No. 45 Steam Engine at Ft. Bragg, CA
Motorcars a.k.a. Speeders
Gang car at Ft. Bragg

The California Western Railroad, also known as "The Skunk Line" is located at Willits, CA 115 miles north of San Francisco.


California Western Railroad Excursion
25 April 1998
By Wayne Parsons

The April Motorcar Operators West run on "The Redwood Route" demonstrated how a safe speeder excursion could be done in the mist of passenger operations. The MOW group operated around two regularly scheduled passenger and one extra train during the day. Meet coordinators Chris Baldo, Tom Herman, and Dave Hope along with CWR officials share credit for the tremendous success.

At 8:00 AM, following the safety meeting, 35 cars depart west from Sage Spur (mp 38.6) in Willits for Ft. Bragg. The day is crisp with bright sun and clear skies. After shunting the signals at Rte. 20 the cars begin the climb to Summit elevation 1740 feet. Running at 19 mph, the group spaces out nicely. The day warms and so do our motors as we climb 380 feet in two miles. . Over the highest point on the line we begin our decent passing through Tunnel #2. A mile and a half later is the picturesque Carter Tank (last rebuilt in 1972). Water leaks from the tank in bright rivulets, splashes our passengers, and falls to the moss and ferns dense around the base.

Past the water tank begins an eight-mile segment of track that, after many curves, makes just one mile as the crow flies. In several places motorcars are visible on the other side of turns through the Redwoods. Most spectacular is the almost 30 degree radius curve at mp 29. In two spots, if you know where to look, the track is directly above you.

Northspur - former logging camp At the bottom of the grade we cross the Noyo River. Four short bridges in quick succession precede or arrival into Northspur (mp 21.3) at 9:30 AM. Here is the principal Union Lumber Co. camp from the 1920's and site of a wye. The old large camp stove is a thing of wonder. Imagination creates cooks in white livery preparing lumberjack breakfasts of ham, eggs and potatoes. We settle for "Hobo" coffee served by nice folks in jeans. Departure is 10 AM.

West of Northspur we pass several camps and lodges. Workers are opening one large youth camp for the summer season. At the Alpine (mp 18.1) siding we meet the first of three CWR trains. It's the diesel- powered motorcar that left Ft. Bragg at 9:20 AM bound for Willits on a full day trip.

In the hole - Diesel passing by We "go in the hole" and stay there for the second train. This time a GP40 diesel leads the half-day excursion to Northspur. We depart at 11:15 AM.

The group again spaces out nicely and settles into a 19 mph pace. From the bridges we can see that the Noyo River has a cloudy milky blue/green color. Locals call this a "fishing river." Natural sediment clouds the water enough to hide the fisherman, but not his bait, from the fish. Later in the year the water runs crystal clear and the fish get much smarter.

All along the way we have seen signs of the maintenance of way work. At mp 11 a small bulldozer sits after clearing two landslides. Fallen trees and another landslide are clear at mp 9.6. Down along the lower river our speed picks up a bit to 22 mph. Beyond the cool of Tunnel #1 is track that was flooded this spring. We pass marshy river sections; the coast comes into view. We stop at the graveyard (mp 1) on the edge of Ft. Bragg.

With flagmen out, we traverse six road crossings without stopping. We pass the CWR depot and shop, enter the large wye down along the lumber sheds at the wharf, back and switch forward. The group secures for lunch at 12:40 PM. On our way into town most of us take a look at #45 steamed up and ready for afternoon service as an extra to Northspur. The CWR is hosting a wine and cheese trip promoting a stock offering to raise much needed capital. We will follow the steam train out of town after lunch.

Lineup on wye at Ft. Bragg, CA Ft. Bragg is a historic town with many inviting small shops. One building of interest is the Union Lumber Company's department store located two blocks from the tracks. This is the site of the first telephone exchange "in order that campers may telephone their orders, assuring them prompt service." Posted in the window is a clean up permit for restoration of the building.

We start out at 2:10 PM, but stop immediately at mp 1. Two cars are having mechanical problems. One MT-19 with engine trouble is taken into tow. A MT-14M with a lost chain first tries to make repairs, then is about to be towed by an "A" car, and finally is set off.

Moving along the river, it's a beautiful sunny afternoon. By the time we reach Tunnel #1 our speed is a steady 20 mph. We enter the cool woods. Gravel Pit, Hay Shed, South Fork, Ranch, Redwood Lodge, Grove, Camp Four, and Camp Noyo pass in succession. The steady drone of the motor, the rhythmic clack of wheels, and the warm sun combine to lull my passenger to sleep. With one hand on the brake lever I lean forward to watch the curves and dark woods ahead.

Motorcar pulling a second car At 3:35 PM we pass the diesel-powered motorcar waiting on the siding at Alpine. The passengers, returning from their full day excursion, are out on the tracks waving to us. The speeders rolling by with their wide variety of cars, color schemes, road names and people, must be quite a sight to them!

Fifteen minutes later we arrive at Northspur. The steam engine is just completing its' wye procedure re-coupling with the cars. As the fireman fills the tender with water, the speeders park on the north leg of the wye. For a few minutes our two groups mingle at the souvenir and coffee stand. The call "All Aboard!" sings out and in a few moments the extra is gone.

Another short safety meeting reminds everyone of the possibility of derailment on curves when running uphill under power. We back out onto the main and are off again at 4:20 PM. A slower pace of 17 mph carries us uphill to Clare Mill mp 30.4. Here are the tightest curves.

We downshift and run in low gear almost to Carter Tank mp 34. After passing through Tunnel #2 and over Summit, we bunch up at the Rte. 20 Highway grade crossing. Again the signal is shunted as the group crosses. After one last quick mile we are back at Sage Spur for set off by 6:30 PM.

Because we ran on an active passenger railroad, this was a unique excursion. MOW made its' schedule to meet and pass CWR operating trains all during the day. Our excursion wove through and became part of not only the beautiful scenery, but the CWR train movements as well. Thank you California Western Railroad for hosting MOW!

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