Fresno Flats Friday Night Lecture Series: Sugar Pine Lumber Company Railroad

Map showing the route of the Sugar Pine Lumber Company railroad which ran from Pinedale to Central Camp. (“The Westerner Railroader" Vol. 22, No. 11, October, 1959)
Map showing the route of the Sugar Pine Lumber Company railroad which ran from Pinedale to Central Camp. (“The Westerner Railroader" Vol. 22, No. 11, October, 1959) Special to the Sierra Star

The Sugar Pine Lumber Company’s Minarets and Western Railroad ran from Central Camp to Pinedale carrying timber to the sawmill in Pinedale. The railroad will be featured in the Fresno Flats Friday night lecture series at 6:30 p.m. on March 1 at the Fresno Flats Historical Park in Oakhurst. Historian David Rodriguez will also share the history of Pinedale and the Pinedale Assembly Center, one of 15 (12 in California) temporary detention centers housing Japanese-Americans in 1942.

The railroad operated from 1921-1933. The railway ran from Pinedale, through Friant and North Fork, to Wishon, across the Bass Lake dam and up to Central Camp. Rodriguez will be sharing several shorts from the 1932 film “Carnival Boat” which featured footage of the Minarets and Western Railway trains. That film starred Bill Boyd, later famous as Hopalong Cassidy, and Ginger Rogers.

Following the bankruptcy of the Sugar Pine Lumber Company, the Pinedale mill property was used as a Japanese-American detention center, temporarily housing detainees from Sacramento and El Dorado Counties, Oregon and Washington. The facility was in operation from May 7-July 23, 1942.

The population of the detention center peaked at 4,792. The detainees were transferred to permanent facilities at the Tule Lake Segregation Center and Poston, Arizona Internment Camp.

In August 1942, the facility became Camp Pinedale, housing soldiers training as Army Air Forces signal technicians and, from July 1944 to February 1947, it housed the 840th Army Air Forces Specialized Depot.

Rodriguez, born in Pinedale, began researching the railroad and the history of the Pinedale area following retirement from a career in the U. S. Marine Corps. At the time, his parents still lived in Pinedale and he returned to care for them and help them out. His grandfather worked for the Sugar Pine Lumber Company at the sawmill in Pinedale. After finishing the various projects around his parents’ home, Rodriguez said he “needed a hobby.”

That led to genealogy research and conversations with his mom. “How come this isn’t written down anywhere?” he asked.

“I got resistance at first from the local community,” said Rodriguez. They believed nothing of interest had ever happened in Pinedale. As he shared what he found about the community “they became my biggest fans.”

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m the evening of the lecture. The museum on the grounds will be open to the public at that time.

Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park recreates 19th-century life in the Sierra Nevada foothills and is home to two restored and furnished homes built in the 1870s as well as other historic buildings that were moved to the park.

The park’s Nathan Sweet Memorial Museum is one of the first schools built in Madera County. Before it was moved to the Fresno Flats Park in 1977, the school functioned as a local justice court and branch library. Now it houses exhibits including a recreated general store, doctor’s office and schoolroom typical of the late 19th and early 20th century.

The Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park is located at 49777 School Road in Oakhurst. The lectures are free, but donations to the Sierra Historical Sites Association will be accepted. SHSA is a 501(c)(3) organization.