Fort Bragg Soroptimists Donate Railroad Themed Quilt to the Mendocino Model Railroad & Historical Society (MCMR&HS)

Quilting is a very active pastime in Fort Bragg and along the immediate coast. The annual quilt show has amazing quilts in on display in local business and a school. The weekend of the annual show is a big draw for residents and visitors alike. In a recent exhibition one complex quilt done by a lady was mirrored by a “quilt” made by her husband from wood. For a small town the skills are awesome.

The MCMR&HS has two large G Scale layouts and a Museum. Club Members thought that the offer of a railroad themed quilt would be a delightful addition to the artifacts we have on display. The quilt came to us unframed. Lonnie Dickson, a club member agreed to frame it, You can see it below in all its glory.

The Railroad Themed Quilt

The new quilt facing the Ain’t Goin Nowhere Layout in Fort Bragg

A very good friend of my wife Sarah heard of what the club was creating and made a donation the cost of the materials.

Club Member Frank Smith was kind enough to take the photos.



Mines and Minerals in Mendocino County

When we came here in 2000I was very surprised to find that tourism and logging/sawmilling provided most of the jobs. I wondered aloud(?) several times that it was odd that in a County as big as Mendocino, 3,800 square miles, there was no discernible mining. Whilst perusing the Anderson Valley Advertiser, I came across an essay by my good friend Katy Tahja that explained what little mineral excavation there was in Mendocino. Katy writes:

“While working on the Mendocino County history I was thrilled to pick up “Mineral Commodities of California” (1957) for $1. In it were 736 slightly musty pages of geology and geography and references to Mendocino County.

Even with college classes in geology and geography in my past I wanted interesting LOCAL facts for my book. I discovered there is asbestos within the serpentine rock in the county. Graphite was mined 15 miles east of Point Arena. Chromite was mined near Leggett. On Salt Creek near Dos Rios was a coal vein mined for decades. Yorkville had a copper mine and the miners named their cluster of houses Little Penny.

Ever heard of Leech Lake, northeast of Covelo? There was a photograph in the book of jade mining there in the 1950s. If the claim is still there it is behind the locked gates of the Middle Eel-Yolla Bolly Wilderness area now.”

As you can see not a whole lot of activity so I am putting my pick and shovel in the back of the garage.

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