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Sierra Railroad, Oakdale, California, Steam returns to the San Joaquin Valley.

Former McCloud River Railroad #18


Media Trip Report May 23, 2007, by

330 South Sierra Avenue
Oakdale, CA 95361

(Click on any photo for a double-sized copy, click BACK to return to this page.)

In celebration of steam engine trips returning to the San Joaquin Valley for the first time in 50 years, the Sierra Railroad hosted a private trip for the Media. 

OAKDALE, CA - The Sierra Railroad Dinner Train hosted a private train trip to celebrate the renewal of steam engine trips in the San Joaquin Valley after a 50-year hiatus.  The event was on Wednesday May 23, 2007.  The trip took about 90-minutes and included two photo "run-bys" out in the countryside.

PICT4642.JPGWe checked in at their station - built entirely of rail cars (left) - located at 330 South Sierra Avenue in Oakdale, CA 95361, before the 11:30 special train departure.  Lunch and beverages were provided.  

The steam engine is the former McCloud River Railroad #18.  The engine is a 2-8-2 Baldwin locomotive that was built in 1914.  The engine worked on the McCloud & Yreka Western Railroads hauling lumber and more recently serving as a major draw for tourists.  The Virginia & Truckee Restoration Commission bought the engine to run on their new $50 million tourist train in Nevada.  The Commission chose Sierra to operate the railroad.  Since the track won't be completed until 2010, the Commission agreed to let Sierra use the #18 until the V&T is operational.  By that time, it is expected that the Sierra will have its #1227 steam engine restored to replace the #18.

Sierra intends to use the McCloud #18 on Wild West Lunches and other special trips.  The Wild West trips depart at 11am on Saturdays and cost $54 plus tax & service (ages 3-12 cost $30) and include the train trip, 3-course lunch and Wild West show.  An extra 30 minutes was added to the trip to allow guests to de-board at our turn-around point to watch the steam engine perform a "run around" and to enjoy an old west gunfight!  Additional information is available at


Text and Photos by 

Since Oakdale, California, is somewhat out of the way, on the route to Yosemite Park, we arrived in town the afternoon of the day before our scheduled steam train ride.

Where to stay:  

Holiday Inn Express, about 4 blocks from the train station at 828 East F Street, Oakdale, CA  95361, (209) 847-9121,  The aforementioned website mentions this special:

Sierra Railroad Dining and Lounge Cars – Witness this unspoiled countryside while enjoying first-class cuisine in the luxuriously restored Sierra Railroad dining and lounge cars. The Holiday Inn Express Oakdale offers a romantic Golden Sunset Dinner Train package, which includes two tickets to the Dinner Train, a five-course meal, non-alcoholic drinks and a three-and-half hour ride through the magnificent mountainside, plus one night stay at the Holiday Inn Express - Oakdale in a deluxe room with a king-sized bed.  [After asking the hotel about this special, they said they didn't make the reservations, that only Sierra RR made them.]

Where to eat:

Rancho Viejo Mexican Restaurant, 220 S. Sierra St. Oakdale, CA, one short block north, up the track from the Sierra RR.  It is located in the 'old train station,' but looks new to me being open only 6 mos. as of this writing.  I had 2 enchiladas for $9.99, and a very generous pour of wine for $4.75.  (209) 847-4078

Where to shop:

Lana's Spur of the Moment "Unique Western Furnishings, Gifts, Clothing and Jewelry," is in the old Oakdale train station, at 355 East "F" Street, Oakdale, 95361 (below left), with the Cowboy Museum occupying the other half of the station.  Oakdale cowboys hold 25 NFR awards.

 The Steam Train Ride:

The Sierra Railroad Dinner Train runs for 16 miles of the 51 miles of track from Oakdale to the old cattle town of Warnerville.  Round-trips run about 3 hours.  Today's trip will run a few miles less for about 2 hours including the 2 runbys.  We will see the Stanislaus River Valley, farmland, almond orchards, cattle and horses, wildlife such as blue heron, egret and coyote. (We saw an egret.)

The old Oakdale Train Station, now the Cowboy Museum and "Spur of the Moment" shop, just one block from the Sierra Railroad offices.
Codee welcomed us on board for our steam rail adventure.
On this date, the Sierra Railroad was getting a new parking lot and a new ramp approach to a new 400' boarding platform with overhead archway from which guests can board the train. 

At the head of the train was the guest of honor, #18.

The five rail cars that make up the station (above) serve as office, kitchen, pantry, gift shop and lounge car.

Each car of the Dinner Train is named for a Yosemite National Park icon--Half Dome (48-seat dining car), El Capitan (80-seat dining car), Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, and Nevada Falls.  The bar/dance car are named Mirror Lake.

Get to the station early if you want shots of the engine (above).  Otherwise, riding on the train doesn't provide much opportunity to see the engine except on curves unless you are on a special trip which provides runbys.
The interior of the cars was most impressive.
The last car in the consist (above) has no windows and provides the best place for exterior shots of the countryside and the rest of the train while going around curves.  It also has an open vestibule where you can view the tracks.
Inlaid wood and comfortable booths were in one car.

This car had beautifully upholstered booths and mirrors at the end making it look as if it went on forever!  I couldn't resist the opportunity for a self-portrait (right) in one of the mirrors onboard.
You may have noticed the ceiling fans, there was still air conditioning throughout, making it very comfortable although it was warm outside.

Yet another beautifully appointed car.
The author of this newly released book was on board.

Craig Macho, Staff Reporter, was onboard to do a local story for The Oakdale Leader.

Victoria Krippner of Silkwood Fine Wines, 1420 F Suite 100, Modesto, CA  95354 was onboard with samples of their red wine.

Our runby point was a dirt road with a RR crossing, so we had a nice crossing for offloading and we didn't have to be on private property waiting for the train to back up and come steaming by.  A nice clear stream running across the road which provided drinking water for cattle in adjoining fields.
Chris Hart was onboard to answer interviewers' questions.

Chris, above right, as President of the Passenger Division, oversees the Sierra RR Dinner Train, Sacramento RiverTrain, and Skunk Train.  He will be President of the Virginia & Truckee Railway when it is built.  He is the primary contact for the Media.

Sue watched from a comfortable, air-conditioned seat inside as we waited for the runby outside.
Luckily, there was at least a barbed wire fence to use as foreground in photos of the train during runby.

The train rolls through the scenic Stanislaus River Valley with views of native oaks and rolling hills.

A second runby provided an opportunity to be on the sun side of the train (above).

The train has a silver exterior with Sierra blue and yellow trim and accents.

An ancient cattle guard, to keep range cattle off the railroad.

Some cattle had gotten through the delapidated fence onto the right-of-way, but avoided being hit by the train.  Thus the reason for a 'cattle catcher' on train engines (right).

Conductor Randy (right) was at hand to help guests off for each runby.

We reversed back to town after the runbys.  The car without windows was an excellent place to shoot photos of the engine as we rounded curves in the rolling countryside.
From the vestibule, we could see the empty track stretching through the brown pastureland.
These twin oaks suggested the origin of the town's name, Oakdale.

The Conductor (left) keep a close watch as we backed to town.  This trip usually has the engine run around and pull the consist back to town.


No. 18 gave us a great photographic and learning experience!

The Sierra Railroad Dinner Train is regarded as one of the five best dinner trains in the West.  They serve gourmet dinners, lunches and brunches in their beautifully appointed dining cars.  Popular trips include Sunset Dinners, Murder Mystery Dinner Theater, Champagne Brunch, and WIld West Adventure, plus a number of seasonal trips wuch as Spring Wildflower Train, Chocolate Festival Trip, Farmers Bounty Trip, Rail and Raft, and the annual Christmas Train.

Two of the most notable movies, of the 300+ movies and TV shows filmed there, are High Noon (Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper, 1952) and Back to the Future III (Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, 1990).  The 2007 Chevy Truck pulling a train through the countryside was an ad filmed here.

The train operated primarily on weekends (Friday through Sunday) year round.  In December, the Christmas Train has scheduled excursions during the week, and in April, the Wildflower Lunch train runs during the week, too.  The train is available any day of the week for charters.

Fares vary with ticket prices usually ranging from $54 to $79 (adults) and $30 (Children 3 to 11) for Sunset Dinners and Murder Mystery Dinner Theater.  Daytime tickets range from $49 to $61 (adults) and $25 (Children( for Wild West Shows, Brunches and Rail and Raft Trips.  Family excursion tickets range from $16 to $29 for Christmas Trains, Pumpkin Trains and Chocolate Festival Trains.


The Sierra Railroad Dinner Train boards passengers at 330 South Sierra Avenue in Oakdale, CA (100 miles east of San Francisco).

For more information call 800-866-1690 or visit

For Hotel/Train Packages, Contact:

Chris Hart, President
Sierra Railroad Dinner Train (Oakdale)
Sacramento RiverTrain (Woodland)
Skunk Train (Fort Bragg and Willits)
Virginia & Truckee Railway [Future] Virginia City to Carson City
(209) 848-2100                                    

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