Custer Motorway Adventure Road

The title sounds like an amusement park ride, but it's really Forest Road 070. FR 070 is dirt and gravel, about 25 miles long, and pretty much follows the old toll road from the mining towns of Custer and Bonanza to the town of Challis. The toll road was used to haul supplies from Challis to the mines along Yankee Fork, and gold bullion from the mines back to Challis. There were several stations along the road to accomodate travelers during the journey, as well as barns for the horses and other livestock - kind of like wild west B&Bs. Signs along the Custer Motorway identify many of these former sites and provide descriptive information.

The Custer Motorway can be accesssed either from Challis on US Hwy 93, or from Sunbeam on ID State Hwy 75. I chose to drive the Motorway from Challis for a couple of reasons. First, a visit to the Interpretive Center at the Land of the Yankee Fork State Park just a few miles south of Challis is an absolute must before driving the Motorway. The Center has a wealth of information on the Yankee Fork mining district (check out my photoessay, Land of the Yankee Fork State Park). Second, the stops in the Idaho Parks and Recreation brochure are numbered starting from Challis. I'm all for starting at #1 and working forward rather than #17 and working backward. Seriously though, it really doesn't make much difference which end you start from, but I recommend a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle.

The numbers in the following sections correspond to the numbers on the map below. I visited most of the stops on the map. The only ones I'm sorry I missed were Bonanza City (#15) and Bonanza Cemetery (#16). Descriptions for each section were taken from the Custer Motorway Adventure Road brochure. Addditonal background information was obtained from Idaho Parks and Recreation and National Forest Service source material.

Custer Motorway Map

Custer Motorway that-a-way

3. Corkscrew Grade

Corkscrew Grade was a steep grade that wagons leaving Challis had to climb. Extra teams were added to the wagons for the hard pull up the grade. Horses/Mules were changed at Slab Barn near a small lake, now called Slab Barn Lake.

Corkscrew Grade

Corkscrew Grade is somewhere in this photo, but I'm not sure where. Maybe where the fence zig-zags.

4. Greenwood Station

Fannie Clark offered "comfortable accommodations and a choice menu" at Greenwood Station.

Greenwood Station

No much left to see

5. Tollgate Station

Fees for use of the toll road were collected at this station. Fees ranged from ten cents per sheep to four dollars per wagon and team. The station included a large house, bunkhouse, and corrals. The station was operated by Charles and Harriet Keene from 1880 to 1889.

Tollgate Station

Tollgate Station Ruin

Tollgate Station Ruin

Tollgate Station Ruin

Tollgate Station Ruin

6. Homestead Station

Homestead Station was operated by James Dwyer. He may have been the one who advertised, "The public may be confident of a square meal ... everything kept neat and clean"

Homestead Station

Homestead Station Ruin

Homestead Station Ruin

Homestead Station Ruin

8. Eleven-Mile Barn

Drivers changed horses at this barn, and passengers stretched and refreshed prior to the next leg of the journey.

Eleven-Mile Barn

Eleven Mile Barn

Barn Ruin

Barn Ruin

10. Custer Cemetery

Burials were made here when the road to Bonanza Cemetery was closed by snow or avalanche. There are only seven known graves.

Custer Seven Cemetery

Custer Cemetery

Henry Zeller
1830-1880 Death by Suicide

T.D. Lomas
Died Feb 12, 1904 Death by Snowslide

J.D. Davis
Died Feb 12, 1904 Death by Snowslide

Infant Child Shultz
Died 1881

Julian R. Thompson

John LLaing
1849 to Jan 19, 1881 Death by Snowslide

Colonel H. Sprague
Age 55 or 60 Death by Over Drunk

12. Custer City

Custer City, aka Custer, was founded in 1879. It was a one street town that extended for about half a mile from the General Custer Mill at its upper end to the Miners Union Hall at the lower end. Custer became the most important town in the Yankee Fork mining district after fires destroyed most of the town of Bonanza. It reached its peak population of 600 in 1896. By 1903 the gold boom was coming to an end as many of the mines played out, and by 1911 Custer was a ghost town. The National Forest Service took ownership of Custer in 1966, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. Some of the buildings have been restored, including the Schoolhouse built in 1900 (now houses the Custer Museum) and the Empire Saloon (now a gift shop). Custer is administered jointly by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Foest Service.

No clue what this is - part of the mill?

Custer City

Don't know what building this is
Sign on the side says Ore Bin

Assay Office Dream maker - Heart breaker...

Assay Office

Stone House Built to last...

What's Left of Stone House

View from Stone House

5-Stamp Stamp Mill

Blacksmith Smoke and steel...

Blacksmith Shop

Looks like a 6-cylinder auto engine

Vintage Wagon

Lots of vintage junk laying around
Notice the vintage outhouse on the left

Old Hose Cart

Empire Saloon A little refreshment...

Empire Saloon

McKenzie Residence Custer's finest...

McKenzie Residence

McKenzie Residence

Miner's Cabin A simple life...

Miner's Cabin

Restored Custer Schoolhouse
Now houses the Custer Historical Museum

14. Yankee Fork Gold Dredge

The dredge was built on site in 1940 on the Yankee Fork. The dredge operated until 1942 when it was shut down for World War II, then restarted in 1945 and operated until 1952. The dredge dug up 6,330,000 cubic yards of stream gravel, leaving behind 5½ miles of dredge tailings piled up on the river bank. It recovered $1,037,322 in gold and silver at a cost of $1,076,100.

Yankee Fork

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge

Dredge Beginnings

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge

How the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge Works

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge

Dredge Tailings

Dredge Tailings

Use the form on the Home Page to submit comments, questions, or suggestions.  TD Productions Copyright © 2020