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The Trip Home from the Skookum Trip

by Chris Guenzler

9/13/2020 We woke up at the Days Inn in Merced and checked out then went across the road, gassed up the car and went to McDonald's for breakfast which we took down to the Amtrak station. We then discovered they did not give us any forks, spoons or knives which meant I had to eat my hot cakes dry and Elizabeth could not eat her oatmeal.

The Merced Santa Fe station. I saw a headlight down the railroad and called Elizabeth over for her first shot of a BNSF train in Merced.

BNSF 7885 East blasted through Merced. I remembered another MacDonald's on Olive Drive so we went there and Elizabeth went in and got a spoon. I then drove us up US 140 to El Portal where I finally got to see the railroad display there.

Yosemite Valley Railroad History

The Yosemite Valley Railroad (YVRR) was a short-line railroad operating from 1907 to 1945 in the state of California, mostly following the Merced River from Merced to Yosemite National Park, carrying a mixture of passenger and freight traffic. Contrary to the name of the railroad, rail service did not extend to Yosemite Valley itself, but rather ended at the park boundary as the construction of railroad is prohibited in the National Parks. Passengers would disembark at the park boundary in El Portal, CA and take a stage coach, and starting in 1913 a motor coach, to Yosemite Valley itself. With closure of the Yosemite Sugar Pine Lumber Company in 1942 and the sale of the Yosemite Portland Cement Company to the Henry J. Kaiser Company and subsequent suspension of all operations in 1944 led to a loss of most of the freight track on the railroad. This in addition to the increased competition for passengers from use along the Yosemite All-Year Highway (now designated as California State Route 140), both commercial and private, and the substantial decrease of recreational passenger traffic because of World War II led to the downfall of the railroad. The railroad asked the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to abandon operations on October 25, 1944. The last regularly scheduled train ran on August 24, 1945. The railroad was incorporated on December 18, 1902, by John S. Drum, William B. Bosley, Sydney M, Ehrman, Thomas Turner, and Joseph D. Smith in the city of San Francisco. It was a standard-gauge railway that stretched about 30 miles from Merced to the mouth of Merced Canyon, connecting the towns of Snelling, Merced Falls, Exchequer and Bagby, and a further 50 miles to El Portal, CA. Aside from passengers and mining products, the railroad also carried lumber (from the Yosemite or Sugar Pine lumber companies) to Merced Falls, to be cut at a group of sawmills at a cataract on the Merced River. In 1926, the construction of Exchequer Dam flooded part of the railroad under Lake McClure, but the railway was rerouted around the reservoir afterwards. In the mid-1940s floods and landslides damaged nearly 30 miles of the railway in Merced Canyon. Sections of the re-routed railbed were again put under water when Exchequer Dam was expanded in the 1960s. Several tunnels for the railroad still remain under Lake McClure, and are visible when the water level drops during drought periods. A few other tunnels in Merced Canyon are now used for road traffic. Among many notable passengers, the YVRR carried two presidents: William Howard Taft in October, 1909 and Franklin Roosevelt on July 15, 1938. Thank you Wikipedia.

A map of the Yosemite Valley Railroad from

Railroad display in El Portal.

A first for both of us - a two-tank water tower.

Hetch Hetchey Shay 6.

Yosemite Railroad Bagby Depot.

Yosemite Valley caboose 15.

The Armstrong turntable at El Portal.

Baggage cart and a derail sign.

The rear of Hetch Hetchey Shay 6. From here Elizabeth drove us to Yosemite National Park which had nobody at the gate so we just drove in and took CA 41 south through the smoke by the closed Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. They cancelled our trip because of smoke and e-mailed us about it. We both completely agreed with that decision after driving by their railroad. We got under the smoke and turned on the air conditioning and drove to Selma to The Habit for lunch. After lunch, I drove us down Highway 43 until we noticed the bridge was out north of Angiola. We took Avenue 144 to 99 and at the crossing, we saw a train coming.

Union Pacific 5308 West south of Tipton. From there we drove south on 99, spotted some locomotives and went to Pixley where we backtracked up to Avenue 120 and we drove right to the locomotives.

J.D. Heiskell GP9 1886, originally Northern Pacific 232.

J.D. Heiskell SD9 1886, originally Central of Georgia 207.

WRIX SD9 602 originally Southern Pacific 5377.

A view of J.D. Heiskell locomotives north of Pixley. We drove back into Pixley and saw another headlight coming.

Union Pacific 3000 West, a power move with four BNSF units which we thought strange as their railroad was shut down due to the bridge work. From here I drove Elizabeth down to Bakersfield and went out to Oildale for a surprise for her.

The Oildale Southern Pacific station which came from Sequro. We next headed to the south side of the BNSF yard and found a way to photograph locomotives which we did.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad PR30B 3033, nee CN 9422.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad GP38 2082, ex. SJVR 3806.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad PR30B 3000, built by Knoxville Locomotive Works.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad GP38 3818, ex. Colorado and Wyoming.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad motive power laying over in the yard.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad BL20-2 2120, ex. SP&S 153. Now a BL20-2.

San Joaquin Valley Railroad motive power laying over in the yard. We made our way over to the Southern Pacific yard and I took a picture out of the car window.

The Southern Pacific Bakersfield station. We drove east, got stopped by a BNSF stack train and then saw a San Joaquin train switching in the yard.

The San Joaquin Valley Railroad switching at the Union Pacific Bakersfield yard.

SJVR GP9 1561.

SJVR GP38-2 2046.

SJVR BL20-2 2121, formerly CB&Q.

Another pictures of 1561 and 2121.

SJVR GP38-2 2045.

Our last picture of the San Joaquin Valley Railroad in Bakersfield. From here we drove east and gassed up the car before we headed to Tunnel 2 in the Tehachapi Mountains where we had a Union Pacific train going east.

An unknown Union Pacific eastbound train reaches Bealville before stopping.

Two trains in one picture.

BNSF 5914 West from above Tunnel 2. We went to Caliente and had the BNSF stack train that had stopped us in Bakersfield stopped in Caliente. BNSF 5914 enters the scene and passes below our location.

BNSF 5914 West at Caliente. From here, we drove into Tehachapi and stopped at Walmart so Elizabeth could get more film. We then went to the Village Grill for dinner and I had a nice top sirloin. After dinner, we checked into the Baymont Inn and spent the night there.

9/14/2020 We woke up at the Baymont Inn, I looked out of the window and saw how smokey Tehachapi was after the blue skies of yesterday and we decided to check out and head east to Mojave where we had breakfast at MacDonald's. I drove us over to Barstow so she could see the entire BNSF Mojave Sub that I had ridden on Santa Fe 3751 back in 1991. On Old US 66, we found a BNSF train and got ahead of it at Indian Trail Road. I drove down to the grade crossing and barely beat the train there.

BNSF 3921 West at Indian Trail Road. We drove through the Summit Valley with no trains and went to Cajon and saw a BNSF train coming our way.

BNSF 8208 West at Cajon. Elizabeth took over driving and drove us home and later that afternoon, I rode Metrolink with Marty Smith from Orange to Laguna Niguel and got my 1,654,000th rail mile on the way back to Orange. It had been an excellent trip and Elizabeth enjoyed all of her new mileage and I enjoyed mine and the Skookum was really a dream come true.