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Rasor Ranch

Tonopah & Tidewater Rail Road (T&T) - Milepost 29.40 - Elevation 976 feet

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Rasor (Ranch) was a formal stop on the T&T and as such has the 'normal' complement of T&T buildings. They would be an agent/section foreman's house, tool shed and bunkhouse. As this was also a watering stop, there would have been a full water tower. The stop was named for Clarence Rasor, one of the major forces in the T&T story. —John A. McCulloch (

Photo: Harry Rosenberg, The Amargosa Groups

Two large cottonwood trees commanded the landscape along with a 30 foot high 30,000 gallon water tank. Steam engines refilling here could make it all the way to Death Valley Junction.

One reason I loved Rasor is that after filling up, the steam engines would blow out their pipes and cause a miniature rain storm just to the left of the picture. Other reasons were the shade under these big cottonwoods and plentiful water. Rasor is a sandy place and one can get stuck in a conventional car, a 4x4 is safer. It is a long walk out.

Rasor supported a section crew and track walker full time and the Outfit occasionally. The track walker's job was to check every railroad tie for loose spikes. He got around on a hand-and-foot powered three-wheeled track walker, or velocipede. Pablo Martinez was the track walker at the time of the flood in 1938. Pablo and his wife lost several children after birth in the 1930s. His daughter Cholie and a friend rode some 50 miles each way to school in Yermo. Her friend went on to Barstow, an extra 10 miles each way—he was in high school. Such daily treks were not exceptional for desert folks.

—Harry Rosenberg, The Amargosa Groups

The depression [...] East of the track bed was the Well. The water table was only about 3-4 feet down in those days. The Union Pacific build a diversionary dam after the 1938 flood washed out their line in Afton Canyon. The Mojave river has ever since dumped into Cronese Valley to the West, using names that applied back then. As a result, the water table in the Rasor area dropped to the bottom of the pit, limiting water supply. An attempt to drill a proper well was aborted when the road shut down. The pit had a corrugated iron housing over it. Two pumps, one a "modern" Fairbanks Morse powered a centrifugal pump that drained the sump in a minute or two. The other was a low-tension ignition one-lunger that did most of the pumping via a piston pump. Except for some fluoride content, the water was excellent. Rasor was THE vital water stop after the Ludlow to Crucero link was closed.

—Harry Rosenberg, The Amargosa Groups
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Photo: Doug Fackiner
click for full size image
Photo: Doug Fackiner

I am trying to obtain the story behind this grave of a four month infant. The grave is marked "Delores Holland, March 2, 1931 - July 4, 1931. Please let her rest in peace." Someone obviously cares for the site.

The Rise & Fall of the T&T Rail Road

Hauling borax out of Death Valley was a great task. Originally designed in the 1870s, 20 Mule Teams were the most efficient means of transporting the heavy loads. Before the railroad was built to Mojave, 20 mule teams and wagons hauled borax 175 miles to the harbor at San Pedro.

Twenty Mule Team
Twenty Mule Team at the 1949 Death Valley Encampment. Photo source: William H. Smitheram

Francis Marion 'Borax' Smith
Francis Marion "Borax" Smith.
Photo: Mojave River Valley Museum.

Francis Marion "Borax" Smith (founder of Pacific Coast Borax, later to become U.S. Borax) tried in 1894 to use a steam tractor to replace the mule teams. The steam tractor, known as 'Old Dinah', often broke down and frequently became bogged down in mud and soft sand. The mule teams were put back in service.

Old Dinah
Photo of Old Dinah in the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley. Photo: George Schreyer,

"Old Dinah" now sits at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley after her boiler blew out for the second time.

Borax Smith became convinced that a railroad was the only answer to his transportation problem. This would be the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad. Originally conceived to extend from Tonopah, Nevada to the tidewaters at San Diego, the railroad never reached this goal.

The first rails were laid at Ludlow, CA on November 19, 1905. Construction proceeded at about one mile per day and sometime around March 1906 rails are laid through the Rasor Ranch area.

The greatest challenge that the crew faced was the 12 mile ascent through the Alexander Hills north of Dumont by way of the Amargosa River Gorge.

At 7:45 a.m. on August 5, 1929, the northbound No. 25 train derails near Soda Lake (6 miles past Rasor) after heavy rains wash out a bridge causing the death of two employees. Read: Accident Report: 41/Q3/29.

Abandonement of the T&T is authorized at the end of 1939. After three postponements a 'Last Train' special is run June 14, 1940. Employees and wives mark the occasion. Dismantlement of the line does not proceed until 1942. The War Department contracts with Sharp & Fellows to pick-up the line with work beginning on July 18, 1942. The iron rails are used for the war effort. Sometime in the Spring of 1943 the rails crossing through Rasor Ranch are removed.



Last run of the T&T. Pictured: Herman Jones, Wash Cahill (T&T Super), Charlie Brown and Clarence M. Rasor.
Photo: Shoshone Museum, Gilliam/Kelley Collection.

Playing cards in the company store was a popular unofficial pastime in Borate. Pictured: Louis Rasor, "Slippery Dick," Leslie Chapman, W.W. "Wash" Cahill, and "Brig" Young.
Photo: Mojave River Valley Museum, Cahill/Clooney Collection.

"Clarence Rasor was surveyor who laid out the T&T road bed around 1901 give or take a year or so. Louis was his brother. Louis Rasor did a lot of surveying for the US Borax Company, the Ryan, Lila C and Gerstley deposits as I recall. Rasor was named after Clarence." —Harry Rosenberg, 2004-Nov-1

T&T locomotive #4, 2-6-0 Mogul
T&T locomotive #4, 2-6-0 Mogul.
T&T Passenger train approaching Death Valley Junction from south T&T Passenger train approaching Death Valley Junction from south.


Hendrik Collection Photos from Don Winslow,

McCulloch, John A., "Chronology of the T&T",

McCulloch, John A., "Tonopah & Tidewater",

Mojave River Valley Museum,

Rosenberg, Harry, Various e-mail correspondence, 2004 November.

Ross, Delmer G., Prof. of History, La Sierra University, Riverside, California, "The Borate & Daggett Railroad, Forerunner of the Tonopah & Tidewater".

Shoshone Museum, Gilliam/Kelley Collection, Shoshone, California.

Sprau, David T., "A Day in the Life of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad", Proceedings—5th Death Valley Conference on History and Prehistory.


TTRR IconTonopah & Tidewater Railroad