Rail and Timber Timeline
West Side Flume and Lumber Company
Sierra Railway - Rail Town 1897
The Sierra Railway of California was incorporated February 1, 1897.
Bullock (a railroad builder), William Crocker (a San Francisco banker) and
Prince Andre Poniatowski, (who represented wealthy French investors), founded
the railroad. Bullock brought rails and engines from his original
railroad investments used on the Prescott and Arizona Central Railroad.
The first forty-one miles were built from Oakdale to Jamestown by November
10, 1897, where the roundhouse and central maintenance facility was set
up. After teamsters protested and delayed, the connection line to Sonora
was completed on February 16, 1899. From Sonora the railroad added
another 12 miles to reach Carters-Summerville (later renamed Tuolumne).
By February 1, 1900, the end of the main line was completed with a depot
located only a few hundred yards from the new mill of the Hetch Hetchy and
Yosemite Valleys Railway Company.
Sierra Railway was the connection between Sonora,
Jamestown and the company lumber towns of Standard and
West Side Lumber Company's mill at Tuolumne and the
mountain mills of Standard Lumber Company and later the
Company's mill at Standard furnished the largest source of
revenue for the Sierra Railway. The Standard Lumber
Company’s Sugar Pine Railway and the West Side Lumber
Company’s Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valleys Railway fed the
mills that produced the lumber products that were shipped
via the Sierra.
The Angels Camp branch of the Sierra Railway brought freight and
passenger service to the bustling gold mines in Calaveras County.
After struggling with the elevation changes and resulting steep
grades, a system of four switch back spur tracks were designed to
bring the Sierra Railway nineteen tortuous miles over trestles and
bridges from Jamestown to Angels Camp.
The Angel’s branch was completed September 15, 1902 and operated unl
Sierra Railway Depot - Sonora
The Sierra Railway connected directly to Santa Fe and Southern
Pacific railroads in Oakdale, providing access to the national rail
network. It reached its peak passenger service in years just before
WW1 when ten regularly scheduled trains ran every day. The Sierra
Railway was used to supply the Don Pedro Dam project on the Tuolumne
River and the Melones Dam project on the Stanislaus River in the
1920s. It also supported the Hetch Hetchy Dam project (O’Shaughnessey
Dam) in the 1920s and operated the Hetch Hetchy Railroad 1935-38,
which ran up to the Hetch Hetchy Valley’s major construction sites.
In the 1950’s the Sierra Railroad supported the Tri-Dam Project
consisting of Tulloch, Beardsley and Donnell dams.
Sierra Railway, Passenger & Freight Service
Courtesy of Joe Bispo
Roundhouse at Railtown 1897
The depression saw the Sierra Railway go into receivership and emerging in
1937 as the Sierra Railroad. The last passenger train service was on May
12, 1939. In 1955, the railroad began to use diesel-electric
locomotives and continued to haul freight exclusively. The original
Jamestown complex of roundhouse, turntable and
steam maintenance shops were sold in 1982 to the State of California Parks
and Recreation Department to become Railtown 1897 State Historic Park,
where steam passenger excursion trains operate today on weekends from
April through October.
The Sierra Railway is also famous for its role in the film
industry. It began in 1919 when Hollywood discovered the old steam
engines and rolling stock for the silent movies. It also became one
of the first field facilities to use sound on location. The local
Tuolumne County scenery is perfect for movie making of all types and
specialized in western films. Over 200 films and TV programs were
filmed using Sierra’s rolling stock and steam engines and it
continues to play a role in filmmaking supported by the Tuolumne
County Film Commission. Many notable movie location sites, which
were used in such films as "High Noon" starring Gary Cooper, still
exist today. A living history experience of the Sierra Railway
steam era and western film making in Tuolumne County is provided
during a visit to Railtown 1897. You can enjoy a train ride,
interpretive roundhouse tour of
shops and movie artifacts accompanied by period dressed docents.
Movies at Railtown
For more information, order CHISPA, Vol. 9, No. 4,
April-June, 1970, “Pioneer Railroading In Old Tuolumne,” Vol. 12,
No. 3, January-March, 1973, “A Ride On the Hetch Hetchy Railroad,
Circa 1920,” Vol. 18, No. 4, April-June, 1979, “West Side Revisited,”
Vol. 25, No. 3, January-March, 1986, “Sierra on the Silver Screen,”
and Vol. 36, No. 3, January-March, 1997, “The Sierra Railroad, A
Centennial Tribute 1897-1997.”