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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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2 days ago

This is Bishop from the Tungsten Hills looking east. Our little town is almost like an island. We have to travel hours to do most major shopping, or for any major medical issues. For most of us, it is absolutely worth it because we love the Eastern Sierra and although our town is small, our “backyard” is big and full of majestic natural beauty. We know many of you who live far away love this place as well. ❤️

So as you are making holiday plans this year, please remember to protect the people and places you love to play in. We appreciate it!!

Photo by Betsy Forsyth Johnson
#keepbishopsafe
... See MoreSee Less

This is Bishop from the Tungsten Hills looking east. Our little town is almost like an island. We have to travel hours to do most major shopping, or for any major medical issues. For most of us, it is absolutely worth it because we love the Eastern Sierra and although our town is small, our “backyard” is big and full of majestic natural beauty. We know many of you who live far away love this place as well. ❤️

So as you are making holiday plans this year, please remember to protect the people and places you love to play in. We appreciate it!! 

Photo by Betsy Forsyth Johnson
#keepbishopsafe

Comment on Facebook

We were campground hosts at Mammoth & went to Bishop for nice dinners on our days off, get haircuts, do laundry & see dentist. Enjoyed Bishop Mule Days too.. Besutiful area to spend the summer... Had to edit & add Schat's Bakery 💞💞

My first trip to Bishop was 57 years ago and have been back more years than not. I plan to keep coming back until my legs can’t walk the trails anymore. It’s truly a special place.

Wish I could be there. Great place to do star watching. Seem to be extra stars in the sky over there. Wishing you all the best for the holidays. Wish that bakery could deliver. So yummy. Stay well. <3

Loved growing up in Bishop, many fond memories there! I bet the town has changed since 75, but never the scenery!

One of my favorite places to camp don't how many times I've been there but I've been a bunch of times love it over 30times

I love it too! Grew up in Big Pine, worked in Bishop and Big Pine! 😊

best town I ever lived in

A place and time far far away! A place named Bishop, where I was born.

Take care! Hope to see you again next year!

Lived in early 50’s I lived in a mine camp Sheelite till the mud slide, moved to Rovanna To a mine housing . Parents bought a house in Tungsten City, up behind Rocking K Ranch, attended school in Round Valley Lots of memory In the area

Maybe you need to stop Blaming people that travel to the Eastern Sierra for your local problems. Its not really that small of a town and With the tax you get from tourism build a real medical facility and hospital!

My Dad grew up in Bishop, he actually worked at the Tungsten mines for awhile before heading to El Paso to go to college. Then the war started and he joined the Army Air Corps . I spent many a summers staying with my grandma Duffy, playing with my cousins in that magical place. Still my favorite place on earth.

Best place to grow up ‼️

Bishop is always one of our stopping points if we're visiting Yosemite and Death Valley. Bishop Creek Canyon, Rock Creek Canyon, Schats Bakery, Jacks, Spellbinder Books, Whiskey Creek- all previous haunts. Once normal travel arrangements return, we'll be back to visit one of our favourite places in the USA.

I know this viewpoint........magic.

I really miss Bishop and the Owens valley.....

Lived at Hilltop Estates/ Swall Meadows for quite a few years in the late 70’s to the early 80’s. Only place in California that keeps me coming back every couple years.

We would love to move there! Love the area.

Thank you for the words and picture you are blessed to live there xo

Our favorite place to go. Always come to the car show.

Home🇺🇸

To bad its in commiefornia. Love bishop

I remember Lone Pine too. Loved it

Small Town, Big Back Yard. 🥰

One of my favorite places on earth

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5 days ago

Flashback to Main Street, 1886. Who would like to escape to this scene?

#LoveBishop #historicbishop
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Flashback to Main Street, 1886. Who would like to escape to this scene?

#LoveBishop #historicbishop

Comment on Facebook

I will take 1986. Had a cool uncle living there. Free lodging, and his Land Cruiser was available for deep snow drives.

Heck no...especially after I saw the video on "the old western hygiene". Talk about funk and stink! Whew, even the women stunk! Man-o-man....plus add on disease, diet and doctoring! Nope...lol 😆

I wonder if they still had to pose to get the exposure by 1886. Probably not.

Hmmm...1886 in Owens Valley? Was there a Sheriff? Or just a bunch of gun toting fools on horseback.

might be a sale but I will think it is a Halter class in the middle of the street and that will make me happy

Love that picture

I would love it. 🙏❤️🙏

I see Rusty’s!! Lol

It would be hard an cold but very free it would be something to go back in time

Every horse looks so healthy (extra shiny coat).... all that great pasture of the area > Owens Valley!

No thank you. I love Bishop, but I can't imagine living there without AC or a swamp cooler. lol

Even tho these days were hard ,they were free to enjoy great days.

Life was harder back then but better in My opinion.

Looks like a stock sale. If it were today, I would call it a horse show.

A busy place!

Early "Mule Days"?

I would buy that Appaloosa .

I would escape in a second :)

great pic

Right on

Can we visit but not stay?

Me

Great picture

Me toooooooo

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7 days ago

Ahhhh, we sure love sunsets in the Eastern Sierra!! 😍

Photo by John Paul DeRousseau
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Ahhhh, we sure love sunsets in the Eastern Sierra!! 😍

Photo by John Paul DeRousseau

Comment on Facebook

An amazing picture of a beautiful sky. Thanks for sharing 🙂🙂❤❤

The dinosaurs are still around when you see the sky like that

Hermoso,Bishop calf.

Awesome

Felicidades yerandi que tela pases muy vien

The ponds. Nice

I'm ready to FISH

Wow

Fantastic!

That's the sky color of snow on the way!! Lovely😍😘🐈😷

That is amazing beautiful blue sky I like winn you took that picture of the amazing beautiful blue sky

Amazing picture to put up on a wall

Gorgeous photo!

Wonderful!

So beautiful!

Beautiful

Beautiful

Beautiful!!

Beautiful

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1 week ago

Just an FYI. Seems fire season is still not over.
MONO COUNTY —U.S. Highway 395 in Mono County Due remains closed from Emigrant Street in Bridgeport to the Nevada State Line due to a wildfire in Walker Canyon. The fire has reached 20,800 plus acres and claimed 80 structures. It is unclear how long this section of the highway will be closed.

Drivers heading northbound on U.S. Hwy 395 should detour to either U.S. Hwy 6 just north of Bishop to NV360 to US 95 or State Route 182 in Bridgeport to Nevada 338. Southbound traffic from Nevada should detour to U.S. Hwy 95 to NV360 to U.S. Hwy 6 or Nevada 208 to Nevada 338 to State Route 182.
roads.dot.ca.gov/

This photo is from 9/11/2020 near Bishop... if you weren't here, the smoke was HORRIBLE!
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Just an FYI. Seems fire season is still not over. 
MONO COUNTY —U.S. Highway 395 in Mono County Due remains closed from Emigrant Street in Bridgeport to the Nevada State Line due to a wildfire in Walker Canyon. The fire has reached 20,800 plus acres and claimed 80 structures. It is unclear how long this section of the highway will be closed.

Drivers heading northbound on U.S. Hwy 395 should detour to either U.S. Hwy 6 just north of Bishop to NV360 to US 95 or State Route 182 in Bridgeport to Nevada 338. Southbound traffic from Nevada should detour to U.S. Hwy 95 to NV360 to U.S. Hwy 6 or Nevada 208 to Nevada 338 to State Route 182.
https://roads.dot.ca.gov/

This photo is from 9/11/2020 near Bishop... if you werent here, the smoke was HORRIBLE!

Comment on Facebook

Hoping for an end to this nightmare. Time for some real rain and snow. Be safe. <3

Blah blah anything from keeping people away ! Come on people clear road a little hazy try and drive back east ! Quit whining!

We used to always camp with my parents at Bridgeport or Topaz lake years ago.

Tanner Ernst

Oh no!

These fires are never ending! Be safe.

Y'all stay safe!

Wow!

🙏🏻

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1 week ago

How many of you love to take pictures when you visit Bishop and the surrounding areas? With large amounts of open space, stunning scenery and ample wildlife, it might be the perfect place to work on your composition and skills.

Make sure to ready this blog article about photography here in the Eastern Sierra:
www.bishopvisitor.com/4-fabulous-photography-features/

With COVID-19 on the rise, we ask you to please protect the places and communities where we play. Stay SAFE outside.
#loveBishop #keepbishopsafe

Photo by @leviaguilera_photography
... See MoreSee Less

How many of you love to take pictures when you visit Bishop and the surrounding areas? With large amounts of open space, stunning scenery and ample wildlife, it might be the perfect place to work on your composition and skills.

Make sure to ready this blog article about photography here in the Eastern Sierra: 
https://www.bishopvisitor.com/4-fabulous-photography-features/

With COVID-19 on the rise, we ask you to please protect the places and communities where we play. Stay SAFE outside. 
#loveBishop #keepbishopsafe 

Photo by @leviaguilera_photography

Comment on Facebook

Your Bishop is on my list of places I want to visit when all of this is over.

Love the contrast....... nice photo of wild nature!

Mule (deer) Capital of the World!😄

Where is this?great picture

Nice!

Awesome

Beautiful deer

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