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Back to the steam train era, north of Bishop.

The Slim Princess was her title, and unlike most royalty she worked for a living. For nearly 80 years this narrow-gauge train steamed between Owens Valley and the mines of Nevada.

The Princess is in retirement now. But in Laws, the tiny town built to be her first station stop, you can look back at an era when a steam train was a region's lifeline to the world, and its whistle filled a quiet valley of ranches and mines.

If you're headed to the eastern Sierra for late-season skiing or early-season hiking, visit the Laws Railroad Museum and Historic Site for a 12-acre detour into 19th century transit and business life.

In the shadow of the Sierra Nevada, echoes of the railroading past Nevada mining magnates founded the Carson and Colorado Railroad Company in 1880, hoping to extend Nevada mining south to the Colorado River. Financial problems halted tracks near Owens Lake. Because the most direct route to the Colorado lay a little to the east of settlements like Lone Pine and Independence, stations had to be built along it. The first was called, with pioneer directness, Station, but it was soon renamed to honor the railroad superintendent, one R.J. Laws. A town of 200 soon grew up around it.

The Slim Princess hauled copper, silver, and gold from the mountains down to rail links and smelters. It also carried Owens Valley milk, hogs, barley, and alfalfa up to hungry miners and their livestock. By the 1940s the mines were played out, and trucks proved a more economical means of transportation than rail. The railroad shut down in 1960.

But Laws citizens worked to preserve the past. They restored 21 historic buildings and acquired the last engine to have powered the princess. It doesn't run, but you can examine the engine and peer into various freight and passenger cars. Near the tracks is the stationmaster's house, crowded with such domestic items as a solid oak Alaska Ice Box, a Florence Lop-stitch Sewing Machine, and an 1880 pump organ whose yellowed keys museum docents will even let you play.

The Inyo Independent newspaper office holds presses and type trays, the Wells Fargo Bank a collection of Paiute artifacts. The Conway House is being restored to show what ranch life was like in the days before much of Owens Valley's water was shipped to Southern California. In addition, the museum office sells an unusually good collection of books on local history and railroads.

Laws Railroad Museum is open from 10 to 4 daily. From Bishop, take US. Highway 6 north 4 1/2 miles; turn right at Silver Canyon Road and go 1/2 mile to the museum. Donations are requested. For information, call (619) 873-5950. 13
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Title Annotation:Laws Railroad Museum amd Historic Site, Owens Valley, California
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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