Frontier Trails of The Old West
Stage Routes


Enter your email address, click the 'Join List' button, receive our newsletters, current events, free giveaways and more!!
Other Frontier Trails Sites
Early Americas
Adventure Stories
Ghosttowns
Space

INTRODUCTION TO BODIE & BENTON MANUSCRIPTS

by D.A.Wright

Railroads in California and Nevada in general, and the Carson & Colorado and the Bodie & Benton in particular; have always held a soft spot in me. They represent many years of past and future exploration along the ribbons of land that wind From mountains to verdant valleys, From low pinyon covered hills to desert wastelands.


Bodie & Benton locomotive #3 shown at Dayton, NV in 1902. The Baldwin locomotive was originally the Eureka & Palisade Railroad locomotive #2. The locomotive was refurbished at the Carson City, NV shops of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad after sale to the Inyo Development Company of Keeler, CA, which recovered soda ash and other chemicals from Owens Lake. This shot shows the locomotive after it left the shops, enroute to Keeler. David A. Wright collection, courtesy of Eastern California Museum.

Bodie has held a special place in my heart. I have visited the site untold number of times, in all seasons; by car, truck, jeep, snowmobile, and on skis. I have toured its streets crowded with tourists, and I have wandered its streets void of anyone. I have been greeted with a smile by her rangers, and I have been kicked out of town. I have explored its buildings in fog, rain, and glorious autumn days, and I have skied over the top of the schoolhouse. I have viewed each and every building over and over, yet I see it each time as though afresh. I have taken family, friends, and my dogs to the hamlet, guiding them and telling her history; yet I have never grown tired of being the visitor and listening to someone tell me about her.

There has been times that I have toured the countryside around the perimeter of Bodie. To its east stands a large building on the top of the divide. That building attracted my curiosity on my first trip to Bodie, and I was astonished to find it was a railroad station. "A railroad in Bodie?" I marveled. Yes, there was a railroad in Bodie. But it was a paradox. It never went anywhere. It didn't quite reach Bodie proper, it never reached Benton. It tried desperately to reach out and reach civilizations far from the Mono Basin, but it had to settle for and be content with the fact that it was to be an ordinary lumber company tool, stuck in the confines of its little pocket of the great American west.

Over the years, too; I have slowly traveled bits and pieces of the Bodie & Benton Railway. I have seeked its discarded spikes through the incessant sagebrush, searching its length for adventure. And I have found it many times. Those bits and pieces eventually fleshed out until I have covered all of its mileage from the end of the Standard Mill spur, to the end of the track deep in the forest south of Mono Mills.

But the time to document my interpretation of it all has come, and this is the result of all that exploring; and two years of writers cramp, more exploring, digging through museums, begging for historical photos, tired eyeballs and late nights probing information, and wearing out a word processor. I hope that you enjoy a few moments reading about it. I certainly have enjoyed many years fulfilling it.


ANALOGOUS ADVENTURES ON THE BODIE & BENTON

by David A. Wright

Adventure can be found anywhere, anytime, and with anyone. Adventure seems to come unexpectedly; usually at a time that you really want to do something else, be somewhere else, be with someone else, or just be left alone. usually we don't recognize the adventure of it all until later; we're too busy being a grouch or a whining mess to realize that we could be having such a magnificent time having the adventure of a lifetime (you know the feeling ... "someday I'll just look back at this and laauugh!"), memories we could cherish throughout a lifetime. If we are with someone, such as a close friend; that adventure often strengthens the bonds of concord; and those memories are reminisced for years to come.


Former Bodie & Benton Railroad locomotive #3 shown at work at Owens Lake for the Inyo Development Company. David A. Wright collection, courtesy of Eastern California Museum.

 

Adventure can be found in the Mono Basin also. It is a place that is so magnificent in extent and space, that it could hold billions of cubic feet in adventure. Let's grab a couple of those episodes that hover there in the atmosphere, each of a separate era, but they embody the basic definition of adventure.

"Difficult Winter Trip"

"Trips could be very difficult, particularly in the fall and winter when working with reduced crews and before the railroad was all snowed in. Once in December 1910 it took five days to complete the 32 miles from Mono Mills to Bodie. This train consisted of an engine with a V-type snowplow on the pilot, a car of fuel wood for the Lime Kiln Station and two flatcars loaded with a gasoline engine and other equipment to be transferred to Bodie.

The first day a car jumped the track and the train had to return to the Mills. The next day trouble came a few miles north of Lime Kiln where the snow drifts were so deep that it was late afternoon before the train reached the high trestle eight miles from Bodie. From here on it was a case of bucking snow until the steam pressure dropped, shoveling snow into the tender to be melted by steam to provide more water for the boiler, then back again to bucking snow which became ever deeper as the train climbed the grade.

About midnight the one car still coupled to the engine jumped the track and had to be dropped, for it had begun to slide down the side of the canyon. The thermometer read twenty below zero and the four-man crew and two passengers huddled about the boiler in the engine cab to thaw out. When pressure dropped the engine stopped and out they would climb to clear the track, shovel snow into the tender and hunt for old ties under the snow for fuel. Ten minutes after leaving the cab their clothes would be frozen stiff.

By two in the morning the engine was completely stalled in a deep drift, four miles from the Bodie terminal. Now we had to make our way on foot, taking turns breaking a trail through the waist deep snow. Everyone was exhausted on reaching the terminal office. It took three more days to work the engine into the roundhouse. Water and fuel had to be hauled to it by sleigh and additional help was needed for clearing the track."

(as told by Emil W. Billeb in his book Mining Camp Days.)

Now let's move the clock onward 79 years. The Basin can still dish out some adversity and happened to discover another couple of easy marks. These happen to be myself and my closest friend Marty Wilson of Mammoth Lakes. Now Marty and I are seasoned in adventuresome living. We've shared plenty of episodes on our numerous camping and backpacking trips throughout Inyo/Mono and Nevada. Even while doing routine things in life, such as gathering firewood, we've gotten ourselves into some interesting situations. Nothing death defying really, usually a defying of all laws of a rational mind and sometimes laws of physics. Picture the bumbling antics of Laurel & Hardy and the Three Stooges, add the personalities of the Odd Couple (I'm Felix), and you pretty well sum up Marty and I.

This particular adventure came upon us as I was following the route of the Bodie & Benton Railroad conducting research and photography for this article and asked Marty to come along. I needed the use of Marty's 4x4 truck, and he hadn't had a chance lately to lock the hubs on it and give the front axle some exercise. His eagerness and my need were the two main ingredients to start this adventuresome pot brewing. Herein is the day's adventure, based upon notes and noises on my microcassette recorder:

 

"Difficult Winter Trip-part II"

Today, Marty and I traveled in his 4x4 along the route of the Bodie & Benton Railroad between Mono Mills on Highway 120 and Poleline Road (Highway 167).

We turned off at Mono Mills, the snow is about 6" deep. W explored Mono Mills, taking photos of that site for the story.

Continued north along a dirt trail, hoping to intersect the grade further north down along the lake. We found the railroad bed about two miles down, turned northeast to follow it until it crossed a small gulch that was too steep and sandy to cross with the truck. We attempted to follow the gulch, but got lost in the six foot high sage, took a wrong turn and wound up in the hills to the east. I did not bring my topo or Forest service maps. STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!

Area extremely sandy. Truck broke through the snow and down into blow sand. Got stuck, but managed to rock the truck out. Marty getting worried. I'm too busy trying to figure out where the heck the railroad is. Backtracked to another road back at the gulch, then turned west and north. We find a good road.

The road looked like it would take us to where we wanted to go, so we followed it northward. It suddenly veered to the west and dropped down through a chute through the bluff down to lake level, spitting us out onto the mud and muck along the old shoreline. The truck began sinking fast! Marty panics, gasses it, and tries to turn, but the truck almost buries its nose. The only way to keep Marty's new $18,000 truck from becoming fast food for the lake is to keep up speed and hope we can find the road again. We speed north, the truck lurching in all directions as it sinks then frees itself. Marty and I frantically are searching to find the way back through the barrier of sagebrush to road. Marty's head is so engaged in looking to the four winds, that he does not see the spring and small pond a few feet ahead. I do and yell. He slammed on the brakes, and the truck sinks in. He jammed the shift lever in reverse, the truck somehow frees itself. We bounce and jerk around backwards for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably three or four minutes. Finally, I spot a hole though the wall of sage, and Marty gasses it in that direction. The truck crashes tailgate first through the barrier, onto the road that we came in on. We are free! We stop for a chance to catch our breath and let the adrenaline chill out, then it was three cheers and a beer to celebrate our little victory!

We found another road that led north. Came upon an old abandoned log homestead. The road becomes much better now, stays up away from lake. The sagebrush is smaller. Marty and I are quiet, and I am gazing out the window to the east. Suddenly I realize that I am staring at an elevated alignment in the sagebrush and yell for Marty to stop. We dash over to the heap, and under the sagebrush lie railroad ties. Success! Three cheers and another beer!

Marty and I walked south along the grade. Each and every tie was in place, many broken off spikes, and a few whole ones. All whole spikes were still stuck in the ties. We walked the grade for approximately a mile and a half. At our turnaround point, I gazed at the sight of the grade as it continued on as far as I could see. It was crowned with ties.

We continued on to Warm Springs, and found a wye, which was once access to the original graded down to Black Lake; that proposed to eventually to become the Benton extension. After that plan was abandoned, it was used instead as a wye. It was there that Marty decided to get silly and wanted to jump his truck over the grade while I get a photo of the truck in the air. I told him that he shouldn’t, for fear that he would probably get the truck high centered on the grade. He is determined to do it anyway, my dire prophecy comes true. Right smack on the middle of the frame with two feet of daylight between all four wheels and Mother Mono.

Marty wasn't worried yet. He figured having four wheel drive, he could get it unstuck. But that was before he got out of his truck and saw the situation that he was in. Now Marty is worried. I figure that it wasn’t the end of the world and ask for tools, shovels and the jack. It was then I find out that we had no tools, shovels or jack. Now I'm worried. Marty had washed the truck the day prior and took all of them out, leaving them on his front porch, in Mammoth, 45 miles away. STUPID!! STUPID!! STUPID!!

The SUN was setting and it was getting cold, maybe in the 20's. We began frantic digging with our bare hands, as neither one of us had gloves. Marty began grumbling and calling himself names. I tell him to shutup and start digging; if it weren't for his stupidity, we wouldn’t be in this mess. That prompted him to begin calling me names. The dirt was very soft for winter and was fortunately not yet frozen. It was alkaline and very powdery. It amazed me with such consistency of soil that the grade is still intact after all these years.

Our task began to get dangerous, digging under Marty’s truck. It wanted to settle down and we risked getting our hands and bodies caught under it. There were still a few scattered ties laying around the area and used them to place under the wheels. The truck began to settle upon them, therefore we could proceed to dig the grade out from under it with more safety.

It was nearly dark and now quite cold. I asked for a flashlight, that was also back at Mammoth. Marty was getting worried about being stuck all night. He was not so much worried about cold, we had a heater and nearly full tank of gas; but we were out of beer, or something stronger. Our fears began to dissolve as the tires eventually settled onto the ties. We made several attempts to drive the truck off, no luck; the frame and transfer case were still hung up in the dirt. More digging, striving to rock the truck, darkness, stress.

Then, finally! Success! Three cheers and there is no more beer! We had been stuck For 2½ hours between entombment to freedom.


The Bodie & Benton Railroad depot at Bodie, CA. The depot was once off limits to the public, but in 1997 the State of California purchased acerage east of the Bodie townsite, which included the depot. It is now accessible on tours conducted during the summer. When I shot this photo in 1991, I was able to see the depot courtesy of the Galactic Mining Company. August 1991.

 

We drove out to Pole Line Road without incident. When we hit Lee Vining, we stopped at the lounge at Nicely's to toast our day. The locals, who seemed bored when we came in helped us celebrate, glad for a little excitement.

When we got back to Mammoth; Marty's wife, Julie, was a bit put off. With all of our frolicking we had missed a planned dinner and company. Marty and I just shook it off. The story would best be told under better conditions, we grabbed a bottle of wine and Julie, then we all jumped into the Jacuzzi. Ah!!! A Jacuzzi, good friends, good wine, great adventure; it don't get any better than this!

In each of these adventures, the participants could of had their days ruined by the whole situation. In both cases it could have even been life threatening. But the end of the matter brought the rewards of adventuresome living. Though the timing and other details of the adventures were different, there were similarities. Billeb and his comrades, Marty and I were stuck in a situation that we did not want to be in. We were left stranded by balky transportation. We were miles from home. We fought the elements, time, and the circumstance and we won.

After it was all over, I am positive that there was a celebration in Bodie back in 1910, possibly that it was in the Sawdust Corner Saloon a round or two of drinks were raised to celebrate the adventure.

In 1989, both in a Lee Vining tavern and in a Mammoth Jacuzzi, a private celebration soothed the aches, nerves, and fears that accompanied the potential calamity. But the recollection of these two adventures lived on among the friends that shared in them.


The Switchback

by David A. Wright

A graphic example of a switchback in Inyo/Mono would be two roads in southern Owens Valley. When in Lone Pine, look to the south and a bit west. Cast into the slope is the unmistakable trace of the Cottonwood Canyon road zigzagging its way up to Horseshoe Meadows at the head of Cottonwood Canyon.


The Bodie & Benton Railroad depot at Bodie. August 1991.

The other example can be seen from a vantage point north of Lone Pine. In the vicinity of the aqueduct crossing on US395 north of Lone Pine, you will plainly see the Whitney Portal Road with its solitary switchback.

In each case, as with the case of all highway switchbacks, is at the end of each climbing section a hairpin curve guides the ascending or descending vehicle onto the next section of roadway reversing direction of travel. Switchbacks are necessary in mountainous country, where convenient canyons with a reasonable gradient for a route are not available or practical.

In the case of American railroads, switchbacks are rare. Only a few narrow gage roadways of yesteryear in the Colorado Rockies frequently employed them. For the most part, railroad planners and builders would rather bypass a route difficult enough to require their use. The simple fact is that trains cannot climb very well. They have to keep their grades to a minimum in order to keep up momentum required to keep a long and heavy train rolling. Steel wheels against steel tracks also do not have a great amount of traction. And lastly, with exception to the Shay and Heistler geared locomotives that were used in extremely mountainous areas, locomotives are not geared like automobiles, enabling them to climb.

Locomotives do not ascend or descend their version of a switchback like an automobile. An automobile’s steering system easily enables it to maneuver a tight turn. Not so the locomotive and its string of cars. Because of their length, a tight curve would cause its flanged wheels to jump track, causing a derailment. So a simple run-off track at the end of each climbing section is required, with switches to roll the train onto them. (DRAW AN ILLUSTRATION FOR INSERTION HERE)

The run-off track needs to be long enough to hold an entire train. When the train reaches the switchback, either climbing or descending, it continues onto the run-off area to the end. The brakeman or conductor then will throw the switch so the train can back up the next section of track. When the next extremity is reached, the train again pulls onto the run-off section, the switch is again thrown, the train can now pull forward. These steps are repeated for however many switchbacks are required to lift the railroad up and over the obstacle.

The Bodie & Benton had only two switchbacks. These were required to climb out of the Mono Basin and into Bodie. From a distance, the Bodie Hills look gentle and rounded. But from a railroading standpoint, the elevation gained between the two points is every bit as severe as if it were a solid granite range.

Switchbacks, though necessary, have drawbacks. Trains had to be broken down into a smaller number of cars on each trip. The run-off tracks could only hold a short length of train. Another problem, too, is that of the switch being left in the opposite direction needed to run onto the run-off area. That caused a derailment now and then. Lastly, they added greatly to the mileage of the railroad, without gaining any real distance toward the goal. This can be seen in that the in-line distance between the top and bottom switchback is only ¾ of a mile apart, but a train had to travel over two miles between the two locations.


TROUBLE ABOARD THE "ORIENT EXPRESS"

by David A. Wright

Bodie was a mixing bowl of humanity and some had no tolerance for others. Add the ingredients of unemployment and liquor, the final product was usually a lot of vexation.

When the call went out for men to aid in the construction of the railroad, they considered the wage and foreign workers to be too much to bear.

The prevailing wage was $1.25 a day and the foreign workers were Chinese, the Chinaman was a hated race. A man could at that time make $4.00 a day in the mines, if he could find the work. The idle men who applied for railroad construction thought that they deserved better than a $1.25, and decided to use the Chinamam as a scapegoat to stir up a patriotic fever to coax higher wages out of the railroad's financiers. Superintendent Holt thought that placing the Chinese gangs down along Mono Lake would soften the situation, but white construction workers decided to go south to and stir up trouble.

Men met at the Miners Union Hall to whip up feverish and intoxicated hatred among themselves and others. Forty men left Bodie at l:00 o’clock in the morning to make a visit to the Chinese camp thirty miles south near Mono Lake. With only wagons, horses, and their own two feet to carry them, it would take a while. They had plenty of time to get their emotions all riled up, aided no doubt by liquor. When they got there one can imagine the dismay they must have felt when they found the Chinese camp abandoned. When the word reached them that the Chinamen had been moved by the company out to Paoha Island with a month supply of food via the little steamship Rocket and could look over to the island and see the American flag Flying from the Chinese camp, I don't think that I would want to be anywhere in the vicinity of that acrimonious platoon!

That mob did not manage to keep their intentions secret, even in view of their 1am departure. Back in Bodie, it attracted the notice of the daily newspapers, who berated the bunch. BLJT nothing calms the agitated sea of a provoked mob like empty bellies and empty bottles and these two things came to the rescue of the Chinese. By the end of the second day of the attempted siege, the ordeal was over and one by one the now sober, cold, and hungry mob returned to Bodie.

Superintendent Holt now got back to railroad building, but soon one man with an ax to grind tried to sharpen his skills with the Bodie Railway & Lumber Company, using the Chinese as a cover for the real issue he had with the company, that of low wages. It seemed that racial prejudice drew more recruits to his side more than the call of low wages.

But Superintendent Holt seemed to have his fill of such men and simply let 56 of them quit. And when their bellies started to growl that evening, two thirds of them saw the light (under the stew pot) and repented.

By then, the Chinese issue had run its course and from that point on, at least on the railroad building crew, no Chinaman was molested.


A LOOK AT MONO MILLS

By David A. Wright

The mill was the top priority in the entire project. Its completion was crucial to the speed of building the railroad, as well to filling need of lumber and cordwood in Bodie. When finished, it was the pride of the surrounding countryside. In the words of a reporter of the Weekly Standard News, October 12, 1881, the mill was "... one of the best on the coast." The paper also went on to describe the structure, saying: "The upper story of the building is on a level with the surrounding country, so there is no trouble whatever in rolling the logs into the mill." In describing the machinery inside it, he said "... logs are first passed through the upper and lower saws, which are fifty-four inches in size. There are three other saws in the mill -- one being a forty-four inch pony, and two cut-off saws."

The end result of all these saws is that in twenty minutes, one giant tree could be decimated into over a hundred railroad ties. Each mile of narrow gauge track required the entire daily production of the mill, or approximately 2,800 ties.


BODIE & BENTON TIME

by David A. Wright

Most railroads run by a timetable, which listed each station and the time that the train should reach it. A railroad company is usually strict about keeping that time. The Bodie & Benton, on the other hand, ran to the beat of its own drummer, never keeping a timetable.

One reason for the Bodie & Benton’s reluctance to keep such time was that the B&B was never a designated passenger carrier. But "designated" is the key word here, for many trains actually did carry people other than the train crew. It was a common sight to see anyone from the county sheriff to Indians sitting on an empty flat car or on top of a load of lumber or cordwood, hitching a quick ride from one end of the line to the other. The company also sponsored from time to time a picnic excursion from Bodie to the Mills. Folks would get all decked out in their Sunday best, ride an open flat car with an outhouse attached and get dust and soot and ashes from the stack on their finest. All then would enjoy a picnic among the pines of the Mills, a dance, then pack up for the ride back to Bodie.

But the B&B was chiefly a lumber road, an industrial railroad. The schedule called for a train to leave Bodie at 6:30 am and arrive at Mono Mills at 10 am. On the return trip it left the Mills at 2 p.m. Upon arrival at Lime Kiln Station, the train had to be broken up. The steep grades, plus the length of the switchbacks dictated how long the Bodie bound train could be. The locomotive would then shuttle back and forth between Lime Kiln and Bodie until the trainload of lumber completed its trip. It was then that the railroad would shut down for the night, awaiting resumption of activities in the morning.


 

ROLLING THROUGH THE ROLLING STOCK

by David A. Wright

A complete and working railroad requires rolling stock to take on its mission in life, the Bodie Benton no exception. Each railroad requires not only locomotives and tenders, but rolling stock of a variety of types to support its primary mission.

The B&B was destined to become a wood hauler, plain and simple. So its rolling stock reflected that duty. Thirty flatcars to haul lumber or logs, five logging cars, two pole cars, and a solitary caboose. No passenger accommodations graced the line, though that was planned to come if and when the line would connect with other railroads.

Of the locomotives, they were dubbed the Inyo, Mono, Tybo, and the Bodie. The Bodie, a saddle tanker, was a 0-4-2 built by Union Iron Works; the other three Mogul type 0-6-0’s. After situating the Mono and Inyo on the tracks, they showed a propensity to jump the rails on the tight curves leading to the Mono Basin, they were then modified to 0-6-2 configuration, a set of pony trucks were added to precisely guide them around.

A hand car was a common sight on railroads, one or two men could pump the handle and scoot along the route to make track repairs, or travel from point A to point B. It was laborious performing all that pumping, but it was certainly faster than the alternatives. With the advent of the automobile, many roads came up with the idea that if flanged wheels were attached in place of the auto’s wheels and tires, a suitable "speedster" or track car could be employed to get to and from locations along the route. The B&B was no exception. At first, a homemade contraption consisting of a handcar and a two cycle air cooled motor was fabricated, but soon was replaced by a larger Oldsmobile touring car.

The company did carry passengers periodically, but Pullman cars were not on the roster if one wanted to catch a quick ride to Mono Mills. Intermittently, group picnics to the woods would be chartered, its group members braved such extravagance such as a Flatcar with benches and a "chic sales" tacked on; supplimented by dust, soot, ash, and topped off with blue skies and grand vistas.

Railroads also require stationary devices. Most roads build depots, platforms, towers, tanks, bridges, trestles, engine sheds, roundhouses, shops, and various other fabrications. The B&B employed most of these too, but chose to keep them simple. On the hill above and east of Bodie, just out of limits to the modern visitor, can be seen the large office of the railroad. The railroad being of an industrial nature, this structure was not the ornate passenger depot that graced some of the B&B’s contemporaries.

There were no passenger depots along the route, simply because there were no official passengers to carry. Stations consisted of rudimentary shacks at Lime Kiln and Warm Springs. At Mono Mills, no depot was included among the buildings there; at the Bodie terminus, a stout two story building served as the railroad offices and crew quarters. The office was a solid construction to withstand the stormy conditions that strafe the hilltop. On the lower story was a large room that was utilized as an office. Next to it was a small office for the road's Superintendent. Behind them, a kitchen and a small spare room occupied the lower section of the building; while a wood shed and outhouse were enclosed within an addition tacked onto the side. The upper story contained one large room and four smaller bedrooms.

As for tanks, simply there was none along the route, with the exception of the termination at each end; one tank at Bodie, one at Mono Mills. A train had to make the trip each way with all the water it could carry in its boiler.

Though the grade ran across both mountain and plain, bridging was relatively infrequent. One large wooden trestle 250 feet across kept the track suspended 50 feet above the bottom of a large gulch near the foot of the Bodie Hills. Several smaller trestles jumped shallow voids along the route.

Shops for repair and fabrication were located at Mono Mills. Whenever something exceeding the capabilities of mechanics or machinery came along, then, as customary by all the Nevada and eastern California railroads, the Virginia & Truckee shops in Carson City were engaged to complete the task.

Like most of its small and isolated counterparts, the Bodie & Benton had limited funds to buy new equipment with regularity. By the turn of the century, all of the original locomotives were still on the thoroughfare. Worn out from the interceding years, all four visited the V&T shops in Carson City between 1908 and 1911.

Railroads
Mining & Geology
Ghosttowns
Old West Books
Native Americans
People
Message Board
Chat RoomHome

William Russell
Marty Wilson stands upon a stretch of the Bodie & Benton Railroad grade south of Warm Springs. We found on this section of grade every tie in place for over a mile. December 1991..Bob Haslam
A view out of a window of the Bodie & Benton Railroad depot to the nearby water tower. August 1998.
The Bodie & Benton Railroad grade in the Bodie Hills. October 1990.



[ Stage Routes | Railroads | Mining & Geology | Ghost Towns | Books ]
[ Native Americans | People | Message Board | Chat Room | Home | Contact Us ]
© 2000 atJeu Publishing