photo gallery--Click the
photo to go to the gallery
Schmidt's "Famous Tunnel" now has a group of
"friends" trying to preserve and protect the
the photo to visit their Website.
the photo below to read more about Cerro Gordo.
Gordo now has its own Web site. Click the link below to visit.
is a new publication highlighting the history and legends
California and Nevada.
on the logo for
Mills to Bodie
Situated in a tranquil setting on the desert side of the Sierra Nevada, MonoLake has been
referred to as “the Dead Sea of America.” This large brackish
body of water contains a high percentage of sodium sulphate, two
small islands, no marine life, and very little vegetation on its
shoreline. The soil of the surrounding terrain is largely volcanic
sand and pumice which barely supports the growth of sagebrush, and
in places, is devoid of any growth.
The paradox to this picture is the forests of Jeffrey and
lodgepole pine a few miles south of MonoLake. It is
surprising that this country could bear trees, and incredible that
they would mature to four feet in diameter. However, the country
does, and the trees did, and therein lies the birth of a railroad.
Lake at sunset looking west to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Huddled in the sagebrush-covered mountain, 30 miles north of MonoLake, was the
brawling, boisterous, gold mining town of Bodie, California. With a soaring
population of nearly 12,000, the town’s need for lumber to build
homes, timber for shoring mines, and wood for fuel was tremendous.
teamsters could not begin to meet the enormous appetite Bodie had
for consuming wood. The stage was set for the obvious answer to the
problem - build a railroad to the large timber stands south of MonoLake.
California as seen from the cemetery.
The Bodie Railway and Lumber Co. was organized on February
18, 1881, and shortly afterwards, J. T. Oliver surveyed the route
from Bodie to the mill site five miles south of Mono Lake.When completed, the proposed 31.7 miles of roadbed was to
descend the 2,000 foot drop in elevation and traverse the alkali
flats on the eastern shore of MonoLake. Thomas Holt, an
engineer, was selected to ramrod the project. In addition to this
task, Holt was operating a five-ton steamship and several barges on
which materials and supplies were transported across MonoLaketo the railroad
While the sawmill was being built, grading for the roadbed
was started at the top of Bodie Bluff in May, 1881. With the aid of
two switchbacks, many cuts, and a 260-foot trestle, the steep and
circuitous grade down to lake elevation was accomplished, and by
mid-July, the first 20 miles of roadbed had been graded.
The first shipment of rails arrived in August, and as they
were being spiked into place, the final five miles of grading was
completed to the new mill. In all, some 2,00 tons of rails, spikes
and other supplies were used. The total cost of the road reached
$450,931. In addition, $81,390 was spent for equipment that included
4 engines, 12 service cars, 51 flat cars, and one caboose. The
“last spike” was driven on November 14, 1881, and a two-car
lumber train arrived afterwards to officially open the road.
The following weeks saw the new railway quite active with a
scheduled train leaving Bodie each day at and arriving at
Mono Mills at The train
departed the mill at each afternoon,
and arrived back at Bodie by The ten - to
twelve-car train was broken up into three sections prior to the
final approach to Bodie in order to negotiate the switchbacks and
3.8% grades. In addition to the problems caused by the sharp turns
and steep grades, the rolling stock was not equipped with air rakes.
Two brakemen were kept busy hopping from car to car setting the hand
brakes whenever the train began to gain momentum. There were many
derailments, but no fatalities among the crewmen were ever recorded.
The southern terminus at Mono Mills, while not a large
settlement, was a busy one. There were 200 men employed in the wood
and lumber business, and the aroma of fresh sawdust was everywhere.
Two large boarding houses and six smaller dwellings were located
near the mill. The single store supplied all the necessary goods
required by the residents, and was operated by Gilchrist, Sharp
& Company, who also had 40 mules packing wood, and two large ox
teams hauling lots to the mill.
of structures at Mono Mills today.
The well equipped mill was one of the best in the state.
Located in a small ravine, the second floor was level with the
surrounding country so the heavy logs could be easily rolled into
the mill where 54 inch circular saws quickly reduced their size. One
44 inch “pony” and two smaller cut off saws completed the task
of transforming logs to lumber. The machinery was powered by a steam
engine, and water was obtained from springs and transported to the
mill by 2-inch pipe. The mill had the capacity for turning out
80,000 board feet every ten hours.
of Mono Mills and Bodie RR trackage by Robert C. Likes.
The greatest portion of Mono Mills output was in cordwood.
This relatively poor quality of wood was used as fuel to produce
steam power for the hoists and stamp mills at the Bodie mines. This
demand kept the flat cars loaded to capacity and helped offset the
low yield of only 8,000 board feet per acre for construction lumber.
The “last run” of the season was made on January 7, 188, after which the
railroad closed down for the winter.
Easy. You build a mining town in
the 1800’s when steam engines powered everything. Two important
elements for steam…wood and water.
Bodie had neither. At the height of Bodie’s population and mining
production, the town was consuming an impressive amount of wood. In
fact, wood became as valuable as the gold. The town that grew to be the
second largest city in California in 1880, is located at 8375 feet
elevation with not a tree in sight and other then a snow fed creek, not
much water either.
The miners dug deep into
Bodie Bluff for gold and silver. The precious rock was brought up out if
the mines with huge steam operated hoists. These hoists were fed nine to
12 cords each per day. There were 32 active mines and nearly 60 miles of
tunnels underground. Large timbers were needed to shore up the walls of
the mines to keep them from caving in. Giant pumps were set in place to
keep the water from filling in the deep mines. These
impressive pumps could pump 800,000 gallons of water every 24 hours.
Each large pump consumed 24 cords of wood per day. Nine powerful stamp
mills crushed rock as fine as cinnamon. The fine powder was then
introduced to the mercury process where the gold and silver would
separate from the waste rock. These stamp mills required lots of wood to
operate. The Standard Mill alone used 24 cords a day. Gosh, we haven’t
even discussed the 2000 buildings that once stood in the old town. Not
to mention the wood needed for cooking and heating. (Last week, the
temp. dipped -18...it’s a mild winter).
Now lets say you lived back
in those days and you’re in the business of making money…You might
invest in the mines or set up general store, could get into the
freighting business, you would certainly do well with a saloon. No
matter where you decided to invest your money, there was one commodity
that was obvious; every person that lived in that town, or anywhere else
for that matter, needed one thing. Wood.
I imagine it was over a
whiskey when the men got together to discuss the idea of acquiring the
vast amount of land east of
. This group of influential men had names you might recognize today.
Yerington, Bliss, Ralston, Haney along with the Cook brothers were among
others who would ultimately acquire 12,000 acres of prime timber land.
This area was heavily forested with Jeffrey pine. In 1881, this group
officially formed the Bodie Railway and Timber Company.
Mono Mills was completed in
August 1881. The powerful mill had state of the art machinery and was
larger then the famous mill of Carson& Tahoe and Fluming Company.
The capacity of the new mill was estimated to be 15 million feet of
lumber and 100,000 cords per year. The sound of the steam engines could
be heard for miles as the saws turned out 80,000 feet of lumber every 10
hours. Over 200 men were eventually employed by the company and a
settlement was established around the mill. Company boarding houses,
management houses, a store and no surprise, a saloon was soon frequented
by the employees.
The first order to complete
was the ties for the railroad that would reach 32 miles up to Bodie. The
ties measured were six by eight inches and seven feet in length. During
the month of September, 29,000 were cut.
November 14, 1881
the last spike was driven and the railway was complete. It had cost the
company $460,000. The railway consisted of four steam locomotives, 30
flatcars, a tank car and five logging cars.
As you well imagine, the
history of this place is fascinating. The people, the place, the
incredible hard work and the investment alone is enough to fill a book
or two. If you are interested in learning more about this great place in
history, I invite you to join us on
June 24, 2006
where we will honor the history of this historic site. The Mono
Basin Historical Society is holding its 4th Annual Ghosts
of the Sagebrush Tour at Mono Mills. This is a fund raising
event to benefit the
in Lee Vining. Because there is so much history to this place we have
plenty of help to put this day together. Friends of Bodie, U.S. Forest
Service, Friends of Bodie Railway and the Mono Lake Committee will join
and co-sponsor this event. Tickets are $15 per person
For more information contact Terri at
Park, (760) 647-6445.
We're back on the road again!
on the photo for our preliminary 2006 schedule details.
to all who joined us on our dirt road travels.
Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the
magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to
be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and
other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically,
industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to
drive their vehicles off the paved highway. Click your mouse through our
website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them.
If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your
vehicle, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class
at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn.
The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were
doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to
negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on
the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16
years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the
Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are
ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable
for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size
Our tours are
operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S.
Forest Service, and other authorities.
We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our
guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the
rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old
cabin or deserted mountain lookout.
California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and
prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the
"Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get
ready to explore historic California.