Classic Streamliners - TRAINCYCLOPEDIA
California Western Railway 2-8-2 Mikado No. 45 prepares for a journey in 1979. Photograph by Terry Oler.
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3634138
California Western Railroad
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.
Milepost - 0 - Fort Bragg
Milepost - 1.0 - Pudding Creek
Milepost - 3.4 - Glen Blair Junction - 1,122-foot (342 m) Tunnel #1
Milepost - 6.6 - South Fork
Milepost - 9.0 - Ranch
Milepost - 10.0 - Redwood Lodge
Milepost - 12.7 - Grove
Milepost - 15.0 - Camp 3
Milepost - 16.0 - Camp 4
Milepost - 16.4 - Camp Noyo
Milepost - 18.1 - Alpine
Milepost - 20.0 - Camp 7
Milepost - 20.5 - Noyo Lodge
Milepost - 21.3 - Northspur
Milepost - 23.9 - Irmulco
Milepost - 26.8 - Shake City
Milepost - 27.7 - Burbeck
Milepost - 28.7 - Soda Springs - horseshoe curves
Milepost - 30.4 - Clare Mill - horseshoe curve
Milepost - 32.6 - Crowley - horseshoe curve
Milepost - 33.8 - Crater - horseshoe curve
Milepost - 35.4 - Summit - elevation 1,740 feet (530 m) in 795-foot (242 m) Tunnel No. 2
Milepost - 37.5 - Rodgers
Milepost - 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 ballastcars. 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, though they are fully committed to its reopening.
The railroad has also been featured in several movies, including The Signal Tower (1924), Racing with the Moon (1984), and The Majestic (2001).
Pop Singer Michelle Lambert performed weekly shows on the Skunk Train during her teenage years.
Number: 1st No. 2
Number: 2nd No. 2
Number: 3rd No. 2
Number: 1st No. 41
Number: 2nd No. 41
California Western Railroad Overview
Type: Heritage railway
Locale: Mendocino County, California
Termini Ft. Bragg, Willits
Opened: 1885 as Fort Bragg Railroad
Owner: Sierra Railroad
Depot: Fort Bragg, California
Event: Sold 2003
Line length: 40 miles (64 km)
Track gauge: 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
California Western 2-8-2 Mikado No. 45 leads a photo special eastbound at the first crossing of the Noyo River in 2009. Photo by Drew Jacksich.
By Drew Jacksich from San Jose, CA, The Republic of California - Calif Western June 6th 2010 024xRP, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17930499
A California Western Slideshow.
California Western Railroad M300 at the Willits depot in June of 1970. Photo by Drew Jacksich.
By Drew Jacksich from San Jose, CA, The Republic of California - M300 at Willits June 70xRPx, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54783017
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Text: wikipedia.org. Images: Public Domain; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org (unless otherwise specified) and 17 U.S. Code § 107 fair use. References: Lewis, Robert G. The Handbook of American Railroads. New York: Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, 1951, 2nd Edition 1956. Site Map Contact webmaster HERE.