Ben Sochacki and his Delightful Wife Ride the Skunk Train Rails on a Track Bike

The Skunk Train located here in Fort Bragg has not yet re-opened for visitors. However, the Skunk Train does offer the opportunity to ride its rails on a track bike. As of today (June 12th, 2020) because of the pandemic only locals are allowed to ride. Club Member Ben Sochacki and his wife decided to escape from resting in place and take a ride.

Here’s the pictures he sent of his experience.

Ben and his wife’s chariot

Ben and his wife taking a break after pedaling from Fort Bragg to the end of the line at Glen Blair Junction

The yet to be opened Tunnel #1 of the Skunk line as seen from the Glen Blair Junction

Just wanted to let you know that the bike’s have an electrical assist. So far their have been NO reports of injuries (they are virtually impossible to turn over) or cardiac arrest.



On our layout in Fort Bragg there is a figure of a guy with his dog laying down beside the tracks. It is a mini-diorama that is frequently photographed by visitors. There is no sign on the little scene to say that it is meant to depict a frequent character in the era we model – the hobo. From conversations I have had with visitors it is clear that they have little idea of what a hobo was. Wiki says, “A hobo is a migrant worker or homeless vagrant, especially one who is impoverished. The term originated in the Western—probably Northwestern—United States around 1890. Unlike a “tramp”, who works only when forced to, and a “bum”, who does not work at all, a “hobo” is a travelling worker.

More from Wiki, “It is unclear exactly when hobos first appeared on the American railroading scene. With the end of the American Civil War in the 1860s, many discharged veterans returning home began hopping freight trains. Others looking for work on the American frontier followed the railways west aboard freight trains in the late 19th century. The number of hobos increased greatly during the Great Depression era of the 1930s. With no work and no prospects at home, many decided to travel for free by freight train and try their luck elsewhere.

Life as a hobo was dangerous. In addition to the problems of being itinerant, poor, and far from home and support, plus the hostility of many train crews, they faced the railroads’ security staff, nicknamed “bulls”, who had a reputation of violence against trespassers. “

The hobos had their own sign language:

To cope with the uncertainties of hobo life, hobos developed a system of symbols, or a visual code. Hobos would write this code with chalk or coal to provide directions, information, and warnings to others in “the brotherhood”. A symbol would indicate “turn right here”, “beware of hostile railroad police”, “dangerous dog”, “food available here”, and so on. Some commonly used signs:

  • A cross signifies “angel food”, that is, food served to the hobos after a sermon.
  • A triangle with hands signifies that the homeowner has a gun.
  • A horizontal zigzag signifies a barking dog.
  • A square missing its top line signifies it is safe to camp in that location.
  • A top hat and a triangle signify wealth.
  • A spearhead signifies a warning to defend oneself.
  • A circle with two parallel arrows means get out fast, as hobos are not welcome in the area.
  • Two interlocked circles, representing handcuffs, warn that hobos are hauled off to jail.
  • A caduceus symbol signifies the house has a doctor living in it.
  • A cross with a smiley face in one of the corners means the doctor at this office will treat hobos free of charge.
  • A cat signifies a kind lady lives here.
  • A wavy line (signifying water) above an X means fresh water and a campsite.
  • Three diagonal lines mean it is not a safe place.
  • A square with a slanted roof (signifying a house) with an X through it means that the house has already been “burned” or “tricked” by another hobo and is not a trusting house.
  • Two shovels signify that work was available.

The hobo spawned  songs about his life. One popular on is called Hobo’s Laments. This one, by John Prine,  tells of the hardships and the vid has a lot of photos that tell of the hobo’s life”


1970’s Ride along the Skunk Train Route

The heads up for this came from daughter Annalise who found it in the Berkeley University archives. Here’s what the notes to the vid read:

“Professionally-produced film about the California Western Railroad, or “Skunk Line,” running from Fort Bragg to Willits, California, built by Charles R. Johnson in 1885 as part of the “Redwood Route” for moving redwood logs to Mendocino coast sawmills from the back country. Appears to have been filmed circa 1970. ”

Sorry, I can’t embed it you’ll have to click on the link. It lasts about eleven minutes.

Building Tunnel #1 on the CWR’s Skunk Train Route Just outside Fort Bragg

Just outside Fort Bragg a 1,112 foot bore, CWR (California Western Railroad) Tunnel #1, runs through the rocky hill between Pudding Creek and the Noyo River. The tunnel was completed more than a century ago, in 1893 and is still in use on the CWR’s Skunk line . The tunnel was built by skilled Chinese laborers but not before there a near riot in Fort Bragg. A mob decided that it was improper for the work to be given to the Chinese. The sheriff rode over on his horse from Ukiah and told the mob they could do the job if they wanted but when it came time to start none of the mob was willing to do the tough, dangerous job of digging through the mountain.

If you look at the pic below you can see some of the Chinese labourers,

Tunnel #1 1892

Tunnel #1 1892

CWR (California Western Railroad) Tunnel #1 collapse in April 2013

There was a  major collapse (thousands of tons of rock falling onto and covering approximately forty feet of track) in April of 2013 in CWR’s  #1 Tunnel some 10 miles from Fort Bragg. Whilst some repairs have been effected the tunnel is still closed. Heretofore I have not seen any photos of the collapse and initial work to re-open it. That has changed with club member Lonnie Dickson obtaining from his neighbor some pictures that the neighbor took personally. Alas, I have no further information – just the pics below:

A video entitled The Redwood Route (AKA The Skunk Train in the 1940’s)

This is the text that our computer guru, Roger Thornburn,  inserted at the beginning of this lengthy (44 minutes) video:

Redwood Route is a 1940’s video made by the Union Lumber Company of Fort Bragg, Mendocino, CA. The video was made to promote the railroad as a tourist attraction, and the redwood tree logging business as a modern sustainable resource. It shows both the operation and maintenance of the railroad. The video was originally shot on 16 mm film and then transferred to VHS in the 1980’s and to digital format around 2005, hence some of the quality issues.

As historian of the club I found it interesting to see how the CWR (California Western Railroad) operated up over Summit – the last big hill before you get to Willits. I also enjoyed watching how useful the Skunk train was to those who lived along the line from Fort Bragg to Willits.

PS – Roger also added the sound.