A ride through the French Pyrenees on the Yellow Train

I have been to France many times but have never ridden this train. In fact until I began my pandemic induced world tour of railroads I didn’t know of its existence!

In the early twentieth century, the railway line carrying the famous Yellow Train was built to link the high Catalan plateau to the rest of the region. Work began in 1903 and by 1910 connected Villefranche-de-Conflent to Mont-Louis. The final stretch was completed in 1927 reaching Latour-de-Carol.

Today it follows its original route through magnificent mountain scenery. Laying the track required the construction of 650 engineering masterpieces, including two remarkable bridges, the Séjourné Viaduct (suspended 65 metres above the ground) and the Pont Gisclard (80 metres above a precipice), allowing the Yellow Train to chug along the contours of the mountains.

The line runs all year round, serving 22 different stations. During the summer season, the Yellow Train has open wagons for a real mountain experience. The track passes through nineteen tunnels (including one tunnel 337 metres long at Planes, and the Pla de Llaura tunnel near Ur, 380m long). The map below shows you the route:

Map of yellow Train Route

The train runs on an electric drive system. Electricity is provided by a third rail which runs alongside the track. The Bouillouses dam and hydroelectric plant at La Cassagne, between Fontpedrouse and Mont-Louis, were built and commissioned in 1910 to provide electricity to the Yellow Train. The electricity production complex at La Cassagne is operated by the Hydroelectric Company of Southern France, a subsidiary of the French National Railways, created in 1937.

Jump on …………………………….

According to what I have read the Yellow train has run  every day since it was completed. And snow? The yellow Train has its own snow plows.

Yellow train Snow Plow

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?


The Hot Springs near Point Arena on the Garcia River

Everyday I learn something new about the Mendocino Coast. This blog started out with a pic I found on Lynn Catlett’s “You know you’re from Mendocino if …..” Facebook page:

Bath House at the Garcia River Hot Springs

if you click on the pic you’ll see the handwriting clearly. Where were or where are  the Hot Springs and if they were on the Garcia river how come they were near Point Arena? I didn’t know the answer so I started checking maps. This one shows Hot Springs reasonably well:

Hot Springs Map

In the top left corner is Point Arena and in the bottom right corner is Gualala. Route 1 is the orange line that runs from top left to bottom right. The red line shows how you get to the Hot Springs from one of the minor (black) roads.

One more old photo that I found when I was searching for a decent map:

The Hot Springs

So, if you are near Point Arena and want a hot dip ………….


Wendling Woods now called Navarro

Until 1914, Navarro on Route 128 in Mendocino County was called Wendling (Woods) – Navarro was the name of what is now Navarro-by-the-Sea. Wendling/Navarro, is located eleven miles up river from the sea along Highway 128. Ok, so now you know where Wendling was located. If you check our website you’ll that there is precious little in there on Wendling (Woods). I did  write two blogs about Wendling a while ago  and another about its history – here.

This map shows where Wendling Woods aka Navarro is:

Topo Map of Navarro showing Route 128 running through it

Now for the new stuff – this pic. The road through Wendling (aka Navarro) was also where the railroad tracks ran – see below

Hendy State Park

As may be seen from the pages in this blog there is a lot I do not know about the locale in which I live. So, when a visitor to our club’s (G scale) – layout which tells the story of logging along the Mendocino Coast – asks me what I know about the history of Hendy Woods (State Park) and I say, “Not very much. ” I think it behoves me as the club’s historian to get my act together and go looking.

First things first – where is it? Here’s a topo map to give you a heads up [Click on the map to enlarge it]:

Topo map showing the location of Hendy Woods State Park

Topo map showing the location of Hendy Woods State Park

Hendy Woods State Park is a state park of California, located in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. It is named after Joshua Hendy, who owned the land and stipulated that it be protected; it passed through several owners after Hendy died without being logged, before becoming part of the California State Park system in 1958. It is the only large park within the Anderson Valley. It is about 20 miles from the coast, and because of the distance, it is noticeably warmer than California’s coast redwood forests. The park can be reached via the Philo–Greenwood Road, just off California State Route 128.

The park covers 816 acres of land and contains two groves of old-growth coast redwood: Big Hendy (80 acres) and Little Hendy (20 acres). Some of the trees are over 300 feet tall and may be nearly 1,000 years old. Other trees in the woods include madrone, Douglas fir, and California laurel. The park also contains 3.3 miles of property along the banks of the Navarro River and provides the only public access to the river within the Anderson Valley.

The Pomo people lived in what is now Hendy Woods for thousands of years, supporting themselves as hunter-gatherers. The first western settlers in the region were Russian fur traders who claimed the Pomo lands and forced the Pomo people into servitude; today, the remaining Pomo people are greatly reduced in number.

Joshua Hendy, after whom Hendy Woods was named, was an English-born blacksmith who moved from Texas to California in the California Gold Rush and built a large sawmill on the Navarro River. When Hendy died in 1891, he willed the property to his nephews with a stipulation that the coast redwood groves in it be protected. However, his nephew Samuel Hendy eventually ran out of money and sold the property to the Pacific Coast Lumber Company. It was sold again in turn to the Albion Lumber Company, in 1930 to the Southern Pacific Land Company, and in 1948 to the Masonite Corporation, together with the land stretching from what is now the park to the coast. 

Through these changes of ownership, Hendy Woods remained unlogged and was a popular location for family picnics. In 1938, Al Strowbridge visited the Anderson Valley Unity Club (a local women’s service organization) and spoke to them about the redwood forests of California; from that time forward the Unity Club worked to save the remaining groves of redwoods, and in 1958 the California State Park system bought approximately 600 acres of land with two miles of river frontage from Masonite for US$350,000. From 1979 to 1988, several additional purchases brought the park up to its present size of 816 acres. 

Redwood In Hendy Woods

Redwood In Hendy Woods

Have I been there? Yes, but before we moved here in 2000. I remember going because of the Redwoods. Alas, I cannot find the photos I know that I took.


Logging at DeHaven on the Mendocino Coast

Unless you are a native to the Mendocino Coast you have probably never heard of Dehaven. DeHaven is located on California State Route 1 near the Pacific coast 1.5 miles north of Westport. The name honors John J. De Haven, congressman and Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court.

Here is a map of DeHaven’s location:

Map showing the location of DeHaven on the Mendocino Coast

Map showing the location of DeHaven on the Mendocino Coast

There was no shipping point at DeHaven. Why? All those “x” in the sea are known rocks. This map shows its proximity to Westport which was where the DeHaven’s mills lumber was shipped from :

Map showing DeHaven and Westport on the Mendocino Coast

Map showing DeHaven and Westport on the Mendocino Coast

The website is quite informative about Dehaven – see here. There is also a blog showing a picture of DeHaven’s one and only loco in a very sad state – see here. This pic is the first I have ubcovered of the town itself:

DeHaven store and a residence

DeHaven store and a residence

An enquiry about Fruto

I recently received this enquiry from a gentleman named Bob Maloney:

” I am seeking information and photographs for the line that in the late 1800s, intended to go to Mendocino County, ran from Willows to Fruto where there was a turntable for return. Logs, livestock, ore, ag products, general freight and passengers were transported. There is some history under “Fruto, CA, USA” on the internet. The line from Fruto to Mendocino County which never materialized (I think due to lack of funding). The tracks came up in about 1950.

I live in Fruto and am working (Module 1) on an N Scale duplication of Fruto 1888-1920 (plus or minus) but to scale as near as I can determine that. I need information on the location, size and facilities for loading cattle (corrals, scale, water tower, etc.), the location of the ore loading ramp (shown on the Fruto internet site), and the means by which logs were loaded onto rail cars. Any details about the roundtable and engine house west of it is unknown to me too. …………Willows actually had and has a “Y” but my Willows Loop will not be to scale and will only be a multiple track operation to reverse trains, sort cars, park and run trains, and just run them around in anticipation of returning to Fruto for the scale operation – i.e., someplace to go from Fruto.

So far my biggest lack of information in Fruto is how the logs were loaded as I have had stacks of logs described to me as seen by youngsters (at that time, older folks now) adjacent to the long north siding south of Cherry Street on the west end of that siding, but with no knowledge of how they were loaded. The corrals have been described to me as at the east end of that same siding. One inconsistency is the pile of logs that was seen north of the 3 east-west tracks (main plus siding on north and south sides) but I’m told when “a log pile caught fire it burned down the station” though the station was on the south side of the 3 east-west tracks. Maybe the fire went across all 3 tracks or maybe there were logs stacked elsewhere than as has been described to me on the north side. More history being sought.”

Until I received this e-mail I had never heard of Fruto. As is my wont I searched for a map of its location and I found a beauty [Click to see the detail]:

Fruto Topo Map

Fruto Topo Map

Next thing was to talk to our VP Lonnie Dickson who worked for SP (Southern Pacific) and late UP (Union Pacific) for many years and ask if he knew of Fruto. He more than knew it – he had been an engineer on the route depicted in the above map.  Whilst Lonnie remembered many details of the route he had no answers for Bob about log loading. After discussion we agreed that the process was probably not dissimilar to that used here on the Mendocino Coast. So here’s my effort at answering Bob’s question:

Before there came to be hayrick booms (cranes) powered by steam donkeys to lift logs onto the railroad flat cars the logs were rolled onto the flat cars. The photo below shows how:



Using Hayrick Booms was the next innovation in the woods:

Hayrick boom in operation

Hayrick boom in operation

Hayrick boom in operation #2

Hayrick boom in operation #2

Hope the above helps Bob.