NWP Memorial Day Weekend
Report by Wayne Parsons
The 1998 MOW Memorial Day Weekend run on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad will be remembered as a tremendous success despite washed out track. Event coordinators Denny Anspach, Pete Kriger and Bill Owen, along with all their dedicated assistants, set the gold standard for motorcar events. Adapting to circumstances, Anspach moved our base of operations from Willits, CA north to Fortuna. Saturday's run (23 May) is the Eel River canyon as far as time allows; Sunday's run (24 May) is Arcata and Eureka as planned; Monday's run (25 May) is to Carlotta.
Thirty-nine cars set on at Rohnerville mp 264 (two miles south of Fortuna) using the small Drake Hill Road grade crossing. After the Saturday safety meeting, the group starts south at 7:50 AM toward Willits. The weather is high clouds, mild temperatures and sunshine all day. We stop and flag the first couple of crossings. Operators note the character of the cars around them; the group settles into an adept style of running.
We pass large lumber company yards filled with redwood wealth. Weekend guards wave to us as we slow down at their entrance crossings. No logging trucks arrive on this holiday weekend. The mills are silent. After crossing under Redwood Highway (US 101), we emerge from tunnel #39 to our first stop at Shively RR Crossing mp 245.6. MOW member and beekeeper Seth Rick lives here. His family greets us with coffee, cake and honey.
Leaving Shively the scenery moves from forest to river. Wet weather has extended the spring season creating a bounty of wild flowers along the track. The variety of colors, lavender Foxglove, purple Teasel, white Oxeye Daisy, red Skyrocket, orange California Poppy, is a delight to the eye. Below the bridges and cuts we see people camping along the riverbank. At South Fork (mp 237.3) we pass near the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The track turns to follow the Eel River; we enter the canyon.
Five tunnels, two bridges, and three trestles carry us twenty miles from South Fork to the next stop at Fort Seward. A few sinks and slides in this section foreshadow the major maintenance of way problems we will see later. But for now our cars dart in and out of the sun weaving from forest edge to riverbank. The group runs along between 22 and 24 mph. The flowers are beautiful; the scenery is fresh and verdant. At times like this I wonder what the King of Spain is doing. He couldn't be enjoying life anymore than I am at this moment.
The NWP passenger station at Fort Seward (mp 216.6) is a now boarded up. Track alignment equipment is stored inside this "mock Tudor" style brick and timber structure. Our stop is brief; a visit to the port-a-johns, and then the groups move out to keep up the ambitious schedule.
Passing through tunnel #30 we enter block 208. This section has several major slides and sinks. Hillsides here can move one to four inches a week! The track undulates over fresh ballast. We downshift to low gear. Slides and sinks in the 208, Island Mountain and Bell Springs blocks made this area Southern Pacific's maintenance of way nightmare. Today the NWP continues train movements by sheer grit. At the Kekawaka spur mp 200.3 we turn our cars using a portable turntable, back down the main, and tie up for lunch at 12:15 PM. Sitting in our cars or portable chairs we enjoy a view of the Eel River and the surrounding mountains. Visible to the south is the Kekawaka Bridge and tunnel #28. We have come 63.7 miles into the heart of the canyon. At 12:45 PM the group starts back north to Rohnerville.
The afternoon return trip is a steady run over now familiar track. Our group is a surprise to one trespassing dirt-biker racing south along the right of way; flags go out alerting the cars behind. At the afternoon Shively stop we're again welcomed with coffee and snacks. Several people buy honey from among the choices of apple, clover, and mountain. We're back at Fortuna and tie up for the night at 6 PM.
Dinner is at the new Fortuna Community Center. Starting at 6:45 PM we enjoy a "down on the farm" meal of prime rib, chicken, pasta and a salad bar. Entertainment is provided by the "Humboldt County Kitchen Aires," a kazoo and washtub group accompanied by a piano. The ten members serenade us with standards like "The Saints Go Marching In" and "Working on the Railroad." The evening is a success; it's typical of the social aspect of our hobby.
Sunday's safety meeting gathers under heavy clouds. By the 8:20 AM departure light drizzle is falling. Today we have seven members of the California Conservation Corps helping with flagging. Under Vic Neves' supervision they leap frog ahead helping with the three busy intersections in Fortuna.
Our speed is slow all the way to Fernbridge where the old NWP station is still standing at mp 268.7. This wooden building is typical of small town stations. Under one long roof is a freight shed (now missing the freight dock), a dispatchers office with bay windows, and a waiting room. The rain lets up on the way to Loleta.
Tunnel #40 at mp 272 penetrates Table Bluff enabling the railroad to leave the Eel River Valley and reach Humboldt Bay. North of the tunnel, without thinking, acting on instinct and experience, some unaware they've even done it, every operator reaches for the throttle to add a bit of speed. Why? We're on smooth welded rail that lasts twelve miles to Eureka. Along the Bay large rocks protect the roadbed from tidal and wave action. At Fields Landing mp 277.7 a crowd gathers around the Kinetic Sculptures getting ready for today's race. Now a worldwide traveling event, Kinetic Sculpture races started with members of this area's artist colony.
We enter Eureka where the tracks go right down the middle of the Old Town. We stop on First Street at mp 284.5 leaving a break in our line to permit automobile cross traffic. This is quite a picture: motorcars in the middle of a street! The rain stops. Near by coffee shops get lots of trade.
Under way again we cross the Eureka Slough Bridge at mp 285.6 and
begin a loop around Arcata Bay. The shoreline includes many parts
that, along with some islands, together make up the Humboldt Bay
National Wildlife Refuge. The northeastern shore of the bay is the
Arcata Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary. White Great Egrets, brown
Sandpipers, and grey California Gulls work the water's edge looking
for food. Ruddy Ducks swim just off shore.
At a road crossing near mp 292, we turn our cars again using the portable turntable. Back in Eureka, the group ties up at J Street for lunch.
Pete Kriger, member of the private Ingomar Club, arranges for us to have lunch in the Carson Mansion. This home of lumber baron William Carson, built in 1886, is said to be the most photographed Victorian house in America. Our visit inside today is a rare privilege. We're required to take our shoes off at the door. During lunch, Kriger graciously guides groups of eight around the house. The windows, doorways and stairs are adorned with imported wood carvings. Pete says the club bought the house from the family in 1950.
Back on our cars at 2:45 PM it's raining as we depart from Eureka. We skirt along Humboldt Bay riding the welded rail into the wooded area north of Loleta. The rain has somehow changed the quality of light and atmosphere. The trees and grasses take on deeper and more intense hues of green. Light green distinguishes new growth tree leaves from older darker growth. At Loleta mp 271 we stop in front of the post office. The group walks one block north to the Loleta Cheese factory to sample the fine local dairy products.
It's a short seven miles back to the Rohnerville siding for setoff at 5 PM. Those cars staying for the 8 mile run to Carlotta on Monday morning are switched onto the siding. Those of us setting off today pull forward to Drake Hill Road. Set off goes fast, operators help each other. By 5:30 PM everyone is loaded and gone.
Bill Owen continues with this about Monday. Twenty cars depart south from the Rohnerville siding at 8:00 AM under a light rain. As the group heads east on the Carlotta branch, rain turns to full sunshine. This is the first time MOW has operated on this branch. The tracks take us through beautiful, lush green farmland and pastures. We arrive at the PALCO crossing west of Carlotta at 8:20AM. The cars are manually turned at the well- maintained crossing and start back to Rohnerville. The cars set off at the Drake Hill Road crossing and the tracks were clear by 9:20AM.
We extend a special thanks to Frank Lovio for escorting us on this holiday morning and for all his support of MOW excursions on the NWP. Summing up the weekend several people say: "It doesn't get any better than this!" Indeed it doesn't. Thank you Northwestern Pacific Railroad for hosting MOW. We all hope to be back next year.