In 1993, my family and I were on our way
to see the Yosemite National Park in California.
We were driving north on highway 41 from Fresno when
suddenly there was a sight more exciting (to a model
railroader) than the park could ever be.
Between Oakhurst and Fish Camp, on the east side of the
road, is a sign, “Welcome to the Yosemite Mt. Sugar Pine
RR.”. Before I
could react, we had passed the entrance and had to turn around
and go back. To
the dismay of my three young daughters and wife, I spent the
next couple of hours walking around taking pictures and
talking to the owner, Max Stauffer.
This 4-mile scenic narrow gauge railroad,
operated by Max Stauffer from 1981 to present, gives a taste
of what the famous Westside Lumber Company was really like.
It encounters grades up to 4 % along the route.
Most of the equipment has been restored over the years
(from 1965 to date) by the Stauffer family.
Max Stauffer said his parents (Rudy and Lucy Stauffer)
restored the railroad in the 1960’s.
The railroad has two very old West Side
Lumber three Truck Shays.
The oldest one is #10 and was built by Lima in 1928. It
is reported to be the largest narrow gauge Shay ever built.
It was restored in 1965 and has been a reliable runner
for the Sugar Pine ever since. I was invited into the cab as Max backed this engine away
from the two-stall engine house and back to the oil filled
tank. He operated
it very smooth and accurately and these are not small
locomotives by any means.
Another Shay on the property is the
former WSLC Shay, #15, built in 1913. It was restored in 1986
and belonged to both the WSLC and the Cherry Valley before
finding its way to the Sugar Pine. A small diesel YMSP RR #5
built in 1935 and rebuilt in 1965 has a questionable history
but is used only for maintenance work.
An old WSLC #5 Jenny Railcar is on the
property and is typical of the ingenuity of the old logging
companies. It has its roots beginning in a Ford Model A
powered engine and can carry up to a dozen people.
It takes smaller groups of people along some of the
original tracks laid out by the WSLC into the woods and back.
In addition to this impressive motive, lots of x-WSLC
equipment awaits your inspection, including:
WSLC 4 Wheel side dump car, 30’ wood stock car, WSLC
24’ wood box car, WSLC 24’ wood flat car #218, WSLC 32’
Tank on flat car #7, 10 pair of spare arch bar trucks, WSLC
rail crane/bridge carne, and old BN Caboose, and lots of
x-logging equipment around including donkey engines on skids.
Four cars that are used behind the Shays are made from
24’ WSLC flat cars and protect the passengers from the
elements with a roof, but are open on the sides. Four other thirty-eight foot cars are made of real logs, set
on real Swayne Lumber narrow gauge trucks and are fully open
for the photographer to have an unobstructed shot along the
right of way.
In 1993, the YMSP RR had four engineers
for the Shays, Max Stauffer, Joe Bispo, Greg Haywood, and John
Swiger. The operators of the rail car were Jack Singer, Joe Dunn, and
Top Bispo, son of Joe. Maintenance
is pretty much a team effort by everyone when it comes to
track work. The
Chief mechanical Officer is Earl Weaver with John Swiger and
Greg Haywood doing most of the mechanical work on the motive
power and equipment.
A great book to reference to is THUNDER
IN THE MOUNTAINS by Hank Johnson.
This book is a story about the life and times of the
California Lumber operations known as the Madera Sugar
includes chapters on The founding of the Madera, the Madera
Sugar Pine, Shays and Sugar Pines, Logging in the Woods, Life
in the Lumber Camps, and when the Whistles Blow no more.
In the appendix, it also includes a locomotive Roster,
Shay by Summit Camp, Recollections of the MSP logging and a
two spread of the Yosemite Mountain and Sugar Pine Railroad,
including a drawing of the current rail line.
As a logging and geared locomotive fan,
this is an important stop, see, and participate railroad
people are friendly, the equipment has a history short of none
and instead of seeing it as a static display, it is a live and
operating piece of railroad history worthy of lots of
photographs, so take your camera.
You can contact them or check schedules
or call them at (559) 683-7273.
Their official address is: Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine
Railroad, 56001 Yosemite Hwy 41, Fish Camp, California 93623