The Keeler Branch

Laws to Keeler, California

This view faces north at Laws. The view is from a platform next to SP #9, which is heading a "freight train" on a remnant of track at the Laws station/museum, about 5 miles east of Bishop. SP #18 also survives, on display in the town of Independence further south on US 395. Photo by Mike Palmer, July 2003.
This bridge is at Fish Springs, between Independence and Big Pine. View faces west. This is part of the relocated right of way near Tinemaha Reservoir. Photo by Mike Palmer, July 2003.
This view is at Keeler, the "end of the line", facing north. The track ran directly away from the camera, alongside the building in the distance. It is unknown if the loading dock dates back to when the rail line was still here. Photo by Mike Palmer, July 2003.
A marker shows the location of the former Zurich Station along the abandoned Carson & Colorado. Photo by Mike Palmer, July 2007.
A close-up of the marker at Zurich Station. Photo by Mike Palmer, July 2007.

This abandoned railway was originally built in the 1880s as the Carson and Colorado Railroad. This particular segment was the last surviving stretch of a line that extended from Mound House, Nevada (near Virginia City) to Keeler, California, on the east side of Owens Lake. The line became part of the Southern Pacific in 1900. Much of the northern segment in Nevada was later standard gauged; it continued in service as UP's (SP's) Mina branch. The remaining narrow gauge segments were abandoned in the 1920s-1940s as the mines in the area closed. The last segment featured here survived from about 1942 until April 30, 1960.

The narrow gauge line had a transloading facility with the "standard gauge" SP at Owenyo, north of Lone Pine. The narrow gauge line extended as far south as Keeler. According to a historic plaque, the line was originally supposed to go as far south as Mojave, but finances ran short. It was finances that finally caused the line to close. The mines were able to switch to trucks as the local highways improved. Also, the train crews did not live locally; they were several hours away in California's Central Valley. Mixed trains ran until the end; the line closed for good on April 30, 1960.

The train that ran on this segment was known as the Slim Princess.

The line ran on the east side of the Owens Valley to serve the mines and not interfere with the ranches on the western side of the valley. It served Laws, Bigelow, Zurich, Monola, Aberdeen, Kearsarge, Owenyo, Dolomite and Keeler. One section of the line, near Bigelow, was relocated in the teens by the construction of the Tinemaha Reservoir, south of Big Pine.

Today, the raised relocated right-of-way can still be seen adjacent to US 395. Much of the rest of the right-of-way is now dirt/4-wheel drive roads. Recent efforts are underway to restore engine #18 and some track.

—  ICC Abandonment Filings  —

Southern Pacific Railroad
Docket: 13938 9/8/1942 Section: 1
Application of Central Pacific Railway and of Southern Pacific Company for abandonment of a portion of the Keeler Branch between Benton and Laws within Inyo and Mono Counties, Calif, a distance of approx 30.648 miles.
Length: 30.648 miles Citation: 254 ICC 811  
Southern Pacific Railroad
Docket: 20510 1/20/1959 Section: 1(18)
App. for auth to abandon the entire Keeler Branch of its railroad between M. P. 506.300 at or near Laws and M. P. 576.935 at or near Keeler, a dist. of approx. 71.33 miles and (2) that portion of the Owenyo Branch between M. P. 519.115 at or near Lone Pine to the end of the branch at or near Owenyo at M. P. 523.256, a dist. of approx. 1.141 miles on the San Joaquin Division all in Owens Valley, Inyo County, Calif.
  Citation: 307 ICC 808  

Also under this filing: The Lone Pine Branch

—  User Comments  —

This is an informative page, and I enjoyed it. Concerning the Keeler photo, the caption states the tracks ran alongside the building in the distance. The building in the distance is the old Keeler SP depot/station. All of the stations along the line were similar in appearance and resemble the one presently preserved at Laws, CA. I don't know anything about the the loading dock in the pic. The old building has an elevated "deck", which is the old station loading dock.

Mark Hotchkiss
The Mojave Desert, CA

The Carson & Colorado actually started life as an "offspring" of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad (currently being reconstructed by the State Of Nevada as a tourist line). The railroad was plucked up by the SP in 1900, widened & abandoned in 1928.

Andy Sammonds
San Jose, CA

I was delighted to see the photos and history of this railroad branch. My dad was a station agent at all three of these locations when I was a child, and he was the last agent in Owenyo when the line closed. Thanks for the memories.

Sherrill Mann
Raleigh, NC

This well loved old line can be seen in operation in several vintage westerns. John Wayne's " 3 Godfathers " and William Boyd's " Sinister Journey " come to mind.

Ken Linville
Guthrie,, OK

Looking at a 1913 USGS map I see a spur from Laws to Bishop. Anyone familiar with this?

Chuck Jones
San Juan Capistrano, CA

That was there to get customers onto the mainline, since the C&C did not run through Bishop.

Walter Imhof
Reno, NV

Thanks Walter. Haven't come across any references to it.

Chuck Jones
San Juan Capistrano, CA


You can still follow it out of Laws to the north end of the airport.

Walter Imhof
Reno , NV