Sugar Pine Railroad
Stauffer family establishes Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
The mountain community has long recognized the Stauffer family as an important part of what makes this area so special, by establishing an historic tourist destination known as Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
Attracting both travelers and locals alike, many come from great distances to visit this piece of history in the beautiful Sierra National Forest.
Drawn by the Shay No. 10 and No. 15, steam engines from the early 1900s, families enjoy the serenity of the national forest and the distant whistle of the approaching train.
Yet the history behind the founding family is not as well known, despite their influence and background in the Sugar Pine community.
Max Stauffer, the present owner of the The Logger, recounts the story of how his family came to own the unique family business.
He begins with the journey from Hungary to the United States during the 1950s.
"My parents and grandpa had cheese factories in Hungary." Stauffer said they were originally established by his great grandfather in 1880 and known as the Stauffer and Sons Cheese Factory.
With the onset of WWII and the intrusion of the Soviets in Hungary, the Stauffers were forced to make a hard decision.
They needed to decide if they should leave all they had worked for, or be forced to live under Soviet rule.
They decided to leave Hungary and re-establish their family business in Switzerland, which became home for the next three years.
With the hope of a new beginning, the Stauffers set their sights on America, already having some family residing there.
In 1950, Rudy and Luce Stauffer along with their sons Max and Guido boarded the Queen Mary bound for New York City.
The family once again settled down, choosing the cheese capital of America in Wisconsin.
Establishing the Stauffer Cheese Factory once more, they remained for two years, but focused their interest upon California after visiting with friends in the state.
Having ties to a Dr. Wells in Sugar Pine, Rudy and Luce decided to begin a life in the Mountain Area.
They built the Swiss Melody Inn in 1954. Many Mountain Area residents remember it to this day. The Inn was designed as a mountain chalet, a very popular architectural style during that time.
Each member of the Stauffer family had a share in the business.
Luce was chef for the restaurant at the Inn and Max, along with his two brothers, had various tasks to do as well.
The Swiss Melody became a great destination for those travelers bound for Yosemite, and anyone needing to get away for a breath of fresh mountain air.
In 1965, the opportunity arose for Rudy Stauffer to purchase the logging and railroad equipment from the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company, which operated miles of Narrow Gauge railroad track from 1899 to 1931.
He had become very interested in the history of the logging company that had harvested nearly one and a half billion board feet of lumber and decided to restore and operate the steam engines once more.
He received a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service and soon began laying the tracks for the historic railroad. The following year, the Shay No. 10, built in 1928, was restored along with a section of the original railbed and Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad began.
The Swiss Melody Inn was sold in 1970, but Rudy continued to operate and perfect the railroad.
He retired in 1981 and moved to Placerville, at which time Max Stauffer was fully in charge of the railroad.
The Shay has continued on its runs to this day and Max states he plans to keep improving the railroad as the years progress.
"I have no plans to retire," he said and feels, "It's hard work, but it's very rewarding to do something people like to do."
Trains have been a big part of the building of America and The Logger remains a symbol of the true establishment of this country.
As long as a place for the Sugar Pine Railroad remains, the far off whistle of the Shay will continue for generations to come.
"I get the most satisfaction out of seeing kids and families have a good time. It is very fulfilling."
The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad is open from March to early October, with daily excursions through the Sierra National Forest along with special events including Moonlight Specials and Melodrama evenings.
Moonlight Specials are a 32-year tradition operating Saturday nights in spring and fall, with additional Moonlight Wednesday evenings in the summer.
The evening includes a full course New York steak dinner along with live music by the Sugar Pine singers and a Logger Steam Train excursion through the woods.
Melodramas are not as frequent as Moonlights, but include a New York steak dinner as well, with music and a steam train ride, yet also include a melodrama by the Golden Chain Theatre.
For the train schedule and working hours, visit www.ymsprr.com, or call (559)683-7223 for more information.