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Author Topic: Skunk Train
yukon11
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Living in Northern California for most of my life, I never got around to taking the Skunk Train, from Fort Bragg, Calif. to Willits, Calif.
That is, not until this past weekend. The train has both open-air cars and enclosed cars:

http://www.skunktrain.com/


I received a trip on the Skunk Train as a Christmas gift. We took the shorter run from Fort Bragg to a stop about half-way to Willits. The stop was at "Camp Mendocino" where passengers detrained for lunch. It took a little over 1 hour from Fort Bragg to Camp Mendocino, about an hour for lunch, and the return. We left Fort Bragg at 10:00 am and it was around 2:00 PM when we got back.

I was hoping that our locomotive would be a 1925 Baldwin steam locomotive, the "Ole No. 45". However, our locomotive was a diesel GP9:

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The Skunk Train started out as the Fort Bragg Railroad (1885) which was a logging train which moved redwood logs from the Coastal Mountains to sawmills and ports along the coast. The train took on passengers in 1904 and later become the California Western Railroad (CWRR).

The old train had individual cars powered by gasoline motors. The cars also had pot-bellied stoves for warmth. They would say that you could "smell the train before you could see it", due to the pungent odor from the gasoline engines and stoves. Someone said the train "smelled like a skunk" and hence the name "Skunk Train".

The route from Fort Bragg to Camp Mendocino was very scenic. The train goes through redwood tree groves. One of the redwood trees is over 1,000 years old.

Our train after arrival at Camp Mendocino:

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Camp Mendocino is a youth summer camp which serves lunch to train passengers when the train arrives. We were served a delicious crab and salad lunch with wine. Other meals include various barbeque meals, beer and bratwurst, and other lunches.

Before the return trip, the train went to a side track and the locomotive changes from the front of the train to the back.

Skunk Train coming back to Camp Mendocino for the return to Fort Bragg:

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I really liked the town of Fort Bragg. It's a tourist town but not nearly as touristy as Mendocino. Lots of really good restaurants.

Here are some photos I took from just in back of our motel, along the beach and oceanfront.

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Richard

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Gilbert B Norman
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Rode such during 1968; equipment was a Yellow DMU set.
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HopefulRailUser
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Gorgeous pictures! Thanks.

--------------------
Vicki in usually sunny Southern California

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RRRICH
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Thanks for the photos and commentary on the Skunk Train, Richard! I lived in California for 3 years, but never had a chance to go up and ride that train.
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MargaretSPfan
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Those are simply beautiful photos! Thanks for the travelogue.

Mr. Norman: the Skunk cars have never been DMUs, but just single unit gasoline-powered cars that look sort of like old yellow PCCs: Skunk car # M 300

I ride the Skunk only twice: the late 50s (in a Skunk car) and the early 70s, behind "ol' No, 45. Beautiful scenery, and NO litter whatsoever along to RoW! [Smile] We were camped in a KOA near the tracks, and at night the freight train (it must have been a freight, as the passenger trains didn't run that late) sounded as though it was coming right through the tent!

It is a great ride.

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sbalax
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I don't know why we've never done this. It's on the list now!

Thanks, Richard, for the post and the nudge.

Frank in sunny and cool but still WAY too dry SBA.

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smitty195
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I've done this three times now, and all three times it has been wonderful. For those wanting to know how this works, you have choices of what route and what equipment you want to ride on. In a nutshell, here is how it works:

Option #1: Fort Bragg (on the coast) to Northspur. I think this is what is being referred to as Camp Mendocino? (I've never heard it called Camp Mendocino before, but I'm assuming it's the same thing as Northspur). This is on a full passenger train, with enclosed passenger cars, a snack car, restrooms, open air car, etc. Most of the time you are pulled by a diesel. However, they DO run steam. You need to check their website because they publish in advance the specific days that have steam.

Option #2: Willits (which is way inland) to Northspur. This time, you are riding on the type of equipment that Margaret posted above. Even though it's basically a "big bus" on rails, they do offer snack/beverage service AND there is a real restroom in it.

When you reach Northspur, depending upon the time of year, you get off your train and enjoy a nice BBQ that is ready and waiting for you. You have to pay extra for this---it is NOT included in the price of the ticket. They offer hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, and all sorts of stuff. I've always taken these trips during the summer, and it is beautiful back in there. Keep in mind that if you do it during the summer and you leave from Fort Bragg (the coast), it will probably be cool and maybe even foggy. You'll want a jacket because it's so cool. But as the train climbs and moves inland towards Northspur, it gets VERY warm. It actually gets hot-----easily 100 degrees in the summer. So dress in "layers" if possible during the summer.

They maintain their equipment very nicely, and it is a GREAT way to spend a day and see gorgeous scenery, and travel amongst the giant redwood trees.

NOTE OF CAUTION: If you are being pulled by their diesel locomotive, it spits oil!!!! So do NOT hang out on the open platform car (like I did) because you will have little black oil dots all over your clothing----hundreds of little black dots. And they don't come out in the wash, either. So stay inside a car with a roof on it and you'll be fine. It's a shame about the oil that spits out, but it's old equipment and I guess that's what those things do.

On a side note, this operation just recently averted a disaster. One of their main tunnels collapsed. This is on the Willits to Northspur side of things. The cost was prohibitive for them to repair, so they weren't sure what was going to happen. Eventually, someone came up with the money (I forget what sort of deal was worked out). But they were able to repair the damaged tunnel and open things up again.

This is a "do not miss" train attraction. It's a very fun, enjoyable, and relaxing way to spend half a day.

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Gilbert B Norman
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To perfect the link submitted by Margaret:

http://www.air-and-space.com/197508%20Eureka%20Skunk%20Train/06%20Skunk%20Train%20Motorcar%20M-300%20left%20front%20l.jpg

(if she chooses to perfect such within her own posting, this will be killed)

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yukon11
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Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments on the photos.

I have to think, Smitty, that "Camp Mendocino" must be at Northspur. Their website and brochures do not mention Camp Mendocino as a stopping place, but since it is about half-way from Fort Bragg to Willits I assume Northspur is where Camp Mendocino is located. My sister, a number of years ago, took the train from Willits to Fort Bragg but she said that the trip was a little long. Yes, it was very cold at Camp Mendocino..but I guess you expect that in late January.

I find their brochure and website a little confusing. Something about a motor coach or motorcar, but I don't know if that is for shuttling people around Fort Bragg or if it means "train one way, motor coach back".

The brochure also mentions a special parlor car for wine, cheese and full bar service, but I can't tell which of the train journeys lets passenger have access to the parlor car.

I would urge anyone taking the Skunk Train to spend at least 1-2 days in Fort Bragg. Also, as Mendocino is only 8 miles away, you can drive over there as well. We had brunch at the Mendocino Hotel and it was very good. At Fort Bragg we stayed at the Ocean View Lodge, which was very nice except that the beds were a little hard. The Cliff House Restaurant was excellent, but there are several good restaurants in Fort Bragg.

Richard

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smitty195
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Richard: If you have a link, can you please show me the web page that talks about motor car/motor coach? I can't find it anywhere on their website. FWIW, I'm not familiar with any type of trip where they "train" in and "bus" out----never heard of it.

Also, I talked to a buddy who lives in Redwood Valley (Mendocino County) and he said that Camp Mendocino and Northspur are basically the same thing. Northspur is the railroad name for where they stop, but right next door is an actual camp called "Camp Mendocino". They have Boy Scout trips there during the summer, and some other group of boys but I forget what that group is called. I know that during the summer as you approach Northspur, the boys are all required to stop what they're doing and run trackside to wave to the approaching train. I've got a bunch of pictures of that. I think it was "Special Ed" week when I took those photos, so I'm guessing they get a big variety of groups up there using the camp.

Did you have any flagstops along your ride? On my three rides, there have always been at least two. I love that! The train stops, backpackers and campers climb aboard, pay the conductor, and off we go!

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yukon11
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Smitty: I don't remember any flag stops. I was concentrating on the scenery and taking photos so there could have been one or two but I didn't notice.

I called the Skunk Train for clarification on the stop at Camp Mendocino, the motorcar or motor coach, and the parlor car.

Yes, you're right. Camp Mendocino is very close to Northspur, which is just a little east of Camp Mendocino. Northspur is the normal stop. The reason we stopped at Camp Mendocino was because we were on the "crab and wine" trip. As you mentioned, Camp Mendocino is a summer camp with log cabins and a large, wooden dining room where we had our meal.

Did Northspur had a large barbeque area? It looks like most of the barbeque meals stop there.

The motorcar or motor coach takes the place of the train, if you so choose. It does not provide a shuttle between your hotel/motel and the train station. The motorcar travels either from Willits to Northspur or Fort Bragg to Northspur as an option to the diesel or steam train. There is even one run where it goes from Willits to Fort Bragg. The motorcar trips are mainly in the summer. Thee motorcar holds over 50 people.

I asked about the parlor car. I was told that the car runs after May. However, when I described what I referred to as a "snack car", they said that was the parlor car. We were served quiche and mimosas when we first boarded. Other than that, the car served beer, soda, and various snacks. However, not really a wine/cheese type car. I'm starting to wonder if I received correct information. Possibly there is a true wine & cheese parlor car which operates after May.

The only train excursion, that I know of, which offers to motor coach (or bus) you one way is the Durango-Silverton. You have the option of the train from Durango to Silverton, then a bus back to Durango if you don't want to return on the train.

Richard

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smitty195
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That's interesting that they have an option of a bus to take you in or out---I've never heard of that before. And I've definitely never seen any buses at Northspur. Just a Ranger's truck and little golf carts that they cruise around in. I might be a little confused between the terms "motor car" and "motor coach" though. I rode from Willits to Northspur last year on, I think, a "motor car" which was a self-propelled, diesel-powered car on railroad tracks. At Willits, that's the only option I've ever seen them use, however, they do seem to have a full trainset there including diesel locomotive and several passenger cars. Let me see if I can upload a few of those Willits photos to Flickr so that I can post here--it will make more sense that way.

As far as the BBQ at Northspur, no, there is not a large BBQ area. What they have are two BBQs that I would call "commercial grade" that are sitting on the dirt area just to the left of where you pay and pick up your drink, side dishes, and pay for your meal. They don't have a large BBQ pit or anything like that---as a matter of fact, I those two BBQ machines are on wheels.

Let me play around here and get some pics uploaded to Flickr, then I'll come back here and post one picture that apparently will link to my entire Flickr account (I hope you don't mind pictures of my kitty cat!) [Smile] Give me a few minutes and I'll get it done.

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smitty195
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If I did this right, when I make this posting, a picture of the "motor car" should appear below. This is parked at the Willits station before departure for Northspur. Then once you click on the photo, you will be in my Flickr account. You can go left (back) and right (forward) to see the other Skunk Train pics that I posted from the Willits station, and then you will see Northspur where we met the steam train that came in from Fort Bragg.

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Untitled by asmith195@comcast.net, on Flickr

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yukon11
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Here is the picture of the "motor car" which is in their brochure:

http://www.skunktrain.com/overnighter.html

I was told it holds over 50 people!

Now I'm really confused.

Richard

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smitty195
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Hah hah! That IS confusing!!! Wow....I never saw that before.
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DeeCT
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Looks like a fun excursion ...

However for those of us who do not lease cars on our travels ..... you can not get there. (Am not going to even attempt to lease and drive through an area described as "winding, mountain roads".)

Did check to see if this might be included in any Gray Line tour out of San Francisco .... but it is not.

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smitty195
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Dee: Amtrak Thruway buses regularly go to Willits. I'm 99% sure of this, and I think one of the stops in Willits is located AT the Willits Skunk Train depot. Let me play around on Amtrak's website. I'm almost certain of this.
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smitty195
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Okay, yup, they sure do! The connection point for the Thruway Bus is at the Amtrak Martinez station (MTZ). The Capitol Corridor trains hit this station, as well as the Coast Starlight and California Zephyr! So it's very easy to get to Willits from Chicago, Seattle, or Los Angeles! Just get off at MTZ and be sure to book your final destination as WTS (Willits). It will take you right to their front door. [Smile]
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yukon11
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Smitty's suggestion should minimize the travel through winding mountain roads. Here is a bus schedule...Martinez to Santa Rosa to Willits:

http://www.cwrr.com/Amtrak/wc_mart.html#MK

For those who don't mind winding mountain roads, the more direct route would be to drive to Santa Rosa and Cloverdale, along Highway 101, then turn onto highway 128 just north of Cloverdale. You go through Boonville and then eventually hit highway 1 up to Fort Bragg. The drive from Boonville to Fort Bragg, although twisty, goes through groves of redwood tress and is very scenic.

No flights from Bay Area cities to Santa Rosa, but you can fly to SFO and rent a car. Or, fly directly to Santa Rosa from other cities and rent a car. Horizon has direct flights, to Santa Rosa, from LA, Portland, San Diego, and Seattle (Horizon/Alaska Airlines). If you go to the Horizon (Alaska) website, the code for the Santa Rosa airport is STS.

Richard

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smitty195
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Do you mean "Peanuts International Airport"? [Smile]
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DeeCT
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Smitty
Thanks for the information.
Have a brother in AZ who I visit often. Have rode the SWC too often. I try each time to plan a different route to get there and back including places to go and things to see along the way. This will sure make an interesting "side trip".
Dee

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yukon11
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quote:
Originally posted by smitty195:
Do you mean "Peanuts International Airport"? [Smile]

Yes, They have an information booth, inside the terminal, with Lucy and it doesn't even cost 5 cents.

Richard

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mgt
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Rode this from Fort Bragg 2007. Very informative guide/conductor on board.
We were coming up from San Francisco late in the evening, very misty sunset with a full moon. Quite spectacular.
Also the constant danger of deer darting out from the roadside.

Posts: 168 | From: uk. northumberland | Registered: Jun 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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