Skunk Line Stations
The Skunk passes through a number of places on its journey from Fort Bragg to Willits as can be seen from the map below.
The line starts in Fort Bragg at sea-level and climbs to 1740 feet at the Summit. From the Summit the track drops to 1,364 feet above sea level in Willis. At one point there is eight and one half miles of serpentine track to cover a linear distance of one-and one half miles. – see schematic left.
The line is within the Noyo River Valley until it reaches Summit. The Noyo River is named after the Native Americans that occupied the area. The Noyo is a salmon producing river. The Noyo is the primary water source for the city of Fort Bragg.
Originally there were 115 bridges and trestles along the 40 mile route. Today thirty two remain. The remainder were removed when the line was straightened over the years. There are 381 curves in the 40 miles of track. The longest piece of straight track (near Shake City) is less than a mile in length.
The Skunk was the last railroad to deliver mail six days a week. Service ceased on September 15, 2003 and Club Member Tony Phillips was on the train that provided the last day's service. Along the side of the track you can still see posts that the mail bags were hung on. The Conductor would reach out and grab the mail bags as the train passed, picture right.
The stations that you pass and their mileposts are as follows:
Mile 0 - Fort Bragg
Mile 2.1 - Pudding Creek - As you leave Fort Bragg the Skunk passes alongside Pudding Creek, the site of one of the first mills in Fort Bragg. The "weir" or dam you can see nearly opposite the Pudding Creek Trestle on Highway 1 was the log pond for the Pudding Creek Mill.
Mile 3.5 – Glen Blair Junction - just before passing into the 1,122 foot long Tunnel #1 there is a switch to the left which used to take trains to Glenblair.
Mile 5.8 – Hay Shed Siding – There was once a bridge across the Noyo here. Today there is a U.S. Geologic Survey gauging station here.
Mile 6.6 – South Fork – South Fork is where the South Fork of the Noyo River enters the main stream. In 1887, before it was logged the area was a popular destination for Sunday excursion trains from Fort Bragg. A spur ran down to the river where a dragline scooped up gravel to be used for track maintenance. At South Fork, once the site of one of the ULC's (Union Lumber Company) logging camps, you can see some high stumps. These are the remains of trees that have been harvested. Early loggers would cut a notch in the trees and install a board to stand on. The spring board slot can still be seen in some of the stumps. The slot was set high up because water is retained at the base of the trunk and if the tree was logged too low the bottom piece would not float and would sink in the log pond.
Mile 7.3 – Rockpit – Just as the name suggests there was a rock pit where rock was quarried and used for filling holes, building walls etc. along the right of way.
Mile 9.0 - Ranch – Company Ranch was where cattle and sheep were raised during the early days of the railroad to provide meat for the logging camps. Ranch also raised vegetables and had orchards. The original school is still there but has been made into a private dwelling.
Mile 10.0 - Redwood Lodge – The Redwood Lodge Resort is located on the Little North Fork of the Noyo River. The lodge that was here burned to the ground in 1963 and was never rebuilt. Railroad construction reached here in 1888. ULC started a redwood tree nursery here in 1922 but if failed due to fire, rodents and dry years but the baby Douglas firs did survive and are still there.
Mile 12.7 – Grove – Just east of Grove is one of the oldest trees along the line. A core sampling indicates an age in excess of 1,000 years.
Mile 14.9 – Camp Three – Camp Three was one of ULC's logging camps. Once the area was logged out the line was extended and the camp moved.
Mile 16.2 – Camp Four – Another ULC logging camp. A camp would typically remain in place for three months to a year.
Mile 16.4 – Camp Noyo – Formerly called Camp Silverado Camp Noyo is the name of the Boy Scout Camp over a bridge on the south side of the river.
Mile 18.1 – Alpine – When Alpine was a thriving community it was the end of the line. Stagecoaches came here from Willis via a ridge route to transport passengers. It had a population of 1,200 was said to have been larger than Fort Bragg. The town included a tavern, a school and a post office. A fire in 1919 destroyed the buildings and the town was never rebuilt.
Near Alpine there was a mill with a railroad called the Duffy Lumber Co.
Mile 19.6 – Camp Mardewel –Camp Mardewel is the original name. It is now called Camp Mendocino. The camp was started with a 200 acre donation from the ULC and now cover 2,000 acres. The Camp is operated by the San Francisco Boys and Girls Club. Each summer over 2,000 children between the ages of 6 and 14 will spend 10 days here. Many children arrive and leave via the Skunk. The Camp now has 2,000 acres of land and since it opened in 1931 the camp has hosted over 65,000 children.
Mile 19.8 – Camp Seven – Another of the old ULC logging camps.
Mile 20.0 - Eagle’s Nest – Eagle’s Nest was on the north side of the tracks across from Rest Haven just east of Camp 7. The annual Union Lumber Company picnic was held there every year. Hank Simonson was a regular on the picnic and he fondly remembered the swimming hole there and the wonderful food. Hank’s father was an accomplished violinist and was one of the band that played at the picnic. Below are pictures of picnic trains.
Mile 21.3 – Northspur - Northspur was the home of the Noyo River Apple Company. Most of the private homes are up on the North Fork of the Noyo River. Camp Saint Albert (it was called Albertinum) was here. A quarter of a mile from the station was the Noyo River Tavern – see picture far right.
Mile 23.9 – Irmulco – The name Irmulco comes from Ireland Murray Lumber Company. The company started out in 1902 with a small steam powered sawmill in Two Rock Valley, six miles west of Willits.
Lonzo Irvine and Henry Muir ran this mill until 1909 when the supply of readily available timber was exhausted. The operation was moved along the Noyo River where it ran until 1923. In 1934 Roy Whipple and a Mr. Rowell bought the machinery and moved it to an operation on Orr Springs Road between Ukiah and the Coast.
IRMULCO did not have a railroad as such – it used a spur to the CWR track but it did have its own home-made loco to move the finished lumber around – see picture right:
An interesting document (written in August 1985 about a trip in 60s) was given to club member Tony Phillips by club member Hank Simonson who was given it by the author (Ferol Slotte). Hank's father reported to Mrs. Ferol Slotte's father, Port Lawson. Click here to read this document.
Mile 24.5 – Redwood Creek – The mill at Irmulco cut timber in this area. In later years another mill operated here. An old timer living in Irmulco would come down the track every morning to build a fire in the schoolhouse to warm it for the loggers' children.
Mile 26.8 – Shake City – Shake City was where the highest quality shakes – a split product - were made. Fire destroyed the operation in the 1950s.Only old-growth virgin timber makes good shakes. The picture to the right shows an old growth redwood being bucked prior to being turned into shakes. Left is a picture of the Union Lumber Company’s Shake City woods camp. A speeder is headed east on the tracks
Mile 26.9 – McMullin Creek - This is the site of only single mile of straight track in the whole 40 miles.
Mile 27.8 – Burbeck – There was a shingle mill here in the early 1900's. It was also the last area logged by ULC in 1968.
Mile 28.7 – Soda Springs – Soda Springs was the location of a famous horseshoe bend. Soda Springs feeds a meadow pond. It is a carbonated water spring that testifies to volcanism and plate tectonic activity along major fractures that parallel the San Andreas Fault system in Mendocino County.
Mile 30.4 – Clare Mill – In early 1900's railroad ties were made by hand here. There was a trestle bridge here that 600 feet long and 73 feet long – comparable to the Pudding Creek Trestle. It was replaced with an earth-filled berm in 1936. Until the Skunk line finally made it "over the hill" to Willits this was the end of the line. To get to Willits then a passenger would board an open buckboard stage for a five hour trip (in good weather!).
Mile 32.6 – Crowley – This was the site of a logging camp owned by a French man. He had a love of tennis and imported clay to build a tennis court. Until relatively recently the camp at Crowley was intact. It consisted of five bunkhouses, a mess hall and the foreman's quarters.
Mile 34.1 – Crater
Mile 35.4 – Summit – Summit is the highest point on the line – 1,740 feet above sea-level. These pictures wre taken in November 2011 by website visitor Isaac Kuster. On the immediate left is a photo of Summit with a Maintenance Way hut in the background. And what’s in the maintenance of way hut? See photo far left
Mile 36.0 – Tunnel #2 - Tunnel #2 was built in 1911, after the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP) reached Willits. The second tunnel on the route from Fort Bragg to Willits is 795 foot. When complete it enabled the CWR to link to NWP’s San Francisco to Eureka route. Tunnel #2 was bored over seven months by Nelson & Co. out of San Francisco – two 12-hour shifts at each end, with 20 men on each shift. Until the Tunnel was finished all the lumber from the Fort Bragg mill went to market by sea from Union Lumber Company’s pier in Fort Bragg.
Mile 37.5 – Rodgers – The Skunk crosses Highway 20 here and may stop at the KOA Campground for passengers.
Mile 38.6 – Sage Spur – Sage Spur is halfway between the Highway 20 crossing and the Highway 101 crossing. This is the site of another lumber mill.
Mile 40.0 – Willits – The City of Willits was incorporated in 1888. The town was originally developed as a logging and railroad town. The depot was constructed in 1915 entirely of redwood and was originally of very elaborate Chalet style architecture. Willits was where the CWR connected to the Northwestern Pacific line which ran from San Francisco to Eureka. The picture below (left) shows the Willits depot welcoming the first train ever "over the hill" from Fort Bragg. The picture right shows the Willits depot after a winter snowfall.
Willits seems to be a town where not too much has happened. Three "factoids" that we have discovered are (a) In 1929 Winston Churchill stayed a night at the Van Hotel – he was en route from Vancouver to San Francisco, (b) Jack London stayed a few nights in Willits after the 1906 earthquake – he was assessing the damage done by the earthquake and is reported to have written a few pages of White Fang whilst there, and (c) the jockey of champion racehorse "Seabiscuit" was married in 1929 at St Anthony's Catholic Church in Willits.
A Riders Guide to the Skunk Line by Robert Warren Published in 1986
A travel guide to the sights, sounds and even smells of the Noyo Valley railroad.