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The Towle Brothers Lumber Company.

The Towle Brothers built their first sawmill near Blue Canyon in 1859 to serve the mining trade. By the late 1860s, their major customer was the Central Pacific railroad, beginning a relationship that continued for many years. As their fortunes grew, the Towle Brothers founded the town of Towle near Alta, built and or purchased 15 saw mills in Nevada and Placer Counties in the South Yuba, Bear, and Truckee river drainages. At Towle, the company also produced wood pulp used to manufacture paper. Their active operation of sawmills in this area lasted until 1902, but the family had an interest in a box factory in Sacramento until the 1960s and remained a major landowner in the area.

In the 1880s, the Towle Bros. began building narrow (three foot) gauge rail lines to haul logs from the forest to mills, and evidence of roadbeds from this era can be found in many locations. In 1885, the newspaper Placer Republican printed this description of the railroad:

"The narrow-gauge railroad, which plays such an important and useful part in this lumber business, begins at Towles, and runs off wildly over the mountains, across Canyon Creek, Bear River, and over more mountains and yawning chasms into the howling wilderness... A map of the railroad would look like one of Dore's pictures of a streak of forked and jagged lightning. It is twenty miles long, but an air line of ten miles would cover the distance between its termini...It has no curves; they are all angles. Its "up and down" course is as eccentric as its confused tangle of lateral bends, twists, and convolutions. In one place the grade is over 230 feet to the mile. Starting on a train from Towles, which is only 3,700 feet above the sea, you suddenly find yourself, with a few jerks and tosses into the air, hoisted to an elevation of 5,200 feet, and from this point you are suddenly dropped, with a whirl, a bump, and a crash into the depths of a miniature Yosemite. Some railroads have been called winding, simply because a man could stand on the rear platform and once in a mile or so shake hands with the engineer. That is nothing to what is possible on this narrow-gauge. Here you can rub noses with that official from the middle car every two minutes. If there were holes in the roof and floor of the caboose, you could thrust your hand through either one of them and shake with the man at the throttle valve until you were black in the face. A trip over this road implies every sensation caused by motion in ancient or modern travel. After making it, one knows what it is to be a tyro on a dromedary, up in a balloon, on deck in a hurricane, in a diving bell or with Jules Verne on a trip to the Moon."

At their peak, the Towle Bros. operated five steam engines assorted rolling stock and a single caboose. The Towle Brothers ended ownership of the line 1902 when it was sold to the Read Lumber Company of Canada. Operations during the Read years were sporatic and seasonal with the operation shutting down for the winter and reopening during the spring thaw. In 1908 the Read shut the railroad down for the season but was never restarted the following year. The Read NG operation sat intact until the great depression when two enterprising gentlemen, their dog and a Mack truck loaded up an array of tools and dismantled the railroad bit by bit for scrap leaving over-turned car bodies stripped of any valuable scrap metal. The remains then were left to return to nature and became forgotten. Gerald Best located one of the Towle locomotives tucked away in a collapsed shed near Texas Hill, Ca and offered maps to railfans travelling through the area allowing them to visit the locomotive themselves. As time progressed the remains of the Texas Hill mill were removed by the forestry service, Texas Hill bulldozed and returned to a "natural" shape destroying all traces of what had once been there. Among other items removed from the woods, the abandoned locomotive itself was reportedly scrapped, several carbodies were destroyed and remains buried. Today a sharp eye can find ties and track parts along the ROW.

Staab, Roger. Towle Brothers, Forgotten Sierra Town, Logging Railroad, Family Empire. Colfax: Placer Sierra Railroad Heritage Society, 2013.

Reference Material Available Online:


The Towle Bros. and their narrow-gauge railroad.
From the Placer Republican, May 27, 1885.

Lumbering in California. - The Wisconsin Lumberman, Volume I. Number 3 (December, 1873).
State of Wisconsin Collection, University Wisconsin Digital Collections.


Towle Brothers Company, Articles of Incorporation. January 14th, 1889.
Articles of Incorporation Page 1
Articles of Incorporation Page 2
Articles of Incorporation Page 3
Articles of Incorporation Page 4

Virginia & Truckee Railroad Records, Correspondence on sale of locomotive to Towle Brothers Lumber Company, 1902. Adobe PDF 0.44MB
Courtesy: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.


Collected Towle Brothers Lumber Company Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

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