Remaining YV Buildings and Equipment

THERE ARE VERY FEW STRUCTURES OR PIECES OF EQUIPMENT remaining from the Yosemite Valley Railroad, now nearly 70 years after its abandonment. Here is a summary of what is still remains beginning at El Portal and working towards Merced.

At El Portal - Back in the 1960s, the National Park Service planned an extensive transportation museum for El Portal. This dream never came true but the NPS did relocate the station, water tanks, and turntable from Bagby to El Portal prior to the inundation of the town of Bagby as a result of the construction of a new dam at Exchequer. They also purchased and moved Caboose 15 from Santa Barbara to El Portal for display. The Bagby station was cosmetically restored (although not in the correct paint scheme) and now sits near the intersection of El Portal Road and Foresta Road. In 2006, the Yosemite Fund provided funding to restore Caboose 15 after decades of neglect. I was able to assist in this project through paint research and through the preparation of full-size stencils for the lettering. A group of YV fans then spent a weekend helping the NPS paint the caboose. The caboose is on a track next to the turntable.

caboose 15
Caboose 15 after restoration by National Park Service crews. The railing on the end of the car was removed during an aborted restoration project in the 1970s and has apparently disappeared. The restored Bagby water tank can be seen over the top of the caboose. - Steve Cope photo

The Yosemite Fund also provided funding to rebuild the turntable at El Portal. The project utilized the spider and hardware from the Bagby turntable which had deteriorated too far to be restored. I was honored to be able to assist in this project through the preparation of CAD drawings for the new turntable.

El Portal Turntable
The restored 66-foot-long turntable in El Portal. The Bagby station is on the far side of the turntable. The casting bolted to the ties in the center of the photo is one of the rollers from the northside logging incline.

In addition to the NPS display items, there are still three YV company houses in El Portal. Although they have been extensively remodeled, they are on the north side of Foresta Road opposite the community center building. (The building opposite the Post Office was not a railroad building but was the office and residence for the manager of the Standard Oil bulk oil facility here when the railroad was in operation.) The YV train shed was located behind the current-day gas station on the east end of the community. The concrete slab behind the gas station was where buses lined up to take train passengers on to Yosemite National Park. (YV Speeder M-16 is also here if you can find it in the fenced-in storage area just west of the concrete slab behind the gas station.)

At Emory - Emory is downstream from South Fork on the north side of the Merced River. Emory was the location of a limestone quarry operation until 1944. Crushed limestone was transported by the YVRR from here to Merced where it was used to manufacture Yosemite Portland Cement. There are a number of buildings still at Emory which, although not railroad buildings, where there during operation of the railroad. These included two white boarding houses which were here and several minor buildings. However, one to the boarding houses burned down in April 2003. The other boarding house together with several minor buildings where burned down in the August 2018 Ferguson Forest Fire.

Until the January 1997 floods, there was still a pedestrian bridge over the river at this location but it was washed out in the floods. (When the limestone quarry here was in operation, both a pedestrian bridge and a vehicle bridge crossed the river here.)

Merced River canyon - Highway 140 parallels the YV from El Portal to Briceburg (at the bottom of the grade from Midpines/Mariposa). Look across the river along this section of the highway and you can see the foundations of a number of railroad bridges. Until the January 1997 Merced River flood, several of these bridges were fairly intact. The one closest to Briceburg survived the floods but was burned in a forest fire several years ago. All of the railroad bridges are now gone.

Mariposa Area - The railroad turntable which once existed in Merced Falls now serves as a bridge over Mariposa Creek on White Rock Road south of Old Highway Road. The turntable is upside down on concrete abutments. If you want to visit it, here is the location using Google Maps.

Merced Falls turntable
The Merced Falls turntable looking from Mariposa Creek.

At Bagby - In addition to the water tank which has been relocated to El Portal, the YV also had a water column at Bagby. The water column was left in place after the abandonment and the flooding of Bagby in the early 1960s. Until a few years ago, it could still be seen if the water level in McClure Reservoir was low enough at the end of the summer. It has now been removed and stored next to the restored Bagby water tank at El Portal. Back at Bagby, there are some building foundations still visible under low water conditions. Everything else is gone.

At Exchequer - The remains of the steel water tank which was at Merced Falls is located above the homes and buildings at the foot of the dam backing up Lake McClure. However, only Merced Irrigation District employees are permitted into this area. As described on the web page on Tracing the YV, you can also still see a couple of railroad tunnels in the Exchequer area.

Merced Falls - There are some foundations from the lumber mill in Merced Falls but these are on private property.

Caboose 16 (remains) - YV caboose 16 was sold by the YV and later used on the California Central Traction. It was eventually acquired by the Stockton, Terminal and Eastern Railroad. At some point, vandals burned the superstructure of the car, leaving only the frame and trucks. The remains, together with a steam locomotive, were eventually gifted to the Sacramento Railroad Museum. The caboose frame and trucks were then sold to the Silver Bend Farm in Clarksburg near Freeport, California. The ultimate disposition of the caboose frame and trucks is unknown.

RPO 107 - The Yosemite Valley Railroad purchased RPO 107 in 1938 from the Texas and New Orleans Railroad to replace combination car 105 (destroyed in a 1937 fire). In 1946, the RPO car was sold to the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. Upon abandonment of the V&T, the car was acquired by the A.D. Schader Company. It is now owned by the Pacific Locomotive Association (PLA) in Fremont, California which restored the exterior of the car back to its YV appearance many years ago. The car was used in PLA operations at Point Richmond for several years. It is currently stored in PLA's Brightside yard in Niles Canyon (Fremont). Here are a number of photos of the car in Fremont.

Locomotive No. 29 - After abandonment, YV No. 29 was sold to a railroad in Mexico and continued to be operated for many years. It was eventually retired in 1963 in Merida, Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula. Although there were efforts by the National Park Service to return the locomotive to the States for display at El Portal, they were unsuccessful.

Over the succeeding years, there were rumors of railfans who had visited the area and reportedly saw the engine. But after failing to get more information on the engine from a number of sources, I realized in early 1996 that the still relatively-new Internet might help. So I asked my wife to see what she could uncover by just trying to find someone in Merida, Mexico who might know about the engine. We soon got an email from a computer student in Venezuela who knew an American living in Merida and put us in touch with him. After describing the engine to him, he went to the train station in Merida the next weekend and asked about it. Within an hour or so, he not only learned that the locomotive had been cosmetically restored in 1990 and put on display in Veracruz, Mexico but met some of the railfans who worked on the locomotive. A couple of weeks later, he was able to stop by Veracruz and compared the engine on display with photos of YV 29 I had sent to him, confirming that it was indeed the YV 2-6-0.

29 in Veracruz
The No. 29 on display in Veracruz, Mexico in 2007. A number of appliances and items such as the bell and power reverse are missing. - Photo by Rick Bressler
29 Cab
Rust and deterioration on the cab is most likely the result of being displayed so close to the Gulf of Mexico and lack of maintenance. - Photo by Rick Bressler

At the time these photos were taken, the locomotive is on display in the parking lot of the train station in Veracruz. However, current Google aerial maps do not show it so I suspect that it has been removed and scrapped.

Observation 330 - After abandonment of the YV, Observation 330 was sold to the Yreka Western Railroad in Yreka, California. It later became a traditional "roadside" diner in Yreka. In 1986, the diner was closed and the car was moved to the City of Yreka corporation yard. It has since been acquired by Wes and Claudia Swift who are restoring the car to operating condition as described on his website. The car is currently in PLA's Brightside yard of the Niles Canyon Railway, typically parked next to YV RPO 107.

YV 330
YV observation car 330 in operation on the Niles Canyon Railway in 2007.

Boxcar 609 - Finally, box car 609, the only remaining YV freight car known to exist, has been discovered but its location is on private property.