End of the Line for a Scenic Railroad in California

August 24, 1945

The Yosemite Valley Railroad (YVRR) in central California went out service following the run of its last regularly scheduled train. YVRR had been incorporated in San Francisco in 1902 by John S. Drum, William B. Bosley, Sydney M. Ehrman, Thomas Turner, and Joseph D. Smith.  The short-line railroad transported both passengers and freight, and for the most part it coursed along the Merced River.

YVRR ended up covering 80 miles (130 kilometers) between the city of Merced and Yosemite National Park. Notwithstanding its name, the railroad did not directly serve Yosemite Valley within the park. YVRR instead extended only as far as the western boundary of Yosemite National Park at the community of El Portal. YVRR passengers had to disembark at El Portal and use other regularly scheduled means of transit – a stagecoach during the first several years and then, starting in 1913, a motor coach – in order to visit Yosemite Valley.

For a good part of its existence, YVRR was a popular transportation choice for those traveling through a region of California renowned for both its beautiful scenery and colorful history. A large portion of the railroad was built in an area where individuals now known as “forty-niners” once prospected for gold. These gold-seekers had given unique names to various local creeks and canyons, and YVRR passengers could see first-hand many of those geographical features – including Temperance Creek, Humbug Gulch, Nameless Gulch, and Quartz Mountain Gulch. The YVRR’s more famous passengers included two U.S. presidents, William Howard Taft in 1909 and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. Much of the freight carried on YVRR’s trains included mining products and lumber.

In the 1940s, however, YVRR encountered rough times. The shutdown of the Yosemite Sugar Pine Lumber Company in 1942 and the suspension of operations at the Yosemite Portland Cement Company in 1944, for example, significantly reduced the railroad’s freight traffic. YVRR experienced a similarly devastating decline in ridership, with an ever-increasing number of people opting instead to use the Yosemite All-Year Highway (present-day California State Route 140) for travel in the region. The end result of these setbacks and others was the closure of YVRR in 1945.

More than seven decades later, a few remnants of YVRR can still be seen in El Portal. These include a caboose and a hand-operated turntable.

For more information on the Yosemite Valley Railroad, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yosemite_Valley_Railroad.

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