California Western Railway and Navigation Company (CWR) – Place names from Fort Bragg to Willits

Our web page detailing the places along the CWR’s route from Fort Bragg to Willits gives thumbnails of the history of the places along the route. The two pics below give details of all the sidings and how many cars the sidings hold.

Places and sidings along CWR route from Fort Bragg to Willits

Places and sidings along CWR route from Fort Bragg to Willits

Places and sidings along CWR route from Fort Bragg to Willits

Places and sidings along CWR route from Fort Bragg to Willits

Interesting stuff – another sliver of local history.

Elm Street Underpass – Elm Street, Fort Bragg, CA that is

A while back I wrote a blog about Fort Bragg”s Glass Beach. Here’s what it said in part:

When the Club built its first G Scale layout it was of a logging operation loosely based on Fort Bragg. Hank told Louis Hough (our Club’s first historian) that to get to Glass Beach you went down Elm Street and UNDER the Union Lumber Company’s Ten Mile Branch. Louis and I searched high and low for “proof” that there was indeed an underpass. The search was fruitless. So when we built the layout we built an underpass:

Elm Street Underpass

Relatively recently Roger Thornburn and I came into possession of Sanborn (very detailed insurance) maps of Fort Bragg. Alas and alack they do not show Elm Street. UGH!!!!!!! So, I still do not know if Hank was right. If you do know PLEASE let me know.”

Not too long ago the photo below came into my possession:



At first I thought it was the “missing link” to the Elm Street Underpass. I currently think it is a picture of the underpass at McKerricher State Park. As both underpasses went beneath the Union Lumber’s Ten Mile Branch could the Elm Street one looked like the pic above?

Anyone have any thoughts?



The Candy Man on the Skunk Train

I met Mr and Mrs Michael L. Hess when I was working the model train. They were visiting from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Micheal told me that he had very fond memories of the Skunk Train. I asked him if he would be kind enough to “put them on paper.” He was kind enough ……

……. a little oral history …….

I grew up in Fort Bragg off of Pudding Creek Road.  I was always within hearing distance of the Skunk Train and its various engines.  I remember not only the steam engine that they ran almost every day in the summer, but also the M100, M200 and M300.  The steam engine would stop running in the winter and then only the motorcars would go out.  They were important because a lot of people that lived along the Pudding Creek and Noyo watersheds depended upon them for transportation, deliveries etc.

My family owns property about a quarter mile up the track (up around one bend) from Irmulco Station.  The California Western actually bisects our property in half and they have a right of way through it.  Until 1992 or so we had a cabin on the property – sadly it has burned down.  However, every summer my family would spend a lot of time out at the cabin camping and swimming, cooking out. At least twice a day and sometimes more the Skunk trains would come through our property.  Often we would first see the M100 or M200, followed a little later by the steam train.  I still remember the different tones of the train whistles and horns, so different in tones whether they were coming or going.  Whenever the trains were traveling toward me, they horns seemed so bright and cheerful, and as they traveled away from our property so mournful.  Of course as an adult I understand about sound waves and how sound changes, but as a child it seemed magical.

We used to sleep outside, underneath the trees and stars.  In the early evening Boise Cascade, then Georgia Pacific, would run a freight train out of Fort Bragg to Willits.  My father, who worked as the shipping manager at the mill, often knew the person manning the caboose and occasionally would stand by the track and hold out a plastic cup with a “highball” for the guy – he would grab it as they went by.  At about 2 or 3 in the morning, the freight train would come back.  For me, it was another magical moment.  You’d hear the rumbling of the diesel engines for miles – when they hit the turn just above us and came around the corner the light would illuminate everything – the engine noise got louder and louder and then the engines, often two of them, would rumble by like thunder.  Then the slow clack-clack of the empty cars, and then the caboose.  If the guy on the caboose was feeling good (maybe from his highball) we could occasionally hear him singing something as he went by.  I remember watching the red light of the caboose vanish down the tracks until I drifted back off into sleep.

For us kids, though, the highlight of the day would be the candy man on the Skunk train.  I first remember my uncle, Lonnie Hess, when he worked for the Skunk train as conductor, doing this for us.  We would hear the train as it sounded its horn as it crossed the Irmulco Road.  My sisters, cousins, everyone who was out there would run out.  The steam engine would come chugging up the tracks – it seemed to be trying to build up speed to attack the grade into Willits.  At the back car, my uncle would be at the last car door, and as they passed he would shower us with little candies and Cracker Jack boxes.  It was a fine time!  After my uncle left his job, the tradition was continued by another skunk conducter, Tex Behm (I can’t remember the exact spelling of his last name), and different generations of our family enjoyed our daily shower of candies and Cracker Jacks.  It made great pictures for the tourists – I can imagine that pictures of me, my sisters and my cousins grabbing at candies from the Skunk train are sitting in dusty boxes of pictures all over the country, perhaps the world.  It was a wonderful memory.

One more – occasionally I had a chance to actually take the train out to our property.  It always felt a bit powerful to be a person that the train stopped for, either to get off or get on.  To stand on next to the track and wave down these powerful locomotives, or to be on the train while it stopped and we got off in the middle of nowhere while tourists watched and wondered made me feel like a very big and important person at times.

I’ll always have great memories of Skunk train.

A wonderful piece of oral history. Thank you Micheal very much.

First Railroad Depot in Willits

Thanks to our eagle eyed reporter from Brooktrails (near Willits – Club Member Mike Aplet) we snared another sliver of local history to add to our pile. In the Lifestyle site (which is all about Willits now and then) Mike spotted pictures of the first Willits depot:

Willits first depot

Willits first depot

The notes to the pictures read:

The old Willits depot, circa 1901, was located across the street from the present depot, where the parking lot is today. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad reached Willits from the Bay Area in November 1901, with the first passenger train service beginning in May 1902. The pictured depot was replaced by the current Willits depot in 1915, which now serves as the Willits hub for the Skunk Train, located at 299 E. Commercial Street.”

Thanks Mike

Carlson Family Farm at the north end of the Pudding Creek Trestle in Fort Bragg (CA)

The Carlson family farm was located at the north end of the Pudding Creek Trestle in Fort Bragg (CA). The farm came to my/our attention when we were researching the Union Lumber Company’s railroad route to the Ten Mile Mile River Basin. The Ten Mile Branch ran from the Mill site in Fort Bragg north along the coast over five trestles till it came to Ten Mile River. Knowledge of the Carlson Farm started from this photo which appeared in the Fort Bragg Advocate on March 27, 1981.

Carlson Farm at the North end of the Pudding Creek Trestle

Carlson Farm at the North end of the Pudding Creek Trestle

The local genealogical society interviewed a relative of the Carlsons and I/we included the detail in the our website page.

Thanks to Denise Stenberg we have new info about the Carlsons:

A brief biography, by Don Carlson

Born on Feb. 12th, 1909, in Fort Bragg. Ca. Son of Charles Jofs Carlson, born 1863, and Maria Adalina (Mann-Folk) Carlson, born Sept. 15, 1873, of Sundom, Finland — near Vaasa, Finland. Both were Swedish and spoke Swedish. Married Sept. 22. 1894, in Sacramento. Ca.

Walter was 11th of 12 children. Father Charles died 1/9/1921 and Mother Maria died 4/11/1951.

Dad’s family lived on the North bluff of where Pudding Creek empties into the ocean west of the Union Lumber Company tracks. He often said that during a strong storm the ocean waves would sometimes splash over the bluff onto their yard.

He spoke fondly of his childhood and his brother and sisters. No Television in those [his childhood] days — but I don’t think he would’ve had time to watch anything anyway. He was very busy hunting. fishing and trapping as well as avoiding the game wardens. He made a few dollars trapping although I never how much. It seemed like he made enough to have spending money. He would have a little smile when he mentioned the game wardens — I guess they met many times. In warmer weather there was swimming. I think there was an indoor pool somewhere in Fort Bragg — YMCA ? . But, there was always Pudding Creek — auk ! A few things Dad excelled at were getting along with people (a survival tactic with all the older siblings) projecting a pleasant and positive attitude. a gift of small talk (he called it BS) and Baseball.

By the time he entered high school his talent as a baseball pitcher was showing. In his first year his team did not lose a game -he pitched most of the games. Same thing the next year and the next year. Three years and his team never lost a game (that’s the way he told the story.. ). He was very proud of that accomplishment. The Fort Bragg High School team was well known in Northern Cal. He told me a number of times how little Fort Bragg Hi beat the big city Berkeley Hi team (my old school) and he pitched the game. The late 1920s team played other schools from all over Nor. Cal and never lost.

In a small town like Fort Bragg, business people in town notice a winning high school sports team. As the team’s best pitcher and being left handed, he was no longer known as Walter — now it was Lefty. This will be the first of a few times he will be noticed for hard work and talent. While all of his older brothers worked either for the Union Lumber Co. in the lumber yards or for the Union Pacific Railroad, he briefly worked in the lumber yard but was moved into the Union Pacific General store and about a year after high school he was the store manager. He wasl8 or 19 and had the store keys — he was responsible to lock up the store on Saturday nights …. He kept track of the store inventory and some of the other accounting duties. he was amazed of the high regard they held him in.

Soon he and 8 others from Fort Bragg, Leo Galli and dad’s best friend Kit Pennetenti, left for San Francisco. Dad went to Heald’s Business College (worked his way thru – sweeping floors at the school and other jobs the school had for him … that’s what he told me). He was the first in our family to graduate from a college until his grandson (my nephew Tony) graduated from San Jose State. San Jose State is a major school and not to take anything away from my nephew — Tony worked very hard, never gave up and finished well enough to graduate (yes. I am proud of him) but, in the middle of the great depression working your way through any college is a major accomplishment — I don’t how many of dad’s friends also made it all the way through.

All this time he was still playing baseball for various teams in San Francisco. Played with the DiMaggio brothers, Dom & Vince. He told a younger DiMaggio — Joe — he was too young to play for his team ….. 000PS.

A few years later, the Detroit Tigers invited him to try-outs for their team. They liked what they saw and wanted to sign dad to a contract. He refused !! They wanted to send him to Georgia. He did not want to go and he told me his arm was giving out — he had pitched so many games he didn’t feel he could pitch many more games. The end of baseball for Lefty.

After finishing school, dad was working for the Jewel Tea Company. They were a door to door sundries and grocery delivery company. There were many of those types of companies and one the better known was the Jewel Tea Co. They had established customer routes and were a very reputable business. Later he was working for the Safeway Grocery Stores across the bay in Richmond and his next important break was about to happen. About two years later one of the bread salesman for the Remar Baking Co. suggested dad talk to the salesman’s supervisor. So, dad goes to work for the bread company as a route salesman. Dad’s big advantage over the other companies salesmen was his knowledge of the grocery business and what the grocery companies were looking for in a bread company. Dad was adding so many stores to his route the bread company had to hire more salesmen and split-up his routes. They made him a supervisor so he would still have some contact with the stores he added and to teach the salesmen his methods of attracting new customers (stores). He had meetings with the owner of the bread company. That was the big break.

I was born on 11/5/1941. 12/7/1941 was the day Pearl Harbor was destroyed by the Japanese. Every able-bodied man was about to be drafted in the armed services. The owner of the bread company was a member of the local draft board. When it was dad’s turn to be drafted, the owner stepped in and gave dad a deferred status. Dad was the only one in the company that knew all of the salesman’s routes, knew almost all of the customers and was an indispensable part of a vital business to the local community. It was true and it worked ! ! Dad was not drafted and was not in the war. James Burke’s Connections would have shown how playing baseball well, had kept dad out of the war.

Another lucky thing happened to dad in the mid 1930’s. He met Lillian Hoffman. Who are the lucky ones now? My sister, Julie and I had them for parents.

Donald Walter Carlson 7/16/2004″

Along with the new info we were pleased to receive three more photos:

Carlson Farm - picture taken from Route 1

Carlson Farm – picture taken from Route 1

Carlson Farm before the Cypresses that are there now were planted

Carlson Farm before the Cypresses that are there now were planted

Maggie the Carlson's cow

Maggie the Carlson’s cow

Really neat stuff …….. Thanks Ms Stenberg


Building a Railroad in the 1800’s and early 1900’s – NWP (Northwestern Pacific) in 1914

This old movie has no sound. I was initially attracted to it because it was NWP related. After I had viewed it I asked myself what did I know about railroad building “back then”. Answer – not much.

The second time I watched it I stopped it in quite a few places to get an idea of what took place when building a railroad. The thought I had in mind was a diorama on our club layout showing a railroad under construction. Whilst this is the NWP I think it is atypical of pretty much any railroad being built in 1914.

I am reasonably sure this movie was taken from a speeder – there is no sign of smoke. The route is from north of Willits toward Eureka.