Usal. its lumber company and railroad on the Lost Coast on the Northernmost Part of the Mendocino Coast

I have been to Usal once since we moved here in 2000. The road is diabolical. I was terrified. I swore I’d never go back. And I haven’t.

Author Katy Tahja has this to say about Usal ……”a mythical area is the Lost Coast. How is a coastline lost and just where is it? As Highway One was built north of Westport at Hardy Creek road engineers looked at the coastline ahead and said, “Forget it!!!!!” Mountains over 1,000 feet tall plunged straight into the Pacific Ocean. So, the road builders turned east to Leggett. Today there is only one way for a vehicle to go through the area – an upaved ridgetop route called Usal Road.”

If you think this is hyperbole just have a look at these maps -the first shows the relationship of Usal to the rest of the world:

Route to Usal

The arrow points to Usal. As you can see there is nary a road of any substance anywhere near. This map is a close up of Usal showing the two forks of Usal Creek joining and running down to the sea.

Satellite Map of Usal

This map shows just how many hills there are in the immediate vicinity.

Topo Usal Map

Wiki tells us this about USAL …… USA Lumber (USAL) Company built a sawmill at the mouth of Usal Creek in 1889 with a 1,600-foot wharf for loading lumber onto coastal schooners, and a 3 miles railroad up Usal Creek to bring logs to the mill. Robert Dollar purchased Usal Redwood Company in 1894. Dollar Lumber Company was running out of timber for their Guerneville mill at the time. In 1896, Dollar purchased the steamship Newsboy to transport lumber from Usal to San Francisco. A fire in 1902 destroyed the sawmill, a warehouse, a school house, and the county bridge over Usal Creek. The railroad was dismantled, and the rails were used by the sawmill at the mouth of Big River. Several buildings including a hotel survived until destroyed by fire in 1969. The former hotel site near the mouth of Hotel Gulch is now a campground for Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.

Hmmm ……. I didn’t know that USAL got its name from USA Lumber Company. Wiki also tells us that USAL had two locos. #498 was a Lima Shay. #1 was a 3 cylinder Lima Shay named the Myra R Wonderly. How this blog started was when I found this shopping out photo of #1.

USAL #1 Shay

Club member Mike Aplet told me that the remains of a boiler still exist at USAL. I can assure you I am NOT going there to find out.

An Eclectic History of Mendocino County by Katy M. Tahja

Author Katy Tahja holding her latest book An Eclectic History of Mendocino County

Whilst I have been incarcerated here at home because of the pandemic I have been trying to read at least some of the 30 plus unread books I own. My latest was this book. I was going to write a review of this fascinating history when I stumbled upon this superb review written by Grace Woelbing for the Ukiah Daily Journal.

“In Mendocino County, stories are inevitably boundless and regional history is sure to be a tale of diverse influences. In truth, perhaps the most fitting word to describe a collection of such historical accounts is “eclectic,” for an author attempting to capture the themes throughout 150 years of county history must utilize a multitude of sources.

Author Katy Tahja, with her recently self-published book “An Eclectic History of Mendocino County,” has managed to achieve the feat of simultaneously informing and entertaining readers with both brief accounts and lengthy histories that define what makes Mendocino County an interesting place to call home.

“Every area of the county has its own interesting history tidbits,” says Tahja, who has previously authored several concentrated guidebooks and histories. “An Eclectic History of Mendocino County” is the first of hers, however, to involve the entire region.

The timeframe of Tahja’s new book spans 150 years, from 1852 through 2002. She began to accumulate little-known information that sourced from the vast time period during research phases for former books she has authored. “For years, I’ve kept interesting things on file for Mendocino County. I’d write down whatever I’d find and throw it in,” says Tahja.

Her decade of experience as a museum docent at the Kelley House Museum is responsible for her valuable knowledge of what attracts a reader to historical works. She shares that [along with] what she personally looks for – an account of why people settled and what kind of lives they experienced. That was her focus as she compiled the stories that make up “An Eclectic History of Mendocino County.”

The book’s cover greets the reader with colorful photographs of characteristic sights located around Mendocino County—the Skunk Train, Leggett’s Chandelier Tree, and Bowling Ball Beach are a few highlights. One photograph features a particularly bright building in Mendocino, the Temple of Kwan Tai, which was built by the Chinese in the 1850s as a house of worship. As Tahja later divulges in the book, the building was a celebration of their survival of the long journey across the Pacific Ocean.

Tahja explores similar topics throughout her writing, such as the county’s rich history of agriculture. From the famous apples that were cultivated for years in Anderson Valley to pear trees populating Ukiah Valley to the current crop of wine grapes dominating county soil, Mendocino County has long been known for its farming.

The record of the logging industry bringing settlers to the coastline, the transition of regional governorship from Sonoma County to Mendocino County in 1859 when the population was finally large enough to elect its own public officials, and the beautiful description of native basketry are subjects also found within the pages.

“There were so many fun and interesting stories to tell,” interjects Tahja. “I thought that if I was going to take a page to talk about Winston Churchill’s 1929 visit here, I would include similarly surprising accounts.”

Vichy Springs Near Ukiah in Northern California

I have visited Vichy Springs but once. The once was some 30 years ago when I lived in Kentfield (on Sir Francis Drake Drive) in Marin. That I didn’t take the waters I remember. And that’s about it.

To get to Fort Bragg from the Bay Area we come all the way north on Route 101 till we get to Willits and then we hang a left on Route 20 till we reach the sea and Fort Bragg. As we pass through Ukiah on Route 101 I always glance at a sign which says this way to Vichy Springs. As you can see on this map it’s a bit off the beaten track- click on the map to enlarge:

Satellite Map of Location of Vichy Springs – the red marker

My ignorance of Vichy Springs would have remained had it not been for this photo to appear on Lynn Catlett’s Facebook page:

Vichy Springs Plunge

The caption says, “in the world.” Really? This what I have found out ……..

“The history of Vichy Springs Resort spans from the pre-written history of the local Pomo Native Americans (over 5,000 years ago) to the present day spa operations. The actual springs are estimated to be well over five million years old. Extensive travertine and ancient travertine onyx deposits are indicators of the various springs’ ages. The Pomos used the springs during their sole residency in the Yokayo Valley. The Pomo used the waters for gout, arthritis, rheumatism, poison oak, burns, cuts, psoriasis and eczema.

During the early 1800’s the entire Ukiah Valley (an Anglicization of “Yokayo” which means “deep valley” in the local Pomo dialect) was granted by Mexico (California was then part of Mexico) to Cayetano Juarez. Senor Juarez owned extensive holdings elsewhere and never developed much in Ukiah. Credit for discovering the spring is given to Frank Marble the first “Caucasian” to arrive in the Ukiah Valley in 1849, the year of the big rush of gold seekers to California. Squatters followed and by 1852 William Day had established his residence and had completed at least three cottages at “Day’s Soda Springs.”. These three cottages still stand and are in use at the resort to this day.

History does not tell us what happened to Mr. Day, but in 1864, after California had become a state of the USA, Senor Juarez’s claim to the Ukiah Valley was upheld by the US Supreme Court. He subsequently sent Col. William Doolan, a Union Civil War veteran, to sell his rancho in parcels to the squatters who had lived on and used his rancho. Doolan either threw Day off or presumably Day had left already or did not have the hard cash required to buy his Soda Springs. Doolan wound up owning and operating what he renamed “Doolan’s Ukiah Vichy Springs”, named after the famous French springs because of the water’s striking similarities so noted by, presumably, French gold seekers.

Doolan expanded and operated his Vichy Springs from 1866 to 1896. He was ranked as the 2nd wealthiest man in Mendocino County due to his prominence and ownership of these incredible springs. It was also, by far, one of the largest businesses in Ukiah and Mendocino County with accommodations for up to 200 guests at its peak of operation. Doolan added new concrete baths, the “Vichy Plunge” (swimming pool), a bar and restaurant, dairy farm, dance pavilion, bowling alleys, croquet, gardens, cottages and rooms. The two rows of rooms built by Wm. Doolan circa 1866-1870 still stand. All of his up to 65 cottages have disappeared.

Doolan was a developer and risk taker, and leveraged his properties many times to finance other ventures. The deepest, though not as long as 1929, depression in the U.S., 1893-1897, closed 500 banksand bankrupted 15,000 businesses in the country. Doolan lost Vichy Springs to a foreclosure on a $10,000 note owed to A.F. Redemeyer, owner of the Bank of Ukiah (forerunner of, the now, Savings Bank of Mendocino County) and considered to be the wealthiest man in Mendocino County. Redemeyer sold the resort in an “inside” transaction for $10.00 to his two daughters and son John. John within two years bought out his siblings’ interests and operated the resort until his death and estate probate in 1948. John Redemeyer, as had Doolan, operated the resort between May 1st and the first rains of October when the Russian River and Vichy Creek became impassable for stagecoaches, gigs, and the modern autobus and cars of Redemeyer’s era. Bridges over the Russian River came later.

It was during the Doolan and Redemeyer eras that the rich and famous in California history visited Vichy Springs. The Ghiradelli family, Abe Roeff, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and William Harrison, Teddy Roosevelt and daughter Alice, Mark Twain, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, bare fisted boxers Jim Corbett and John L. Sullivan. The list goes on. Today’s politicians have visited including Governor Jerry Brown, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressmen Frank Riggs and CA Attorney General and Congressman Dan Lungren, as well as movie stars Bo Derek, John Corbett, Dustin Hoffman and James Coburn and TV’s Larry Hagman. Sports figure Sandy Koufax was also a guest and left an autographed baseball.

Never closed completely since 1854, the reopening of overnight rooms in 1989 created once again the only destination resort in Ukiah since Vichy Springs was last fully open in 1941. Over 45,000 visitors used Vichy Springs in 2012, up from 100 in 1988. The naturally warm and carbonated “Vichy Baths” are once again being used by Californians and guests from all over the world to relieve the stresses and strains of urban and city life. Guests enjoy hiking to Chemisal Falls, walking the pathways through oak and madrone woodlands, picnicking, experiencing the “cures” of the phenomenal Vichy Baths and sharing romantic interludes as they have for 160 years at Vichy Springs Resort.”

What’s it like in the Sp[rings? You could ask this gentleman who apparently is on his honeymoon.

Vichy Springs Bath


The Astor Cut, Lord Astor’s Country Mansion at Cliveden, The Profumo Affair, The Fieldbrook Stump

This blog started several years ago when I first found out and obtained access to the Digital Archives of the Bancroft Library at Berkeley University. I was wandering around the sections relating to logging in Mendocino County when I came across these two photos:

Slice of a very large slice of a very large tree

Same large slice on a specially built freight car

I put the picture into my “maybe, someday bank.” We, The Mendocino Model Railroad & Historical Society, were given some old plate glass images. After discussion among the members we concluded that a University Libtaty might be the best place for them. So, off I toddled to the Humboldt University Library in Arcata. The Librarian Lady was very pleased with our gift of the glass plate photos. After I told her what my “job” was she asked if I would like to peruse their stash of logging photos.  Would I?

In the middle of the files was this photo:

The Astor Cut being loaded

Surely it was the same slice of a huge tree? I asked the Librarian if she knew anything about it. “Yes,” was the answer. “It’s the Astor Cut.” Alas, that was all she knew. So armed with a copy of the above pic I wended my way back to Fort Bragg quite happy with my days work.

Intrigued as all get out I spent a LOT of time trying to get to the bottom this story. I finally found it in the March 6th 1895 edition the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Tribune Header

In the text it says that Lord Astor bet the then Prince of Wales that a slice of California Redwood would be large enough to seat 45 persons around. Here’s the page with the whole story. The Lord Astor story is in the middle right hand corner:

Page from the Chicago Tribune with the Lord Astor Bet

The slice was sent from San Francisco to London where, somehow, it was taken to Lord Astor’s estate at Cliveden on the north bank of the Thames. When it was unloaded, surprise, surprise it wouldn’t fit through the front door! The round/slice was placed by the Thames. I have been unable to find out if the bet was settled.

Cliveden. When I lved in England Cliveden was the scene of a spy/sex scandal called the Profumo affair. The Profumo affair was a British political scandal that originated with a sexual relationship in 1961, between John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government, and Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old would-be model. In March 1963, Profumo’s denial of any impropriety, in a personal statement to the House of Commons, was refuted a few months later with his admission of the truth. He resigned from the government and from Parliament. The repercussions of the affair severely damaged Macmillan’s self-confidence, and he resigned as Prime Minister on health grounds in October 1963. The reputation of the Conservative Party was damaged by the scandal, which may have contributed to its defeat by the Labour Party in the 1964 general election.

When the Profumo–Keeler affair was first revealed, public interest was heightened by reports that Keeler may have been simultaneously involved with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, thereby creating a possible security risk. Keeler knew both Profumo and Ivanov through her friendship with Stephen Ward, an osteopath and socialite who had taken her under his wing. The exposure of the affair generated rumours of other scandals and drew official attention to the activities of Ward, who was charged with a series of immorality offences. Perceiving himself as a scapegoat for the misdeeds of others, Ward took a fatal overdose during the final stages of his trial, which found him guilty of living off the immoral earnings of Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies.

This picture of Christine Keeler, which was splashed across the front page of Britain’s largest selling tabloid, really hyped the interest of the proletariat. For the time the pic was considered very risque.

Christine Keeler

The scandal also “inspired” a movie called “Scandal.”

Poster for the Movie “Scandal”

The theme song “Nothing Has Been Proved” was written and produced by Pet Shop Boys and sung by Dusty Springfield

It took me over two years to persuade wife Sarah that the gardens at Cliveden were worth a visit. Today Cliveden is a hotel. Rates are around one thousand pounds a night. You do get breakfast and a ride to and from Heathrow in a Rolls Royce for your money!!!!


When we got to Cliveden Sarah found the gardens, the garden shop and the gift shop to be very interesting. I spent the time asking where we might find The Astor Cut. No-one had a clue!!! I bought a map – nada. Out of desperation I went to the garden’s entrance and asked the old guy on the gate. He knew. “You come from California to see that bloody lump of wood?” I assured him I had even if my wife had not. “Go down that path about a mile till you come to a statue, take a right and go down it till  you’re on the bank of the Thames and it’s on your right. ” As I turned to go he said, “Don’t fall into the bloody river – there’ll be no-one there to pull you out.”

Well a mile is a long way if you are an old geezer recovering from a bout of chemo. Despite Sarah’s protestations I wasn’t giving up. Finally we could see the statue. Just before the statue we stumbled on a gap that enabled one to look back to the house.

A view of Cliveden in the distance

In front of the gap was a copy of a painting of what we were looking at:

Painting of Cliveden

The painting was obviously made before the siderow grew and when Cliveden really was Lord Astor’s Stately Home. We soon came to the Statue:

One of Lord Astor’s ancestors

We ploughed oin down the path and almost immediately we found a path leading off to our right. It wasn’t a well trodden path so we were somewhat sceptical about whether we were going the right way. The good news was that we were going down. When we reached the bottom we could see the River Thames through the overgrown vegetation. The Astor Cut?

There were  no signs. Sarah saw a trail off to the side and after a short torturous walk ……… TA DAH!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Astor Cut under a rusting corrugated roof

If you look at top right of the above photo you can see a light blue patch – that’s the River Thames. Then, it being England, it started to rain. So we left.

When I got back here to Fort Bragg I decided not to write this blog up until I had one more question answered, “Where did the slice of Redwood come from?” I had no leads.

A year or so later I got a break. Brother Sean lives in England and takes a newspaper called “The Independent.” He sent me a link to an article that appeared in “his” newspaper. The article was entitled “Reborn – the giant tree felled as a result of a bar-room wager”. The top of the article had this picture:

The Fieldbrook Stump in California not long after it was felled in 1890

Here’s an extract from the text ……. “It would have been the biggest tree alive today had it not been so ignominiously felled in 1890 – reputedly to satisfy a drunken bet about making a table big enough to seat 40 guests from a single slice of tree-trunk. But after a century of being left for dead, a giant redwood that grew as tall as a 30-storey building over the course of nearly 4,000 years in northern California is about to be reborn as a clone planted on the coast of Cornwall. Scientists have managed to cultivate cuttings from the Fieldbrook Redwood Stump, which is 35ft in diameter, and 10 of its clones are now growing as knee-high saplings in the plant nursery at the Eden Project, near St Austell, as part of an ambitious plan to propagate and replant some of the oldest trees in America and Britain.

The Fieldbrook stump is a Californian coast redwood. It is said that the Fieldbrook tree was felled under the orders of William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American living in Britain, who became embroiled in a bar-room bet about making a table seating 40 from a single cross-section of a tree. Lord Astor certainly had a giant tree slice imported to Cliveden, his stately home in Buckinghamshire, but when he was alive he vowed to sue anyone who repeated the story. “He probably realised that killing something that was nearly 4,000 years old for a bet didn’t really reflect very well on him. There’s not much dispute that the Fieldbrook stump and the redwood slice at Cliveden is the same tree, but it would be fun to carry out a DNA test to prove it.”

4,000 years. Where did that come from? I found another article which, I think gets nearer to the real age …… “Between 2011 – 2017, Pacific Horticulture Society published a caption that Fieldbrook was 3,500 yrs. old. But Humboldt State Univ. researchers around the same time, only ascertained 2,520 yrs. as the oldest coast redwood (Redwood National Park). A Times Standard article quoted the Fieldbrook as 1,175 yrs., possibly from the crosscut “cookie” held at Blue Ox Millworks in Eureka. An edenproject tv on Youtube had video with a man suggesting 4,000 yrs. … The numbers soon teeter like the AT-ST Scout Walker in Star Wars! An artist printing growth rings from it’s piece, wrote 1,275 years on a web page; probably a the real count from wood imprint

Hmmm – so now I knew the name of the stump. I have found out that you cannot visit it because it is on private land. Bummer!!!!!!

6 Virtual Train Rides From Around The World

These vids got me into a lot of hot water. Wife Sarah could not understand how I could spend so much time watching vids of train journeys, So a warning to the wise these vids are looooooooooong. The original post does not tell you how long each is. The site has a lot of advertising “clutter” on it so I have taken it apart and added a bit of personal stuff. So here we go with number one.

The Bernina Railway

Switzerland’s Unesco listed Berninabahn (Bernina Railway) is one of the world’s most spectacular mountain railways. It contains some of the highest (over 7,000 feet) railway crossings in Europe and is one of the steepest railways in the world. This vid last TWO HOURS and takes you through the section between St.Moritz in Switzerland and Triano in Italy. The alpine mountains make a spectacular backdrop to this trip. I have actually made this journey and can attest that it is great. Note that this a narrow gauge railway.


Line 7, NYC Subway 

I have ridden the NYC Subway but never this route.  While the number 7 NYC subway express line might not be among the prettiest train journeys in the world, for real and wannabe New Yorkers, it remains a cultural experience. The route offers some iconic views of the New York City skyline in its above-ground sections. This virtual train journey takes you on the Manhattan-bound leg of the train line nicknamed the “international express” due to the number of ethnic neighborhoods it crosses. The unique front-facing view in the video also gives a pleasantly calm feel to a rush-hour commuter train journey. This vids takes 41 MINUTES.

The Nagaragawa Railway

Number 3. When you think of Japanese trains, the first thing that likely comes to mind is super-fast bullet trains that remain one of Japan’s cultural icons. However, Japan also possesses a vast network of rural railway lines that take its citizens and visitors nearly everywhere in the country. This journey takes you on the Nagaragawa Railway in Gifu Prefecture and winds through a snowy winter wonderland surrounded by high mountains. Grab some ramen or a bento box to complete the feeling of traveling through Japan in the middle of winter. I have never been to Japan so this was a revelation to me. Travel time is 43 MINUTES.

The Flåm Railway

The Flåm railway line is one of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions. Although only 20 kilometers long, it packs a massive amount of dreamy Norwegian mountain scenery into a short space of time. It’s also one of the steepest standard gauge railways in the world as it climbs up through remote mountain villages in Norway’s Vestland province. This vid takes you along the windy, steep, and breathtaking route from the train driver’s point of view. Alas, I have never been to Norway. This one lasts 40 MINUTES.

The Belgrade to Bar Railway

This is the fifth vid trip. The Belgrade to Bar railway, which takes travelers from Serbia’s capital city to the Adriatic coast in Montenegro. It is one of the world’s greatest feats of railway engineering. The line, which crosses the region’s mountainous terrain, has 254 tunnels and 234 bridges. This video journey takes you on the final section of the route from Bijelo Polje to Bar and brings you through high mountain ravines down a 3000 feet elevation change before stopping just short of the coast. This one lasts 3 HOURS 26 MINUTES. And yes, I have watched all of it.

VIA Rail Canada – Toronto to Vancouver

I have not taken this one in one foul swoop. When I lived and worked in Canada part of my job was to visit all of the major cities in Canada, Rather than sit in an Air Canada tobacco smoke filled cabin of an egg beater I would try to go from city to city by train. I did from Toronto to Winnipeg, Winnipeg to Calgary, Calgary to Vancouver or Edmonton to Vancouver.. Traveling from Toronto to Vancouver takes at least three days and four nights. If you fancy making the same journey in 16 Minutes, then this compressed account of an epic trans-Canadian railway journey is worth checking out. The comprehensive video showcases the highlights of a three-day railway journey from a passenger’s point of view. It includes shots of meals, sleeping arrangements, and some fantastic scenery.

Nothing like a trip by train when you are at home.

Thanks to VP Lonnioe Dickson for the heads up.

71 Years And I Got To Capture It (31 Pics of Keukenhof)

In May 2019 wife Sarah and I celebrated by taking a trip to Holland. The previous visit we had taken a bus tour to Keukenhof to see the millions of tulips. The brief tour whetted our appetite and we vowed to come back on our own and spend as much time as we wanted at Keukenhof not as much time as the bus driver thought we should have. Our adventures can be seen by clicking on Holland Holidays in the subjects list.

The Club’s Nancy Thornburn knew all of the above which is why she passed on a brilliant post that to which she was made privy.  Below is the post in its entirety – if you like flowers this is for you. The name of the photographer is Albert Dros and you can visit his website here =

“As a real Dutchman, I am a big fan of our flowers. And as a landscape photographer, I enjoy our beautiful spring each year in which I always find time to photograph the flowers and show the beauty of the Dutch flowers to the whole world. Most of you probably know the world-famous Keukenhof, the most beautiful tulip garden in the world. Every year millions of tourists visit this garden. That’s a huge lot considering the garden is only open in spring! Every year, a hard-working crew makes sure the garden looks as good as ever, including this year!

This year is ‘special’. Keukenhof is closed, for the first time in 71 years. But that doesn’t mean there are no flowers. On the contrary; the flowers look incredible and get as much attention and care as always. All the passionate gardeners do their work as they’re used to. Because even without people, nature and the show of the garden goes on.

I’ve been photographing the tulips since forever, mostly in the countryside. I photographed them from all angles you can possibly imagine, but there was one thing that I still wanted to capture one time in my life: Keukenhof without any other people. This seemed impossible, until this year’s April 2020. With the COVID-19 virus keeping everyone at home and tourists away, I knew this was my only chance of making this happen. I contacted Keukenhof explaining what I had in mind and they were so kind to let me photograph the garden for a day.

When I visited the park it looked at its best. Interestingly enough, we have experienced the sunniest April EVER in the Netherlands, making all the flowers pop very fast. Photographing in broad daylight with the strong sun was a challenge. But forget about the photography for a moment: walking around there all alone, with only the sounds of birds and the incredible smell of all these flowers, is an experience by itself. I sometimes just sat next to the flowers and the water, enjoying nature for 30 minutes long. It was just a magical experience. Having no people in the park allowed me to photograph paths and angles in a certain way that you normally don’t get to see because of the crowds.

This photo series is an initiative from myself in collaboration with Keukenhof. We aim to show the beauty of the park through these images. Too bad there’s no smell involved.”

Sarah and I would love to go back. Next year?