Death Valley Scotty and His Los Angeles to Chicago Train Speed Record

One of the most interesting and strange stories to come out of the Death Valley California early 1900’s gold fields has to do with a man referred to by friends and foes alike as well as by the press as “Death Valley Scotty”.

Today, there is a mansion built in Death Valley California named “Scotty’s Castle” and administered by the National Park Service. The story behind Scotty’s Castle is amazing and the remote desert which this home was built on reflects the strange way it all came about. Scotty’s Castle is located in Grapevine Canyon in far northern Death Valley. Some refer to the site as the Death Valley Ranch but more often it’s called Scotty’s Castle. It’s a very interesting visit and you’re sure to learn some strange things about the search for gold in Death Valley, the Roaring 20’s and the Great Depression in the 1930’s. The following link has much more about the story of how this mansion came to be and regarding the NPS’s Scotty’s Castle site and directions .

One of the most fantastic true tales, yet somehow bizarre, is about a man named Walter Scott and his idea of establishing a new speed record by train between Los Angeles California and Chicago Illinois. Walter always enjoyed publicity and in this endeavor decided in 1905 that he would charter a train to set the fastest time ever between Los Angeles and Chicago. The train would be known as the “Scott Speical” This special train was made up of only an engine, baggage car, sleeper car and dining car. The question of course was, who financed this project? Nobody knew for sure because while Walter Scott always seemed to have money, nobody ever knew where his fabled gold mine was. Nobody ever found it.

Death Valley Scotty’s record breaking railroad adventure began on July 9th from the Los Angeles station. Only a few people were on board the train with Scotty including a few reporters. The local newspapers were all over this amazing story about both the train feat as well as the secretive person behind it. The train pulled out of Los Angeles and did end up indeed setting a record time between the two great cities. The record prior to this run was just under 53 hours. The Scott Special made the same run in 44 hours and 54 minutes. The train reportedly made it’s first change of locomotive and crew in Barstow and then it’s second change in Needles California. The train, which was owned by the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad followed the route across Arizona, past Gallup New Mexico and on to Albuquerque. From that point it was northeastward up to Lamy New Mexico just south of Santa Fe and through Raton New Mexico  on to La Junta Colorado. La Junta marked the spot where the mountainous terrain ended and from there across the plains and up to Chicago it was fast going. As it turned out, a total of nineteen locomotives and nineteen engineers were used during the record setting L.A. to Chicago run. The regularly scheduled westbound AT&SF train was even sidetracked at one point to allow the Scott Special to pass. The train had traveled a total of 2,265 miles at an average speed of 50.4 MPH. In 1905, this was fast.

Again, Walter Scott “Death Valley Scotty” was the talk of the nation and his record setting run made the newspapers coast to coast. Another American who knew the benefit of publicity, Buffalo Bill Cody, went ahead and hired an impersonator of Death Valley Scotty to be a part of his Wild West. An interesting side note to this story is that the sixteen year old Walter Scott in the year 1888 actually had joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and performed with the show for twelve years as a stunt rider. As befitting Walter’s career, he left the Wild West under a cloud of controversy having to do with investments.

The story of Walter Scott, “Death Valley Scotty” , is quite interesting and you may very well want to explore the subject further. I would recommend two things along this line. First, if you do have the opportunity, that you definitely visit Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley California and I would also suggest you locate the book, “Who Killed Chester Pray?: A Death Valley Mystery” by author Nicholas Clapp. The book is a great read and gives a lot of insight into the characters who took part in the Death Valley mining boom times at the beginning of the 1900’s.

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