History of a Wandering Yankee: Train to Portland

Frank and Nell are finally finished with San Francisco, and are now headed north to Alaska via Portland, Oregon. Never one to leave out a stray detail, Frank describes every bit of this 600 mile train ride (I think they were riding on the Southern Pacific Railroad). My favorite parts of this are a short stop at Shasta Springs and a ride on a huge ferry boat called the “Solano” (the largest ferry ever built- it could carry an entire train on it). Frank and Nell try in vain to get some reading done on the train but the scenery is just too interesting to ignore. But who can blame them for enjoying the view?

SPR Shasta Route
Southern Pacific Railroad Shasta Route, Milepost 324.99. 1997. Library of Congress.

We leave on June 2nd in the morning, and board the ferry boat which is the largest and finest I have ever seen (its capacity being 4000 people,) the whole upper deck being entirely enclosed in glass protects the passenger from the wind while offering every advantage to see around. It takes 30 minutes to cross the bay, and, arriving at Oakland (which is principally a residential city for San Francisco business men), we take the train for Portland Oregon, and nothing of interest occurs until we reach Porta Costa where our whole train (broken up into sections) is run on the ferry boat “Solano” and carried across an arm of the bay. Here one can get a good breakfast on the boat and have time to reach his seat on the cars before the train pushes off on dry land again. The Solano is 425 feet long, over a hundred feet wide, and will carry as many as 48 freight cars.

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum
Ferry Boat Solano. Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum.

We now settle ourselves down comfortably for the day with pillows at our backs, and books to read, as this part of the ride is the least interesting.

With out minds still on our books we occasionally look out of the window at the fields of grain, some that are ready for harvesting, and some that are burned up with the sun.

‘Tis only when we are some 300 miles on our journey that we lose interest in our books and devote our entire attention to the scenery.

The lazy sluggish Sacramento has now changed in its upper part to a very busy, and at times turbulent river. As we are slowly pushed on up the canyon we see on either  side tall pines some 8 or 10 feet in diameter and a hundred feet high, while between the ground is covered with mosses, and verdure the greenest we had ever seen. Flowers of numberless varieties hold up their heads to be looked at: and as we cross and recross the river we see foaming cascades, saw-mills and picturesque lumber camps, substantial hotels, shady nooks, and quiet eddies covered with water lilies.

Shasta Springs Hotel
Spring House, Shasta Springs. Circa 1898. Library of Congress.

We have caught glimpses of Mount Shasta from time to time, as it stands up over 14,000 feet high, its upper part covered with snow and glistening in the sunlight. Presently our train stops at Shasta Springs Hotel where many of the passengers run down to the springs and endeavor to get a drink of this celebrated Shasta Mineral water, which is sold all over the Pacific Coast at 20 or 25 cents a bottle.

Some drink from the dippers attached to the stone basin, while others bring empty cups, buckets, and bottles, to fill this water: they have the idea that it will cure them of some imaginary ill, so pour it down their throats in great quantities, on the principle, that if a little is good, more will be still better, especially as it is free, here at the Springs. Really the water is very nice to drink, having a delightful sparkle to it, which is very pleasant to the taste. It will benefit the people who drink it, exactly in proportion to their faith in its curative properties.

A few rods down the cannon is a most beautiful falls called “Mossbrae,” from the mossy banks and ferns, shrubs and wild vines that border this sparkling cascade.

Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae Falls, circa 1899. Library of Congress.

The Hotel is first class and a very popular summer resort:- an incline railway operating between the valley and the plateau 500 feet above, where are a few cottages built for campers.

Shasta Springs is situated in the wild gorge of the Upper Sacramento, and about 3000 feet above sea level. It is in this region that the Sierras and the Coast Ranges of California come together at an angle, and meet the Siskiyou Mountains which run East and West along the Northern boundary line of California.

Union Station Portland
Union Station, Portland. Circa 1980-2006. Library of Congress.

The toot of the whistle recalls us to our seats in the cars, and soon we are off once more. It is getting dark, and after awhile, one at a time, the berths are made up, we get in and try to sleep, and to forget that we are passing the most interesting part of the journey, yet are unable to see out. Our only comfort lies in the thought that on our return trip, we will have the daylight to see what we are now missing. In the morning we get up, wake and have some hot coffee and breakfast brought in. After satisfying out vigorous appetites we take up the novels again and lean back on our cushions to compose out minds and read. We are now well down in the valley, and the green vegetation looks so sweet to us after our sojourn in Southern California that we often forget our books entirely in the contemplation of the scenery. We frequently observe saw-mills and logging camps and there is no end to the firsts we are passing through. At every place possible we get off the cars for exercise, and now we have 30 minutes to wait for a train to pass. So we walk off boldly to look at the Oregon styles in the shop windows.

Feeling refreshed from the walk, and from the effect of some fruit we purchased, we get back on time and again start off, continuing Northward through the valley of the Willamette. We get some very nice views of the river which is large and extensively used by steamers and barges. About 6-30 P.M. we reach the Union Depot at Portland, and soon are in a bus and on our way to the Hotel.

Pacific RR Map
Frank and Nell probably took the Central/Southern Pacific’s train up to Portland. 1883. Library of Congress.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.


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