The Modoc Trip – Flanigan

The next major destination on this trip was the ghost town of Flanigan. This location was the point that the Modoc crossed the Western Pacific mainline and continued north. In 1963 the Southern Pacific came to an arrangement with its rival to divert Modoc Line trains onto the WP and connect with the SP mainline at Weso (about 151 miles away). It allowed the SP to abandon the Flanigan to to Fernley section (the section I had just driven alongside) saving 58 miles of maintenance on a little-used line.

After 1963 train were diverted up the Western Pacific and the Fernley section was abandoned.

Flanigan was established in 1912 by land speculators who expected the area to blossom with the crossing of the Western Pacific by the newly built Fernley and Lassen Railroad. Lots were ¬†sold, a hotel was built, and eventually stores and a post office were established. A boxcar was installed to provide basic LCL facilities for surrounding farmers. But the lack of freshwater proved to be the town’s ‘Achilles heel’ and was a major factor in its eventual demise. The last resident moved out in 1969. A few abandoned buildings remained in place until destroyed by a brush fire in the 1980s. By the time I arrived there was very little to indicate that anyone had ever lived there at all.

A brush fire destroyed these buildings in the 1980s. All that was left was an empty landscape of sagebrush and cheatgrass.
The approach

Flanigan is completely off the beaten track. There are no paved roads in this part of the state and I drove for nearly an hour on deserted gravel roads until I reached my destination. I had to take a couple of small precautions before setting off: firstly I made sure I had a full tank of gas. I’ve been caught in the past where an inch on the map turns out to be hours of driving in the wilderness with no stores, gas stations, or signs of civilization whatsoever. Secondly I downloaded all the area maps onto my phone while I still had a signal. Once I was off the main highway I was no longer in contact with the outside world. The GPS on my phone still worked and together with the downloaded maps I was able to navigate easily around the various roads in the area.

Because I was running out of gas I couldn’t take the gravel road from Pyramid Lake to Flanigan. Instead I had to detour back to Reno, fill up with gas, and head up the Nevada-California border to a location called Doyle. First stop was the crossing of the Western Pacific mainline which at this point was heading south. I’ll meet it again at Flanigan in an hours time.

Crossing the Western Pacific near Doyle, CA. Looking south with the Sierra Nevada on the right.

I’m on the dirt track road heading towards Flanigan. There’s a Union Pacific train passing by in the distance. I missed seeing it alongside the track by a few minutes.

From this point on I was firmly in desert-like conditions. I drove for nearly an hour on dirt track roads to get to Flanigan. I was a little apprehensive about leaving the main highway but three cars passed me by on the way so I knew that I was not totally on my own – which was somewhat of a relief.

A dry lake bed.

The roads weren’t too bad after all and I could do a good 40-50 mph on the straights. It took an hour to reach Flanigan from the highway during which time I passed only three cars. There were small mobile homes parked out in the wilderness every few miles. According to the map I was close to the Pyramid Lake Reservation.

After a lonely hours drive from the main highway I finally arrived at Flanigan. If I had not had my GPS to guide me I probably would have gone right past it. There really is nothing left of the town at all. Only the satellite view of the area reveals strange markings in the soil that look like platting tracks/roads and were probably made by past speculators/owners of the settlement.

There are no buildings, no paved roads and no people. It is an incredibly lonely spot with just the sound of the wind and birds. I absolutely loved being there on my own. Coming from a busy urban environment it is rare that I find myself in such an empty and quiet space.

I had my pro camera equipment with me but as this wasn’t a proper landscape photography trip I just took a quick snap of the ‘town’ area. When I come back in September I will spend much more time here and try to capture the unique atmosphere of the place.

But although the town was gone, the railroad was still there. Well, the original Western Pacific mainline (now Union Pacific) continues through the area, but the Lassen and Fernley or Modoc Line has been removed. All that remains are a couple of spurs that lead to a tie shredding operation.

This operation most likely originated with the dismantling of the Modoc Line. It probably shreds ties from different parts of the local railroad system by now.
This was the original Modoc mainline – now just a couple of spurs.
The shredding operation was closed and I was able to carefully make my way around it.
Plenty of fine photographs to be had. I’ll be returning in September.
Fascinating pieces of equipment.
As part of the tie shredding operation these hoppers take away the wood chips.

The original mainline was diverted onto the Western Pacific and the southern section to Fernley was abandoned in 1963. The remaining Modoc Line ran its last scheduled train through here in 1997.  Trains continued to run through here to Wendel but there were no more through trains to Klamath Falls. The line was either mothballed, abandoned, or sold off.

The Modoc Line joined the Western Pacific just ahead over to the left.
The pre-1963 line can be seen crossing the Western Pacific as it heads south to Pyramid Lake.
Beyond the crossing the original Modoc Line veers over to the left after which it parallels the WP for while.
Looking south-west on the WP. Now owed by the UP and very well maintained.
Looking north-west. Ahead on the left is where the Modoc joined the WP.

Overall this was my favorite part of the trip. Flanigan is located in a wild and lonely part of the state that I found soulful and stirring. I’ve been thinking about it since my return and look forward to returning and spending more time looking at the remains of the town.

Lonely and windswept and perfect.

Next post: Wendel

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