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By Thornton Waite
The Homedale Branch was built south and east along the south side of the Snake River from Nyssa, Oregon, into Idaho. Constructed in two stages, it ended at Erb (present-day Marsing) and served the agricultural communities in the area.
The railroad was reported in issues of the Railway Age Gazette of the time to be planning to lay 211 miles of track in Idaho that year, including 26 miles from Nyssa towards Homedale. This was confirmed by the railroad in the next month. At the end of the year 1911 the railroad reported that 2 miles of grading had been finished and grading was in progress on another 7.79 miles of the 26-mile branch. In mid-1913 the railroad reported the line had been completed to Homedale. Construction was performed by the Utah Construction Company. The line was originally designated as the “South Side Branch”, with plans to extend it east to Buhl to provide a second line across southern Idaho.
The Oregon Short Line Railroad Company prepared a cost estimate for the construction of the Minidoka & Southwestern Railroad proposed extension, Nyssa, Oregon-Homedale, Idaho. The estimate was not dated but may have been prepared during the construction of the line. The estimate is listed in Table 1.
In 1922 the OSL petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to build an extension to its Homedale Branch from Homedale east to Marsing. The petition to the ICC, Finance Docket 2320, is interesting since it shows how the railroad was optimistic about the potential for business from this growing agricultural area. The docket was submitted on April 3, 1922, and construction of the line was approved May 2, 1922.
The Oregon Short Line Railroad Company proposed building a 7-1/2-mile extension from Homedale east to Marsing. The Public Utilities Commission of the State of Idaho concurred with the petition, so no public hearings were held. The extension of the branch line went through land which had been irrigated for 10 years. There were 19,900 acres being cultivated with the potential of another 5100 acres being farmed. The railroad proposed building two new loading stations between Homedale and Marsing. At the time Marsing had a population of 75 people, and the line would serve about 1500 people. The outbound shipments would consist of the agricultural products raised in the area - potatoes, lettuce, and wheat, while inbound shipments would be coal, lumber, agricultural products, and some general merchandise. It was estimated the outbound shipments would be 1005 carloads to Colorado and Missouri River gateways. There would be minimal passenger revenues.
The gross revenues would be $20,345.01 in the first year, increasing to $29,563.34 at the end of the 5th year, and $32,500 in the later years. The gross revenues due to the line haul revenues would be $134,223.73 in the first year and increasing to $196,046.84 in the 5th year. The line would serve as a feeder to the Oregon Short Line. The nearest rail line was the Caldwell Traction Company, across the Snake River and 3 miles from the river., and there was a steep sandy wagon road down to the river. These factors all made transportation from the Marsing area difficult and expensive.
The railroad had made the necessary surveys, and there were no unusual features. The cost to build the line was estimated at $211,100, and right-of-way valued at $16,500 had been donated. It was estimated the net railway operating income would be $6,452 per year. There were to be two stations on the extension, one at the Marsing terminus and another in between the Marsing and Homedale. The railroad stated the line would not be profitable for several years, until the land was developed and more crops were shipped over the line.
The line was officially completed on September 9, 1922, but the first train had arrived in the previous month and took out a load of potatoes. However, the planned water irrigation project to the east in Bruneau Valley failed, so the line was not extended beyond Erb (present-day Marsing), and operations were marginally, if at all, profitable. The agencies at Parma-Marsing-Homedale became a mobile agency on April 6, 1973. (Merrill, p. 96)
On May 2,1997 the UP petitioned the Surface Transportation Board for permission to abandon the line between milepost 11.4, near Adrian, Oregon, and Marsing. Approval was received on August 20, 1997, and the segment between Nyssa and Adrian was designated as the Homedale Industrial Lead. In the fall of 2007 the Union Pacific filed to abandon the balance of the line between Nyssa and Adrian since there had been no traffic the previous two years. Approval was received shortly thereafter, on November 14, 2007, and the tracks removed.
As could be expected for a branch line, passenger service was limited. The schedule for 1926 showed the following train service:
|Train No. 363||Mile||Station||Train No. 364|
|1:30 PM||0||Nyssa||5:10 PM|
|2:30 PM||25||Homedale||4:05 PM|
|3:15 PM||33||Erb||3:40 PM|
By 1941 the train had become a mixed train:
|Train No. 363||Mile||Station||Train No. 364|
|8:45 AM||0||Nyssa||1:15 PM|
|10:30 AM||25||Homedale||11:45 AM|
|11:00 AM||33||Marsing||11:15 AM|
By 1950 the timetable read “Irregular mixed service, consult agent.”
Nyssa, Oregon was the junction of the Homedale Branch with the Third Subdivision of the Union Pacific.
Kingman was was named A.G. Kingman, a local resident and founder of the community. In 1936 Kingman had 2 stockpens with 1 single deck loading chute and a capacity of 2 head of livestock in the immediate loading deck.
Adrian was named for a local sheepman. In 1936 Adrian had three stockpens with one single deck loading chute and a capacity of two head of livestock in the immediate loading deck. Water was available.
Napton was named for a local resident.
McCoard was named for brothers who owned land adjacent to the station. The station had a platform.
Homedale was named by the founders of the community, for its location. The location had a ferry started in 1898, the town platted in 1912, first settled by Austrians in 1914, and incorporated in 1920. It was the first incorporated town in Owyhee County. The name, suggested by Jacob Mussell, was chosen in 1907 by a drawing, and the name drawn out of a hat. The population of Homedale in 1938 was about 500 and in 2000 it was 2552.
Homedale had a two story depot, 26 feet x 26 feet, with two one story wings 16 feet x 14 feet, built in 1913. There were also a stockyard, a section house, and a bunk house. The pump house was built in 1913, along with a wood water tank on a steel tower, 24 feet diameter by 16 feet high, and a well 503 feet deep. The water tank was still standing at Homedale as late as 1951.
In 1936 Homedale had two stockpens with one double deck loading chute and a capacity of 12 head of livestock in the immediate loading decks. Homedale had a population of 200 and was incorporated in 1919. In 2019 the population was 2630.
Petty was the station built in between Homedale and Marsing when the branch was extended.
Marsing was first settled by Earl Q. and Mark Marsing in 1913, and they platted the townsite and sold lots. They called the town Butte for the nearby Lizard Butte. The first settler, Walter Volkmer, came in 1922, and his son was the first postmaster in the following year. The name was changed to Marsing since the post office felt there were too many locations called Butte. Other people in the area knew it as Claytonia. When the railroad arrived, they named it Erb, creating more confusion. The railroad had chosen to use “Erb” for George Erb, a member of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. The name “Erb” was officially dropped on October 15, 1937, following unsuccessful efforts by the railroad to change the name of the town to Erb. The 2000 population of Marsing was 915 and in 2019 it was 1434.
In 1936 Erb had two stockpens with one double deck loading chute and a capacity of 10 head of livestock in the immediate loading decks.
In 1913 a pump station for irrigation water was installed on the Snake River, and canals were built to distribute the irrigation water. In addition, bridges were built across the river, allowing access to the area, replacing ferries which crossed the river. The first bridge across the Snake River was built in 1920.
Construction costs for the Homedale Branch
The following comes from Smoke Down The Canyons, by James Ehernberger and Francis Gschwind, 1966, page 26:
Nyssa, Oregon to Marsing, Idaho
Nyssa, Oregon, in the heart of the fruit belt, is situated 114.6 miles west of Glenns Ferry, Idaho and 50.4 miles east of Huntington, Oregon. From this point the Homedale Branch operates south and eastward, describing the shape of a semi-circle, along the Snake River and through a rich agricultural and horticultural region. It crosses the river into Idaho where it terminates at Marsing, formerly known as Erb. Livestock raising is also an important industry in this area. The Oregon Short Line constructed 24.4 miles between Nyssa and Homedale in 1911-12-13 and in 1922 the line was extended 8.7 miles to Erb and opened for operation on September 9th of that year. This branch was originally known as the “South Side Line” and was projected eastward along the south side of the Snake River through the Bruneau River area to connect with the Twin Falls Branch at Buhl. Unfortunately, an irrigation project for the Bruneau Valley never materialized and the ambitious plan was dropped. Had it been realized, it would have provided another main line through southern Idaho.
Sources include the Official Freight Shippers Guide and Directory, Union Pacific Railroad