Historic Sugar Pine Railroad open for 50th season

The sound of train whistles once again echoed through Fish Camp Saturday morning as one of Madera County’s most loved attractions - the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad - kicked off its 50th year of operation.

The 84-ton Shay No. 10 steam locomotive made two trips through the Sierra National Forest today (Saturday), and will make another one tomorrow (Sunday) at noon.

The four-mile train ride, in open log cars, comes complete with belching steam from the engine, beautiful scenery, and a narrative of the area’s history - an area where mighty lumberjacks once felled trees, and steam-powered locomotives pushed and pulled cars loaded with massive logs through the mountains, to water flumes that carried lumber to Madera in the distant Valley below.

The railroad operates two historic geared steam locomotives called Shays. Both locomotives were built by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Oh. Shay No. 10 was built in 1928 and weighs in at 84 tons (the largest narrow gauge Shay built), and came to Fish Camp in 1967, via the Westside Lumber Company in Tuolumne. The 59-ton Shay No. 15 was built in 1913 for the Sierra Nevada Wood & Lumber Co. near Truckee, and was purchased from the Westside Lumber Company by YMSPP in 1986.

These two locomotives represent the original Shays that worked the line from 1874 to 1931. Shay No. 10 while Shay No. 15 was built in 1913 and weighs 59 tons.

When the Shays are idle, Jenny rail cars make their way up and down the narrow gauge tracks. Ford Model A’s were modified by the rail crews back in the early 1900s to ferry personnel and materials to job sites much quicker and more affordably than the steam engines. The Jenny’s continue to run today, offering another way to tour lines used by the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

The railroad’s popular “Moonlight Specials,” offered on Wednesday and Saturday evenings will return after Memorial Day and includes a train ride, barbecue dinner and entertainment from the folk group Sugarpine.

Other activities available at the railroad include gold panning and the Thornberry Museum. Learn to pan for gold as experienced prospectors teach you the proper method - and children keep the gold they find.

For those of the canine persuasion, well-behaved dogs are welcome at Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.

Over the years, thousands of visitors have enjoyed the steam train excursions through the Sierra National Forest. Today features include the daily one-hour narrated steam train trips, moonlight special evening BBQ trains, gold panning, group tours, weddings and corporate events. Schedules are seasonal operating from mid March through Thanksgiving weekend.

Details: Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, 56001 Highway 41, (559) 683-7273,, Twitter@YMSPRR.

- Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau