California Western Railroad
|California Western Railroad|
Map of the California Western Railroad (created using nationalatlas.gov)
|Locale||Mendocino County, California|
|Opened||1885 as Fort Bragg Railroad|
|Depot(s)||Fort Bragg, California|
|Line length||40 miles (64 km)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)
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 to 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
|3.4||Glen Blair Junction||1,122-foot (342 m) Tunnel #1|
|28.7||Soda Springs||horseshoe curves|
|30.4||Clare Mill||horseshoe curve|
|35.4||Summit||elevation 1,740 feet (530 m) in 795-foot (242 m) Tunnel #2|
|40.0||Willits||historic redwood Tyrolean Alps-style depot|
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. Tunnel #1 was once again closed in 2016 after sustaining damage from the 2015-16 El Nino, but the railway was in a better position, having equipment at the Willits end of the line (which was not the case during the 2013 crisis) to allow the running of trains to Northspur; trains from the Fort Bragg end are limited to running on a seven-mile trip officially called the "Pudding Creek Express"; no announcements regarding the status of Tunnel #1 have been made recently.
|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|
|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|
|10||Lima Locomotive Works||Shay geared||6 April 1911||2419||built as Lima Locomotive Works demonstrator; sold 1917 to become Pacific Lumber Company #31|
|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|
|46||Baldwin Locomotive Works||2-6-6-2||1937||62064||purchased from Rayonier 1968
On display at Pacific Southwest Railway Museum. Restoration planned.
|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|
|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||SP. Sold to NVRR 1989|
|63||American Locomotive Works||RS-11||1979||Unknown||Former SP. Status UnknownFormer|
|64||Electro-Motive Diesel||GP9m||1987||Unknown||Former SP # 3411. Operational and in regular service|
|65||Electro-Motive Diesel||GP9m||1987||Unknown||Former SP # 3412. Operational|
|66||Electro-Motive Diesel||GP9m||1956||Unknown||Former C&O # 6145. Acquired 1998. Operational and in regular service.|
|67||Electro-Motive Diesel||GP9m||6/1954||19554||built as Bangor and Aroostook Railroad # 77; acquired 1998; never delivered; current location unknown|
|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||Aberdeen and Rockfish Railroad #106; née Seaboard Air Line Railroad #2026; Operable|
- LeBaron (2003)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Michelle Lambert on The Skunk Train". 29 December 2003.
- Koch, Michael (1971). The Shay Locomotive Titan of the Timber. The World Press. p. 422.
- Koch, Michael (1971). The Shay Locomotive Titan of the Timber. The World Press. p. 440.
- Koch, Michael (1971). The Shay Locomotive Titan of the Timber. The World Press. p. 436.
- "California Western Railroad". Central Coast Chapter NRHS. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
- Angier, Jerry; Cleaves, Herb (1986). Bangor and Aroostook The Maine Railroad. Flying Yankee Enterprises. p. 265. ISBN 0-9615574-2-7.
- 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 (20 April 2003). "Skunk Train's colorful history makes it well worth saving". The Press Democrat.
- 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to California Western Railroad.|
- Skunk Train Home Page
- California Scenic Line, ca. 1900 online photo collection, The Bancroft Library
- 1965 documentary on the return of steam to the route.
- Skunk Train Photos photo gallery from 2012
- Skunk Line Stations mile-by-mile guide