A railroad motor car, originally built for the Death Valley Railroad, now
has a garage to call its own after sitting in the sun for 71 years. The
Laws (CA) Railroad Museum is in the finishing stages of construction of a
barn to house the old piece of history in splendor and protection. The
railroad museum, a small but popular stop for railfans, expects to
complete the car barn in about two months.

The motor car, manufactured by Brill, was originally purchased by the
Death Valley Railroad, which operated between January 1914 and March
1931. The Death Valley Railroad operated between Death Valley Junction,
CA and it’s borax mines at two locations over the years west in the
Funeral Range that border Death Valley. The final terminus in later
years was at the town of Ryan, located near the ghost town of Greenwater.

By 1928, the parent company of the Death Valley Railroad, Pacific Coast
Borax, was moving primary borax mining operations to a new and more
accessible location in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles. But
tourism was beginning to boom in the Death Valley region, and many
adventurous tourists were coming to see the wonders of Death Valley, a
region that instilled fear in their parents and grandparents. The
Pacific Coast Borax Company began to build tourists facilities at Furnace
Creek and at Ryan, all of which are still in use today. To serve those
facilities, the company utilized the already existing Death Valley
Railroad and its Tonopah & Tidewater Railroads.

In 1928, the Death Valley Railroad ordered a motor car to fill
transportation needs. The motor car is a Brill Model 55, which was a
popular model of rail motor car at the time. It is 42½ feet long and 10’
4” high and is of wood and steel construction. A Midwest Model 399
4-cylinder gasoline engine rated at 71.3 horsepower and 248.2 foot pounds
of torque powered the car. Its top speed was limited to 35mph.

The motor car served the tourist trade between Death Valley Junction and
Ryan until the end of operations on the Death Valley Railroad. It also
was used to haul supplies and mail between the two sites. After
abandonment of the railroad, the Pacific Coast Borax Company shipped all
of the locomotives and the motor car to Carlsbad, New Mexico, where they
were put into use by their affiliate, US Potash. The motor car remained
until the early 1960’s, where it was given to Inyo County by the company,
and placed at the Laws museum.

The motor car has been undergoing a continuous restoration over the past
decade and has often been completely sheathed in plastic tarps. It has
been re-roofed, the interior and exterior refurbished and repainted.
There have been new window frames, sashes and glass installed. Future
projects include reupholstering the seats, overhauling the trucks, engine
and driveline, and other minor details. The museum would like to see the
motor car placed into operable condition.

The new car barn at Laws measures 40’x60’ and is 20’ high. It will have
two large doors to allow the car and other railroad rolling stock to
enter and exit. Tracks are being put in to facilitate this and for
display. Much of the ties and rails are being obtained from those being
salvaged from the old Lone Pine Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad,
located about 75 miles south of Laws and has been chronicled elsewhere on
this news page.

The Laws Railroad Museum is still seeking financial help with the
project, and has an “Adopt-A-Tie” program. For further information on
the motor car, garage construction or any other railroad history related
item, call the Laws Railroad Museum at [760]873-5950.

Reference Sources: Inyo Register (Bishop, CA), January 28, 1999;
Railroads of Nevada & Eastern California, Vol. 2 by David F. Myrick;
United States Department of the Interior Heritage and Conservation and
Recreation Service National Register of Historic Places
Inventory-Nomination Form, November 1978 (w/data supplied by the Laws

David A. Wright
Great Basin Research