The Sierra Railway of California was incorporated February 1, 1897. Thomas S. Bullock (a railroad builder), William Crocker (a San Francisco banker) and Prince Andre Poniatowski, (who represented wealthy French investors), founded the railroad. Bullock brought rails and engines from his original railroad investments used on the Prescott and Arizona Central Railroad. The first forty-one miles were built from Oakdale to Jamestown by November 10, 1897, where the roundhouse and central maintenance facility was set up. After teamsters protested and delayed, the connection line to Sonora was completed on February 16, 1899. From Sonora the railroad added another 12 miles to reach Carters-Summerville (later renamed Tuolumne). By February 1, 1900, the end of the main line was completed with a depot located only a few hundred yards from the new mill of the Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite Valleys Railway Company.
The Sierra Railway was the connection between Sonora, Jamestown and the company lumber towns of Standard and Tuolumne. The West Side Lumber Company’s mill at Tuolumne and the mountain mills of Standard Lumber Company and later the Company’s mill at Standard furnished the largest source of revenue for the Sierra Railway. The Standard Lumber Company’s Sugar Pine Railway and the West Side Lumber Company’s Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valleys Railway fed the mills that produced the lumber products that were shipped via the Sierra.
The Angels Camp branch of the Sierra Railway brought freight and passenger service to the bustling gold mines in Calaveras County. After struggling with the elevation changes and resulting steep grades, a system of four switch back spur tracks were designed to bring the Sierra Railway nineteen tortuous miles over trestles and bridges from Jamestown to Angels Camp. The Angel’s branch was completed September 15, 1902 and operated unl 1935.
The Sierra Railway connected directly to Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads in Oakdale, providing access to the national rail network. It reached its peak passenger service in years just before WW1 when ten regularly scheduled trains ran every day. The Sierra Railway was used to supply the Don Pedro Dam project on the Tuolumne River and the Melones Dam project on the Stanislaus River in the early 1920s. It also supported the Hetch Hetchy Dam project (O’Shaughnessey Dam) in the 1920s and operated the Hetch Hetchy Railroad 1935-38, which ran up to the Hetch Hetchy Valley’s major construction sites. In the 1950’s the Sierra Railroad supported the Tri-Dam Project consisting of Tulloch, Beardsley and Donnell dams.
The Sierra Railway is also famous for its role in the film industry. It began in 1919 when Hollywood discovered the old steam engines and rolling stock for the silent movies. It also became one of the first field facilities to use sound on location. The local Tuolumne County scenery is perfect for movie making of all types and specialized in western films. Over 200 films and TV programs were filmed using Sierra’s rolling stock and steam engines and it continues to play a role in filmmaking supported by the Tuolumne County Film Commission. Many notable movie location sites, which were used in such films as “High Noon” starring Gary Cooper, still exist today. A living history experience of the Sierra Railway steam era and western film making in Tuolumne County is provided during a visit to Railtown 1897. You can enjoy a train ride, interpretive roundhouse tour of the shops and movie artifacts accompanied by period dressed docents.
For more information, order CHISPA, Vol. 9, No. 4, April-June, 1970, “Pioneer Railroading In Old Tuolumne,” Vol. 12, No. 3, January-March, 1973, “A Ride On the Hetch Hetchy Railroad, Circa 1920,” Vol. 18, No. 4, April-June, 1979, “West Side Revisited,” Vol. 25, No. 3, January-March, 1986, “Sierra on the Silver Screen,” and Vol. 36, No. 3, January-March, 1997, “The Sierra Railroad, A Centennial Tribute 1897-1997.”
So. Pacific builds a rail terminus at Milton in Calaveras County and Oakdale where stages and teamsters enter into Southern Mother Lode mining areas in Tuolumne County
T. Bullock arrives in the West looking to find a place to use his rails and equipment from the Prescott-Arizona Central RR, which went out of business due to Santa Fe competition. Bullock attempts to promote a railroad from Stockton in San Joaquin County to the Central Mother Lode mines, but fails because of prohibitive costs of right-of-way.
Santa Fe completes rail line to Riverbank in Stanislaus County, 6 miles west of Oakdale with possibility of continuing to Southern Mother Lode mining areas
T. Bullock considers selling his rails to prospective Yosemite Valley RR contractors, but goes on tour of Calaveras & Tuolumne counties and decides to build a more southerly route into the southern mines after considering joining So. Pacific and using San Joaquin & Sierra Nevada RR
Sierra Rwy incorporated by Thomas Bullock, William Crocker, Prince Andre Poniatowski ($5M) – (standard gauge)
Construction begins on Sierra Rwy from Oakdale to Jamestown (original terminus at 41 miles)
Sierra Rwy completed to Cooperstown at milepost 20 & opens for business with a timetable.
First Sierra Rwy train arrives in Jamestown from Oakdale;
Stockton Tuolumne RR (aka Women’s RR) incorporated by Annie Kline Rikert (standard gauge)
Women’s RR begins construction from Stockton & raises money from city of Sonora investors (mostly women)
Nevills Hotel opens next to Jamestown General Office; built by Bullock and Capt. Nevills, owner of Rawhide Mine
Sierra Rwy’s general offices moved from Oakdale to Jamestown; site of freight depot, roundhouse, turntable and maintenance shops
Women’s RR, after grading only 12 miles, is stopped; graders leave for work on Sierra Rwy; leave for lack of back pay & leans are put on Women’s RR
First Sierra Rwy train arrives at outskirts of City of Sonora depot, pushing on later to Tuolumne to reach the timber investments of Bullock & the Crockers. Sonora rejects Sierra Rwy plan to operate down Washington St. to reach Columbia marble quarry; Sierra Rwy owners consider spur to Columbia off the future line to Angels Camp
West Side Flume & Lumber Co. incorporated by T. Bullock William & Henry Crocker in Carters/Summersville
Sierra Railway builds depot near site of West Side Lumber & Flume Co. in Carter/Summersville, creating a new terminus at 57 miles (later officially named Tuolumne in 1909)
First Sierra Rwy train arrives in town of Tuolumne at new depot.
West Side Flume & Lumber Co. incorporates Hetch Hetchy & Yosemite Valley RR (narrow gauge)
Standard Lumber Co. incorporated by Steinmetz; joined by Bullock in Oct.
T. Bullock opens Turnback Inn in Tuolumne, new terminus of Sierra Rwy at 57 miles; burns down in Oct. 1923
First Sierra Rwy train arrives in Angels Camp overcoming complex engineering challenge and ROW issues with its Angels branch line; Angels Camp depot and turntable built