OUT AND TOUCH NO ONE
Of The Bodie & Benton
by David A. Wright
Mono Basin. It is a stark, interminable, and a lonesome
place. If you dare to wander the few paths east of the lake,
compound the above descriptions three-fold; for there the
mustang, sagebrush, piercing hush of the silent landscape
and the endless azure sky are dominant.
man's mind is the ability to forget. The past, lives of
men, women, and children of generations long ago; at times
tend to be forgotten, especially if that individual is one
who sees only the conspicuous and overlooks the subtle.
The Mono Basin is ideal for that person. It hides the surreptitious
with an everlasting vista that encompasses gentle, pastel
lines and coloration. There an individual can be truly solitary.
Minimal imprints of man are perceptible: an indistinct dirt
road, an infrequent jet trail, and the distant sight of
Lee Vining can be easily overlooked in the widespread vista.
That panorama sweeps mountains, lake, endless sagebrush,
tranquillity, and perhaps some cumulous clouds on a summer
day. One may survey the appealing scene and never grasp
that there the shadows of a age long ago lay at their feet,
concealed. Only the determined explorer will be rewarded
with traces of a time not long ago when the Basin was a
busy middleman in the affairs of a once industrious city,
itself hidden from view; and the supplier of its exigency.
the eastern region across the lake from what civilization
there is. Here the space engulfs, effectively dwindling
oneself to infinity. Pressing in all around is the ceaseless
sagebrush, profuse, head high or greater. One tends to feel
lost, claustrophobic, eagerly looking for landmarks to plot
a course. But look, there ... what is that? A gradient of
some kind! Is that a timber half buried in it? It appears
to be ... yes! It is an old weathered railroad tie! See
there! A spike is still embedded in it! Excitedly, your
eyes quickly scan ahead, and look! The subtle difference
in the shape and color of the sagebrush ... the gradient
continues on ... yes! There it goes ... on and on as far
as the eye can see! That cannot be a natural phenomenon;
no, it has to be man made ... it has to be an old railroad
bed! But ... out here?
this scene, the mind of an ideologue like myself can now
evanesce back in time, and with our figurative ears and
eyes, hear the sounds and see the apparition of an 0-6-0
Baldwin rumbling along steel rail; steam forcing giant pistons,
propelling large rods driving wheels of steel; the lumbering
locomotive gently rocking back and forth against worn flanges;
its stack pouring forth enormous clouds of smoke and soot;
lugging a payload of lumber piled high; all of this energy
and motion having taken place a generation ago on top of
this very hump.
the not too distant past, For nearly 40 years; it was not
an apparition. It was a verity, part of an era that belonged
to our grandfathers and great-grandfathers. The sounds of
mechanical and human activity broke the silence and the
sky was not so clear. There was ardent life at opposite
ends of the Basin. To the north was Bodie. Her stamp mills
and humanity pulsed the ground above, while her bedrock
below was honeycombed by the quest For gold and silver.
Bodie had many needs and vises, but there was two in which
she did not have the provisions easily at hand. Bodie liked
to smoke. She also needed braces. These were not the human
vice and craving, but a sustenance in which her very life
depended on. The smoke emitting from her furnaces, boilers,
stacks, and chimneys denoted that she was alive. Under her
enormous weight, she needed braces to keep her miners safe.
But her cupboards did not posses these supplies. Promptly
her eyes began to search.
scrutinized the country to the south, across the Mono Basin,
to the abundant stands of pine. There she began to fabricate
a small but animated camp to satisfy her, with the accouterments
upon which she could grow. The impact of her search reached
far into the woods for miles as man harvested the forest,
extracting from the ground another sort of gold, that of
cherished timber. Her provider was Mono Mills, inaugurated
on the edge of the timber storehouse to supply Madame Bodie.
The thread that tied these was a dual strand Of 60 pound
rail, 32 miles long.
was ravenous for gold and timber. Without the first, she
could not obtain the latter. Gold meant jobs, coin, food,
and whiskey. Timber supplied jobs, coin, food, and whiskey;
and also provided the necessities of warmth, shelter, and
safety. Critical to Bodie's survival, wood assured that
she was warm against the winter chill, the stamps to crush
the ore would continue to pummel and rock the town 24 hours
a day, and underground her miners would be safe.
had an abundance of gold and silver, but not that of timber.
Only the ever present sagebrush enhances her property; and
it was no good for anything except to cram into the woodstove
in a pinch for warmth. She needed timber for fabricating
her houses and businesses, for her woodstoves, to energize
her mills, to smelt her ore, to make the labyrinth carved
beneath her durable and trustworthy, and to outfit the home.
in her life, Chinese and Paiute laborers dispersed throughout
the meager stands of pinyon on the lower slopes of the Bodie
Hills to bring that compulsory commodity for her to consume.
They eked out a gaunt living supplying wooden gold to the
people of Bodie, to the professional and the layman. People
purchased the wood of this race, but hated their birthright
enough to segregate them to their little corner on the fringes
of town. Nevertheless these people were industrious men
and women, for by the fall of 1878, there lay on the ground
over 18,000 cords of wood piled in the pinyon belt on the
lower slopes of the Bodie Hills. But as Bodie matured, demand
far outgrew the supply; so eyes jealously began to be cast
south of Mono Lake to the vast forests of Jeffrey pine.
was enough cordage to supply the modest little hamlet that
Bodie was in her youth; but upon reaching puberty in 1877,
her growth escalated so much that she required her adult
daily requirement of timber; which increased with each citizen
that now suddenly streamed in daily to join the mad frenzy
of humanity, trying to cash in on her fabulous wealth. That
situation warrants a closer examination as to why Bodie
had such an insatiable appetite for wood; in the home, for
the home, for the mills, and underground.
a Fresh and Blossoming Bodie
primary incentive was the construction of Bodie. In the
budding days of the camp, before 1865, huts of sod and stone
along with a few dugouts satisfied the housing need in the
tiny camp. Bodie's growth was stunted then, because her
older sister Aurora collared all the devotion. But by 1877,
Bodie's growth accelerated. Buildings began to appear at
breakneck speed. As a result, this placed a mammoth strain
on the dwindling reserve of lumber hauled into the camp.
She was desperate for timber to gird her growing bones.
the next year, most of the old stone and sod dugouts began
to disappear to make way for more substantial new buildings
of lumber; totaling about 800 by the end of the year. Early
1879 brought another influx of humanity as the first bonanza
of Virginia City became borrasca and the excess population
headed down to Bodie. The feverish construction boom to
house and cater to these people propagated upward of thirty
buildings a day. The Daily Standard
of September 10th of that year claimed that all this impetuous
building produced a total of "fifteen hundred to two
thousand in the town proper, and about one thousand on the
'Hill' where are situated the mines."
consumption of wood not only meant the building of structures,
but also the construction of wooden sidewalks, poles upon
which were draped wires for the telegraph and later the
telephone, fencing, culverts, shoring, and the manufacture
of wooden implements such as wagons, cabinets, tubs, and
furniture. While Bodie's older sister Aurora declared her
adulthood with grand brick buildings; Bodie just consumed
more wood. Brick homes and businesses never really caught
on in Bodie, and only a few were built.
the pinnacle of her life, the enormous figure of architecture
that she possessed may startle those who gaze upon her now.
Two major fires; one in July of 1892, and another in June
of 1932; have diminished her to about 10% of her foregoing
self during her maturity. Back then, she sprawled throughout
the entire valley, even had a suburb of sorts to the southeast;
mining structures and dwellings were profuse on Bodie Bluff,
Silver Hill, and overflowed into the steppe east of the
saddle between them.
the Home Fires
contemplate wood use in the Bodie home. As in any town,
they came in all shapes and sizes, though none had any great
opulence like many of her richer neighbors; an example,
the great mansions of Virginia City. However the small commonplace
laborer's shack, the mine superintendent's house, the merchant's
store, and the banker's unpretentious home were all besieged
by Bodie weather; a region in which has been described by
Mark Twain as possessing but two seasons, "the breaking
up of one winter, and the beginning of the next."
in your mind the image of the ordinary Bodie laborer, huddled
around a small sheet iron stove; inside his inferior shack,
merely a fraction larger than a Sears & Roebuck metal
storage shed that may grace your back yard, and about as
well insulated. Toss in a cold night, perhaps after a snow
storm has departed and frigid air plummets into Bodie Bowl;
dropping the mercury to say, -20ļ or so. His little stove
will devour a ceaseless supply of firewood, while his little
uninsulated shack will first roast, then cool to a refrigerated
chill. It is no wonder, then, that he prefers the warm fires
of the saloon and the whiskey after a long day down in the
the business owner. He may have a large, cavernous building,
with a lofty ceiling. With his woodstove ablaze, he struggle
to keep the building warm against the zephyr driven snow
as customers wander in and out. Often the door gets left
open, and the wind and snow blows in unabated; while the
heat obtained by strenuous means, floats out into the arctic
wealthier society, even though their homes were fairly plush;
those newspaper stuffed walls did not have copious insulation
that is our privilege today. Their stoves were not airtight
such as ours may be; and those stoves had a voracious appetite.
baroque parlor stoves that we often lust over when seen
in the antique shops ravenously gobbled wood when the mercury
sank out of sight. The cheap little sheet iron stoves of
those of lesser means took less to fill, but gave up heat
in a flash; requiring ever more wood to keep the uninsulated
there was the cook stove. The little lady did not have our
contemporary conveniences of instant oatmeal or a box Of
Super-Sugar-Frosted-Chocklit-Gut-Bombs to serve for breakfast,
nor could she have her husband and kids grab lunch at McFastFood;
and then finish off her day by popping in a microwave pizza
for dinner. She prepared her family three squares a day,
moreover she usually baked other delectables in between.
The kitchen stove did double duty by aiding the parlor woodstove
in heating the home. She had to chop her own wood. She had
to haul it in. And she lit it with paper and match. She
was not privileged in turning the knob to ignite coils or
flame. That liberty came latter in Bodie history, and then
only the wealthier could afford one of those temperamental
things in their early stages. Since firing the woodstove
was so tedious and the warmth provided by that stove was
needed, the missus usually kept it burning around the clock.
Colossal Fire Within Her Heart
there were the mills. Those mills ran on power supplied
by steam propelled engines of huge proportions. They also
ran around the clock. Those boilers required colossal amounts
of cordwood to create and keep a head of steam. Even though
the use of wood in the home tapered off during the warmer
months (though summer nights in Bodie are seldom above freezing),
the amount of wood required to run a mill remained constant
throughout the year.
great mills in Bodie's mature years were the Standard, the
Syndicate, the Bechtel-Bodie, The Miners, the Standard-Bulwer,
the Noonday, the Spaulding, the Silver Hill, and the Bodie
Tunnel Company mills. The more stamps they had, the larger
the engine needed to run the mill. The larger the engine,
the more wood needed to feed it.
for example, the Standard Mill. It had two 54 inch boilers,
driving a 125 horsepower steam engine with a 18" bore
or cylinder, and a 36" stroke. An average engine of
today's automobile displaces about an eighth or less of
that. The crankshaft of those giant pistons connect with
a large flywheel to keep that cranky device spinning. Compared
to the flywheel of a modern V-8 engine that is around two
feet in diameter, the Standard's flywheel had an eighteen
foot diameter and weighed 17,000 pounds.
typical mill steam engine ran a variety of objects within
the mill. The Standard's engine ran not only the stamps,
but also a large lathe, drills, feeders, various heating
duties, China pumps; and powered a 2,500 foot long tramway
from the mine.
Noonday mill had an even larger power generating plant,
with a 350 horsepower steam engine; requiring three boilers
a bit larger than the Standard's. The engine's flywheel
weighed 36,000 pounds. Imagine the amount of boiling water
heated by wood, needed to generate the required steam, enough
to create the energy to spin the equivalent weight of nine
Cadillacs at 60 revolutions per minute!
a Leg to Stand On
ground beneath Bodie was literally perforated through with
a maze of tunnels that ran off in every direction. To make
these tunnels safe required more timber. For the protection
of the miners, these needed bolstering against cave in.
To provide the prop, hefty timbers were the favorite means
of safeguard. A timbering system developed on the Comstock,
called square set, was the favorite system used. This system
looked similar to a crate. It used heavy timbers, with upright
braces about five feet apart, set the width of the tunnel,
and timbers set upon them. These were usually 8"x10"
to 12"xl2", and then lined with 2" lumber.
It All Adds Up To
have doubtless come to the conclusion that Bodie had an
insatiable appetite for timber, and that it had to be imported.
The pinyon forests of the lower Bodie Hills were not able
to supply sufficient cordwood for heating, building, shoring,
and the mills in her maturity. The cost of wood and lumber
from outside the district was becoming increasingly prohibitive
for it to be hauled in. It was clear that a reasonable means
of procuring lumber and cordwood was needed -- and soon.
problem cropped up too: isolated Bodie wanted to visit distant
friends and family. She reasoned that any solution that
could satisfy her appetite for wood could also fill her
need to mingle.
In The Iron Horse!
February 18, 1881, the Bodie Railway & Lumber Company
was organized in San Francisco; its sole purpose in the
beginning to deliver wood to the town. The company also
had rights cut timber and operate a saw mill. It's principal
commanders in surveying and construction were Thomas Holt,
superintendent; and J.T. Oliver, who was responsible for
the engineering of the Carson & Colorado Railway; which
was still under construction at the time. Surveys took a
short time. Originally the thought of running the railroad
along the western shore of Mono Lake was entertained so
that the Lundy district could be serviced.
What A Start!
hopes in Bodie fueled the desire for expeditious construction
of the railroad. Townsfolk happily looked forward to an
immediate drop in firewood prices, mill owners could foresee
consistency in supply and their prices lowered. But things
were changing in Bodie, and the coming of the railroad was
just one of them. And some surly ones didn't like it.
were happening that were not immediately noticeable. As
happens, the same thing common to all towns whose economy
is based on the fickle glitter of precious metals, Bodie's
boom was breaking. First to pick up those subtle signals
are those who make their living off of others: gamblers,
the keepers of the faro and keno tables, prostitutes, and
panhandlers. They followed the excited rush to all the boomtowns
throughout the west, to ply their trade for a fleeting moment,
grab the money, and run. Next to go were the men who are
deemed excess employees, their employers realizing that
expenditure on their payrolls are eating too big a hole
in their profits. Idle hands, they say, make the Devilís
heart glad. He must have been delirious manipulating Bodie.
previously mentioned, some people in Bodie were prejudice
against other races and nationalities, and Bodie was a great
mixing bowl. Along with those ingredients, there was added
others, such as the increasing unemployment, idle troublemakers,
abundant liquor, pseudo-patriotism, and hatred. Add all
these elements together and whip into a froth. The results
was one hot and spicy picnic.
picnic began with the commencement of railroad construction.
Ads began to appear in the newspapers of Thomas Holt offering
$1.25 a day and boarding to fabricate the railroad. Being
an increasing amount of unemployment in town, a couple of
hundred men showed up to take the offer, many of them Chinese.
A good miner could make $3 to $4 daily then - if he could
find a job - and this wage was insulting to the white men
of the gang. Having to work with a Chinaman to boot, well,
that was just too much for some prides to bear.
picnic began to spice up as a mob formed of these hot heads
in the night at the Miners Union Hall. Higher wages and
the elimination of the Chinese workers was their goal, and
as the evening wore on and they became thoroughly "likkered"
up, they set out to the construction camps populated by
Chinaman to reek havoc. But somebody tipped off the foremen
down in the Basin that trouble was brewing and to get the
Chinese workers to safety. So, as the picnic got going real
good, it got ruined by rain and ants. The mob ran out of
the necessary ingredient required to keep the frothy head
of rebellious racial hatred. Eventually, they ran out of
liquor. The lack of liquor caused the pangs in their bellies
to be felt a little more intensely as their once pickled
brains sobered up. Everyone left the ruined picnic despondent.
(See sidebar article "Trouble Aboard the 'Orient Express"')
Ahead, Over The Edge
builders could once again get on with the business of building
a railroad. The call was put out For men to build it, be
they white or Chinese. Any man who showed up at company
headquarters requesting a job would have it. Grading began
to advance at a breakneck pace. Grading was started at Bodie
near the Mono Mine, while other grading teams were spread
out at various other points along the proposed route. The
smooth plain of the Mono Basin allowed an easy task, and
grading went swiftly. Soon rails could be spiked to ties.
At that time, a used locomotive was secured from the Eureka
& Palisade Railroad in Nevada came in by teams from
Hawthorne to be placed in service as a construction locomotive.
Ten miles of rail and three additional locomotives were
grading in other places was not easily accomplished. There
was the plummet that would drop the railroad over two thousand
feet into Mono Basin. There the engineers who designed the
road had to do their homework to ease the route without
steep grades and sharp curves. A locomotive climbing up
the grade just cannot drop it in low gear and let horsepower
do its job in lugging the load uphill. With a train heading
downhill, the engineer just does not rest his foot lightly
on a brake pedal with power boosting while easily maintaining
a safe speed. The designers of the route had to shrink-fit
that ribbon of steel, molding it to each sagebrush covered
contour that would ease it on down to the plain below. And
that required some tricks up their sleeve, such as trestles,
twists, and a pair of switchbacks.
groups of workers were busy grading roads into the woods
in search of the big trees to supply Bodie's appetite. And
the cornerstone for the planned mill of exceptional proportions
was laid. The planned mill and community of Mono Mills was
instrumental, for it would Feed the activity of railroad
building and feed Bodie's insatiable appetite combined.
Light, Green Light
mile of rail also required 352 rails, each thirty Feet long.
During this era in history, there were shortages of steel
and iron. Railroads were still a novel mode of transportation,
the only rapid transit system available. Especially in the
west, where towns popped up like spring wildflowers, railroad
magnates jumped at the opportunity to be the first to serve
each thriving community with steel wheels. However, this
newfangled method of travel was being fabricated at such
a tremendous pace all over the country, that the steel was
being gobbled up faster than it was produced.
little unknown corporation building a railroad out West
just couldnít get any consideration over the Crocker's and
Hunnington's, who were sinking their steel roots into the
American soil and spreading iron branches across the American
landscape. Imagine the finagling that Mr. Holt must have
had to do to acquire the rail necessary to complete merely
the mainline to the woods, let alone enough for spurs, sidings,
and any attempt at connecting with the outside world. This
was in an age before telephones and FAX'S. A mad rush across
town to telegraph a message to manufacturers often resulted
in a negative response. Imagine the stress he must have
felt upon hearing word that a shipload of rail bound for
the layers sink in transit, only a quick plea to borrow
from the Central Pacific and the Carson & Colorado (which
was at that time only partially constructed) resulted in
enough rail to edge a little closer to the timber stands.
Even though the big mill down at Mono Mills was pumping
out plenty of wood ties and the graders were finished with
their jobs, the task of spiking rails to those ties was
subject to numerous delays.
Last! A Railroad ... Sort Of
eventually project began to flesh out, and though the road
was not quite complete, there was enough rail on the ground
for a locomotive to make the trip from Bodie to Mono Mills,
31.74 miles by steel ribbon away. An event like that was
not overlooked by the newspapers, and the description of
the railroad was vividly given by the Weekly Standard-News
of August 10 and October 12, 1881. Its description gives
us some insight of the job that was tackled in this land
of basin and range: "The train started about half past
nine a.m. and was soon winding about among the hills on
its way to the valley below. The constant changes of scene
and variety of views render this part of the route quite
picturesque." The grade as it began to make its drop
over the side of the Bodie Hills was ... "very steep
... many turns that are made around the hills ..."
dropping the railroad two hundred feet to the mile, for
a gradient of 3.8%, steep by railroad standards. As the
reporter continued on, he came upon "... the first
switchback and about a mile and a half further is the second
and only other one on the road. Between these two points
trains have to be backed both going down and coming up.
Two miles beyond by the-railroad rout, and only three quarters
of a mile direct, there was a great deal of heavy work done.
Deep cuts had to be made in many places and considerable
filling had to be done .... A trestle work was built 260
feet in length and 50 feet deep ..." (see sidebar
article "The Switchback")
the train was safely down on the basin floor, he noted that
"Mono Lake soon came in view with its solitary islands
and its mountain-ringed basin ... The Lime Kiln station
is at the bottom of the grade twelve miles From Bodie and
twenty and one-half from the Mills ... From this point on,
the track runs over a comparatively level plain ... About
five miles from the Mills is a station ... at which are
the Warm Springs. Here the little steamboat Rocket [the
same one used to transport the Chinese to safety on Paoha
Island] has been hauled up on shore... In ten miles and
a quarter the timber is reached and the sweet odor of pine
and the aroma of fresh sawdust reminds that he is a long
way from Bodie. Here everything is life and activity and
quite a little town has sprung up."
8, 1881 was a notable day for Bodie. For the first time
the sound of a locomotive whistle was heard in downtown
Bodie. It caused a hush in town among the townspeople, but
scared horses silly. One team with a wagon took off careening
all over town, causing people to dive for cover into stores
last spike of the main line (there were still no sidings
or spur tracks because of the rail shortage) was driven
at 3pm Monday, November 14, 1881. Bodie reveled, blasting
every whistle in the camp. The town paraded up to the hilltop
to the beat of the towns brass band. Amid much speech making,
the four little engines were christened with the names Inyo,
Mono, Bodie, and Tybo. With that, to wild cheers, they steamed
off to the wilds of southern Mono Basin.
the end of the day, a train with two cars of lumber for
the Standard Mine came in. Superintendent Holt arranged
a big turkey dinner for the company workers and invited
guests. The editor of the Free Press proclaimed
that Bodie was now "the terminus of an important railway
aspiration indeed! In spite of the fact that the railroad
was largely incomplete, and that those rails were not to
be found anywhere near town. Rails and all railroad activity
lay neatly out of sight over the saddle between Bodie Bluff
and Silver Hill in the next valley east of Bodie Bowl, an
often strenuous Ĺ mile climb from downtown Bodie. However
the line was built initially as a primary source of wood
and to that end it began to fill that service well.
the railroad was placed in operation, there was great activity
in Bodie and in the Mono Basin. Each day, trains of ten
to twelve cars of lumber and wood were hauled into Bodie
bound for their various destinations. When rail became available,
a spur dropped over the saddle between Bodie Bluff and Silver
Hill and into Bodie to the Standard Mill, and soon the area
behind the mill was full of cordwood.
Out and Touch No-One
that the mainline to the timber was finished, Bodie felt
the need to step out of the isolation that she felt, hemmed
in by the little bowl she was cradled in on the wrong side
of the Sierra. Superintendent Holt began procuring any rail
he could get his hands on, borrowing from the Central Pacific
and the still under construction Carson & Colorado,
so that plans to expand could begin.
plans were made to connect the road with other towns and
cities of importance. The Carson & Colorado Railway
was had laid its rails as far as the south end of Walker
Lake, only 35 or so miles away from Bodie, plated out a
town, christening it Hawthorne. The only other easy target
for steel rails from Bodie was Benton, at that time a vying
with Bodie to be the largest and most influential town in
Mono County. The builders of the Carson & Colorado had
just recently abandoned their plans to continue building
their road southeast through the vicinity of Silver Peak
and southward to the Colorado River in the vicinity of Fort
Mohave, north of Needles. Instead, in response to competition
who was eyeballing the eastern California mining areas;
they decided to swing over the state line with their sights
set on Benton and Cerro Gordo, the latter getting thinner
by the day, but still pumping out a goodly amount of silver
Benton in the C&Cís aim, the railroad company celebrated
and changed its corporate title to the Bodie & Benton
Railway and Commercial Company. Holt ordered surveys and
then commissioned the grading to Benton to begin.
winter coming on, the railroad would hibernate for the duration
of the season. The task of the little railroad bucking all
that snow would be too great to profitably make a run For
it. The company bean counters spent the winter reviewing
the progress made by the road, its profitability, and looking
at the plans for the future. It looked good, real good.
So with those results announced to the population, they
spent the winter dreaming of the chance to travel by comfortable
and swift means, hobnobbing with friends and family in such
metropolitan places such as Virginia City, Carson City,
Reno, San Francisco, and even onward to New York and the
addition to such dreams, word reached town that Bodie was
proposed to become a destination of several railroads. The
Carson & Colorado entertained the thought of sending
out a tentacle that way from Hawthorne (it ended up at the
foot of Lucky Boy Grade, becoming a spur to the pinyon belt
as a source of fuel for the locomotives). On the other side
of the Sierra, promoters in the Bay Area had their eyes
peeking over at the rich ground east of the Sierra crest,
and then created the California & Nevada Railroad, to
build from Berkeley, with Bodie as a goal. That would have
been a formidable task, plans were to build the grade up
the general route now occupied by Highway 108 (Sonora Pass
road), with a tunnel drilled through the Sierra granite
under Sonora Pass.
the winter gave way to spring, the railroad reopened to
the task at hand of restocking those depleted supplies of
wood and work began on creating the exit route to Benton.
The dreams of promise became more intense with each mile
of tilled earth that fill the newspaper each day. But the
reality of the present situation that of a railroad to nowhere
was nearly in sight, and definitely within earshot. The
locomotive whistles each day taunted the townspeople, as the
railroad busily went on with its business. Bodie's lumberyards
were filling rapidly, so was the cordwood pile behind the
Standard and other mills. But, alas, it just wasn't good
enough. Like an anxious child just dying to play with its
new toy, Bodie wanted those bright, brassy locomotives pulling
up into town, destination to wherever they wanted to go.
balloon popped. Suddenly, without warning and no reason
officially given, Holt called a halt to the grading, the
course of freshly tilled earth stopping at the small body
of water called Black Lake, just over the rocky hill west
of Benton. No word was given as to why the sudden stop of
work. Of many opinions expressed as to why the sudden change
of corporate heart, one stands up to reason. Simply, there
would be too much competition. The parent companies of the
Bodie & Benton and the Carson & Colorado Railroads
were primarily in the lumber business. The C&C's parent
company, the Virginia & Truckee, had extensive timber
rights and mills in the Lake Tahoe region, and the C&C's
responsibility would be to deliver lumber to the mining
camps it served, then bring back ore to be treated by the
huge mills in the Virginia City and Carson River areas,
delivering the resulting product to the outside world via
the V&T and the Central Pacific.
railroad companies would, in effect, cancel each other out.
Mono Mills was larger than the Tahoe lumbering mills, it
being closer to the southern end of the proposed route of
the C&C would corner the southern end of the market.
Likewise, the large ore treating mills at Bodie could sap
the coffers of the big kings that manipulated the economy
of Bodie's northern neighbors.
Over, Time To Face Reality
The railroad started nowhere and ended nowhere. The office
and depot was over the hill and didn't serve the town. The
end of the line was out in the woods. The population was
still stuck in the bowl, miles from nowhere. The stagecoach
was still the only reasonably safe and expedient means to
get out, and a rough and dusty way to go at that. As the
summer progressed, events that had started the previous
year, culminated in such a way as to ensure that stage was
often filled to capacity with those anxious to get out of
town. Bodie herself, once fat with throngs of humanity,
was now thinning. She was loosing her touch, her short time
in the limelight singing the siren song had ended. Fewer
folks hang around to care if the handsome and brassy locomotives
would ever roll into town.
the Benton arm severed before it fully formed, the railroad
proceeded with its assigned task, that of building up the
piles of wood and lumber. That it did in its own unassuming
way, monotonously transporting carloads of products from
and Her Railroad Become Feeble
those who were purchasing were dwindling. By the end of
1882, about a third of the work force was unemployed. During
1883, fifteen more mines closed down; most of them located
on the southern end of the town. Many of the men left town
for rich strikes in Tombstone and other promising locations
in the West.
type of lumber industry began to perk up by 1883, and it
didn't profit the Bodie & Benton one bit. Instead, in
an indirect way, the Carson & Colorado Railroad did.
With the expiring of many of the mining companies, many
miners left houses and many former business owners moved
out their stock and left the building for sale, or simply
left it. What were once prime properties were selling for
pennies on the dollar of their original exchange. Buildings
were becoming vacant throughout town, especially on the
south end. Those miners who lived in that end of town and
were still employed by the Standard and a few other north
end mines took up residence in buildings they could newly
afford in what was once the more affluent neighborhoods.
Those who were still in business down that way likewise
moved uptown to where the buildings clustered around the
Standard, knowing there would be more traffic to come through
their doors. In one such instance, a once proud building,
the former Mono County Bank, became a humble shoe store.
mined from these forfeited homes kept a few dollars in the
pockets of those laid off by the mines. The south end of
town began to disappear, only to reappear over in Hawthorne,
Nevada, where the composers of the Carson & Colorado
had recently created a nice little city to mark a division
point for its brassy little engines.
left unemployed by the mines and mills probably got another
perverted sort of revenge. Their demise provided additional
lumber and machinery to be hauled off. Just as many of the
Bodie's mills were hauled in from dying Virginia City; the
tables were once again turned, and it was time to move on.
The machinery from the Noonday Mill was hauled off to Montana,
its buildings hauled off with it as far as Hawthorne; the
Silver Hill Mill made it as far as Aurora; the Miner's Mill
ended up high in the Sweetwater Mountains above Bridgeport.
folks remained in town to keep the trains running for the
rest of the decade; supplying cordwood for the town and
the Standard Mill, and a bit of lumber to patch up remaining
buildings about town. Times were definitely on the wane,
and the rails began to loose their burnished shine. This
period became so bad, some folks began to burn more than
cordwood; they torched their homes and businesses to collect
what they could from the insurance, or to avoid taxes. The
future looked grim for the health of the Bodie & Benton;
and in 1890, it went into a coma.
Technology Pumps Now Life Into The Old Gal
high tech operations were pioneered in Bodie that revived
the comatose railroad that ran nowhere. Oddly enough, the
first of these should have killed the railroad instantly.
But these important developments and a major fire brought
new people to town, and provided a fresh inducement for
those who stayed; once again creating the need for lumber.
years after the cessation of railroad activities, a fire
broke out in the kitchen of a restaurant on Main Street.
Flames lit up the early morning darkness as men ran to the
hose carts. The fire jumped the street and soon the whole
of the Bodie business district was ablaze. When the hydrants
were turned on, no water came out. it looked hopeless. It
was feared that all of Bodie would be lost. Fortunately,
a valve was found closed and so was opened, a stream of
water shot from fire hoses. Bodie would be saved. But Main
Street from the Miner's Hall to the Bodie Bank (virtually
the same area as the 1932 fire) lay smoldering by dawn.
There were still enough people and activity in town to require
its rebuilding, maybe enough to reactivate the railroad.
many buildings on back streets were empty, and these were
moved onto Main. The town appeared badly shrunken from its
sprawling appearance prior to the blaze. It was deemed that
the makeshift reshuffling of the townís buildings was sufficient
to deal with the needs of the rebuilding the town, so the
boilers in the locomotives stayed cold.
after the big fire, the first of the new technologies would
come to Bodie. The locomotives were still slumbering on
their sidings on the hilltop in 1892 when the theory of
shocking Bodie out of her unhealthy condition came to a
couple of Bodie's worried Fathers. That concept in itself
should have exterminated the railroad. Electricity would
eliminate the need for the wood in which to create the flames,
to heat the water, which would create steam, creating energy
to drive the pistons, which caused spinning of the shafts,
therefore lifting the stamps, resulting in crushed ore.
To run a railroad simply to fill the wood piles for a few
hundred woodstoves would just not put black ink on the bottom
Legett and James S. Cain caught word of a newfangled way
to harness electricity and use it gainfully. The creation
of power by means of hydroelectricity was new technology,
and it had never been tried to transmit it over long distances.
Legett and Cain reasoned that it could be done, and furthermore,
they speculated that it could be profitably used to pump
new life and profits into the aging Standard Mill and Bodie.
site over on Green Creek was selected to build a small hydroelectric
plant, a small dam was built to create a reservoir that
was and still is called Dynamo Pond. Because distribution
of electricity was so unknown, there was speculation that
any deviation from a straight line would cause power to
jump off into the air and be lost. So the line was run straight
as possible, even vertically over the terrain; using high
poles in the gulches, and short poles on hilltops. The Standard
Mill was temporarily shut down, while electric motors, switches,
and generators were installed to take the place of the steam
the big day came. Word was telegraphed to Green Creek, water
was diverted into the Pelton Wheel, and everyone's breath
was held in anticipation. At Dynamo Pond, large wheels began
to spin, needles on archaic gauging devices quivered. At
Bodie, a large crowd had gathered to see if Legett and Cain
were the fools that some felt they were. There, switches
were thrown and slowly, motors began to vibrate. Eager eyes
watched them as they then began to hum, then speed up to
a steady spin. A celebration of back-slapping, tossing hats,
and christening of a spinning electric motor with a bottle
of champagne (that in itself should have been an "electrifying"
experience) took place among the jubilant crowd that had
gathered to witness "Legett's Folly."
and his men went on to be hosted the world over for their
engineering success. They were eventually asked by the British
government to operate for them and they built hydro plants
throughout the British Empire. The use of electricity in
the Standard Mill reduced the dependency on wood to nothing.
The transformation was a complete success, shrinking the
cost to its owners and inflating the profits. Cain later
invested in other properties where power plants were later
built - Lundy, Jordan, Silver Lake, Lee Vining Canyon -
and he became a wealthy man. Throughout the celebrating,
though the money flowed, Bodie & Bentonís little locomotives
still sat up on the hill; iron rusting, brass tarnishing.
years later, still riding the wave of success, Cain decided
to apply another new technology that he had heard about
being developed down under in Australia. Leaching ore with
a solution of potassium cyanide was found to extract gold
out of the rock, even microscopic bits, and could greatly
increase the profitability picture as well. Suddenly, all
old tailing piles throughout the entire region looked golden
to miners eyes, and a large cyanide plant was built. Oddly
enough, it was this booster shot in Bodie's arm that rekindled
the fires in the four little locomotives.
of 1895, the locomotives once again descended the switchbacks
for the run across the basin to Mono Mills, under the corporate
title of Bodie Railway & Lumber Company (identical to
the original title); filling their rolling stock with lumber
and cordwood to replenish Bodie. At that time, the once
great forests east of the Mono Craters was thinning from
the previous years of once feverish wood cutting activities.
So an additional four miles of track was built into the
herself was a bit skinny, but still very much alive. She
continued to crave her vices, though her needs reduced,
it was barely enough to keep those trains running down to
Mono Mills and back. By 1897, about 600 residents kept eight
saloons and twelve stores in town, 140 children were learning
the "3-R's" at the schoolhouse. A few Chinese were
living in Chinatown and running a limited amount of business
there, a few red lanterns were hanging up Bonanza Street.
Business was kept alive by the Standard, the Bodie Tunnel,
and the Syndicate mines.
1898 came, and with it came fire once again to Bodie. The
Standard Mill, the dominant sight in town, went up in flames.
But, electricity and cyanide came to its rescue; it was
deemed worthy enough to rebuild it to the present sheet
iron form that it still carries to this day.
the 20th Century
herself had gained a little of her weight back at the turn
of the century. The 1900 census showed that there were 800
people living in town. Of them, 235 single miners kept what
saloons there was in business, also keeping a couple of
red lanterns burning. Only a handful of Chinese were left
in town by then, their stormy mistreatment of years past
quieted. The school house still rang with the gleeful shout
of children, the few stores were still doing business. The
US and Occidental Hotels catered to the traveler, a doctor
cared for the sick and injured, the Post Office delivered
the mail, Wells Fargo carried funds and coin safely; these
funds still passing over the counter and were snug in the
vault of the Bodie Bank. There were still plenty of woodstoves
to fill each winter, but by and large, Bodie was slowly
giving up her smoking habit.
Bodie Railway clung to life as the century turned, but it
was aging fast. Little revenue was gained, no money was
spent on repairs or rebuilding. There certainly seemed to
be no place to go, and no money to get there with. A contraption
that would eventually spell the end of many a short line
railroad came to Bodie on June 12, 1905, in the form of
a cranky beast prone to flat tires called the "horseless
carriage." To operate a railroad as a corporation was no
longer economically feasible. The line was finally leased
to a private operator named Reese, who managed a meager
living supplying Bodie's wooden needs.
after 1901 things began to look a lot brighter, this being
after the results of Jim Butlerís jackass shenanigans at
a place he dubbed Tonopah began to fill a lot of coin purses
and make a rich dessert for those who were shrewd enough
to invest wisely. That was immediately topped with the golden
icing of the Goldfield district. The whole region of central
and southern Nevada, along with eastern and southeaster
California got taken up in the giant whirlwind that turned
over each and every loose rock from Steamboat to Searchlight,
between Mojave and Minerva.
felt some of the backwash from that feverish activity. On
the road to Hawthorne, where countless hooves, boots, and
wagon wheels traveled, the Lucky Boy Mines created a new
town. New interest in the old and decaying Aurora District
sent a new wave of miners probing there and on into Bodie.
Tailing piles from old and played out mines were fair game,
each able to give up riches from rock thrown out by men
decades ago without the new technology.
1906, a man by the name of Charles E. Knox, who had established
wealth and fame as the president of the Montana Tonopah
Mining Company and a member of the Board of Directors of
the Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad, took interest in the
little railroad in general, and the vast acreage of timber
that it tapped in particular. In their visions, they could
see long strings of lumber cars towed with big engines of
the Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad, the galaxy of mining
towns in the universe of Nevada their destination. They
devised a plan in which the Bodie Railway would receive
T&G locomotives and rolling stock, including passenger
coaches, as part of the buyout. Their visions soon were
embraced by Bodie's inhabitants as this transaction would
possibly mean that brassy engines would be pulling onto
Main Street with destinations far and wide via the B&B,
C&C, and the T&G.
original plan was to build a line from Mono Mills eastward
to link up with the T&G/C&C common line at Sodaville,
Nevada. Just south of that site (it being approximately
3Ĺ miles south of Mina, Nevada) at a desolate spot on a
dry lake, a station called Tonopah Junction was put on the
map so that the T&G and C&C could part ways; the
T&G ran off into the barrens to reach the remote cities
of Tonopah and Goldfield; the C&C climbed over Montgomery
Pass to get its foot into the green pastures of Owens Valley.
capital to incorporate the T&G and the B&B did not
come, but Knox was not a man to give up. During 1908 and
1909, surveys and reconnaissance trips were made over the
hilly region around Anchorite Summit, through Whiskey Flat,
and over the Excelsior Mountains into Sodaville. Steep grades
and problems of surveying the region in the deep snows of
winter caused the abandonment of that idea. Another attempt
to run the line via Tonopah Junction amounted to much the
additional attempts to connect Bodie with Tonopah and the
world was tried, Basalt and Coaldale eyed as a terminus,
utilizing much of the original Benton extension grade to
run Bodie locomotives. This had its own set of problems
too, and finally the respective companies decided to sit
down and think it over to see if it all was really worth
it. But Knox was still working at it and began to spread
news that the line would tie in at Mina. Unfortunately,
it all came to naught, and the Tonopah interests forgot
the whole affair.
though the Bodie Railway stayed a stunted railroad, it still
was a useful tool when the first decade of the 20th Century
was through. In 1912, Aurora started to boom with the construction
of the huge facilities of the Aurora Consolidated Mining
Company by Jesse Knight of Provo, Utah. The mill was stationed
outside of the old town of Aurora, and a suburb of sorts
built up around the mill called Mangum. Old dwellings and
businesses were refurbished at the Aurora townsite, new
houses sprang up in between; and at the Mangum site new
buildings appeared. Mangum was to be a "dry" town, void
of liquor, so Aurora took up the slack with more than the
usual amount of saloons. The railroad built a planing mill
at the Bodie yards to help lessen the demand on Mono Mills,
and strings of teams were hauling wagons piled high with
lumber daily for Aurora. With the start of the war in Europe,
Bodie's new light began to fade. In 1914, the Standard Mill
closed and put a big crimp in Bodie's economy. Aurora was
still going fairly strong, especially after the Goldfield
Consolidated Company took over the Knight interests at Mangum.
The trains still ran for their short stint each summer,
but the end was definitely in sight. Bits and pieces were
sold off to help defray the costs involved with managing
a worn out old railroad.
End Of The Line
the summer of 1917, the forest was stripped of trees everywhere
there were rails in close proximity. It was apparent that
the railroad would have to have yet another extension if
there were to be any more harvesting. By that time, there
were few customers. Aurora had finally given up its last
riches that year, miners and stockbrokers were leaving daily.
was hopeless to continue. The railroad and its equipment
was shot. Bodie's pulse was slowing down, Aurora was hemorrhaging.
The automobile by this time had become more than just a
cranky and undependable toy, more people in Bodie and Aurora
were now using these to get around. Trucks and the newfangled
big Caterpillar tractors were proving more viable for hauling
big loads than a worn out railroad, and they could travel
pretty much where they pleased, not being confined to running
along ribbons of steel. It was obvious that a railroad was
not needed, nor could it be justified financially for that
matter. On September 6, 1917, the California Railroad Commission
approved abandonment. Emil Billeb, the railroad companyís
last man in charge from 1908 to the end, was awarded the
contract to take up the rail and sell it. At its death,
the railroad had measured about 38 miles, counting all sidings,
and spurs into the woods. Gus Hess, who had served as master
mechanic on the railroad for many years, was in charge of
the dismantling crews. Work of dismantling started at the
Bodie end of the line in late July 1918. Rails were sent
down to Mono Mills to be stacked, loaded on trucks, and
shipped out to Benton Station on the Southern Pacific (ex-Carson
& Colorado) narrow gauge. By September, all the rail
was stripped off the ground, leaving a string of rotting
ties to mark the route of a once proud and hopeful little
railroad. There were 2300 tons of rail and scrap iron left
from cut up rolling stock and locomotives ready to be shipped
out of Mono Mills. The memories that these iron bits could
tell, they were lost to the blast furnaces of the industrial
for the those who once depended upon the services of the
Bodie & Benton, Bodie died a slow and painful death.
She had lived a long life, her smoking habit increasing
and decreasing with her health. When she lost the source
of her smoking material, modern conveniences had by that
time started to filter into her homes. Gas and electric
stoves had replaced her home fires; her residents could
now gather their own firewood with their own vehicles with
rubber tires and gasoline engines; her remaining miners
could run their small mills with electricity. She was badly
injured in 1932 when fire burned her almost beyond recognition.
What was left had a feeble pulse, she was put on life support
just before World War 2 when her post office closed. A few
hopefuls, though the number slowly declining each successive
year, clung on to Bodie until professional help arrived
in the form of the California State Parks in 1962. Bodie
was cloaked in State Park status in 1964. It is interesting
to note, there are those who believe that golden treasure
still lies under Bodie Bluff, and modern technology may
once again come to her aid, for now a handsome profit can
be made with even microscopic flakes of gold. But even if
successful, new life will never be infused into the old
town, no trains will ever again rumble to the old station
on the hill.
Mills disintegrated to the four winds. Cabins scattered
over the Mono Basin, the timbers of the sawmill lingered
about, rotting. Small odds and ends were thrown into countless
campfires and trunks of cars by those who thought they found
a treasure. Today, only a Forest Service sign marks the
site of Mono Mills, and the last time I came by, that was
nearly destroyed as well.
died a quick and sudden death, and scavengers have scattered
her remains. She lost her Post Office in 1919, by the end
of the twenties no one remained. Her massive skeleton lay
exposed to those who wished to view it for many years. Her
fine brick buildings, though, were too much a temptation,
and the scavenger birds came and carried off her skeleton.
No stone marks her burial plot. Few modern souls morn. It
is ironic that when the railroad was built, Aurora was going
through a mid-life crisis and was of no value to the railroad.
But she recovered, and was instrumental for keeping the
road alive beyond what owners would have believed.
only a string of weathered ties, buried under the ever present
sagebrush mark the path of the Bodie & Benton, furnishing
plenty of the stuff that ideologues like myself can create
our daydreams with.