The YV, Then and Now
AS ILLUSTRATED BY THE INFORMATION ON TRACING THE YV, much of the YV is gone but there are places along the old route where you can still imagine what it was like during the years that the railroad was in operation. Here are some "then and now" photos of places along the route.
About 12 miles from Merced, the railroad swung through a curve to head over a relatively tall trestle. The engine has just started over this trestle in this photo taken from the caboose by YV brakeman Bob Lunoe in 1942.
The embankment used by the railroad is still very evident in this photo taken from the same spot about 25 years ago. Since then, the piers for the trestle and some of the embankment in the original photo have been removed but otherwise the view remains generally unchanged.
A mile or so beyond the view above, the railroad crossed the Merced River on Bridge 13A. This view showing the two through-truss bridges and the trestle beyond was taken from near the highway bridge over the river.
The same general view from a couple decades ago. At that time, you could still see one set of piers which supported one end of the two 150-foot-long bridges. The piers are now gone.
North of the Merced River crossing, the what is now Highway 59 again started running parallel to the YV tracks. The road then made a sharp turn and crossed the railroad tracks as shown on this 1915 USGS map.
Here a couple of railfans catch an eastbound train at the original grade crossing. Their car is parked along the highway across the tracks. The photographer is standing in the middle of the road next to the number "2" in the above map.
Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the highway was realigned to eliminate the right angle crossing as shown on this 1962 USGS map. But the original pavement was left in place.
Here is the same view today with the current highway just visible on the left. The pickup and car in the middle of the photo are parked on the old road. The cattle guard and tracks would have been in the tree shadows in the middle of the photo.
In the 1920s, the Merced Irrigation District (MID) built Exchequer Dam on the Merced River, creating Lake McClure. The new dam was situated directly over the YV tracks, resulting in the need for MID to construction 17 miles of new YV tracks to replace the original trackage. This long steel bridge was one of five steel bridges built as part of that construction project.
The current road from Merced Falls to Exchequer Dam was built after the railroad was abandoned and, for the most part, uses the railroad roadbed. The steel bridge was removed and the highway now curves around the bridge site. However, the abutments and piers are still visible.
That construction included the erection of a 1600-foot-long railroad bridge over the new lake, known as Bridge No. 3 or the Barrett Bridge. This view of the bridge was taken near the station at Barrett.
Forty years after completion of the original dam, MID completed construction of a new, higher dam which flooded the relocated roadbed from the dam to just above Bagby. When the level of Lake McClure is below 700 feet or so, the piers for the Barrett Bridge reappear. The piers are about 250-feet tall, giving a good idea of the depth of the lake. This spot can be reached from the Barrett Cove Recreation Area by hiking northerly from the parking area near the boat ramp reached by A Loop. (Photo courtesy Ron Phillips)
Another view of the Barrett Bridge with a train for a 1944 fan trip stopped on the bridge.
As a condition of the construction of the new dam, MID was required to remove the old Barrett Bridge which remained in place after abandonment of the railroad in 1945. While portions of the old bridge were scrapped by floating them to the shore, the westerly section sank before it could be floated out and now lies below the waters of the reservoir. While it is normally far below the surface of the reservoir, some California droughts have resulted in lake levels low enough to make the old sunken portion of the bridge visible again. The normal high-water-mark is obvious on the far hillside.
Bridge No. 4 was also built as part of the relocation required by the construction of the first Exchequer Dam in the 1920s. This is also a photo from the 1944 fan trip.
Today, the abutments for Bridge No. 4 are normally far below the surface of McClure Reservoir; this photo was also taken at the end of the California drought in the 1990s.
The Bagby Bridge was located about a half mile downstream of the current Highway 49 bridge over Lake McClure/Merced River.
When the lake water level is low, it is an easy hike down to where the bridge had been located. All that remains today are portions of some steel support columns which were encased in concrete to support the bridge. The normal lake level is obvious.
This view of Bagby looks easterly. Highway 49 crosses the tracks beyond the bridge over Flyaway Gulch. The highway bridge over the Merced River is out of sight to the right. The building with the red roof on the far side of Highway 49 to the left of the tracks was a garage.
In the fall when the Lake McClure water levels are low, the area once occupied by Bagby may be dry and accessible from Highway 49 north of the river. Much of this area has sloughed off due to wave action of the lake. Some foundations are still there with the largest one, with walls about 3 feet high, is from the garage mentioned above. The bridge abutment for Flyaway Gulch is just beyond the YV fan in the green coat.
A mixed train with a long line of empty "rock cars" (YV's name for the short hopper cars used in limestone service) headed eastbound east of Bagby.
The same general area as indicated by the concrete retaining wall visible in both photos. If you can get across the river from the south side east of Bagby (we had a boat bring us across the river) or hike during low water, you can hike the old right-of-way from Bagby to North Fork and on to Briceburg if desired. This location is about 5.3 miles from Bagby.
A passenger train, with Observation Car 331 on the end, stops at Incline in the 1920s. The long line of empty log cars are on the Empties track, waiting to be hauled up the logging incline to the woods. The Merced River is to the left of the train. The larger building left of the train with the roof ridge perpendicular to the train is the station agent's house. The next building is a freight house while the station is just barely visible beyond the freight house.
The same view a couple of decades ago. The old roadbed had been paved and an orchard covered the location of the station at Incline.
Looking down at the railroad wye at Moss Canyon from the top of the ridge just east of it. The railroad mainline followed the river (in the background) and then turned to follow the base of the mountain on the right and pass below the photographer.
The same view as the above photo. National Park Service buildings now fill the area inside what was once the railroad wye.
The wye here allowed a train to turn from going eastbound to going westbound as shown below:
Figure 1 shows a train approaching the wye from the west (from Merced). At the west switch, it takes the left leg through the first switch to turn (Figure 2) toward the end of the wye. After clearing the wye switch, it then backs (Figure 3) around the east leg of the wye. After passing the east wye switch (Figure 4), it continues to back toward El Portal. While the engine was originally on the east end of the train, it now on the west end, pushing the train.