Recollections of a trip in 1910 from San Francisco to Willits (by the NWP) to Duffy (by stagecoach) and on to Fort Bragg by the Skunk Train

I have no idea where I got the page that the following text and pics came from. It is the only description of a journey from San Francisco to Willits to Duffy and then to Fort Bragg that I know of.

The picture of the Duffy Mill is new to me. In our website in the section that describes all the places along the Skunk Train Route it says:

Mile 18.1 (from Fort Bragg)– Alpine or Alpine Junction – When Alpine was a thriving community it was the end of the line. Alpine was 12 miles north of Comptche. Stagecoaches came here from Willits via a ridge route to transport passengers. It had a population of 1,200 was said to have been larger than Fort Bragg. The town included a tavern, a school and a post office. A fire in 1919 destroyed the buildings and the town was never rebuilt.

Near Alpine there was a mill with a railroad called the Duffy Lumber Co. Duffey was located 2.25 miles east of Gracy. It was connected by a branch line to the CWR and had a mill. A post office operated at Duffey from 1904 to 1912.”

And the loco? I think it is the Willits “Express”. This 4-4-0 had 57″ drivers, was built in 1883 and weighed 115,000 pounds.

I’ve chopped the page up to make it easier to read:

Intro to page

Intro to page

Text of Letter

Text of Letter

The Willits Express

The Willits Express

Duffey Mill in 1910

Duffey Mill in 1910

Loading Lumber ifrom the banks of the Noyo River (Fort Bragg) in 1910

Loading Lumber ifrom the banks of the Noyo River (Fort Bragg) in 1910

 

Boomer Jack – The Northwestern Pacific’s (NWP) Railroad Dog

Thanks to a kind gentleman named Duane Buckmaster I received a link to the HSU (Humboldt State University) digital library. I typed in the search term “railroad” and 775 entries turned up. Over the course of a couple of weeks I ploughed through all 775. Around number 750 this picture came up on the screen.

Burial site in Willits of Boomer Jack the Railroad dog

Burial site in Willits of Boomer Jack the Railroad dog

My interest was immediately aroused. I did a quick search and this book came up ……..

Legend of Boomer Jack

Legend of Boomer Jack

I thought I had struck gold till I read a description of the book’s contents:

“Somewhere Down the Line: The Legend of Boomer Jack is based on the true story of a dog who rode the lumber trains of Northern California in the early 1900s.

Boomer Jack is a lovable railroad dog who has ridden the rails since he was a pup. Although he belongs to the mayor’s wife, who wants him to be a house dog, Boomer can’t resist the call of a train whistle. Boomer has many friends around the town of Willits, including a kind-hearted station master and a locomotive engineer and his trusty fireman, but no one could love him more than a ten-year-old girl named Sara Parsons. Saddened by the recent death of her father in a tragic train accident, Sara looks to Boomer to ease her loneliness. But she soon discovers that it’s impossible to keep a railroad dog away from the trains for long.

Though Boomer is content to spend his days chasing adventure on the rails, trouble arises for the town when Mayor Belmont, who is also president of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, decides to route his trains around Willits to another town. Meanwhile, Boomer has problems of his own when he is wrongly accused of chasing livestock and Fisk, a boozing dog catcher, sets out to capture him.

After a narrow escape from Fisk, Boomer joins engineer Paddy and fireman Jonsey on a high-speed locomotive ride to San Francisco. The trainmen and their canine companion visit the city and return home with a second dog, Lucky, who becomes Boomer’s new love. Once back in town, troubles escalate for both Boomer and the town of Willits when an angry Fisk tries to take his revenge. In the end, it’s up to Sara to save the day, and learn a most important lesson from Boomer: True happiness is not to possess, but simply to love.”

Clearly the book was based on the real Boomer Jack. Our Willits guru is club member Mike Aplet so I scribbled an e-mail to him asking what he knew about Boomer Jack. Mike, for once, was stumped. Mike sent out a request to friends and he struck gold. Mark Rawitsch sent Mike a link to the North Coast Journal of May 31st 2007. Here is an abbreviated version:

“IT ALL STARTED WITH A DOG.

Lincoln Kilian says he originally unearthed the story of Boomer Jack sorting through clippings in his job as an HSU librarian, a job he’d had since 1966. In 1977, he was transferred to the Humboldt Room, which houses the library’s special historical collections. Part of his assignment in the Humboldt Room at the library was to maintain the pamphlet files. In those files he found an undated story from a defunct local paper about a stray dog that rode railroad trains. He showed it to his then-boss, Erich Schimps, who at the time thought it would make a nice children’s book.

Kilian was intrigued. He was drawn into a search for the true story of this mysterious dog, tracking down one of the old-timers quoted in the story, Reggie St. Louis, who was ailing but still alive, in his late 70s. St. Louis also gave Kilian the names of several other locals who might know more about the legendary hobo dog, who was called Boomer Jack, or Hobo Jack, or Bummer Jack.

Kilian’s obsession with the story was cemented when a train conductor’s widow produced a photo of Boomer Jack’s funeral, a picture where none of the men were identified. It then became in Kilian’s own words, “an intense personal mission” to discover the true story. For months he tracked down old railroad workers throughout Northern California, many in their 80s and 90s, eliciting memories of the peripatetic hound and his travels.

The more he learned, the more he had the feeling that he had uncovered what he called “an all-but-forgotten folk hero.”

Eventually he made his way down to Willits, which was the central stop on Boomer Jack’s run. Thanks to the tip from a local newspaper staff, he found a former Northwest Pacific Railroad man named Bob Brown who remembered Boomer Jack. Brown drove Kilian to the rail yard and pointed out the locale of Jack’s resting place, a landscape which precisely matched the line of hills in the funeral photo. After completing this last part of the puzzle, Kilian finished his book, and the Mendocino County Museum published A Dog’s Life: the Story of Boomer Jack in 1998.

Boomer Jack with friend

Boomer Jack with friend

 

Boomer Jack was independent black bob-tailed dog of uncertain ancestry and no fixed address who appeared in the 1910s, adapting the Northwestern Pacific railroad as his home line. He rode the rails between Trinidad and the San Francisco Bay, and at one point rode cross-country and back. Over the span of 14 years, he was seen everywhere from Blue Lake to Marin. He rode the Eureka streetcars, and he mooched for food on the streets of Arcata. In fact, it was said that he knew the routes of the streetcars in Eureka, and could locate particular railroad men’s houses despite the fact they were located far from the train station.

Boomer Jack

Boomer Jack

What set Boomer Jack apart was his sense of independence and freedom, characteristics that the men of the Northwestern Pacific who fed and cared for him admired. Jack, unlike other railroad dogs of legend, belonged to no one man. He would ride the rails to a particular town, stay for a day or two and be on his way, never overstaying his welcome. He would even, on occasion, ride passenger trains. He ranged far and wide, even staying in a San Francisco hotel after being smuggled in by one of his railroad buddies. Eventually he was discovered and kicked out, but returned to the establishment later to lift his leg and leave his mark.

At one point Jack vanished, his whereabouts unknown. Some thought he had disappeared forever. Then the Northwestern Pacific home office received a telegram from some trainmen located in South Carolina, asking about a dog with a NWP badge on his collar. Boomer Jack had somehow made a cross-country train journey. Relieved that their mascot was still among the living, they wired instructions for his safe return to the West Coast. He was watched over by linemen along the way, and was returned safely back to his home line.

His tenacious instinct for travel continued even after he suffered a severe leg injury from a train fall. His accident elicited sympathy from up and down the line, and a fund was established to pay his medical bills. So much was raised that a bank account was opened up in his name in Eureka. His lame leg slowed him quite a bit, and as he aged he often needed help getting up into a cab. In 1926 in front of the Willits station, Jack was found lying peacefully on the ground by Bob Brown and his fellow workers. A small redwood coffin was fashioned, and he was buried in the switchyard. Boomer Jack was gone.”

Mike Aplet thinks he knows where Boomer is buried – not too far from the Willits High School where his wife Laura works.

Club pres, Chuck Whitlock, is of the opinion that Greg Schindler, The Train Singer, has recorded a song entitled, “Boomer Jack” but his website doesn’t list it. It seems sad thet Boomer hasn’t got a song immortalising him. Perhaps we can incorporate the story of Boomer Jack into our layout.

 

 

Western Railroader #346, December 1968, Northwestern Pacific (NWP) Narrow Gauge by Fred A. Stindt

Western Railroader #346 Cover

Western Railroader #346 Cover

This Western Railroader is a mine of information on the narrow gauge railroad that ran from Tiburon to Cazadero from 1876 to 1930. The map below shows the details of the route.

Map of the NWP route from Tiburon to Cazadero

Map of the NWP route from Tiburon to Cazadero

Fred Stindt personally observed the NWP narrow gauge in operation so the data contained in this book is from first hand observation as you can see from the sample page below.

Page of Text

Page of Text

In the near future our webmaster, Roger Thornburn will convert the book to an e-file so its entirety is available.

Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s (NWP) Marin County Interurban Electric Service

After I wrote about the NWP’s Escalle Station in yesterday’s blog it dawned on me that I had maybe jumped the gun …. How many people know of the  Marin County Interurban Electric Service? I did not write the next piece ….. it appeared in the Marin Magazine of August 2011 and was written by Jim Wood. It succinctly tells the Service’s story.

“Mass Transit in Marin?

For nearly 40 years, electric-powered “interurban trains” connected the county

Think about it: A clean and green, electric-powered rail system with stations in Fairfax, San Rafael, Mill Valley and San Anselmo, all connecting to a terminal in Sausalito where commuters could take a ferry into San Francisco. Its only sound was a low moaning air whistle. As for the electric power that made this train silent? That came from the High Sierras via 150 miles of transmission line that was, at the time, the world’s longest.

With minimal fanfare and the utmost of confidence, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s interurban electric cars began operating on August 16, 1903. So what went wrong? The railroad’s formula lacked one key ingredient: people. At the onset, Marin had but 16,000 residents, and by the mid-1930s the county’s population was only 41,000. In addition, by then most Marin households owned at least one automobile. “At best, no more than 20,000 fares — perhaps representing 10,000 people — were collected in a single day,” writes historian Harre W. Demoro in Electric Railway Pioneer (Interurban Press, 1983).

The death knell came on May 28, 1937, when cars, driven mostly by commuters, began traversing the Golden Gate Bridge into the city. Sadly, Marin County’s last interurban electric train ran on February 28, 1941.”

What did the trains look like? Here’s a few of the pics I have culled from the net to date.

NWP interurban 386, arrived from Sausalito, unloads from the front platform special express shipments at Mill Valley Depot, October 1939. 386 was the last of 12 motors and 7 trailers bought new in 1930. It had only 11 years of service until abandonment in 1941, after which it was transformed to Pacific Electric as No. 4511.

NWP interurban 386, arrived from Sausalito, unloads from the front platform special express shipments at Mill Valley Depot, October 1939. 386 was the last of 12 motors and 7 trailers bought new in 1930. It had only 11 years of service until abandonment in 1941, after which it was transformed to Pacific Electric as No. 4511.

 

Northwestern Pacific electric train at Ross Station on its southbound run to the ferry terminal at Sausalito. This is 1938 and the system had less than three years more to operate. The steel electric cars got their power from a "third rail" beside the tracks (under the board covers on both sides of the fence).

Northwestern Pacific electric train at Ross Station on its southbound run to the ferry terminal at Sausalito. This is 1938 and the system had less than three years more to operate. The steel electric cars got their power from a “third rail” beside the tracks (under the board covers on both sides of the fence).

NWP electric passenger motor 383 at High School Station near Mill Valley, July 1937. St. Louis Car Co. 1930. Electric 3rd rail this side of car. Mill Valley Branch electric trains quit on 9/30/40 and the entire NWP interurban system serving San Rafael, San Anselmo and Manor was abandoned 2/28/41.

NWP electric passenger motor 383 at High School Station near Mill Valley, July 1937. St. Louis Car Co. 1930. Electric 3rd rail this side of car. Mill Valley Branch electric trains quit on 9/30/40 and the entire NWP interurban system serving San Rafael, San Anselmo and Manor was abandoned 2/28/41.

 

Escalle, a Stop on The Northwestern Pacific’s (NWP) Marin Electrified Interurban Railroad

We lived in Kentfield in Marin County for some ten years before we came to Fort Bragg. Whilst we lived there my wife and four kids biked, walked and drove (literally) hundreds of times from our house to the Baskin and Robins Ice Cream Store in neighboring Larkspur. This means that (literally) hundreds of times I drove past the building in the photos below (recently taken by daughter, Annalise).

Close-up of the Escalle Station sign

Close-up of the Escalle Station sign

Escalle Station near Kentfield in Marin County

Escalle Station near Kentfield in Marin County

It wasn’t until I got the brainwave of adding a section to the website on the NWP (because of its importance as a link to the “rest of the world” for the California Western Railroad’s (CWR) Skunk Train) that I had any notion of what this building had been. My wife, Sarah, told me that when she bought the house she was told that when it was built in the 1920’s that it was a vacation home for people who lived in the city – San Francisco that is.
It never dawned on me that the people who originally owned our house got there by train.

If you look carefully at the map on the timetable below you’ll see that Escalle is the stop before Kentfield on NWP’s Electric Interurban Railroad. The owners of our house would have come from San Francisco by ferry to Sausalito (there was no Golden Gate Bridge back then) and then boarded an electric powered train to Esacalle. From Escalle to our house is an easy walk. Magnolia Avenue, which we biked along to get to Baskin and Robins, must have been the site of the railway tracks to Larkspur.

All of this I figured out when I started looking for “stuff” on the NWP. Never knew any of this while we lived there.

1938 Timetable for NWP's Marin Interurban Service

1938 Timetable for NWP’s Marin Interurban Service

I found the timetable in the Marin digitized library along with this picture which must have been taken before the line was electrified.

A narrow gauge train near Escalle Station in Larkspur, Marin County, California, circa 1890

A narrow gauge train near Escalle Station in Larkspur, Marin County, California, circa 1890

This is the only photo I have located of Escalle. If anyone knows of any more I’d be delighted to hear from them.

Three Northwestern Pacific Locomotives (NWP) at Irmulco

Irmulco (the letters stand for Ireland Murray Lumber Company) was the name of a small community with a saw mill on the California Western Railroad (CWR) Skunk Line. Irmulco is 23 miles from Fort Bragg and 17 miles from Willits. To get to Willits (where the CWR Skunk Line meets the NWP line from San Francisco to Eureka) from Irmulco you have go up to Summit, a considerable uphill climb, and then down to Willits.

Having told you that let me show you the caption that was on the photograph below when I pulled it from the internet:

“Northwestern Pacific train on Fort Bragg Railroad. Locos 201, 2-6-2t, and 251, Shay, on line to NWP mill at Irmulco (Irvine Muir Lumber Company), taking water, August 5, 1920”

Northwestern Pacific train on Fort Bragg Railroad. Locos 201, 2-6-2t, and 251, Shay, on line to NWP mill at Irmulco (Irvine Muir Lumber Company), taking water, August 5, 1920

Northwestern Pacific train on Fort Bragg Railroad. Locos 201, 2-6-2t, and 251, Shay, on line to NWP mill at Irmulco (Irvine Muir Lumber Company), taking water, August 5, 1920

I’ll take the captions word on the loco numbers and the type. But, why would three – not one, not two but three – NWP locos be 17 miles from NWP tracks at Irmulco having gone up to Summit and back down the other side? What would a Shay be doing in the middle of the trio? The caption states that NWP owned the Irmulco mill. I am reasonably certain it did not.

Anybody have any light to shine on this one?

 

Northwestern Pacific (NWP) Today

Why no blogs recently? I do have a bit of an excuse ….. 2 new stents (now got four!), a balloon job on another artery and new therapy for my my lymphoma cancer. I wasn’t completely idle – during my sojurn I stocked up a pile of “stuff” for the blog and site ….. I’ve just got to get the energy together to get it “done”. I spent quite some time whilst I was “down” reading up on the NWP.

The California Western Railroad (CWR) was built as a logging railroad. However, when the Northwestern Pacific reached Willits from the Bay area it became clear to C.R. Johnson (the owner of the Union Lumber Company in Fort Bragg which, back then, owned the CWR) that it made economic sense to link the logging railroad from Fort Bragg to Northspur to Willits and run passenger trains on the route.

Santa Fe and Southern Pacific (SP) created Northwestern Pacific (NWP) as a jointly owned company in 1907 from six short lines stretching from Lombard in Napa County, California to near Eureka on the pacific coast of Northern California. At its height the NWP had some 300 miles of track. In 1929 SP became sole owner. SP began spinning pieces off in 1984.

The line and volume of traffic declined over the years. The public North Coast Rail Authority was created in 1989 to revitalise the line and it purchased the right-of-way in several stages through the years. An independent NWP operated the line by contract in this period. In 1989 a series of devastating storms flooded the Eel river to record heights effectively destroyed the line between Willits and Eureka forcing its closure. Further storms and subsidence closed the section from Willits south to Petaluma. In February 2001, after repairs the NWP resumed operations south of Petaluma. However, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) declared the track unfit for operations in October 2001 and operations ceased.

For the next ten years funding sources came and went as the interested bodies failed to agree on a what to do. In 2006, the California Transit Commission approved the first repair funds and in 2008 after court challenges repair work began. Part of the settlement was for the NWP to use low-emission genset diesel locomotives – one of these can be seen in the movie..

In the summer of 2009 work trains began to bring the track up to FRA specifications. On May 5 of this year (2012) the FRA approved operations of NWP Co. (a newly formed independent freight shortline) on the 62 miles south of Windsor.

Funds are being sort to re-open the 77 miles from Windsor to Willits. North of Willits the devastation to the line in the rugged Eel River Canyon probably means the end of the line from Willits to Eureka forever.

On July 8th (2012) a NWP Co. freight train departed Schellville near Lomard westbound with traffic for industries along the North Coast Railroad Authority’s route to Petaluma. It was the first time in a decade that a freight train for paying customers had traversed the route. As you can see from the movie below happy residents stood along the route to cheer the train on. NWP live on – may you one day reach Willits and connect with the CWR again.

Sausalito Ferry before The Golden Gate Bridge

The Sausalito Ferry Terminal

San Francisco Bay looked wonderful yesterday as we went barreling past Sausalito at 70 mph on Route 101.  When we lived in Kentfield I used to take the ferry to work from Larkspur (a few miles to the north of Sausalito)  to the San Francisco Ferry Terminal.

The Larkspur ferry though is a recent affair. In the “good old days” before the Golden Gate Bridge the ferries plied from near where Pier 49 is located in San Francisco to Sausalito and Tiburon.

From the Sausalito terminal you could ride the electrified commuter line to Mill Valley, to San Rafael and past where we used to live in Kentfield en route to Fairfax. This first photo is likely taken from where Route 101 now runs when it passes Sausalito.

San Francisco Ferry Terminal

Mill Valley Depot

Ferry Boat “Eureka” which used to cross the Bay is beautifully preserved at the San Francisco Maritime Museum. When we lived in Kentfield we visited the Tiburon Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum several times to see the wonderful ferry boat models they have there.