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Summer of Steam Part III

Including the Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad, Iron Horse Roundup, Railtown 1897 and Sierra Railroad Golden Sunset Dinner Train

by Chris Guenzler

8/30/2002 I drove from Santa Ana leaving at 4:15 AM driving north on I 5 to CA 99. I stopped for gas and Ding Dongs for a morning snack at Selma before driving north from Fresno on CA 41 to just south of Fish Camp.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad 8/30/2002

Arriving at 9:15 AM, I met David Vorous, the conductor for the day. I took pictures of the railroad's three truck Shay 10 built in 1928 and weighs 83 tons before I bought a ticket for both the Railcar and steam trips. Our conductor let the eight riders on board and put me in the front seat with him. He placed the safety chains on the Railcar and started the 1928 Model A, before we started backing down the grade. David ran the bell at the grade crossing and we passed more equipment on the siding. All the equipment was originally Westside Lumber Company and was bought here by truck. The tracks we are riding on, where relaid on the grade of the Madera Sugar Pine Company. The Madera Sugar Pine Company operated trains from 1899 to 1931 and operated miles of narrow gauge track. Nearly one and a half billion board feet of lumber where harvested from the forest. Five wood burning Shay locomotives hauled the log trains to the mill over an extensive network of tracks. To get the logs down to the finishing mill in Madera, they used a 69 mile long flume, the world's longest, to get the logs to where they would be cut into lumber.

We stopped briefly at a gap in the tress so David could point out Mt Raymond. At one time, the lumber company had clear cut from here all the way over to the peak. Nature has since restored the forest. Nature is so incredible! We headed own the 4% grade starting by passing a grove of Incense Cedar. Cedar trees can grow almost anyplace here easily but Pines need a more controlled environment. We traveled around a Horseshoe Curve which took Chinese laborers two years to pick and shovel with the materials deposited on the inside of the curve. We next passed a grove of Bracken Ferns and then White Ferns with their flat needles. The two kinds of Pine trees here are the Sugar Pines and Ponderosa Pines. Oak Seedlings are located along the tracks where the sun hits the grades. All of the above trees where very important to the Native Americans and had a use for each. We came to a forest service road which used to be a railroad grade. Tracks were put out into the forest, the lumber was harvested then the tracks were pulled up leaving only the abandoned grades which the US Forest Service loves to use as roads. We passed Manzanita and Bear Clover growing along the tracks as we continued to descend to the bottom of Lewis Creek and at the North Fork the Railcar started up a 12% grade. We came to the switch for the turnaround loop and rounded it to the back side coming to a stop. We detrained for five minutes. This area has a picnic area and a stage for sing-a-longs for their evening BBQ trains. During the layover, the advantages of thinning out the forest and the dead ground cover was explained so if there is a fire the heat is not as intense so the fire does not do as much damage. The Red Tail birds were also busily singing away. People can take the first train down to enjoy some peace and quiet or to picnic. The Railcar makes the four mile round trip in thirty minutes while the steam train makes the same trip in over an hour. I enjoyed the Railcar's climb back up the 4% grade to the station.

Once back at the depot, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine 10 pulled out of the engine house then backed to the train with me taking pictures of it. After a quick hot dog, chips and a coke for an early lunch, it was time to board the steam train. I rode in an open car on a log bench. The Shay descended slowly and I enjoyed the sounds of this working Shay locomotive as well as watching the gears turning. Riding the Railcar earlier allowed me to totally enjoy the trip. Once we got to the loop, the Shay worked the 12% grade with ease. During our layover at the bottom, David and I walked down the tracks to the switch at the end of the loop. On the way back to the train, we found bear droppings a few days old. The Shay put on quite a show on the 4% grade back to the depot. This is a trip everyone who loves steam trains should take. After a couple of quick pictures, I said my goodbyes to David thanking him for a great morning of narrow gauge train riding.

On to Oakdale 8/30/2002

I took their direct route to Oakdale by continuing on CA 41 north to the south entrance of Yosemite National Park where I had to pay twenty dollars to cut through the park. I did not just drive through, as I stopped for several pictures on my way through. The South Tunnel viewpoint was outstanding. The funny thing was the park was almost void of people. I drove CA 120 to Oakdale as the public was heading to the park for the Labor Day Weekend. I took the old steep grade near Moccasin which reminded me of driving in the Tehachapi's. At Chinese, there was a Sierra engine on the house track, an ex California Central Traction there. I made my way to the Best Western in Oakdale. After checking in, I went to the Sierra Railroad Shops to see their collection of engines. I went to the KFC/A&W having a little of both before relaxing for the rest of the day.

Iron Horse Roundup 7:00 Railfan Trip 8/31/2002

It was still dark when I left the hotel and found a donut shop for breakfast. Driving through the empty streets of Oakdale was a big change from yesterday. The only steam engine present was the ex Quincy 2, a 2-6-2T {Alco 1924} which would follow our diesel pulled train with the Sierra 46 on it to MP 8.5 where the Quincy 2 would take on water. Our Train had two ex Long Island Commuter Coaches {open windows}, the lounge and one of the table cars from the Golden Sunset Dinner train. We left at 7:20 Am with twenty seven riders with me riding the ex Long Island 2893. I rode with Rich Webster from San Bernardino, an ex Santa Fe man and we talked most of the trip out. This is all new track age as I had only ridden on the Sierra Railroad from Jamestown west to Chinese and east to the Granite Spur. The train slowly passed the Sierra's Golden Sunset Dinner train set before curving by the railroad shops. We ran east out of Oakdale heading out into the ranch land with orchards. It was fun listening to the horn of our train then minutes later Quincy 2 whistle as it was following us out to MP 8.5. The train reached the slightly rolling hills with cattle and horses running away from the train. We climbed the Sand Hill and made our way to Warnersville Road where we unloaded at the airport. Off to the north side of the tracks were pieces of locomotive car bodies and traction motors. We all unloaded, and when the Quincy 2 arrived it was watered. Off to the east, we heard a whistle and moments later off to the east we all saw the Sierra 28, a 2-8-0 steaming towards us alone.

The Sierra 28 came to a stop then the Quincy 2 backed our train east down the tracks and came to a stop I walked out into a field out to a culvert and a few minutes later, the Quincy 2 performed a very smokey Photo Runby bringing happiness to all of us.

This was followed by the passing of the Sierra 28 doing a Photo Runby. Both engines then back up, the Sierra 28 by us and the Quincy 2 and train to the grade crossing where we reloaded the train. The Quincy pulled us to Folgarty Road where the Quincy 2 did another very smokey runby on a curve. We headed straight back to Oakdale as not to delay any of the other train movements of the day. I enjoyed the sounds of Quincy 2 working its way back to Oakdale through the open windows of our car. The Quincy 2 almost got a dog on its way back into town. A few chasers where out on the way back to town. They should have bought a ticket for better light than they were getting on our westbound trip. We arrived back at Oakdale at 9:50 AM ending my first steam trip on the western end of the Sierra Railroad.

Railtown 1897 8/31/2002

I went back to the Best Western, checked out and drove up to Jamestown. With the Sierra 28 in Oakdale, I wondered what might be pulling the train there. I pulled up to the depot finding Sierra Railway 613, an RSX-4 1953 built diesel that had been stationed at the Concord Weapons Depot. If it has Railway after the name Sierra it is state owned here in Jamestown versus Railroad after the Sierra then it is the private company down in Oakdale. Are you glad I straightened that out for you? I bought a ticket to the Rock Spur 3.5 miles west of Jamestown. Since I had already ridden the trackage here, I was just going to sit back and take a train ride. We left passing the newly rebuilt water tank with a roof on it. Gone is the old water tank from Petticoat Junction fame. The commentary was interesting and in time we came to the Rock Spur. Here first, the trailing water speeder came by that is required to operate during very dry conditions like these. Fire danger is extreme today! Next the 613 ran around the train to pull us back to Jamestown. On the return trip, I was so relaxed that I almost fell asleep but the 613 loud horn brought me back to reality. I detrained, got an Ice Cream Sundae at the social they were having before walking out to the turntable. After I changed clothes, I drove back to Oakdale, gassed up the Geo before returning to the Roundup.

Iron Horse Roundup Part II 8/31/2002

With nothing to do until 5:30 PM, I took two more train rides. When the 11:30 train came back in, it had both the Quincy 2 and the Sierra 28 double headed on it. For the 1:00 PM train, only the Quincy 2 would be following us out to MP 5.2. I rode in the ex Long Island car 2803 and had a nice breeze coming in through the open window. As I was taking a nice relaxing trip, I thought back to the last 2782 days of my sobriety and thought of all I had accomplished during that period of time. Thank God I gave up drinking when I did so I could be enjoying life so more fully now like this. If I was still drinking, I would have either been dead by now or back at home passed out on another Saturday. Instead, I am watching a western holdup at MP 5.2 completed with a safe box full of money being blown up. This was done while the Quincy 2 was coupling up to our train. On the return trip, I rode the ex SP commuter gallery car rebuilt into a table car. It has a galley in the middle, ceiling fans above the booth seating, a beverage station and restroom at each end and large window complete with cloth blinds. I rode very smooth and I enjoyed my ride back to Oakdale.

For the 2:30 PM train they let me stay on board and I rode the lounge car for a repeat of last trip. This car came from the Spirit of Oregon Dinner Train. How often have I ridden in every car on the same set of equipment? I think this is a first for me but then there are always a lot of firsts in the life of Christopher Guenzler. I met up with Rick again this time with his wife Eunice. The lounge car was crowded with people buying drinks trying to cool off. I sat on the south side of the train so I have ridden both sides equally. The line for service stretched half way through the car and I did some interesting people watching from the end of my "U" booth seat. The little children were quite entertaining. We came to 5.2 and you guessed it, another robbery with a little different twist, the army saved the day this time. The only other change was this trip we had the Sierra 28 on the point of the train. I had a nice conversation with Conductor Dick for most of the trip back to Oakdale.

I detrained and photographed both the Quincy 2 and Sierra 28 in perfect light. Wanting to escape the heat, I ventured to the Hershey Store, as the company has a large plant in town. I walked over to the closed Cowboy Museum in the restored SP Depot before returning to the Roundup grounds to sit up in UP GP-38-2 378. Sitting in the engineer seat brought back a flood of memories of running one of these on that Bosques de Chihuahua Trip with Let's Travel Tours. Every control was instinct to me. If I had the reverser level I could run this thing but only if I had permission. I went into the Sierra Depot to relax after calling home, going to the bank and getting a US Today since I did not pick up one on Friday. The paper had an excellent article with David Gunn, Amtrak's president. I went out to shot the parked dinner train before returning inside to do word fill in puzzles.

Golden Sunset Dinner Train 8/31/2002

My Dinner train was made up of a Sierra GP-9u 48, Power Car, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, El Capitan and the Sierra 50. I was seated in the Yosemite Valley, a home built table car from another of the ex Long Island commuter cars. Only the circular window in the doors give away this beautiful wooden interior car the origins. It used to carry hundreds of commuters to and from work and now only happy dinner train passengers. We left at 6:44 PM and I was seated with Michael from Caramel and Wayne from Melbourne, FL. We were started off with kebob chicken, cheese and the layered rolled up things. The three of us spotted where the Atlas Branch once left the Sierra's mainline. Wayne is a major fan of the Sierra Railroad which he models. Next came the French Onion Soup and the bread was already on the table which I enjoyed. We came to the Warnersville Road and once passed that I was back on new trackage. The sun had set by this point of the trip and Venus shinned bright in the western sky. The salads came next and you all know I passed on that.

We passed through Paulsville where our route turned east. When it got dark enough, the flood light under the car took hold lighting up the view outside the train. Michael told us about John Allen and his Gore and Daphetid model railroad and what happened to it. Michael had always wondered where it was located and it was right in his hometown of Carmel and he once was invited to it. It was the most interesting model railroad story that I had or will ever hear in my life. We passed the Turkey Barns with hundreds of those creatures inside. Michael told us why they had to have roofs on the building. If they did not have a roof and it rained, the turkeys would turn their necks up and try to take a drink but would not close they mouths and would drown standing up. Are they the dumbest animals? I used the example of the cow and the three of us all had a good laugh. We arrived at Warnersville and would be served our main course after our layover so it would not get cold sitting out on the table while the train detrained. The smokers all get their habits fixed and I got some great star gazing in on this late summer night. What a beautiful star filled night sky! At 9:00 PM, we headed back to Oakdale as my Prime Rib came and I enjoyed my meal thoroughly along with the great conversation continuing at our table. For dessert, we had an Apple Cobbler which I sampled. We enjoyed each others company all the way back to Oakdale where I was the first passenger off the train. I said good night to Dick and the rest of the crew before I got into my Geo and drove to the Motel 6 in Turlock for the night.

To Home 9/1/2002

After checking out and McDonald's for breakfast I drove CA 99 south towards home. I stopped twice for gas in Fresno and Bakersfield and had good Union Pacific freight action on my drive down the San Joaquin Valley. I 5 was taken the rest of the way home and I returned to a very hot and humid Southern California, battling traffic south Los Angeles to Orange County and then an easy drive the rest of the way home ending a most interesting summer of steam.