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By Thornton Waite
(Twin Falls westward to Buhl, continuation of the Twin Falls Branch from Minidoka to Twin Falls)
The Buhl line was part of the Harriman's plan to encourage the development of the area for irrigated farming, which would benefit the UP with increased traffic. There were surveys along the south bank of the snake River west to connect with the UP in western Idaho. The Buhl line was essentially the Minidoka & Southwestern line built through Twin Falls.
In early 1904 the Twin Falls Land and Water Company began looking at a railroad on the south side of the Snake River, since it was essential to the development of the proposed irrigation farmlands. The railroad negotiated with Oregon Short Line Chief Engineer William Ashton to build a line west from Minidoka, crossing the Snake River at Burley, and reaching the Twin Falls townsite, which was being surveyed at the time. The townsite company cooperated with the railroad as it was surveyed through Twin Falls since it was anxious to have the railroad built.
The line was constructed by the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad Company, which was organized in January 1904 by the Oregon Short Line Railroad to build a railroad line south of their main line in southern Idaho and to develop the area south of the Snake River from Minidoka through Rupert, Burley, and Twin Falls to Buhl. This line became what was known as the Twin Falls Branch. Preliminary surveys for the line had been made the previous year. The construction was performed at the same time the Minidoka Project, a federal reclamation project in Cassia County to irrigate the farmlands, was being undertaken. Proposals to develop the area had been made for many years previous to its development, but the Panic of 1893 and the weak financial strength of the Oregon Short Line prevented the construction of any branch lines. It wasn't until 1897 that irrigation using outside capital provided impetus for its farming. Construction of the 74.28 mile line from Minidoka to Buhl was started in November 1904 and completed in late 1907.
In early 1906 the Oregon Short Line reported it was going to build an extension of its Minidoka branch from Twin Falls, the end of the line, to a new town called Buhl, 20 miles. A contact was let to Corey Brothers of Ogden for the 17 mile extension. Work was to start in the fall and be completed by the spring of 1907. The construction work was performed by the Utah Construction Company, which performed much of the construction for the Oregon Short Line in this time period. In 1906 the Oregon Short Line awarded a contract to Corey Brothers to extend the line 117 mile west to Buhl. Work was to start immediately and be completed by the spring.
When the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad was sold to the Oregon Short Line there were additional lines which were authorized in the amended articles of incorporation but which were never built. They included extending the main line beyond Buhl to northwest through Bruneau and Guffey to the Idaho-Oregon state line, and then west and north to connect with the Oregon Short Line main line at Nyssa, Oregon, a distance of 175 miles. The Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad filed articles of incorporation in Oregon for this construction. This line was never built.
There were numerous proposals for a railroad that would connect Nevada with Idaho over the years, but only one was actually built. Most of these lines were planned to be built in western Idaho, and many of them were intended to serve Boise, the largest city in the state as well as the state capital. It wasn't until 1926, when the Wells Branch of the Union Pacific was constructed, that a rail line connected Idaho and Nevada, and then it was built in central, not western, Idaho. The line which originally ran from Twin Falls to Rogerson, was extended south to Wells, Nevada to become the Wells Branch of the Union Pacific Railroad.
The 28.8 mile line from Twin Falls to Rogerson was built starting on April 19, 1909 and completed the following spring. The 28.8 mile line from Twin Falls to Rogerson was built by the M&SW starting on April 19, 1909 and completed the following spring.
In 1907 there were reports of a survey being made from Twin Falls south to Wels, Nevada by the Oregon Short Line. The intended purpose of the 90 mile line was to connect southern Idaho with the markets in California. In late December 1908 the Oregon Short Line that surveys were in progress from Twin Falls south about 120 miles to a connection with Southern Pacific about 20 miles east of Wells. The articles of incorporation of the Minidoka & Southwestern had been amended to cover this proposed line. The line went through Hollister, and was to be an outlet for the agricultural Twin Falls area to the west and south, as well as the mining camps in Nevada, and to provide a shorter route to the Pacific coast.
In March 1914 the Oregon Short Line reported it would extend the line to Rogerson 85 miles south to Valley Pass, Nevada. It would be built, although no authority had yet been given.
Although the railroad saw there was little opportunity to generate a significant amount of traffic, President Carl Gray of the Union Pacific Railroad expressed interest in building the line, and the Union Pacific authorized its construction. It would consist of a 94.27 mile long line from Rogerson to Wells, 14.94 miles of side tracks, and terminal facilities at Twin Falls and Wells, with a bridge crossing the Southern Pacific line. Total cost was estimated to be $3,600,000.
This may have been done to keep the Southern Pacific Railroad out of the Union Pacific's Idaho territory, even at this late date. The Union Pacific filed an application to build the line to Wells on May 19, 1923. The railroad committees bought the rights to the line for $25,000 and helped the Union Pacific buy the land, and the ICC authorized the Oregon Short Line to build the line on July 21, 1923.
When the line was extended to Wells, the railroad initially listed a tri-weekly train to and from Wells, effective February 15, 1926, maintaining the daily-except-Sunday service between Twin Falls and Rogerson. The timetable for August 25, 1929, showed a daily-except-Sunday mixed train service between Twin Falls and Wells, and the daily passenger train between Twin Falls and Rogerson had been discontinued. Interestingly, the mixed train service went to daily by 1958, using a coach/baggage car on the end of the freight train. In 1962 the coach was replaced by providing passenger accommodations in the caboose, and in 1965 the service became freight-only.
Business never reached the levels hoped due to the Depression, improved roads and the poor quality of the copper ores, so the line was never profitable. In addition to the livestock there was a small amount of copper form the mines at Contact. When the mines closed for good in the 1950s the only remaining traffic was the overhead traffic, consisting mostly of flour and livestock southbound and automobiles, plaster board, roofing materials and canned goods northbound. One interesting, but probably short-lived traffic was trailer-on-flatcar business from California. For a period of time the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific advertised trailer service from California via Wells to Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. The trailers were delivered to the Southern Pacific at Roseville, where they were loaded onto flatcars and forwarded to the Union Pacific at Wells or Ogden, Utah.