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Connecting Gold Country with world

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POSTED April 6, 2012 9:39 p.m.

OAKDALE — The Sierra is third the oldest railroad in North America and besides carrying freight and passengers, Sierra became famous as “The Movie Railroad” for making over 300 movies, commercials and television shows. In the 1970s the railroad launched an industry when it operated the nation’s first dinner train. In 1995 the railroad was rejuvenated by new ownership and experienced a remarkable decade of growth and expansion.

Thomas S. Bullock felt a railroad to the Sierra foothills was sorely needed and financially feasible. The railroad would handle passengers, supplies, ore, lumber, and cattle. Bullock’s vision was shared by Prince Andre Poniatowski, a French-born descendant of the King of Poland. Poniatowski then convinced banker William H. Crocker to provide the financial backing for the project. On February 1, 1897, the three formally incorporated the Sierra Railway Company of California.

The railroad was started in Oakdale and track was built eastward to the foothills. Much of the equipment and rail were from Bullock’s defunct railroad in Arizona that became unprofitable after Santa Fe built a track parallel to it. On November 8, 1897, the Sierra’s first passenger train arrived in Jamestown where a depot and roundhouse were built.

The Sierra had numerous branches off the mainline, including one that went deep into Yosemite National Park. Sierra has continuously moved goods between the valley and the foothills, with today’s primary cargo being lumber. Fortunately for the Sierra, just as freight and passenger service began to decline it was discovered by Hollywood.

With the growth of the motion picture industry, a new era began for the Sierra Railroad. With its superb scenery, the railroad was singled out by movie producers from around the world as a preferred location for filming. Featured in over 300 motion pictures, television programs and commercials, the world famous railroad is known as The Movie Railroad..

In the 1970s, the Sierra Railroad launched the first dinner train in North America. Playfully mimicking the famous Super Chief, the Sierra Railroad launched the Supper Chief. Never before had a railroad offered guests such an opportunity to experience the charm and nostalgia of railroads as regular attraction. While the Supper Chief was discontinued when the railroad was sold by the Crocker Family in 1982, the train helped launch an industry that now has 88 dinner trains operating throughout North America.

When the Crocker family sold the railroad, they gave the Jamestown facility to the State of California to establish Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Today, the Park operates one of America’s last authentic roundhouses and offers visitors short excursion trips on Sierra’s older locomotives.

By the 1990s, the Sierra Railroad was struggling to continue. In 1995, the railroad had its third owner when it was purchased by a group led by Mike Hart. During the next five years, Hart significantly restored the poorly maintained track, brought in new equipment, improved shipping and saved the railroad.

In 1999, Mike Hart’s brother Chris Hart joined Sierra with the goal of bringing tourism back to the railroad. On December 24, 1999 the Sierra Railroad Dinner Train was launched to offer guests the opportunity to see unspoiled countryside, enjoy excellent food and service, and share some of the rich history of the Sierra Railroad.

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