California drought reveals 112-year-old freight train derailment wreckage on Shasta Lake

Jeremy Tuggle contributed to this article.

LAKEHEAD, Calif., — When Shasta Historical Society’s Education and Community Engagement Manager Jeremy Tuggle finished filming a segment of his popular YouTube show ‘Exploring Shasta County History’ earlier this month he never could have imagined the “rare and historic” discovery that would follow just days later.

The find, described as wreckage and artifacts from a long-forgotten 1909 train derailment, has since sent local railroading enthusiasts and history buffs into a frenzy, with many wanting to know more about the accident that led to the eventual discovery some one hundred and twelve years later.

Word of the “mind-blowing” discovery began to emerge Sept. 9, after a local resident picked up the search after seeing Tuggle’s video that featured him and a friend metal detecting near Railroad Tunnel Number 6 at Charlie Creek, on the Sacramento River arm of Shasta Lake.

Experts, local railroad historians and enthusiasts, and others who have learned of the recent discovery have said the ongoing California drought, which at the time of this month’s discovery had brought Shasta Lake’s water elevation to 900.13-feet below its normal level, has been at the root of revealing several long-forgotten areas and features around the lake, including this month’s 1909 derailment wreckage find.

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Tuggle, who writes Exploring Shasta County History, a regular column for SCNS that delves into the fascinating history of Shasta County’s early to mid 1800s settling as a mining and logging community, has been tracking and documenting the lake’s dramatic and continuing drop in water level in a series of videos tied to his SCNS column and Record Searchlight video series in “Redding Buzz”.

In those videos he has featured areas long covered by water and not seen in decades; including portions of the historic railroad at Pollock, the remains of a mysterious sunken vessel with no-known history at Bridge Bay Marina, and several decades-submerged railroad tunnels, including Railroad Tunnels 4 and 6.

Railroad Tunnel Number 6, located on the Sacramento River arm of Shasta Lake near Charlie Creek, can now been seen from both sides for the first time in decades due to California’s ongoing draught. This month’s discovered wreckage was found not far from the tunnel, where papers at the time said the 1909 derailment occurred. Jeremy M. Tuggle/Shasta County News Source photo

While filming his most recent video near the recently-resurfaced Railroad Tunnel Number 6, Tuggle and friend Gabriel Leete, of Redding, were trying to determine if the railroad ties of the old Shasta Route had been removed by the railroad before the area was flooded over when Shasta Lake was created. (See Video Below.) At the time, the route promised to be the most prominent and scenic travel route from San Francisco, California into Portland, Oregon.

Although their recreational metal detecting that day yielded some interesting finds, including many iron pieces connected to the railroad, railroad spikes, and other similar items, they did not expect to find much more.

A few days later, on Sept. 9, Ryan “Rizzle” Hammon, 29, of Redding, picked up where Tuggle and Leete had left off; and he and friends, 26-year-old Mariah Stevens and 30-year-old James White, hiked into the muddy area to do some recreational exploring of their own.

Although Hammon has since said he didn’t expect to find anything of much interest – let alone anything truly exciting, his discovery is now being heralded by Shasta Cascade Rail Preservation Society’s general historian Dave Jungkeit as a rare and historic find. One only made possible by the lake’s continuing drop in water level.

Ryan Hammon (Second from left) is seen with some of his friends who co-discovered the 1909 derailment wreckage after they spotted the wheel, drum bearing and axel of one of the derailed cars sticking out of the muddy bank. The artifacts were “neatly preserved by the murky depths of Shasta Lake for the last one hundred and twelve years,” says Shasta Historical Society’s Jeremy Tuggle. Jeremy M. Tuggle/Shasta County News Source photo

Our story begins in 1872, when the California & Oregon Railroad, a division of the Central Pacific Railroad, stopped its construction at Redding until they could complete their surveying of two possible routes that would continue into Oregon. One suggested route would have the railroad continue west toward Shasta and then into Oregon while the other possible route – the one eventually chosen – was north through the Sacramento River Canyon into Oregon.

Thorough and exhaustive research conducted by Tuggle revealed that as the end-of-the-line, Redding was very fortuitous in its role in Shasta County’s development over the next ten years, when the railroad resumed construction and laid its northbound tracks in 1883. In doing so, the newly-chosen route helped establish numerous additional communities, depots and “flag stations” along the way.

As part of the construction in 1884, seven tunnels were erected along the route, with most of the tunnels later being remodeled during the 1920s. Until recently, only two of those tunnels remained above Shasta Lake’s water line. However, the recent drought has uncovered several of those long-forgotten tunnels. 

Later, this railroad was acquired by the Southern Pacific Railroad, and eventually this region of track became known as the Shasta Route; which was used for both passenger and freight trains. One of the routes’ main passenger trains was the popular Shasta Limited, and at the time the railroad company advertised the Shasta Route as being the “road of a thousand wonders” because it traveled through the heart of the Shasta Cascade district.

A 1915-1945 map shows the Shasta Route at Charlie Creek at the Sacramento River. Source: CalTopo.

Tuggle’s research also revealed that although train derailments in the region were rare, they did occur.

One such derailment involving a freight train occurred on March 27, 1909, “when freight train number 221 came to a screeching halt approximately a mile north-west of Railroad Tunnel Number 6, near Charlie Creek, on a bend of the Sacramento River which derailed for 100 yards or more,” Tuggle explained after this month’s exciting find.

“Original reports say that four freight cars departed the track, while later reports claimed that five freight cars departed the railroad,” he continued; adding, “The railroad was especially busy that weekend, and this incident held up the traffic along this Sacramento River Canyon route for seven hours that Saturday.” 

The derailment and subsequent cleanup efforts caused the northbound passenger Portland Express Number 16 to be halted at Kennett and the southbound passenger Dunsmuir Express Number 35, on its way to Kennett and Redding, to be halted at Dunsmuir.

The railway accident, which did not result in any injuries, made headlines across the state and the cause of the derailment was never determined.

“Four Cars Leave Track Near Tunnel 6: Canyon Traffic Tied Up For Seven Hours Saturday” the Courier-Free Press’s newspaper headlined on March 27, 1909. Shasta Historical Society image provided by Jeremy Tuggle

“(Hammon) discovered something which many people can only dream of locating,” Tuggle has enthusiastically explained.

The novice explorer made his discovery without aid from a metal detector after spotting remnants of the wreckage, including a train wheel, drum bearing, and axel of one of the derailed cars, sticking out of the muddy bank. They were all “neatly preserved by the murky depths of Shasta Lake”, said Tuggle.

Hammon now says he has hopes of salvaging the wreckage, but has since learned of the lengthy, and potentially expensive, process that would be required before any further steps could be taken.

With Tuggle’s help, Hammon was put into contact with SCRPS’s Jungkeit, “who instantly became fascinated and mind-blown” by the discovery, according to the general historian.

SEE RECENT EXPLORING SHASTA COUNTY HISTORY ARTICLES BY JEREMY TUGGLE:

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Legendary Mining Lore: Gold Nuggets of History

The historic foundation of the Mammoth Aerial Tramway

Furnaceville & Ingot: Home of the Afterthought mine (Parts 1 & 2)

Exploring the rich history of McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

Cottonwood’s origins, from small 1850s townsite to 1890s growing RR hub

Shasta Historical Society’s Education & Community Engagement Manager, Jeremy Tuggle (L) is seen with Ryan “Rizzle” Hammon (R) after the Redding resident’s recent discovery. Jeremy M. Tuggle/Shasta County News Source photo

“It’s a real possibility that whatever cargo those freight cars were hauling could still be intact and nicely preserved for Hammon to find, if he gets cleared to start digging it up from the river channel, of course,” Jungkeit has since explained; saying he would have to go through Fish & Game to make a salvage claim.

Although one newspaper article at the time mentioned that most of the cars were hauling railroad ties, the chances of locating the other four cars are slim, according to Jungkeit and Tuggle, since several other articles claimed that the cars were smashed into pieces in the derailment.

Jungkeit has said he has plans in the immediate future to visit the site of the discovery with Hammon and Tuggle, and the trio plan to have future discussions about the finds and how the artifacts could potentially become part of a future museum exhibit.

Above: this video was filmed on location by Jeremy Tuggle, September 18, 2021.

JEREMY TUGGLE’S RESEARCH RESOURCES:

  • The Shasta Route – In All Of Its Grandeur – A Scenic Guide Book.
  • Four Cars Leave Track Near Tunnel 6 – The Courier-Free Press newspaper of Redding, March 27, 1909
  • Freight Wrecked Near Tunnel No. 6 – The Searchlight newspaper of Redding, March 28, 1909
  • Shasta County – Wreck – The Sacramento Daily Union newspaper of Sacramento, March 28, 1909
  • Freight Cars Smashed To Pieces – The Marysville Daily Appeal newspaper of Marysville, March 28, 1909
  • Freight Train Wrecked Saturday – The Colusa Daily Sun newspaper of Colusa, March 29, 1909


Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

Trevor Montgomery, 50, moved in 2017 to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source (RCNS) and Shasta County News Source (SCNS).

Additionally, he writes or has written for several other news organizations; including Riverside County-based newspapers Valley News, Valley Chronicle, Anza Valley Outlook, and Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle; the Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County; and Mountain Echo in Shasta County. He is also a regular contributor to Thin Blue Line TV and Law Enforcement News Network and has had his stories featured on news stations throughout the Southern California and North State regions.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 30 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 18 grandchildren.

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