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The Slim Princess

The railroad in the Owens Valley was more than just a stretch of the imagination. It was a vision inspired by tales of rich strikes in the mines of California, when a lull in mining activity was settling on the Comstock and in Virginia City, Nevada.

“Let us have a railroad from Carson City to Colorado,” wrote a journalist in a Nevada newspaper in 1871.

Several surveys were made by the Virginia & Truckee (V&T) Railway Company by the late 1870s to run a line south from Carson City. By 1880 a line was laid as far as Bodie and on May 10, 1880 the Carson & Colorado (C&C) Railroad Company was incorporated.

Much speculation was made about an intended final destination in southern California, but nothing was made official until March 25, 1882 when the company announced it would build over Montgomery Pass, into the Owens Valley and toward Mojave.

The announcement said that the railroad had great potential for mining and agriculture, the latter in an effort to include the local farming industry. But it was the news from the mining claims in the Inyo Mountains at Panamint and Cerro Gordo that fueled the excitement. Plus, the nearby Darwin Mines were producing well and the Owens Lake was a rich source of soda and potash. Fortune would favor the brave – it seemed.

In 1882 construction began on a narrow gauge track that would take the line south from Bellville, Nevada to the state line at Montgomery Pass, which at 7,138 feet was higher than the Central Pacific’s crossing of the Sierra at Donner Summit. From there the line would descend into the Owens Valley and in January 1883 Benton was reached.

The Slim Princess, as this railway was known, continued her journey down into Hammil Valley and a gradual descent took her into the Owens Valley. In mid-March the line reached Laws (named for Robert C. Laws, the C&C’s Superintendent) where a station was built and a small town sprang up to serve the nearby mining supply and farming community of Bishop Creek (now Bishop).

Construction continued rapidly at a pace of three quarters of a mile of track per day ending in Lone Pine, where onward journey to Independence for a July 4th celebration in 1883 was made by wagon. The final 70 miles of track connecting Laws with Hawley (now Keeler) on the shores of the Owens Lake was completed just a week later.

A long line in the desert

The entire 143 miles of railway line between Bellville, NV and Hawley, CA did not pass though a single established town along the way. While there is no official explanation for this route selection, historians have speculated that the decision to run this line on the eastern side of the valley may have been based on financial considerations. Although the western side of the valley was populated and thriving for the time it presented certain geographical and terrain problems. Numerous streams and creeks flowed from the nearby Sierra Nevada cutting deep arroyos at fairly regular intervals. Extensive and costly bridging would be required to run the line down the western side of the valley and would, moreover, put the track at risk of flooding.

Lone Pine had suffered a major earthquake in 1872 killing 27 people and destroying 52 of the 59 houses. The quake produced a massive fault scarp cracking and thrusting the ground upward by 15-20 feet northwest of the town and also formed what is now Diaz Lake south of the town. This too would have proved an impediment to building the railway line down the western side of the valley.

Naturally residents of the Owens Valley at the time were not happy with the C&C’s decision to build clear across on the other side of the valley. It was a long trip from any of the towns just to get to the railroad, but until 1931 when the full length of US Highway 395 was paved the Slim Princess was a major means of transportation.

On completion of the track in July 1883 an Inauguration Special was run along the full length of the line. On board this special were Henry Yerington, President & General Manager of the C&C, and Darius Ogden Mills, principal financier of this new narrow gauge and major owner of the then profitable V&T.

After traveling for many hours through the desert heat to arrive at Hawley it was reported that Mr. Mills was heard to say, “Gentlemen, either we built this line 300 miles too long, or 300 years too soon.”

In 1942 the narrow gauge was abandoned from Benton to Laws and in 1960 the rest of the track from Laws to Keeler was also abandoned.

Laws Railroad Museum & Historic Site

Loco and cars at Laws Museum – photo: Ron Nickerson

Loco and cars at Laws Museum – photo: Ron Nickerson

Today, less than 150 years since that candid remark by Mills, the memories and experiences of a not-so-long-ago era of railway magnates, miners, farmers, fortune seekers, high Sierra adventurers, and travelers who rode the Slim Princess can be enjoyed at the Laws Railroad Museum & Historic Site.

By today’s standards it’s a short, easy drive of just 6.5 miles to Laws from Bishop where this extensive museum site with a section of track and working railroad cars is a glimpse back in time to when a railroad station was the heart of a bustling western town.

This is not just another theme park – it’s the real deal. Many original buildings, train engines and cars, salvaged and restored structures, and thousands of artifacts celebrate the rich history of this railroad.

The museum is open daily from 10am to 4pm year round. This summer train rides on the old Death Valley Brill Car No. 5 will thrill both kids and adults. See the summer train ride schedule here.

The Laws Good Old Days, Saturday, September 10th, is a family fun day of music, Pioneer crafts and the ‘famous pie auction’. Wander through the museum buildings, ride the train, watch skilled artisans make their crafts the old-fashioned way, or just sit on the cool grass under the spreading cottonwood trees and listen to the live music performances.

Railroad Express

Celebrate the holiday season in early December at the “Railroad Express” with rides in DV#5 rail car, games, prizes, goodies to eat, carol singing, a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, story telling and so much more railway magic.

For more information about Laws Railroad Museum & Historic Site visit or pop into the Bishop Visitors Center at 690 N. Main St.

 

 

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22 hours ago

What's your favorite season in the Eastern Sierra?

Beautiful photo by @robert_lachman from October 12, 2019
#keepbishopsafe
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Whats your favorite season in the Eastern Sierra? 

Beautiful photo by @robert_lachman from October 12, 2019
#keepbishopsafe

Comment on Facebook

I go every year! 2nd or 3rd week of October! Beautiful scenery and weather!

Fall

I was raised on the Eastern side of the Sierras. When I was young it was Summers. When I got a little older it was Spring for the opening of trout season. Now at 73 it's Fall...😊

Nice One!

Fall when leaves change and late summer when tubing in cut off’s by day with jeans and flannel by the fire at night

I have to say mid to late fall. Although mid spring is awesome as well. ✌️

Fall

Beautiful picture

Fall is the best...but the other 3 run a close 2nd!

Yes! 😅😁

We from Bishop

Fall🍁🍂🎃

Gorgeous

FALL...used to go up from L.A. EVERY OCT.

Autumn and Winter

Spring

Anything but fire season 😭

Love the fall leave. We try to go every year in October

Fall by far! I love the colors. We try to go every year in October for my husband's birthday.

In Bishop all of them. Bishop picture love this site 🙂🙂❤❤

So pretty

Beautiful

Fall

Fall for sure. Before the snow shuts the roads. And early summer. When it is just a little cooler. 🐈😷

Beautiful!

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3 days ago

With fires, poor air quality and COVID-19 all currently going on, who needs a little something to look forward to??
How about Wynonna for Labor Day Weekend of 2021!!
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With fires, poor air quality and COVID-19 all currently going on, who needs a little something to look forward to?? 
How about Wynonna for Labor Day Weekend of 2021!!

Comment on Facebook

Lol whatever floats your boat Bishop. With way things are we might be in a middle of some other bs that will shut it down. I’m done hoping and waiting for “better” times to come.

its sept 21??!!

Can’t wait!!

oh next yr ugh

Looks like she needs an enema !

Mary Allegra Nicol

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6 days ago

Wishing all of the firefighters and emergency support teams a safe weekend. Thank you for all that you are doing!!!

Sending love from Bishop to all who are being affected by the fires. ❤️

This photo by Instagram user @sammyzz17 and is from February of 2018 when we had the Pleasant Valley Reservior Fire. Hoping that he and his crew are safe!
... See MoreSee Less

Wishing all of the firefighters and emergency support teams a safe weekend. Thank you for all that you are doing!!! 

Sending love from Bishop to all who are being affected by the fires. ❤️

This photo by Instagram user @sammyzz17 and is from February of 2018 when we had the Pleasant Valley Reservior Fire. Hoping that he and his crew are safe!

Comment on Facebook

🙏God Bless you all. I have been praying for rain to help put all the fires out and is in the forecast for some areas yeh!

God Bless all of you amazing men and women fighting these horrible fires. Stay safe!🙏❤️👩‍🚒👩‍🚒👍

Thanks guys!! Hope you all stay safe and return home to your families soon!!! Bless you all❤️

Wonderful pic.of these brave Firefighters! Prayers for their safety! 🙏🏻💕🙏🏻

Thank you to ALL FF's and Incident Command crews, Strike Teams busting butt out there. Love & prayers for All Your Safety from Santa Rosa 💜😷🐈

🙏 to all the first responders and thank you for your hard work.

Thank you Bishop firefighters for all of your extremely hard work!

A big Thank You To All Our Firefighters God Bless You And Your Families Stay Safe

Sending love and prayers from the Florida Panhandle. Be Safe! God Bless you and yours!

Thank you for your service. and God Bless You All .

God be with you all. Thank fort doing what you do

What a commitment! Thank you! Your work can never be repaid!!!

God bless you boys! Please stay safe!

Thank you God bless and stay safe

God Bless you all🙏☮️

Thank you all for what you do for us everyday 💗

Stay safe 🚒😊👍🏼

Amen

Ty

👊👍🤙😎🙏

Thanks to all the firefighters out in California, Oregon & Washington who work tirelessly everyday ❗️❗️. You are true heroes❗️

This is a spectacular photo, a real prizewinner! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thanks never were more than a few brave people

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7 days ago

To any of our Inyo County residents....Please take a minute, if you haven’t yet, to sign up for the Inyo County emergency alerting system, CodeRED. This will ensure that if there is a local emergency such as an evacuation notice or missing child report that you will be notified. Stay safe and stay informed!
Click on this link to sign up:
public.coderedweb.com/CNE/en-US/DAD807D480BF

📷 by John Paul DeRousseau
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To any of our Inyo County residents....

Comment on Facebook

Jack Lila McKinney just making sure your signed up ❤️

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