This small truck was nicknamed the “blitz buggy” and was custom built in Grants Pass in the late 1930s for backcountry travel on a special road called the narrow gauge trail. This post gives some background on this forgotten piece of Illinois Valley history.
The Narrow Gauge Trail was a road about four feet wide that connected Illinois Valley with Brookings through the area we know today as the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Additional construction resulted in a spur road to Pearsoll Peak Lookout. These road are now collectively called the Chetco Rim Trail.
Construction began in 1939 with one crew building the road from Illinois Valley and another building from Brookings. Construction was completed in 1941.
The Illinois Valley section started at the Wimer Road about 14 miles from O’Brien and followed present-day USFS Road 112 past Mud Springs, Rough & Ready Lake to Doe Gap where it turned west toward Chetco Peak and Vulcan Peak. A 1941 article mentioned that Don Cameron, an engineer for Siskiyou National Forest, was the project manager with Marvin Ramsey as the foreman. Crew members included Peter Solo, Leo Hassler, Frank Bucheit, and Buster Branham.
The original purpose of the road was to provide rapid transportation for firefighters into the wilderness. However, two years after the trail was completed, the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base was established near Cave Junction, which offered a much faster method of delivering firefighters with aircraft and parachutes. The narrow gauge truck was given to the smokejumper base and used by crews for general work around the base.
The last known location of the narrow gauge truck was at the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base in 1962. It is uncertain what happened to it after that time.
Narrow gauge trucks used in mining
Similar “narrow gauge trucks” were used as early as 1925 for hauling chrome ore from mines on the High Divide in California, a couple of miles south of the Oregon border (see Root, 1925). The road that was used by these vehicles is now known as the Diamond Creek Road. No photos of these vehicles nor information where they were built has been found.
If you have additional information about the narrow gauge trucks, where they were built in Grants Pass, or photos of the trucks being used in mining operations or on the Narrow Gauge Trail (Chetco Rim Trail), please share.
Illinois Valley News, 22 August, 1940. Forest Officials Visit Here. Illinois Valley News, Cave Junction, Oregon
Illinois Valley News, 12 June, 1944. Narrow Gauge Road Crew at Work for Forest Service. Illinois Valley News, Cave Junction, Oregon
Illinois Valley News, 14 August, 1941. Narrow Gauge Road Being Completed. Illinois Valley News, Cave Junction, Oregon
Illinois Valley News, 30 October, 1941. Winter Halts Chetco Divide Trail Work. Illinois Valley News, Cave Junction, Oregon
Root, Lloyd L., 1925. Report XXI of the State Mineralogist,California State Mining Bureau, San Francisco, California, p286.
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