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Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad 4/2/2021

by Chris Guenzler

We got up and checked out and after filling the car with petrol, we drove to the Train Depot Restaurant where I had French Toast and crispy bacon while my loving wife Elizabeth had egg, sausage, hash browns and toast. This place is full of railroad pictures, model trains, a train that runs around the ceiling and a ticket window that the cashier uses. We then drove to the north side of the former Santa Fe Railroad bridge across the San Joaquin River but had an westbound train pass us just as we arrived and parked.

Two views of the BNSF San Joaquin River Bridge. From here we drove to Fish Camp. We checked in with a staff member at the tracks and were told where to park. We then walked up to the tent where we received wrist bands, brochures and post cards then we looked around. This trip would be Elizabeth's first time riding the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad and my second.

The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad history

The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad is a historic 3 foot narrow gauge railroad with two operating steam train locomotives located near Fish Camp, California, in the Sierra National Forest near the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park. Rudy Stauffer organized the YMSPRR in 1961, utilizing historic railroad track, rolling stock and locomotives to construct a tourist line along the historic route of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company. Service began with the purchase of three-truck Shay locomotive 10 from the West Side Lumber Company railway of Tuolumne, California. Built in 1928, No. 10 was recognized as the largest narrow gauge Shay locomotive and one of the last constructed. After his retirement in 1981, Rudy Stauffer was succeeded by his son, Max, as the railroad's owner and operator. In 1986, the YMSPRR purchased Shay No. 15 also a former West Side Lumber Company locomotive from the West Side & Cherry Valley Railroad tourist line in Tuolumne. The two steam locomotives operate daily during the summer months, while the railroad's Model A "Jenny" railcars, capable of carrying about a dozen passengers, typically handle operations during the off-season.

The current railroad follows a portion of grade originally carved into the mountain by the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company in the early 20th century. The company originated in 1874, when it was organized as the California Lumber Company to log the area surrounding Oakhurst, California. The Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company once had a large sawmill at Sugar Pine, California, just south of the current YMSPRR. The railroad had seven locomotives, over 100 log cars, and 140 miles of track in the surrounding mountains. In addition to the railroad, the Company also transported lumber in a flume that stretched 54 miles from Sugar Pine to Madera, California. This was the most efficient way to transport rough cut lumber out of the mountains for finishing and transport at the bottom of the mountain. The Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company practiced clearcutting, which removed almost every single tree within the stands of timber surrounding the YMSPRR track. The thick forest surrounding YMSPRR today belies this history, although large stumps from the original old growth timber dot the forest floor lining the tracks. Due to the onset of the Great Depression and a lack of trees, the operation closed in 1931. But the graded right-of-way through the forest remained, enabling the Stauffer family to reconstruct a portion of the line in 1961. The current railroad utilizes locomotives, converted log disconnect cars, and other railroad equipment purchased from the West Side Lumber Company after it ceased railroad operations in 1961. Max Stauffer died on March 10, 2017. In late August 2017, the Railroad Fire, which started near the railroad, destroyed West Side Lumber Company equipment stored on a side track.

Our trip

I first walked down to the engine while Elizabeth took a quick browse of the gift shop for later.

The engine house with the scratch-built speeder.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine 3 truck shay 10 built in 1928 for Westside Lumber Company which I rode in 2002. I heard the train returning to the station and walked down with Elizabeth to get pictures.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine 3 truck shay 15 built in 1913 as Sierra Nevada Wood and Lumber Company 9.

A unique piece of railroading equipment.

A narrow gauge speeder.

Another view of the scratch-built speeder.

A view of 10 in the shop being re-built.

Our train twenty-five minutes before departure. I then met General Manager Scott McGhee of the railroad who saw me looking into the shop building and offered me a private tour.

Another view of Shay 10.

Brand new bearing casings.

Views of the driving axles.

Shay 10's rebuilt bell.

The old composite brakes which would last four months.

The current version are the same as those used on freight cars and last up to two years.

The rebuilding process taking place on Shay 10. I went outside and introduced Scott to Elizabeth who then pointed out something interesting on the last log car.

We would be riding an original Stearns Lumber skeleton car 98 which is the oldest of the three they have.

The log car we rode in. This was a first for both of us and it was surprisingly comfortable.

The steam engine's whistle sounded and the passengers boarded the train, socially distancing and wearing masks.

Curving out of Fish Camp and starting the trip.

The next highlight is passing the stored equipment.

The oil tank car used to fuel the steam engines.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine narrow gauge two axle switch engine 5 built in 1935.

The unique Jenny Railcar, a Ford Model A automobile converted for rail use by the West Side Lumber Company and what I rode before my steam trip in 2002.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine trailer coach 236.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine narrow gauge centre-cab switcher 402. Now sit back and enjoy a ride on the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. Conductor Samantha gave a running commentary down the mountain of past railroading, botany with respect to sugar pines and Ponderosa pines and history. She was excellent.

The ride to the old right-of-way.

The last right-of-way of the Madera Sugar Pine Railroad.

The ride down the grade until we came upon a surprise.

I did not expect to see snow on this trip but here it was in the shadows; we were above 4,000 feet.

We came to the switch and passed it then the engine started up the grade but could not make it because of some branches across the tracks. These were cleared by the crew but then had to back two-tenths of a mile to get a running start up the hill to the picnic area. This meant we would hear the engine work up the branch pulling very hard.

Views as the train reversed the two-tenths of a mile before pulling up and stopping at the picnic area after putting on quite a show for all of us. We detrained into more snow and had to be very careful where we stepped to reach the front of the train.

Shay 15 at rest at the picnic grounds.

The Shay's patent plate.

The working side of the Shay.

The builder's plate. Elizabeth and I walked back and boarded the train.

My lovely wife Elizabeth enjoying her time aboard the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad and the comfortable log car.

The journey back up the hill to the station area and the end of our trip. It had been a great trip aboard the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

Shay 15 after the trip.

Our fireman for the day.

My final pictures of Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Shay 15. Elizabeth went to the gift shop and bought T-shirts for both of us as well as pins and a Christmas ornament. We returned to the car and decided to take a different route down the mountain, so we took CA Highway 41 to CA Highway 49 to Road 600 which took us to the next major surprise of our trip.

Burlington Northern caboose 11211, formerly Great Northern X-213, that was originally at Fish Camp, houses the Raymond Museum. From 1886 to 1907 most travelers to Yosemite used the railroad, stagecoach, wagons and horseback to arrive in Raymond, the terminus of the Southern Pacific Railway. The San Joaquin Valley and Yosemite Railroad was incorporated on February 15, 1886 by the Southern Pacific Company. The 21 mile track ran between Berenda and Raymond. At this location, a turntable allowed the locomotive to be turned around and watered if needed, for the return trip. The first passenger train arrived in March 1886. Tourists would ride the train to "Wild Cat" (later re-named to Raymond), then continue to Yosemite by stagecoach.

The Railway Express Agency baggage cart.

Southern Pacific Railroad 1886-1946 original ties.

We passed many blooming wildflowers on our drive to the BNSF main line, which we followed into Merced and went to Carl's Jr. for lunch.

The Santa Fe Winton station, built in 1913, now a residence. The funny thing is, in all my years driving along Santa Fe Avenue, or Highway J7, I never saw this station.

The Santa Fe Ballico station, retired in 1952 and relocated to Santa Fe Avenue. I had never seen it until we came in to Ballico today as it was up on blocks in the yard of a construction company.

What we believe is the freight portion of the Southern Pacific Waterford station, highly modified. The location was from Dynamic Depots website, at the corner of F Street and Bentley Avenue. From here we drove the final miles into Oakdale.

Sierra Northern RP20BD 52, originally Santa Fe GP7 2794.

Sierra Northern RP20BD 51, originally Missouri Pacific B30-7A 4836.

Sierra Northern RP20BD 56, originally Missouri Pacific B23-7 4649.

Sierra Northern yard view.

Sierra Northern RP20BD 2683, originally Southern Pacific B30-7 7845.

Sierra Northern GP9E 131, originally Southern Pacific 5759.

Sierra Northern RP20BD 2609, originally Missouri Pacific B23-7 4682.

Sierra Northern RP20BD 2620, originally Missouri Pacific B30-7A 4819. Next I took Elizabeth over the former Southern Pacific station in Oakdale.

The Southern Pacific station built in 1896 and now home to the Cowboy Museum.

The historic sign about the Oakdale depot. We then checked into the Holiday Inn Express and relaxed for a while before walking to The House of Beef restaurant for dinner. We returned to the hotel where I worked on the story and caught up on the Internet before calling it a night.