When the Russians invaded Hungary in 1944, Rudy Stauffer and his family were forced to leave the family cheese business behind. After a short stint in Switzerland, the family decided to start a new life in the United States.
In 1950, Rudy, his wife Luce, sons Guido and Max, and cousin George boarded the Queen Mary and started their journey to their new home in Wisconsin. They started a small cheese business which they built into a major cheese producer supplying products for a number of national companies. During their time in Wisconsin, another son, Bob, was born.
Rudy’s godparents lived near the Sugar Pine Company sawmill near the Southern entrance of Yosemite National Park. Dr. Clarence Wells had told Rudy many stories about the steam trains that hauled logs from the forests of Central California, and Rudy was intrigued. In 1954, he moved his family to a property in Fish Camp he purchased from the Wells. Rudy and Luce started developing the land and eventually built the Swiss Melody Inn. It happened to be located on the old right-of-way of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company, which had run logging trains through the mountains to supply the nearby mill.
During the days of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company, there were more than 140 miles of narrow-gauge track spread over the central Sierra Nevada. There was also a 54-mile flume that sent lumber to Madera where it was distributed to a worldwide market. Rudy became more and more interested in preserving this part of California’s early days as the history of the area unfolded.
In 1965, Rudy purchased the first Shay locomotive, the #10, several logging railcars, and tons of spare parts from an old lumbering operation. He decided that this was the perfect opportunity to see history come alive in the mountains near Yosemite. With the help of his wife and sons Max, Guido, and Bob, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad was born.
An engine house, ticket office, and museum were built, and 2 miles of narrow-gauge track was re-laid. In 1967, they made the first run, providing guests with a “ride into history” behind an authentic steam engine. The Stauffers sold the Swiss Melody Inn in 1968, which is now known as the Narrow Gauge Inn.
In the fall of 1981, Rudy and Luce’s son, Max, took over the railroad business. Since that time, they acquired an additional Shay locomotive – the #15, with more passenger cars. Max Stauffer passed in 2017, however the railroad is still run by the Stauffer family.
Over the years, thousands of visitors have enjoyed the steam train excursions through the Sierra National Forest. Activities include the daily one-hour narrated steam train trips, moonlight special evening barbecue trains, gold panning, group tours, weddings, and corporate events. Schedules are seasonal operating from mid-March through Thanksgiving weekend.