There is a desert trail for hiking or a mountain bike challenge that runs from the Colorado River to the a point near the old mining town of Oatman. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management the trail is a tangible link to a nearly forgotten chapter in Arizona territorial history. Information about the trailheads is on their website. And for more information about historic sites and attractions in the Bullhead City area contact the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce.
Shortly after the discovery of large gold deposits on the western slopes of the Black Mountains in western Arizona mine owners in the San Francisco Mining District initiated discussions with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. They were hoping the railroad would build a spur line to mining camps that would curtail the cost of shipping.
In the closing months of 1902, the railroad initiated a survey for a proposed line. It was determined that in spite of the grade from the Colorado River, a railroad was feasible. But resultant of an extensive financial study the Santa Fe Railroad terminated the project.
The owners of the Mohave Gold Mining Company would not accept no as an answer. They then initiated discussions with the developers of the Tonopah Tidewater Railroad that operated a line from the Ludlow, California junction to mining camps in Nevada. They also negotiated a pledge of support from owners of the Snowball, Swiss American and Vivian Mines.
Linked with railroad development was a project to alleviate the water shortage at the 40 stamp mill near the present townsite of Oatman. In addition to a steam powered pumping station on the Colorado River an 8″ pipe line was built along the surveyed route for the rail line.
With adequate funding secured construction on the Mohave Milltown Railroad commenced in July 1903. With a work crew numbering in the hundreds, progress was swift. With the exception of a few trestles and water diversion systems at washes, the railroad was complete by November. On Monday, December 28, the Mohave Miner published an article under a banner headline proclaiming that regular service was now available.
In its first weeks of operation the mill produced $40,000 in gold. And the railroad was showing such promise that the owners purchased two additional locomotives. They also initiated discussions with the owners of other mines in the area, the first stage in the planned extension of the railroad.
As it turned out the entire project was little more than a dream built on shifting sands, literally. Issues with the Mill at Milltown forced investment in an expensive cyanide processing plant. Still, by November of 1904 milling operations were suspended. A notice published in the Mohave Miner that the Mohave Mining & Milling Company properties were to be sold at auction.
The western terminus of the railroad was at Riverside, elevation 470-feet, opposite Needles California. The eastern terminus was at the mill, elevation 1,700 feet. It crossed the “bottoms” or the flood plain of the Colorado River where it ran on a berm more than five feet high. Trestles spanned he numerous washes.
But almost from its inception the railroad was plagued by flooding. Four months after operations commenced, the line was closed for weeks to repair a washed out trestle. Then in September, and again in October, 1904 floods inundated much of the track along the river. It proved to be a fatal blow and at the end of November 1904 it was announced that the Mohave Gold Mining Company and the Mohave Milltown were entering receivership.
Shortly after this date railroad service resumed. But several times in 1905 and 1906 flash floods washed out the rail bed, damaged trestles, and flooded tracks along the Colorado River. Further complicating operations was destruction of the ferry that connected the rail line of the Santa Fe railroad at Needles.
In July of 1906, the courts intervened on the behalf of investors. As a result there was no money in the budget to repair flood damages. after the courts refused to fund repairs to that years flood damage. The line remained dormant until about 1910 when the rails were pulled.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America