2013 I joined the Westerners,
a group of people interested in western history. We meet once a
month for dinner, which is followed by a speaker discussing some
aspect of the west. In April the speaker was Darinda Otto, who told
about the San
Joaquin & Eastern Railroad.
was built in 1912 from northeast of Clovis
CA to where Huntington
is now, in order to carry materials for Southern California Edison's
Creek Hydroelectric Project. It also carried lumber down the
mountain. In the 1940s, the speakerís grandparents obtained a 99-year lease on the Shaver
Crossing station, near Big Creek. She has occupied it since they
passed away, even though the lease officially expired at their
deaths. The station serves as a museum
and is open to the public by appointment, so I went there on June 8.
In addition to visiting the railroad
museum, I wanted to make this a photographic expedition, so I
stopped anywhere and everywhere to get pictures, many of which are
several routes up from the San Joaquin Valley to that area, the best
known of which is Highway 168, which goes through Clovis in the
valley, through the small crossroads town of Prather, close to the
old logging town of Auberry, and up to the 5,000 foot level at Shaver
Lake, another SCE lake. Just past the lake Old Huntington Road
(the route to Big Creek) leaves the highway, and about three miles
from there the paved road is crossed by the old railroad grade, which is now
a forest service dirt road. The station is about an eighth of a mile
off the pavement on this road.
Since I go
up Highway 168 when I camp in that area with my motor home, I
decided to take one of the alternate routes, the Tollhouse
Grade, which is the old highway route. This road leaves Highway
168 about 15 miles from Clovis, and the first landmark is Humphrey
Station. J. Humphrey built the toll road and established the pay
station that gives the road and nearby town
its name. It's a few more miles up the road to the small village of Tollhouse.
The road is narrow and winding, and it's a bit disconcerting to
realize that when it was the main route, people went up it with
logging trucks, travel trailers, boat trailers and other vehicles
large and small. Of course, this is true of many miles of mountain
roads. In fact, it was the difficulty of hauling materials up this
route that made it necessary to build the railroad.
had just come home from a week in the hospital, and I was her first
visitor of the season, so she had not had time to straighten up
(when your house is a museum it's sometimes hard to reconcile the
two purposes). However, she showed me the various artifacts
on display, most of which she and her parents and grandparents had
found around the area. She explained that she lives there full time,
sometimes unable to get out due to snow, and getting by with the
limited electrical power provided by several large storage
batteries. During the original construction years, the Edison
Company developed a spring above the property, so there is plenty of
water, which flows by gravity into a large storage tank, then into
the house by the same means.
Darinda is knowledgeable,
and willing and able to discuss numerous subjects, including
railroading, logging, local Native American Culture, and of course
the hydro project. I spent a little over an hour chatting with her,
then decided to drive the few additional miles to the town of Big
Creek. I had been through there several times in the past,
although on my first visit I believe I came in from the opposite
direction. Highway 168 goes to Huntington Lake, where it officially
ends, although a paved road continues into the High Sierra, and
leads to two of the Big Creek Project reservoirs, Florence
and Edison Lakes. Another
road goes west along the north side of Huntington, then drops down
Creek, another scenic, narrow, winding road.
There is a power
house at Big Creek, the first one built for the project, with
bringing water down from Huntington. There are also views of Kerckhoff
seems to stand guard over the town, and a nice waterfall
the creek above town.
neither time nor desire to drive up it to Huntington, so I took a
number of photos,
then headed back out to 168 and back down to the valley. About five
miles below Shaver is the Pine
Ridge area, where the historic
store has served travelers for many decades.
is what locals call "The Four Lane," the new alignment of
168 that was constructed in the late 1960s. At Prather,
a few miles below the Four Lane, Auberry Road comes into the highway
on the north side. This is another of the alternate routes, and I took
this one back into Clovis and home, a round trip of 108 miles.
Estel, June 2013