TO BODIE & BENTON MANUSCRIPTS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ADVENTURES ON THE BODIE & BENTON
David A. Wright
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
told by Emil W. Billeb in his book Mining Camp Days.)
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.
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:
Winter Trip-part II"
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).
turned off at Mono Mills, the snow is about 6" deep.
W explored Mono Mills, taking photos of that site for the
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!
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
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!
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!
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.
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
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!!
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.
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
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,
finally! Success! Three cheers and there is no more beer!
We had been stuck For 2½ hours between entombment to freedom.
& 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
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
David A. Wright
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
& Benton Railroad depot at Bodie. August 1991.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
ABOARD THE "ORIENT EXPRESS"
David A. Wright
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
then, the Chinese issue had run its course and from that
point on, at least on the railroad building crew, no Chinaman
LOOK AT MONO MILLS
David A. Wright
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."
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.
& BENTON TIME
David A. Wright
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.
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.
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.
THROUGH THE ROLLING STOCK
David A. Wright
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.