California Western Railroad

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California Western Railroad
Skunk train logo.PNG
Skunk train map2.png
Map of the California Western Railroad (created using nationalatlas.gov)
Overview
Type Heritage railway
System CWR
Locale Mendocino County, California
Termini Ft. Bragg
Willits
Services 2
Operation
Opened 1885 as Fort Bragg Railroad
Owner Sierra Railroad
Depot(s) Fort Bragg, California
Events
Sold 2003
Technical
Line length 40 miles (64 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
(standard gauge)
map_name
0 Ft. Bragg
SR 1
3.5 mi
5.6 km
Glen Blair Junction
3.6 mi
5.8 km
Tunnel #1
6.6 mi
10.6 km
South Fork
9 mi
14 km
Ranch
10 mi
16 km
Redwood Lodge
12.7 mi
20.4 km
Grove
14.9 mi
24 km
Camp Three
16.2 mi
26.1 km
Camp Four
16.4 mi
26.4 km
Camp Noyo
18.1 mi
29.1 km
Alpine
19.8 mi
31.9 km
Camp Seven
21.3 mi
34.3 km
Northspur
23.9 mi
38.5 km
Irmulco
26.8 mi
43.1 km
Shake City
27.8 mi
44.7 km
Burbeck
28.7 mi
46.2 km
Soda Springs
32.6 mi
52.5 km
Crowley
34.1 mi
54.9 km
Crater
35.4 mi
57 km
Summit
36 mi
58 km
Tunnel #2
37.5 mi
60.4 km
Rodgers
SR 20
38.6 mi
62.1 km
Sage Spur
US 101
NWP
passenger service
suspended c.1940
40 mi
64 km
Willits
NWP
California Western 45 photo special eastbound at the first crossing of the Noyo River, 2009.

The California Western Railroad (reporting mark CWR), popularly called the Skunk Train, is a heritage railroad in Mendocino County, California, running from the railroad's headquarters in the coastal town of Fort Bragg, and the interchange with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad at Willits.

The CWR runs steam and diesel-powered trains and rail motor cars 40 miles (64 km) through Redwood forests along Pudding Creek and the Noyo River. Along the way, the tracks cross some 30 bridges and trestles and pass through two deep mountain tunnels. The halfway point of Northspur is a popular meals and beverage spot for the railroad's passengers when locomotives turn around before returning trains to their respective terminals.

History[edit]

The railroad was originally built by the Fort Bragg Redwood Company as the Fort Bragg Railroad in 1885 to carry coast redwood logs from the dense forests at Glenela (Glen Blair) to a newly built lumber mill located 6.6 miles (10.6 km) to the west at coastal Fort Bragg, California. Fort Bragg Redwood Company was incorporated into the new Union Lumber Company in 1904; the railroad ownership always rested with the parent lumber company until 1969. On July 1, 1905 the railroad was renamed the California Western Railroad & Navigation Company. In 1904 passenger service was added, and on December 11, 1911 the route was completed to its present length of 40 miles roughly following the Noyo River, to interchange connection with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in the inland town of Willits, California.[1] Construction up the Noyo River headwall required five horseshoe curves with a railway distance of 6.5 miles (10.5 km) to climb 932 feet (284 m) over the 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Soda Springs to the summit. These curves were the site of a January, 1970, derailment which destroyed diesel locomotives 51, 52 and 54.[2]

The rail connection to Fort Bragg was very popular for passengers traveling to and from San Francisco. Union Lumber Company selected premium grade clear redwood lumber (without knots) to build a Tyrolean Alps-style depot in 1916 where passengers changed trains at Willits. A Pullman car began operating between Fort Bragg and San Francisco in May, 1921; and this steam passenger train continued operating in addition to the Skunk railbus schedule until November, 1929.[3]

California Western Railroad gas railcar M100. May 1972.

On December 19, 1947 the railroad name was shortened to the California Western Railroad. Union Lumber and its California Western Railroad came under the ownership of the various lumber producers, including Boise Cascade (1969), and later Georgia-Pacific Corporation; G-P initially leased the CWR's operations to Kyle Railways, but in June 1987 the CWR was sold to the Kyle Railways subsidiary Mendocino Coast Railway. Mendocino Coast Railway continued to operate the CWR under the California Western name. No longer able to make a profit when the G-P mill began to reduce operations and finally closed altogether, Kyle Railways opted to sell the financially starved CWR. On December 17, 2003 the California Western Railroad was rescued when it was bought by the Sierra Railroad. Today the Skunk Train is owned and operated by Mendocino Railway.

Route[edit]

Road sign in Willits advertising the Skunk Train. Train tracks and warning signs in front.
Milepost Feature Notes
0 Fort Bragg
1.0 Pudding Creek
3.4 Glen Blair Junction 1,122-foot (342 m) Tunnel #1
6.6 South Fork
9.0 Ranch
10.0 Redwood Lodge
12.7 Grove
15.0 Camp 3
16.0 Camp 4
16.4 Camp Noyo
18.1 Alpine
20.0 Camp 7
20.5 Noyo Lodge
21.3 Northspur
23.9 Irmulco
26.8 Shake City
27.7 Burbeck
28.7 Soda Springs horseshoe curves
30.4 Clare Mill horseshoe curve
32.6 Crowley horseshoe curve
33.8 Crater horseshoe curve
35.4 Summit elevation 1,740 feet (530 m) in 795-foot (242 m) Tunnel #2
37.5 Rodgers
40.0 Willits historic redwood Tyrolean Alps-style depot

Freight traffic[edit]

The railroad owned 199 freight cars in 1912, including 156 flatcars for logs and lumber, six tank cars for locomotive fuel oil, three boxcars, a stock car, and some ballast cars. California Western leased steel freight cars from other railroads when these wooden cars became unsuitable for interchange service. The California Western Railroad was extended ten miles north from Fort Bragg along the Pacific coast to the Ten Mile River in 1916 and 1917; and logging branch lines operated up the Ten Mile River until the extension was dismantled in 1949. Most of the old wooden cars were scrapped when the extension was dismantled, but a few remained in use for maintenance of way service and to move lumber around the Fort Bragg sawmill yard.[4] Much of the former railroad grade between Fort Bragg and the Ten Mile River is presently used as a MacKerricher State Park coastal trail; and an unused trestle is visible from California State Route 1 on the beach at the mouth of Pudding Creek.

In the late 1980s the railroad's freight redwood lumber traffic rapidly declined. Georgia-Pacific gradually shifted lumber shipments to more flexible highway trucks until the Northwestern Pacific Railroad [North Coast Railroad Authority] was embargoed and shut-down from Willits to the California Northern Railroad and Union Pacific mainline connection near the SF Bay Area. By 1996, before the NWP embargo, CWR lumber shipments were less than 500 cars per year and passenger service became the line's main source of revenue. All freight service was discontinued in 2001, and the Federal Railroad Administration's emergency order effectively cut the CWR off from the national rail network. Today the passenger excursion trains are the railroad's sole source of revenue. Freight traffic may restart in 2020, which is when the NWP is expected to be reopened to Willits. Occasionally, the CWR stores equipment on NWP trackage.

Skunk Train[edit]

The No. 45 prepares for a journey in 1979.

Gas-powered, self-propelled, passenger railcars were added in 1925; and, after Pullman service was discontinued, CWR steam passenger trains ran only when the motorcars were out of service for maintenance. The passenger coaches were scrapped in 1949. The motorcars were nicknamed "Skunks" because people said "You can smell 'em before you can see 'em." In 1965 the line reintroduced summer steam passenger service between Fort Bragg and Willits with Baldwin-built steam locomotive No.45, calling the colorful train "The Super Skunk." That train was discontinued in 2001, then revived in September 2006 as a special event train. No.45 continues to power excursion trains from Fort Bragg, California as far as Northspur, California, the CWR's midpoint, on selected weekends summer to early autumn.[1]

Without the considerable revenue lumber and general merchandise freight once contributed to the bottom line, maintaining the railway through such rugged terrain is a major undertaking, both logistically and financially, and service is not always available for the full trip from Fort Bragg to Willits, California. However, shorter trips to intermediate points usually run year-round.

Between April 11 and June 19, 2013, the railroad was in a crisis following the collapse of Tunnel #1 on April 11. The financially strapped railroad sought donations for $300,000 to hire an outside company to remove the blockage. Had the funding not been raised, the cash-starved railroad would have shut down. On June 19, a Redwood tree conservation group announced they would buy all of the Redwood trees along the 40-mile right-of-way, and would pay the railroad well more than their goal for the trees. The railroad resumed full service in August.

The railroad has also been featured in several movies, including The Signal Tower (1924), Racing with the Moon (1984), and The Majestic (2001).

Curiosities[edit]

Pop Singer Michelle Lambert performed weekly shows on the Skunk Train during her teenage years.[5]

Steam Locomotives[edit]

Number Builder Type Date Works number Notes
1 Baldwin Locomotive Works 0-4-0 Tank locomotive 1885 7831 purchased 1905 sold 1906 to Standish & Hickey Lumber
1st #2 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-4-2 Tank locomotive 1887 8852 purchased 1905 sold 1910 to Irvine-Muir Lumber
2nd #2 Baldwin Locomotive Works 0-4-2 Tank locomotive 1901 18618 purchased 1911 from California State Belt Railroad scrapped 1920
3rd #2 Lima Locomotive Works Shay geared 18 March 1907 1838 former Glen Blair Redwood Company #2; renumbered Union Lumber Company #2 in May, 1929; scrapped 1950[6]
3 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-4-4 Tank locomotive 1884 purchased 1895 sold 1918 to Mendocino Lumber Company
4 Hinkley Locomotive Works 4-4-0 1883 purchased from Southern Pacific Railroad 1904 scrapped 1914
5 Schenectady Locomotive Works 4-6-0 1880 2042 purchased 1906 scrapped 1923
6 Mason Machine Works 0-4-0 1868 245 purchased from Santa Fe Railroad 1908 sold 1910
7 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-2 Tank locomotive 1909 33390 renumbered #17 in 1924
8 Southern Pacific Railroad 4-6-0 1869 2002 purchased 1910 renumbered #38 in 1924
9 Lima Locomotive Works Shay geared 27 May 1912 2547 sold 1917 to White River Lumber Company of Enumclaw, Washington[7]
10 Lima Locomotive Works Shay geared 6 April 1911 2419 built as Lima Locomotive Works demonstrator; sold 1917 to become Pacific Lumber Company #31[8]
11 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-2 Tank locomotive 1913 39551 scrapped 1947
12 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-2 Tank locomotive 1914 41922 scrapped 1950
14 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-2 Tank locomotive 1924 58050 purchased from Fruit Growers Supply in 1938 sold 1956
17 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-2 Tank locomotive 1909 33390 former #7 renumbered in 1924
21 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-2 1920 53277 sold 1950 to Pan-American Engineering
22 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-2 1921 54878 scrapped 1952
23 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-2 1923 57553 scrapped 1950
36 Baldwin Locomotive Works 4-6-0 ~1890 9298 purchased from Colorado Midland Railroad in 1918 sold to Little River Redwood Company in 1929
38 Southern Pacific Railroad 4-6-0 1869 2002 former #8 renumbered 1924 scrapped 1942
1st #41 Baldwin Locomotive Works 0-6-0 1901 18760 purchased 1922 scrapped 1937
2nd #41 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-8-0 1920 53205 purchased from Sierra Railroad in 1940 scrapped 1950
44 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-8-2 1930 61306 purchased from Lamm Lumber Company 1944 scrapped 1952
45 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-8-2 1924 58045 purchased from Brownley Lumber Company 1964, operated until 2001, restored 2001–2003, operational since then
California Western Railroad #45 (builder #58045 of 1924), is a 2-8-2 "Mikado" loco locomotive still in use on the Skunk Train
46 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-6-2 1937 62064 purchased from Rayonier 1968

On display at Pacific Southwest Railway Museum. Restoration planned.

Diesel Locomotives[edit]

Number Builder Type Date Works number Notes
51 Baldwin Locomotive Works DS4-4-750 1949 74408 Acquired new 1949, Retired 1970/Wrecked-Scrapped.
52 Baldwin Locomotive Works DS4-4-750 1949 74409 Acquired new 1949, retired in 1970 and scrapped in 1990
53 Baldwin Locomotive Works DS4-4-1000 1949 74193 ex-Pan American Engineering W8380; née Army Corps of Engineers W8380, acquired 1956, retired in 1985, to John Bradley, 1985; to Roots of Motive Power Collection
54 Baldwin Locomotive Works S-12 1952/1953 75823 ex-NW (3307); née WAB 307, wrecked 1968, retired 1970, scrapped
55 Baldwin Locomotive Works RS-12 1955 76024
decorated for the United States Bicentennial
nee MR 32, acquired 1968, scrapped 1995
56 Baldwin Locomotive Works RS-12 1955 76105 nee MR 33, acquired 1970, retired 1985 to John Bradley, 1985; to Travel Town Museum (Los Angeles, CA)56
57 Baldwin Locomotive Works S-12 1953 75914 nee SP 1539, acquired 1970, retired unknown, stored at Willits, California
61 American Locomotive Works RS-11 1979 Unknown Former SP. Status Unknown
62 American Locomotive Works RS-11 1979 Unknown Former SP. Status Unknown
63 American Locomotive Works RS-11 1979 Unknown Former SP. Sold to NVRR 1987
64 Electro-Motive Diesel GP9m 1987 Unknown Former SP # 3411.[9] Operational and in regular service
65 Electro-Motive Diesel GP9m 1987 Unknown Former SP # 3412.[9] Operational
66 Electro-Motive Diesel GP9m 1956 Unknown Former C&O # 6145. Acquired 1998.[9] Operational and in regular service.
67 Electro-Motive Diesel GP9m 6/1954 19554[10] built as Bangor and Aroostook Railroad # 77;[9] acquired 1998; never delivered
M-80 Mack Railbus 1923 Unknown Purchased 1925. Wrecked twice: in 1957 with a delivery truck, and in 1964 with M-100. Scrapped 1964
M-100 Edwards Rail Car Company Motor Car 1925 Unknown Acquired from Moorhead & North Forks Railroad; Operable. Recently repainted back to historic yellow scheme
M-200 SS&IW Motor Car 1927 Unknown Ex-TRC #22; née-LPN 20; to Niles Canyon Railway, 1975; Operable on Niles Canyon Railway
M-300 American Car and Foundry Company Motor Car 1935 Unknown
M-300 at Fort Bragg
Ex-SLGW; née Aberdeen and Rockfish Railroad #106; née Seaboard Air Line Railroad #2026; Operable

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b LeBaron (2003)
  2. ^ Crump, Spencer (1998). Redwoods, Iron Horses, and the Pacific (Fifth ed.). Fort Bragg, California: California Western Railroad. pp. 60&145. ISBN 0-918376-12-2. 
  3. ^ Crump, Spencer (1998). Redwoods, Iron Horses, and the Pacific (Fifth ed.). Fort Bragg, California: California Western Railroad. pp. 64, 65,74&75. ISBN 0-918376-12-2. 
  4. ^ Crump, Spencer (1998). Redwoods, Iron Horses, and the Pacific (Fifth ed.). Fort Bragg, California: California Western Railroad. pp. 65,90&98. ISBN 0-918376-12-2. 
  5. ^ "Michelle Lambert on The Skunk Train". 29 December 2003. 
  6. ^ Koch, Michael (1971). The Shay Locomotive Titan of the Timber. The World Press. p. 422. 
  7. ^ Koch, Michael (1971). The Shay Locomotive Titan of the Timber. The World Press. p. 440. 
  8. ^ Koch, Michael (1971). The Shay Locomotive Titan of the Timber. The World Press. p. 436. 
  9. ^ a b c d "California Western Railroad". Central Coast Chapter NRHS. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  10. ^ Angier, Jerry; Cleaves, Herb (1986). Bangor and Aroostook The Maine Railroad. Flying Yankee Enterprises. p. 265. ISBN 0-9615574-2-7. 

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • CWR & Union Lumber corporate records and ULCo/CWR history book manuscript being prepared by K.V. Bunker, 2006.
  • Crump, Spencer (1983). The Skunk Railroad Fort Bragg to Willits. Glendale, California: Trans-Anglo Books. ISBN 0-87046-050-1. 
  • Crump, Spencer (1988). Riding the California Western Skunk Railroad: Fort Bragg to Willits. Corona del Mar, California: Zeta Publishers. OCLC 36988632. ISBN 0009183760404. 
  • LeBaron, Gaye, "Skunk Train's colorful history makes it well worth saving" The Press Democrat 2003-04-20
  • Stindt, Fred A. (1985). The Northwestern Pacific Railroad Volume 2. Kelseyville, California: Fred A. Stindt. ISBN 0-9615465-0-6. 
  • Squires, Wendy (December 19, 2003). "Sierra Railroad buys historic Skunk Train" (PDF). Press Release (Sierra Railroad). p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-03-27. Retrieved 2006-04-22. 

External links[edit]