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The Complete California Western Railroad with Steam Train, Skunk Motorcar and Diesel Train 8/16/2014

by Chris Guenzler

After a good night's rest and breakfast at the Surf Motel and Gardens in Fort Bragg, we drove to the station where I saw was an old friend.

Sticking its front nose of the Fort Bragg engine house was California Western 2-8-2 45 built by Baldwin in 1924 as Owen-Oregon Lumber Company 3 at Medford, Oregon. In a 1932 corporate sale, it became Medford Corporation 3 then in 1965, sold to the California-Western Railroad as their 45.

California Western Railroad History

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 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 total length of 40 miles roughly following the Noyo River, to interchange connection with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in the inland town of Willits, California.

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.

The California Western Railroad Steam Train Trip

I picked up my set of tickets and went out to photograph the steam engine coming out to be put onto our train.

The water tower still remains and is in use in Fort Bragg.

The California Western station.

The California Western mural.

The California Western water tower in Fort Bragg today.

A blast from the past. These pictures from 1974 shows the huge Georgia Pacific lumber complex in Fort Bragg that is no longer there today.

Now let us watch California Western 45 make her morning debut today.

What a great show of steam as California Western 45 came out then reversed onto our trainset this morning. My mother switched our tickets so we could ride the whole railroad. After I talked with a CWRR employee, I went back in and got our final tickets which would be the steam train to Northspur, Skunk Motorcar to and from Willits, then the diesel train from Northspur back to Fort Bragg. Now I would not have to worry about driving to Willits on CA Highway 20 to make a train.

I picked my spot in the open car and would now start my second trip over the entire California Western Railroad.

At 10:00 AM, the trip started with the usual side blowing to release the built-up steam from the boiler.

We left the very attractive California Western Fort Bragg station behind.

Wellwishers as the train took the first of the many curves it would take on the way to Northspur.

The train crossed Pine Street in Fort Bragg.

One last look at the station.

Crossing Main Street, also known as CA Highway 1.

The train dropped down the grade to reach Pudding Creek with the trees on the other side of it.

Dropping through a curve down to Pudding Creek.

More trees along the creek.

A look up Pudding Creek.

Curving along Pudding Creek.

A view of Pudding Creek.

Our train took two more curves.

A view looking from the open car. It was announced that all passengers would have to come in from the open car due to falling rock in Tunnel 1. I mentioned to the conductor what I wanted to do and he said that was fine with him.

Taking another curve on the line.

The empty open car is a lonely place with no passengers.

The train curved into Tunnel 1 which is 1,184 feet long and was built in 1893. It cuts through the ridge between Pudding Creek on the north and Noyo River on the south.

We entered the tunnel and I went inside with my conductor. My next two pictures were taken through the car's end door windows.

The train exiting Tunnel 1. I returned outside to continue my trip photography.

Taking the first curve out of the tunnel.

The rest of the train exiting the tunnel.

There are plenty of curves on this railroad.

Many old growth Redwood trees are found along this route.

Another curve took the train into South Fork.

The South Fork station sign.

An old Redwood tree stump.

This is one of the oldest Redwood trees in the forest.

Bridge 6.97.

Always remember to look up when riding in an open car on any railroad that has one of them!

An old side dump ballast car found near Rockpit.

The train crossed Bridge 7.11.

The mighty trees of this forest.

The train took another curve on this railroad.

Crossing Noyo River.

Our second crossing of Noyo River.

Yet another curve on this railroad.

Remember to always look up in an open car.

The top of one of the trees.

Another curve.

Another look up.

Curving on the way to Northspur.

At Camp Mendocino, a Big Foot, or sasquatch, wood carving.

The train passing Camp Mendocino.

A final curve before we reached Northspur where we would transfer to the Skunk motorcar and I detrained here.

My mother being lifted off the steam train. We made our way to the boarding location for the Skunk motorcar.

We said goodbye to my old friend California Western 2-8-2 45 at Northspur and he would reverse his train out of the way so that the Skunk motorcar could load before the steam engine would be wyed for the return trip to Fort Bragg.

The Skunk motorcar was waiting across the Noyo River Bridge, Milepost 21.31, at Northspur. It then reversed into boarding location.

California Western Motorcar M100 built by Edwards Rail Car Company in 1925. It was acquired from the Morehead and North Fork Railroad of Kentucky. This would be our ride to Willits and back to Northspur for a barbecue dinner on the way back to Fort Bragg.

My mother was lifted onto Motorcar M100.

The interior of California Western Motorcar M100.

I took the front seat for the trip to Willits.

The motorcar's operator for today's trips.

We left Northspur by crossing Noyo River Bridge, Milepost 21.31, heading for Willits.

One of the passenger shelters along this railroad.

We crossed Bridge 21.48.

We went by the Northspur Yard Limits sign.

The grade had begun to increase as we head east out of Northspur.

Crossing Bridge 21.71.

A short piece of straight track on our route.

Our crossing of Bridge 22.11.

Traversing Bridge 22.33.

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