Mariposa Life

Yosemite Valley railroad collection on display at Mariposa Museum

An incredible collection of Yosemite Valley Railroad memorabilia is on exhibit for a limited time at the Mariposa Museum and History Center.

A free public showing will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 7.

Donated by the family of Clayton Guest, this treasury of documents, photos and other rare items is a must-see for railroad buffs and enthusiasts of Yosemite history.

Train rides from the San Joaquin Valley to Yosemite were possible beginning around the turn of the century until 1945, according to Jack Burgess, a Bay Area YVRR historian.

Motor vehicles weren’t always reliable, and road travel was dusty and at times exhausting. In the comfort of a Pullman or observation car, visitors could enjoy the view and arrive in style.

Currently inside the museum’s research library, tables are laden with certificates, signs, tickets, train schedules, souvenir guide books, and postcards from the early 1900s, handwritten, stamped and mailed. Photos include Yosemite’s extraordinary scenery and majestic architecture, as well as images of two hotels no longer standing: the Sentinel and the Hotel at Glacier Point.

Magazines from the same era feature travel articles and ads about Yosemite: Sunset, Old West and the Pacific Monthly. Pages are faded and yellowed, but filled with articles telling of the beauty of the Sierra Nevada range and our national park.

“On the Road of a Thousand Wonders” and “This Colorful Journey Via Yosemite Valley Railroad” were both slogans used to lure visitors out west.

Along the Merced Canyon Route train stations stood in Merced, Snelling, Merced Falls, Bagby, Briceburg, Incline and El Portal. Passengers rode through tunnels in the lower foothills near the Merced River.

This exhibit includes a black porter’s cap – still in good condition for being close to 100 years old, a vintage railroad conductor transit ticket punch, luggage tags, a Railroad Trainmen’s Journal, The Transportation Blue Book, and signs listing Summer Train Service and Pullman Service with routes and times.

In 1922, tourists could purchase a copy of a tour book featuring photos and descriptions of “Big and Little Journeys,” published by Colpitts Tourist Company in Boston.

Also as part of the exhibit a large 1926 edition of the Official Railroad Map of California hangs in the room.

Among Guest’s collection is a time line showing the history of the YVRR. Fortunately for the railroad and vacationers from other parts of the country, construction took place more than 100 miles from San Francisco when the 1906 earthquake occurred. Otherwise, the project might have been canceled.

The timeline also provides details on official government and foreign royal visitors (including Winston Churchill), local cement and lumber companies, flooding and fires, railroad ownership/management changes, and relocation issues when the Merced Irrigation District decided to construct Exchequer Dam.

Prior to 1913-14, motor vehicles were not allowed in Yosemite. Horse-drawn stages took passengers into the park from El Portal. But travel by automobile soon replaced the older modes of transportation.

Once passengers reached the end of the line, the El Portal Big Tree Auto Company also offered tours to the park for only $7 a day. When the tour operation changed its name (circa 1915) to The Big Trees Auto Stage Company, the price increased to $7.50 a day. The Triangle Route tour took passengers from El Portal to Yosemite and the Tuolumne Grove of Big Trees.

Today along Highway 140 between Briceburg and El Portal, travelers can look across the Merced River and see railroad bridge foundations still intact.

For those interested in reading more fascinating YVRR history, visit the following websites:, featuring the collection of Guest, and operated by Burgess. Or borrow a copy of Burgess’ book, Trains to Yosemite, from your local library.

The museum is at 5119 Jessie St. in Mariposa. Call 209-966-2924 for details.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. Follow her on Twitter @ghostowngal or email her at