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.

Map of the Caspar, South Fork& Eastern Railroad

This map first appeared tucked away in the back of a Western Railroader. It was recently the subject of some correspondence I had with a gentleman who works for Jackson State Forest. Webmaster Roger Thornburn was in on the correspondence and used his magical computer skills to enhance the original.

As historian for the club I should have been knowledgeable of the great detail on the map. Not only does the map show the location of the Caspar Lumber Company’s twenty logging camps it also shows the location of its three inclines. Not only do we get the Caspar Railroad the CWR’s railraod is shown as is the Mendocino Lumber Compamy’s railroad tracks. If that wasn’t enough you can see Route 20, Highway 1 and the Comptche Ukiah Road. Last, but not least, it shows that the choice of path for all three railroads was along the side of rivers and streams. Have a gander for yourself. You’ll need to click on the map to see all the details I have described.

Caspar, South Fork & Eastern R. R. Map

Caspar, South Fork & Eastern R. R. Map

Irmulco when it was the end of line from Fort Bragg

The name Irmulco comes from Ireland Murray Lumber Company. The company started out in 1902 with a small steam powered sawmill in Two Rock Valley, six miles west of Willits. Lonzo Irvine and Henry Muir ran this mill until 1909 when the supply of readily available timber was exhausted. The operation was moved along the Noyo River where it ran until 1923.

Prior to the line from Fort Bragg going  all the way “over the hill” to Willits it ended at Irmulco. To travel the last sixteen miles to Willits passengers had to alight and catch a stage.

The stage waiting for passengers to alight at Irmulco

The stage waiting for passengers to alight at Irmulco

Better them than me!