On the road to Baker City, Oregon

Big Money Bank Dayville Oregon

Mark greets patrons at the Big Money Bank

June 2014 – Leaving the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument behind and continuing our scenic drive to northeastern Oregon along Route 26, we passed through lots of small towns.  Each one celebrated the historic American West in its own way.

Still pondering the early 20th century sheep ranching lifestyle we had seen at the Monument, we came across a funny, fake old western town front in Dayville.

Rather than building a sheep ranching enterprise, perhaps the easiest way to make a fortune in the old west was to work at the Big Money Bank. Mark certainly thought so!

Miners' homes black and white

With the railway shut down, Whitney, Oregon, is now a ghost town.

Another community we passed, named Whitney, was once a railroad town for the logging industry. Now it is a ghost town.

Rails extended in all directions from Whitney so that an immense stand of yellow pine could be harvested and shipped out on rail cars.

From 1901 to 1947 as many as 150 people called Whitney home.  Today only a handful of crumbling buildings remain.

Sumpter Railroad Oregon

The Sumpter Valley Railroad between Sumpter
and McEwen is still alive and well!

Further east in Sumpter, Oregon, we found the lovingly restored remnants of the same logging railroad line that had put Whitney on the map: the Sumpter Valley Railroad

This railway now offers excursion rides. From the brake man to the conductor to the engineer, all the positions are held by dedicated volunteers.

Mark at the wheel of Sumpter Railroad Oregon

The engineer gave Mark a turn in the driver’s seat.

Volunteers work for a few years to learn all the skills necessary to be advanced to the level of train engineer, and that was the goal of several volunteers we met.


Meadow of Lupine Sumpter Oregon

We came across a vast field of wildflowers.

The train goes only a few miles between Sumpter and McEwen, but it is a popular ride for young and old alike.

The engineer invited Mark to have a seat in front of the engine. What an antiquated mechanical marvel that is!

The old mechanics who worked on these kinds of engines back when they were still in commercial use are now passing their skills on to younger mechanics who are learning how to restore them and keep them running.

Lupine in the woods

Lupine were blooming in the woods nearby too!

Back on the road again, we saw snowy mountains beginning to appear on the horizon.

When we passed a field full of purple and white lupine, we had to stop for photographs!

Hay bales in Baker Oregon

Baker City is smack in the middle of beautiful farm and ranch land.

While we were both knee deep in flowers, a fellow driving by stopped his truck and walked over to us, saying, “I was hoping someone would photograph those flowers!”

Welcome to Baker City Oregon

Baker City’s small town charm is infectious.

We ended up chatting with him for quite a while, right there on the side of the road. He wasn’t in a hurry and neither were we!

We had arrived on the quieter side of Oregon.

Baker City is the biggest city for hundreds of miles around. How big is big? 10,000 people live there.

How fast is it growing? The population has hovered around 10,000 since 1940!

Baker City Oregon city streets

Baker City Oregon

Baker Tower in Baker City Oregon

Baker Tower is STILL Oregon’s highest building
east of the Cascades!

What a contrast to other western cities like Phoenix that is 23 times the size it was in 1940, or Bend Oregon that has quadrupled in just a few decades.

City Hall in Baker City Oregen

The grand buildings like City Hall
belie the small size of the population.

When I asked at the fabulous Baker Heritage Museum in town why things haven’t changed much over the years, I was told it’s because a lot of old timers like the city just the way it is.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Grand Geiser Hotel Baker City Oregon

This small historic city oozes charm.

The nearest Walmart is 45 miles away, and there are no big box stores.

What really makes it special, though, besides its quiet, down to earth and friendly nature, is the beautiful Victorian arcthitecture all around town.

The Geiser Grand Hotel presides over downtown, along with the Baker Tower, the tallest building east of the Cascades.

Five pound gold nugget Baker City Oregon

Baker City was known as the “Queen of the mines” for good reason…

Keeping a lid on growth and resisting change doesn’t mean there’s no money around, however.

Northeast Oregon is the richest part of the state for gold, and the US Bank branch in town has a glass enclosed exhibit of gold nuggets that includes a fist-sized “nugget” that was found nearby in June, 1913.

The day after unearthing it, the two men who discovered it hopped on the Sumpter Valley Railroad (which was carrying passengers as well as logs by then) to take it to Baker City to have it appraised.

At 80.4 ounces (over 5 lbs.), it is one of the largest pure gold nuggets still in existence today (most others were melted down).

Adler House Baker City Oregon

Not all money came from gold and timber…
Magazine distribution magnate Leo Adler lived here.

At the time it was found, gold was about $18 an ounce, making it worth about $1,500 to those two lucky men.

Today, 99 years later, gold is worth over $1,300 per ounce, but as a collectible, this nugget is probably even more valuable.

One of the town’s most successful residents is Leo Adler who created a magazine distribution empire in the mid-1900’s.


Deer crossing Adler Path Baker City Oregon

A deer and his buddy surprise us on the bike path in town.

He started out by walking around town at age 9 carrying the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal!

Young buck Baker City Oregon

They call this a city?!!

He loved Baker City, and he left the city a substantial sum, part of which has been used to create a paved bike path through town.

Fifth wheel trailer under a rainbow

What a soul-satisfying town
to call home for a while.

While we were riding on his namesake path one day, Mark saw a young buck nibbling leaves on a tree.

He trotted right between us!

We followed him and his buddy to a big field where they started grazing, totally unconcerned with our presence.

Such is life — one of peace and tranquility — in Baker City, Oregon.


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Here is a little more info for you about Baker City, and the Sumpter Valley Railroad.

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