it for the rest of our lives.

I’m going down to the willows by the creek, set up a lawn chair and sit. I’ll listen to the waters as they gurgle by and the horse that is feeding nearby. I’ll drift off to a world of the old and the new, trying to learn from them both. Soon laughter will come from the now denuded berry bushes as generations of travelers continue to tell their tales in the shade, just a stone’s throw from the twin ribbons of steel. I’ll reflect upon a developer’s insistence that all non-native species must be removed from the creek, hence the destruction of the berries.

I’ll also bear in mind that man is the most intrusive and destructive of species and if the berries are subject to elimination, how about the new subdivision that sits rolled up on blueprints, plans that are used over and over as a measure of our creativity.

I have to go. I can hear the whistle of the train and I don’t want to miss the view as it passes. Maybe the only trains to remain will be plastic, circling a tinsel tree at Christmas.