Northern California’s Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad Readies for April 1 Opening

Tuesday, March 16 2010 03:00   Tips & Guides
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Despite unusually heavy winter rains and snow, the owner of the historic Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad said the line will open April 1, 2010 and begin its 44th year as one of northern California's favorite visitor attractions.

"We have had a lot of snow up there this year," said Max Stauffer, owner of the railroad. "One storm in particular dropped a lot of very wet, and as a result, heavy, snow. It brought a lot of trees down over the lines that we are now clearing up."

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The storms were heavy enough that the National Park Service had to briefly close the entrance to Yosemite National Park, the first time that's been necessary since the 1990s, said Jarrod Lyman, a spokesperson for the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau.

But Stauffer said the four-mile railroad excursion at Yosemite Park's south gate on highway 41 will be ready for visitors.

"We have a great crew who knows what they're doing," he said. "We'll be up and running in plenty of time."

Running on a segment of railbed used by the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company from 1899 to 1931 as over 500,000 million board feet of lumber were harvested from what is now the Sierra National Forest. Two vintage Shay steam locomotives were restored and now give visitors all the sights, sounds and more of old world, steam-powered transportation.

Shay number 15 was built in 1913 and tips the scales at over 60 tons. The second engine, Shay number 10, was built in 1928 and weighs in at more than 83 tons. It remains the heaviest narrow-guage Shay locomotive currently in operation. Even the passenger cars have history to them, as they are renovated lumber haulers.

"Everywhere you look up here, there is history," Stauffer said. "From the engines that were once used to haul the lumber used in some of the region's most important historical buildings, to the museum that details what life was like in the region in at the turn of the century, people are amazed at the history."

People have a lot of fun as well on the tours. In addition to the regular rides offered each day, Sugar Pine Railroad offers a weekly special Moonlight Tour on Saturday nights. Guests take a special sunset ride on the train, and at the midpoint stop for entertainment. Prior to the run, they are treated to a barbecue dinner grilled right on site.

"We have a lot of people who take the tour on Saturday, and the when they hear about the Moonlight run they come back that same day and enjoy that too," said Stauffer.

While the train ride is the main attraction, there is much more going on as well.

A museum has numerous artifacts used in logging and daily life in the mountains. Kids and adults alike are also drawn to the gold panning demonstrations and lessons given on site as well.

"Every person who takes a lesson is guaranteed to find some gold," said Stauffer. "If only the people who came here searching for gold all those years ago had the same guarantee."

To learn more about the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, including schedules, pricing and more, go to the railroad's website at
www.ymsprr.com.


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