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.”

Amen.

 

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.

Robert Pinoli, CEO of the CWR Skunk Train Stars in Save the Redwoods Movie

Robert is going to box my ears when he reads this …… but this is a short but REALLY good little movie that the Save the Redwoods League made to raise the funds to buy 484 acres of old growth redwood in 2011 along the Skunk Train route. Robert eloquently speaks for me when he describes people’s reaction when they first see the redwoods, “overwhelming”. The good news is that they DID raise the money and the redwoods are protected in perpetuity.

Camp Food in a Logging Camp

Hank Simonson’s father was a faller all his life. Hank and his family lived in the woods at Irmulco and at GlenBlair and had first hand experience of logging camp food which he said was very good. It had to be, he told me, or, “the workers would not stay.”

In 2012 it is quite difficult to get specifics of how the workers in the woods were fed. Hank recalled that the cooks were mainly Finnish (as was Hank) with many of the assistants being Chinese. The Chinese loved kids and Hank had very fond memories of being filled to the brim with peach pie and cream by the Chinese camp cooks and being scolded by his mother for not eating his “proper” food. Hank’s memory seemed to cloud up once he got to the “peach pie” bit!

But, patience is everything and I finally got some information and a couple of photos.
The photo below shows a typical camp kitchen car that included a wood fired stove with a large oven for baking. Fresh baked pies are visible in the lower right hand corner, and beyond the pastry work surface is a large bread dough pan. The female in the picture was most likely the wife of one of the loggers in camp. Water was heated on the stove for washing the dirty dishes, pots and pans. Workers in this kitchen prepared breakfast, sack lunches, and the evening meal.

Inside of the kitchen car

Inside of the kitchen car

Logging camps had an outstanding reputation for serving wonderful meals from which no man ever left hungry. Lunch consisted of three full sandwiches, two of which contained meat and the other perhaps butter and jam. Included with the lunch was a piece of cake or fruit for dessert. These lunches were prepared before breakfast and ready for the men to take with them when they left the dining car.

Breakfast and supper was typical of what one can get to eat in old style diners. Ham, eggs and toast for breakfast. On Sunday, breakfast would be later than normal to let the men sleep in on their day off. This meal was more like a “brunch” as we know it today.
Meat, (particularly stews), potatoes and a vegetable with biscuits were supper and there was lots of it. The woodsmen worked 12 hour days and would burn 6,000 calories in a day in the field.

The picture below shows a typical mess car. The workers ate family style. In the aisle stands the server who brought the bowls of food to the tables. If more was needed, he or she brought additional bowls. Lots of coffee was a necessity. All of the men needed to eat at the same time and as quickly as possible, so things could get a little hectic in the dining car.

Inside of a mess car

Inside of a mess car

California Western Railroad (CWR) Enginehouse at Fort Bragg – a Photographer’s View

The Enginehouse area in the Fort Bragg yard of the CWR has never looked like a work of art to me. However, there are those who see beauty in the most mundane of objects. Earlier this month my sister-in-law, Sabine, was visiting from England and she was fascinated by the colours and textures she saw in the Skunk Yard. As Sabine said, “There is a lot of difference in looking and seeing”.

As you can see in the samples below she is a very gifted photographer. To see the full gallery go to the bottom of this page.

Colours and Textures in the California Western Railroad's (CWR) Skunk Yard - #9

Colours and Textures in the California Western Railroad’s (CWR) Skunk Yard – #9

Colours and Textures in the California Western Railroa

Colours and Textures in the California Western Railroad ‘s (CWR) Skunk Yard – #16

Colours and Textures in the California Western Railroad's (CWR) Skunk Yard - #14

Colours and Textures in the California Western Railroad’s (CWR) Skunk Yard – #14