The "Skunk" and "Trees of Mystery"
Day 2 - The Skunk - "You can smell 'em before you can see 'em..."
Tuesday, March 30th, 1999 - 9 am (9:30)
It's a cold, cloudy morning, threatening to rain - and occasionally following through on that threat - and we're standing at the California Western
Depot, in Fort Bragg, waiting for the "Skunk."
California Western's "Skunk" trains
are not trains per se: They're gas-powered (well, diesel, now) railcars. Initially acquired in 1925 to replace the by then too-expensive steam passenger train over the line (which is only forty miles long - and was primarily a logging-train line anyway), the legend goes that the original cars were nicknamed for their rather odorous gas engines. The quip being "You can smell 'em before you can see 'em."
Thus, "Skunk Trains."
The morning has started with disappointment, though. Originally, we were going to take the full day trip to Willits and back. But problems with the track in Willits means that there are
no through trains to there today. So instead, we buy tickets for the still available "Half-Day" run to Northspur (the mid-point on the line) and back.
A little before 9:30, and the big red car - very trolley-like except for the lack of a trolleypole - pulls up to the boarding platform and everyone gets on board - quickly. It's actually pretty cold outside (or - to Dee Dee - freezing) and everyone wants to get inside the heated car right now.
A brief spiel by the conductor and the Skunk is off!
At first we slowly move through town, but then we pass the town cemetery and begin to climb up Pudding Creek. Soon, we pass through a dark tunnel, and emerge to follow the Noyo River.
The line runs deep into the redwoods, climbing high on both sides of the car. We pass abandoned sidings where once logs were loaded, the site of a lodge where people used to stay on their way to Willits when the tracks only went half
way there, and the old ranch that once supplied beef to the loggers. Continuing on, we roll by peoples cabins and homes, all with their own little personal train stations by the tracks (some slowly melting back into the soil they're so old) and then right through the middle of a very large Scout camp.
As we climb higher, we pass through occasionally bands of rain. About two hours after we left Fort Bragg, the Skunk chuffs to a halt at the little stop of Northspur. Once, a spur-line ran off from here to a logging camp, but now the place operates as a turn-around for the train, and a rest stop (complete with gift shop - try the jellys!) for the passengers.
We have about a half-hour break at Northspur. We're deep in the redwoods here, with only a few patches of sky (all cloudy) visible between trees. The air is cold, moist, and smells absolutely wonderfully of the damp forest. Meanwhile, the engineer is shifting the big red railbus back and forth on the "Y" to turn it around for the return trip.
We reboard and soon are heading back down river to Fort Bragg, past spots with names like "Glen Blair Junction," "Ranch," "South Fork," "Redwood Lodge," "Grove," "Camp Noyo," and "Alpine." At about one-thirty, the Skunk is back at the station and we disembark and head over to a nearby restaurant for lunch.
Perhaps you've noticed that I'm a bit of a train fanatic - and equally fanatic about forests. Therefore it should come as no surprise as to how unbelievably cool I think it would be to live there, in the redwoods, with a train in your backyard for transportation.
Taking the half-day rather than full-day trip means we've got some spare hours to spend and we decide to investigate the town. Of course, by now it's raining quite heavily, but we drive off to see the sites. We visit Noyo Harbor, we buy rain gear, we see the strangely-named roadside tourist giftshop/nursery "Fuchsiarama,"
we head back to the motel.
Now the rain slakens off, and dies, so we decide to walk over to the old bridge and the beach just beyond. It's just a quick trip across the road from the hotel and soon we're wandering underneath the long-abandoned structure. Though to tell the truth, it certainly doesn't look
like a bridge that no one's maintained in at least fifty years. There's a board or two missing, and it looks like there was a small fire at one end recently, but apart from that it looks exactly the same as in old photographs, except for the lack of a steam train chugging overhead.
We continue on towards the ocean. What with the storms, the sea is pretty rough, crashing against the rocks of this narrow inlet. Then, just a little way out to sea, we spot a dark blurry band of rain, falling hard, and moving in quick. We start heading back to the motel, but it catches us before we even reach the bridge. It's hard, cold, and driving, but fortunately it's also short. We shelter under the bridge for a few minutes (for future reference, it's remarkably difficult to shelter under something a hundred feet in the air that's only about ten feet wide), then head back to the motel as it slacks off.
Dinner that night is at the "Cliff House,"
perched over the mouth of Noyo harbor. I'm sure it's a beautiful view for diners during the day, but at night with the restaurant lights reflecting off the windows and the headlights from the nearby 1 shinning in your eyes, you basically can't see anything outside.
The food is excellent, though.
All Linked Pictures Copyright of The Sites They're Linked To,
All Non-Linked Pictures Copyright 1999 - David William Johnson