model train set on track

LAWS Railroad Museum & Historical Site

e*Train Issue: Aug 2005   |   Posted in:

By Gordon L. Wilson–TCA 76-10233

Driving south from Carson City, Nevada into California on Route 395, you will be on the eastern side of the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. At the small burg of Lee Vining, and only in the summertime, you may take a scenic detour onto Route 120 into Yosemite National Park. Lodging in the “high country” and The Tuolomne Meadows is pretty scarce, so you will probably wish to return to Route 395 and head further south to the town of Bishop. Just as you enter the north end of Bishop there is an intersection with Route 6. Five miles down this road is a complex that is like entering an HG Wells “Time Machine”, specifically to the late 19 th and early 20 th Centuries.

Southern Pacific 4–6–0 steam engine and Vanderbilt style tender

The Laws Railroad Museum is a true anachronism. Many of its 39 buildings date back in time well over 120 years and each is jam-packed with exhibits and displays from years of a by-gone era. Incorporated in 1880, today it is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is California’s Historical Landmark #953. It is open daily throughout the year and visiting hours are from 10 AM to 4 PM. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

In the Carriage House are many old horse drawn vehicles; among them this Circa 1912 Texaco Company’s Oil Truck

You start at a Reception Center, full of unique railroad gifts and books. Among the stores and buildings you will find here are the last Laws Post Office, a General Store, the Print Shop, a Fire Station, a Mining Assay Office, Ye Olde Blacksmith Shop, a Carriage House, the 1909 Inyo County School House, a Ranch House, a Wells Fargo Office, and the Laws Freight Station and Depot.

The Inyo County School House and Gazebo
A turn of the 20th Century Wells Fargo Office, now housing a collection of Indian Artifacts and Glass Bottles/Glassware
Laws Freight Station and Depot whose interior now includes Railroad memorabilia and two (2) operating model train layouts – one in HO gauge and one in O gauge
Southern Pacific Locomotive #9 heading a consist of 19th Century freight cars
The “Armstrong” turntable – once fancied by the late Ward Kimball, a copy of this turntable now operates at the Perris, CA Orange Empire

Among the railroad items, you will find SP Engine #9 leading a string of late 19 th Century pieces of rolling stock.
On the south end of the property are many railroad relics, among which are an old water tower and an “Armstrong” turntable.

A copy of this turntable is also found in Perris, California, at the Orange Empire Railway Museum. Why a copy? The late Ward Kimball, while visiting Laws, saw this turntable and liked it so much that he had a copy of it made for the Perris facility. A very similar one can also be found at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, Nevada. Amazingly, the one that is NOT in working order is the original one here in Laws.

The staff at this site is totally volunteer, and to say they are friendly, helpful, and accommodating would be an understatement. Should you have even the slightest interest in early California railroading and the Western pioneer days of the late 19 th Century, be sure you take this “detour” on the outskirts of Bishop, California. It is relaxing, peaceful, and quiet. Make sure you bring your camera. Following your excursion to the Laws Railroad Museum, you may wish to stop for some wonderful food and beverages in Bishop at “The Whiskey Creek Restaurant” on Route 395, one of America’s truly scenic by-ways.

Laws Railroad Museum and Historical Site

P. O. Box 363, Bishop, CA 93515


An unusual yellow V & T Caboose. Built in 1883 for the Virginia & Truckee RR, it originally was a combination Passenger and Baggage Car