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.

Derailment of Two California Western Railroad (CWR) Prairie (2-6-2t) Locos north of Cleone on CWR’s Ten Mile Branch – Maybee?????

A few days ago a gentleman named Mervin Mahler sent me four photos that I believe were taken from a scrapbook or photo album. I have separated them and you can see them below:

Derailment crew

Derailment #1

Derailment #2

Derailment #3

In his e-mail Mervin said …… “I received this with a group of Rockport photo’s. I know that these engines would not be [from there]. Have you seen these engines before? Willits to Eureka line?”

I wrote back ……….  Attached is the picture of the train crew which I have converted to black and white and enlarged. If you look behind the left gentleman’s elbow it looks like rocks or possibly a pier in the water. Looking along the line of the right hand gentlemen’s shoulder to the edge of the photo looks like cliffs. The ground in all the photos looks very sandy.”

Derailment crew converted to b & w and enlarged

I continued ….. “One engine is a 2-6-2 and has #1 on it so I’ll search to see what pics I have of 2-6-2’s and get back to you.  So, your guess of Rockport I think is a good one. My guess would be the Ten Mile Branch not too far from Ten Mile river.”

I started to go through my collection and homed in on the Western Railroader devoted to the CWR. Shonuff there they were:

CWR Locos 11 and 12

The final question is where the derailment happened. Well, the only place that I know of that the CWR went near the sea was on the Ten Mile Branch. This photo shows the route of Ten Mile branch along the dunes by Inglenook Fen.

Coast line along Inglenook Fen with path of Ten Mile branch marked

This pic is for the same stretch of coast taken from the above.

Google map of location of Inglenook section of the Ten Mile Branch

Anyone have more info or better ideas?


Union Pacific’s (UP) Big Boy (4-8-8-4) on display in Omaha

Over 40 years ago I lived in Omaha. Whilst there I managed to wangle a visit to UP’s shops. I took photos I know but can I find them? No way, Jose.

The exhibit you are about to see did not exist when I was there. The vid shows a Big Boy on display. I learned of it courtesy of a heads up from our Club’s (The Mendocino Coast Model Railroad and Historical Society) VP, Lonnie Dickson. Lonnie worked for SP (Southern Pacific) and UP after the merger of the two for his entire career.

Pretty cool eh?

CN (Canadian National) Steam Loco #6060

Once upon  a time I lived in Montreal. One of my favorite places to on the weekend was the Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW). MLW was a Canadian railway locomotive manufacturer which existed under several names from 1883 to 1985, producing both steam and diesel locomotives.

CN_Steam_Loco #6060

CN #6060 was built in November 1944, and was one of 20 Mountain’s ordered for Canadian National. They were ordered during the Second World War, and were a step down in size from the much more prevalent Northern’s. As a result of the step down in size the mountain type had less power but more speed and served well as a general purpose workhorse.  In later years several locomotives lost the distinctive cone-shaped smokebox door cover, giving them the nickname “Bullet Nose Betty’s”.

CNR #6060 operated high-speed passenger and freight in Canada, until 1960 when her class was retired in 1960 due to dieselization. CNR 6060 was then put on static display in Jasper, Alberta in 1962. Then in 1972, she was restored, replacing Canadian National 6218 and became CN’s main excursion engine until the 1980’s, when she was retired again.

In 1985, Harry Home led efforts to restore CN #6060 and run it to Expo 86 in Vancouver after she was restored in Jasper, Alberta. She ran to Expo 86 along with Canadian Pacific 2860. After Expo 86, she was moved to the  Alberta Railway Museum, where she was stored until 1998 when she was moved to Stettler so she can operate regularly in the service of Alberta Prairie Steam Tour. As of 2009, she has been stored at the Rocky Mountain Rail Society.

I tell you all this ‘cos Club Member Ben Sochacki sent me a heads up of a abfab vid of CN #6060. Not a vid of the real thing but a vid of a seven and a half inch gauge model built by Ernie Beskowiney. Ernie put approximately 7 years and 35,000 hours into the design and construction of this flawless live steam locomotive. It is nearly entirely CNC’d out of stainless steel and is slightly larger than 1/8 scale. The operating pressure is 150 PSI and develops about 483lbs of tractive effort. It has pulled a train of 48 people without blinking. Here is the vid of Ernie firing up and running the locomotive at the Bitter Creek Western railroad.

Thanks Ben.

The Glover Machine Works in the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History in Kennesaw, GA,

Club Member Dan Fessler visited this museum on a vacation “back east.”

The famous “General” is not the only locomotive you’ll see in th museum. After the Civil War, the Glover Machine Works of Marietta, GA played a large role in the revitalization of the south. As the only southern builder of steam locomotives, the Glover factory produced smaller engines that were mostly intended for industrial use. Although the Glover facility produced its last steam locomotive in the 1930s, it retained all of the patterns, dies and fixtures to make parts for the engines it produced and continued to support them for well over 20 years. When the facility finally closed, surviving family members saved as much of the locomotive production equipment as possible and that material has is now displayed at the museum in Kennesaw.

Amazing diorama of how Glover Locomotives were built

Above is a diorama depicting the only belt-driven, steam locomotive assembly line in the US. In this view, you see a pair of small industrial engines in various stages of assembly. Directly in front of the camera sits the chassis of a small 0-4-0T locomotive. Just beyond it, a worker maneuvers the boiler into position on a small cart. On the right side of the photo, more fully assembled locomotive is undergoing some final operations. This is a most interesting exhibit, depicting an operation that all but the most ardent steam aficionados probably never knew existed.

Here are the pics Dan took when he visited:

Image #1

Image #2

Image #3

Image #4

Image #5

Image #6

Image #7

And finally ……..

The General

Thanks Dan.

Triplex Locomotives – 2-8-8-8-2 and 2-8-8-4-8-4

This is a Triples Locomotive:

Builder’s photo of the Virginian Xa, the sole 2-8-8-8-4 locomotive ever built

Why am I writing about Triplex Mocomotives when they had nothing to do with Mendocino Railroad History. Well, President Chuck Whitlock was at home cruising the Web watching vids of Train Mountain. Train Mountain is in Chiliquin north of Klamath Falls. Life Member Bill Shepherd owns a piece of land on the Train Mountain property and can run his 7.5 inch gauge equipment on the 37 miles (not an error) of track there. Chuck decided he was “obsessed” with finding out more about Triplex locomotives. I decided to help him out.

Only one 2-8-8-8-4T was ever built, a Mallet-type for the Virginian Railway in 1916. This is the one in the above photo. Built by Baldwin Locomotive Works, it became the only example of their class Xa, so named due to the experimental nature of the locomotive. Like the same railroad’s large articulated electrics and the Erie Railroad 2-8-8-8-2s, it was nicknamed “Triplex”.

The purpose of the Xa was to push heavy trains over steep inclines, requiring high tractive effort, but low speed, over short distances. The Xa worked on a difficult 14-mile section from Elmore to Clark’s Gap.

The Xa’s center set of cylinders received high-pressure steam, and the exhaust from these was fed to the two other sets of cylinders, which were valved for low pressure. The right cylinder exhausted into the front set of low pressure cylinders, and the left into the rear set; this is also why the high pressure cylinders have the same diameter as the low pressure ones, whereas most mallet locomotives have much smaller high pressure cylinders. The front set exhausted through the smokebox and the rear set exhausted first through a feedwater heater in the tender and then to the open air through a large pipe, which can be seen in the photo. Since only half of the exhaust steam exited through the smokebox, firebox draft (and thus boiler heating) was poor. Although the boiler was large (in line with contemporary two-cylinder and four-cylinder practice), six large cylinders demanded more steam than even such a boiler could supply. With all six cylinders operating at their full pressure (which could not be sustained for very long), the Xa produced huge amounts of tractive effort that may have been the highest of any steam locomotive before or since (160,000 pounds-force in compound mode, which was the largest tractive effort for any locomotive up to the time,1914-1916). The Xa is also considered the largest tank engine ever built since the tender had driving wheels as well and thus contributed to traction. The problem of variable adhesion on the Xa’s tender unit was not a serious one, since pusher locomotives had frequent opportunities to take on additional fuel and water.

The Xa was unable to sustain a speed greater than five miles an hour, since the six cylinders could easily consume more steam than the boiler could produce. The tender had a four-wheel truck at the rear to help guide the locomotive into curves when drifting back downhill after pushing a train over the hill.

The XA was sent back to Baldwin in 1920 and was rebuilt as two locomotives, a 2-8-8-0 and a 2-8-2. Unlike their progenitor which lasted only a few years in service, these two locomotives remained in service until 1953.

What about the 2-8-8-8-2 of which there were two:

Erie Railroad Triples # 1914

This engine (above) was ordered to work the difficult 14-mile section from Elmore to Clark’s Gap; only one was built. Although the boiler was bigger than that of the Erie triplex, there was still not enough steam. Another problem was steam leakage from the stuffing boxes of the tender cylinder, which obscured vision from the cab, and the machine was rebuilt without the powered tender.

You might think that an inherent problem with these engines- one that would have occurred to the designers- was that as the tender emptied, the adhesion of the rear driving wheels steadily decreased. However, Wiener states that since they were used for banking, there were frequent opportunities to replenish coal and water, and this was not a serious problem.

Virginia Railway Triplex # 1916




Wabash Cannonball

Our Club’s VP, Lonnie Dickson, thought I would like this Johnny Cash version of the song, “Wabash Cannonball.” He was right – I think it’s great!

It turns out that the song is old and has quite a history. What follows is from Wiki ……

The Wabash Cannonball” is an American folk song about a fictional train, thought to have originated in the late nineteenth century. Its first documented appearance was on sheet music published in 1882, titled “The Great Rock Island Route” and credited to J. A. Roff. All subsequent versions contain a variation of the chorus:

Now listen to the jingle, and the rumble, and the roar,

As she dashes thro’ the woodland, and speeds along the shore,

See the mighty rushing engine, hear her merry bell ring out,

As they speed along in safety, on the “Great Rock-Island Route.”

A rewritten version by William Kindt appeared in 1904 under the title “Wabash Cannon Ball”. The Carter Family made one of the first recordings of the song in 1929, though it was not released until 1932. Another popular version was recorded by Roy Acuff in 1936. It is a signature song of the Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjack Marching Band, the Kansas State University Marching Band, the University of Texas Longhorn Band, and of the Indiana State University Marching Sycamores, as ISU is close to the Wabash River. It was also used as the theme song by the USS Wabash (AOR5).

The song “The Wabash Cannonball” is part of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list In addition to The Carter Family’s 1929 recording and Roy Acuff’s 1936 recording, many hillbilly artists recorded “The Wabash Cannonball” during the Great Depression era of the 1930s and 1940s. Bing Crosby recorded the song for his album “Bing Crosby Sings The Great Country Hits”. The song increased in popularity during this time. In the wake of the song’s popularity, the Wabash Railroad named its express run between Detroit and St. Louis as the Wabash Cannon Ball in 1949, the only actual train to bear the name, which it carried until discontinued in 1971. However, the train was named after the song, not the other way around.”

Some good loco footage in the vid: