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


Seabiscuit – a horse that became the symbol of hope in the Depression

To get to visit Fort Bragg most visitors from the Bay Area go north up Route 101 and then turn west on Route 20 in Willits. When you are about 16 miles from Willits you pass a Casino on the east side of the road. At the Casino Route 101 starts a climbs of some nearly 800 feet to reach Willits. The climb is up what we call the Ridgewood Grade.

Seabiscuit was a champion racehorse in the United States. From an inauspicious start, Seabiscuit became an unlikely champion and a symbol of hope to many Americans during the Great Depression. Seabiscuit became the subject of a 1949 film, “The Story of Seabiscuit”, a best selling book, “Seabiscuit, An American Legend” and a 2003 film, “Seabiscuit”. SeaBiscuit spent his retirement at the Ridgewood Ranch off 101 south of Willits.

The one and only famous person (two or four legged) in a fifty mile radius of Fort Bragg is Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit is buried at the Ridgewood Ranch which you can visit. At the Ranch is the second of the two statues made of Seabiscuit. The first is at the Santa Ana Racecourse in Southern California – the scene of some of Seabiscuit’s triumphs.

Statue of Seabiscuit at the Ridgewood Ranch

Now to England. If, like me, you like “investing” on horses then Cheltenham is a good place to go. Cheltenham Festival is one of the most famous events in the National Hunt jump racing calendar and attracts thousands of spectators each year. It offers the second largest prize money in UK jump racing, second only to the Grand National.It is your chance to see the elite of the jump racing world compete at the highest level.

Racing at Cheltenhan in England

A visitor to our website recently pointed out that the link about Seabisuit is wrong. Finn wrote, “The website about the movie ‘SeaBiscuit’ included in your page is no longer providing useful information about the movie (the website has been bought by someone else and is now being used as a foreign blog about gambling!). If you’d still like to reference a page about this movie then we have a page with cast/crew/production information, where to watch it online and the trailer, and we’d love if you used it as a replacement - This link is adjacent to a whole piece about Cheltenham.

To save you looking here’s the text created by Finn …….

The SeaBiscuit Documentary

SeaBiscuit is one of the most popular race horses of all time, and when the film premiered in the UK the British Horseracing Board (who manage Cheltenham Festival) decided that they should sponsor the event. The documentary shows the life of the famed horse called SeaBiscuit, and all of the incredible obstacles that the horse and it’s team had to overcome to reach the top. It was released in 2003 and was based on a book called Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. It was nominated for 7 academy awards and is crucial watching if you want to scrub up on your horse racing history.

The film stars Tobey Maguire and was directed by Gary Ross. You can watch it online in lots of places currently so no excuse not to check it out! It can be watched on Amazon and iTunes, and here is the trailer. 

I highly recommend the trailer. It gives you a quick overview of the film.


On being a Historian

A while back a lady asked what it was like being the historian for our club (the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society). It was not the sort of question I get every day for sure. The two words I used to answer her were, “Interesting,” and “Time Consuming.”

I am currently wading through Volume IV,  California, of the Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History by a man named Donald R. Robertson. I wish I had read the section, “Afterwords” before the lady had asked me the above question. He said,

If anyone reading these words plans to take on the project of writing a history of something, and sets a time frame for it, disabuse yourself of any time limits that you set. As soon as you start you will find avenues that lead you to other resources, And those resources will lead you to others and on and on it will go.”

Is that the truth. Our website – 450 pages of text, 1,500 photos, 600 plus blogs – started off as a loose leaf binder of “bits” I had collected. I have “stuff” from over 100 books and two large boxes of “bits” to sift through and add to the website and more arrives daily.

Mr. Robertson adds this quote in the last paragraph in his “Afterwords.”

In April, 1905, an author known only as “The Compiler” wrote of his difficulties in writing a history of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Some excerpts from that work: “No person who reads this little history will, from the reading thereof, be able to form any conception of the difficulties that have been encountered in getting together the data that form the basis thereof. In the nearly 69 years that have intervened since its charter, more than a generation of men have passed away. Documents, that to them were trivial and valueless but that would have been above price now were destroyed, lost or so scattered that much time has been used in digging out a very small part of them from oblivion. Other documents passed out of existence when the (rail)roads died, became bankrupt, sold or consolidated or otherwise vanished. This little history has cost more time and labor than would have required to write a fair history of the last hundred years of the United States.”



Felling a Giant Redwood with an Axe and a Crosscut Saw

I have a (not very sharp) felling axe. I have never used it. My wife believes that should I do so I could do myself permanent irreversible damage. My brother Sean and sister-in-law Sabine recently drove to Leggett to drive through the Chandelier Tree there.

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree at Leggett

Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree at Leggett

Look at it … can you imagine cutting it down with just an axe and a crosscut saw? Well, that’s what they used to do. Have a peek at these photos I have collected from various sources on the Internet. They amaze me.

Falling a Giant Redwood

Falling a Giant Redwood

Half a tree makes a train load

Half a tree makes a train load

Starting the undercut

Starting the undercut

About to start

About to start

Bucking a redwood

Bucking a redwood


Fallen tree in Avenue of the Giants

Fallen tree in Avenue of the Giants

Large coastal redwood - location unknown

Large coastal redwood – location unknown

Peeled redwood

Peeled redwood

Starting the undercut

Starting the undercut

Undercut complete

Undercut complete




Northwestern Pacific (NWP) Ferries across San Francisco Bay, 1900 to 1930

One of my early blogs was about the old ferry terminal at Sausalito. Ever since I wrote that blog I have become very interested in the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. Why? Because the products of the Union Lumber Company (ULC) Mill in Fort Bragg could not have got to markets that could not be reached by schooners loading from the ULC’s wharf without the NWP’s line from Willits into the Bay area. As I delved I realized that C.R. Johnson’s (the founder/owner of the ULC) vision was much wider – C.R. saw the Bay Area as a source of tourists to Fort Bragg and the Noyo River Tavern resort that the ULC built at Northspur (see this blog for details).

How did tourists get from Oakland and San Francisco to Willits to pick up the Skunk train? There was no Bay Bridge, no Golden gate Bridge and no Richmond Bridge you could drive over. The only way was by ferry across the Bay. As I discovered there were lots of ferries and before the bridges, lots of passengers.

In 1920, there were 22,657,418 passengers carried by the Southern Pacific on their ferries across the Bay. This compared to 9,937,488 in 1938, even though the population in East Bay Cities and San Francisco increased 50 percent in that period. The bridges around the Bay were built and people found they didn’t want to take the time for those wonderful rides across the Bay. This was the beginning of hurry up!

Amazingly one of the gracious ladies who plied the Bay still exists – she is the Eureka and is moored at the San Francisco Museum quay. If you have time to spare pay her a visit – one peek at the enormous walking beam engine that powered her makes the visit worthwhile.

The pics below give a notion of what you would have travelled on to start your journey from the other side of the Bay to visit the Noyo River Tavern and the Skunk Train.

NWP Ferry San Rafael

NWP Ferry San Rafael

NWP's paddle wheeler Cazadero departs from the San Francisco Ferry building in 1920

NWP’s paddle wheeler Cazadero departs from the San Francisco Ferry building in 1920


How the Skunk Train Got Its Name – Version 3

Our website gives two versions of how our Fort Bragg Skunk Train got its name. There is a third version.

Every Wednesday morning at 8 am our club members gather in the Deli Restaurent in Fort Bragg (across the road from the Skunk Train depot) for an informal breakfast meeting. The Deli is also a sort of museum and houses two restored non-functioning locos, Daisy (a 0-4-2) looms over our table. Dinky (a 0-4-0) is in the back of building.

This morning after breakfast and a visit to our layout I needed another libation and went back to the Deli to tank up on java. In the course of conversation with a visitor at the counter whilst waiting for my brew he asked where the second loco was (Daisy was in plain view). I ended up taking hime to the back corner and showing him where Dinky lives. Whilst there I remembered that I had asked Roger Thornburn (our erudite webmaster) to photo two frames which tell of a third version of how the Skunk Train got its name …… it’s quite a bit different from the first two.

The full story can be found in the two pictures below. Here’s a quickie version.

Frederick N. Goranson (Fred to everyone who knew him) went to work in 1907 for the two-year-old California and Western Railroad and Navigation Company (CWR) as a steam locomotive engineer. In 1909 Fred got married and had three children.

In 1925 the CWR acquired a new Mack Railbus powered by a gasoline motor. Fred was asked to be its first engineer. Given two weeks to master the new machine he mastered it in one.

His family asked Fred how he liked the new Railbus. He said it was fine but “it smelled like a damn skunk”. This was nothing new to the kids as he said the same thing about anything that smelled funny to him. The kids thought it funny that their dad had “to drive a skunk”. The kids spread the word in school and soon the whole community was using “the Skunk” to refer to the new acquisition.

Take your pick, version one, two or three.

How the Skunk got its name - Version 3

How the Skunk got its name – Version 3

Fred Goranason - Engineer of the first Skunk (on the left)

Fred Goranason – Engineer of the first Skunk (on the left)

Locomotive Crew

The engineer of a steam train held a position of importance almost equal to that of the brakeman. He not only ran his loco, he was also required to service and maintain it whilst it was “on the road”. The skill of the engineer with the throttle in his hand had to match that of the brakeman with his hickey.

CWR engineer eases out the throttle on #46, the Super Skunk 2-6-6-2

CWR engineer eases out the throttle on #46, the Super Skunk 2-6-6-2

The hostler prepares an engine each day for service. This usually includes starting the fire, greasing and oiling all lubrication points on a steam locomotive. This was traditionally the starting point for a person coming onto the engine crew. Hostlers tank up the loco with fuel and water, sand and lubricants and assure that all required tools and flagging equipment are provided on the locomotive.

The fireman was required to keep a lookout on his side of the train. He maintains the steam pressure in the boiler. To do this the fireman carefully regulates the fire, and  adds water to the boiler as needed. Water is added through the use of an injector or feed water pump. Firing involves caring for the boiler, and making sure there is always sufficient steam for the engineer to use. When proficient, a fireman concentrates on efficient operation to conserve fuel, water and extend the life of the engine.

The engineer is responsible for ensuring that the engine is fit for operation before and during any movement of the locomotive. He is responsible for its over the road upkeep, oiling and proper operation of the locomotive to be most fuel efficient and easy on the machinery. The engineer controls the operation of the locomotive but the brakeman controls the movement of the train, and both are responsible for its safe operation. The steam whistle, headlight, throttle, air brakes, reverse lever, and fireman are usually under the direct control of the engineer.

The disconnects that were often used to transport the big logs were fragile. They had to be `treated gently. Careful starts and smooth stops had to be second nature to the engineer who handled disconnects. Every engineer had to know in intimate detail the gradients on every inch of the rails. 500 tons of logs out of control on a 2% downhill grade can turn into a major league disaster in seconds.