A recent piece in the Mojave Desert News about the tiny community of Kramer Junction recalled the history of the railroad line between Mojave and Needles, and my experiences around that place.
In her article, Desert News writer Patti Orr noted that this spot in the desert was named for Moritz Kramer, a miner who settled in the area in 1879 after immigrating from Germany.
The name was applied by the Southern Pacific Railroad, which built the line in 1882 (see below).
Orr also reported that the US Board of Geographic Names in 1960 ruled that the place keep its original name.
Its action ended years of competition over the name from folks who wanted to call it Four Corners, and others who favored Beechers Corner.
My mother, the late Marion Mack Deaver, and I learned of the naming competition when we visited the place sometime in the 1950s to do a story about it for the Bakersfield Californian newspaper.
Mom and I were correspondents for the paper and were paid by the column inch.
To supplement our earnings, Mom scoured the region writing stories on its history and profiles of its interesting and prominent residents and leaders in addition to covering school board and other meetings.
In our visit to Kramer Junction we met with the owners of a restaurant at the intersection of what was then US Highways 466 (now California 58) and 395.
The restaurant was owned by the Beecher family, and you can guess which name they favored.
My other memories of the place are not as pleasant as the first one.
Until the recent freeway interchange was completed, the highways in the area were a deathtrap.
Back in those days before safety belts and safer motor vehicles, I supplemented my meager teen-age income with photographs of some of the worst crashes, which I sent to the newspaper, donated to the local California Highway Patrol traffic officers and sold to insurance adjusters.
The combination of a bad curve with a busy railroad crossing in its middle, and the four-way intersection at the junction, claimed the lives of numerous travelers.
Kramer is in San Bernardino County, just over the line with Kern and a few miles from Boron.
Around that time, Caltrans, in those days the California Department of Transportation, widened the highway in Kern County to four lanes and built some overpasses which reduced the carnage significantly,
They also eliminated numerous “whee bumps,” which is what kids called the many dips along the route. The dips were deep enough to mask the view of oncoming traffic, resulting in horrendous head-on collisions.
I will never forget looking up at the cab of an 18-wheeler that had collided with another big truck east of Boron one night and realizing that the driver slumped over his steering wheel was dead.
Many other scenes were just as gruesome.
Rail line history
The rail line through Kramer was built by the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was trying to head off the Atlantic & Pacific, a subsidiary of the Santa Fe, which was heading west towards Needles to establish a line between Chicago and California.
Using Chinese workers, SP built the line from Mojave to Needles from 1882 to 1883 to try to cut off the A&P.
With some complex moves that included threatening to build a line alongside the SP line over Tehachapi and up the San Joaquin Valley, Santa Fe acquired the Needles line from SP along with trackage rights over Tehachapi and up the Valley in 1884.
Union Pacific now has trackage rights on the busy line from Mojave to Barstow..
The Tehachapi trackage rights now belong to the BNSF Railway, which was created from Santa Fe and Burlington Northern in 1995. SP was acquired by Union Pacific the following year.
Santa Fe later built its own line up the Valley from East Bakersfield to the Bay Area.
Mojave A&P relic
A relic of the A&P existed in Mojave for many years in the form of a siding next to Sierra Highway (originally J Street) and east of the depot, that was called the “A&P Main” by local railroaders.
The track was occasionally used by Santa Fe for parking trains.
When the westbound Santa Fe San Francisco Chief, which ran from the Bay Area to Chicago from 1954 until 1971, arrived in Mojave in the morning running late, it was spotted on the A&P Main to keep SP’s main track west of the depot clear for SP’s San Joaquin Daylight, that railroad’s colorful orange, red and black streamlined passenger train between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
The all-silver Chief, which my late wife Billye and I occasionally rode to Bakersfield and once to and from Flagstaff, Arizona, was a beautiful train offering Pullman sleepers, Santa Fe’s unique high-level coaches, and a full-length dome car plus a diner. It was the last new passenger train Santa Fe built in the years before Amtrak.
From Kramer to Joburg
The original Kramer Junction was east of Boron about where the highway goes over the tracks where the Santa Fe line connected with the Randsburg Railway which was completed in 1897.
Although named after Randsburg, the line got only as far as Johannesburg, which the locals called Joburg.
The Santa Fe acquired the railroad in 1903. Due to declining business, it abandoned the line in 1930 and removed the tracks a few years later. The Joburg Depot was dismantled in 1938.
Many years later my wife Billye and I drove the remains of the line from Highway 58 to Joburg with Martha and Dick Ledwidge of Mojave in their Jeep.
It was a bumpy but interesting ride and I found a link, from the link and pin couplers railroads used in those days.
Thanks, Patti, for bringing back the memories.