How the Skunk train here in Fort Bragg ended up with its appellation is far from clear.
Heretofore I have had two explanations given to me as to why The CWR (California Western Railroad) Motorcars were named “Skunks”. The first is that they were diesels and their exhaust smelled – some said like a skunk – and the name stuck. Another explanation (which I really like) is that the CWR Motorcars used to take freshly caught fish from Noyo Harbour in Fort Bragg to Willits where the fish was put on an express train to San Francisco. And you know what the smell of the odd bit of rotting fish smells like……
Club member Deb Smith, who is an engineer on the CWR Motorcars, says there is a third (official?) explanation ….. “The first Motorcar, M-80 had a gasoline engine (not diesel) with very, very poor carburetion. So, its exhaust was stinky. Worse than that for the nose, however, was the coal-burning stove on board for heat. Coal was not readily available in this area, and so most people were not familiar with its stink while burning. Apparently the combination of those two smells, wafting up the Noyo River Valley on the afternoon breezes off the ocean, caused quite a noticeable odour. People would sniff the air, and say “Here comes the Skunk!” since they could smell it before they could see or hear it, just like a skunk.”
I don’t doubt Deb, but, does anyone REALLY know?