The Skunk Train


DSC03337Outside of the coastal town of Fort Bragg, California, train tracks head through the redwood forest (but new growth redwoods, not as magnificent as the trees in other areas), along Pudding Creek and then along the banks of the the Noyo River into the town of Willits, forty miles away.

The track, part of the California Western Railroad,  was originally laid in 1885 to carry redwood logs to and from the lumber camps. The approximate halfway mark is a stop called Northspur.

Originally the trains were powered by steam but were then replaced by gas-power. People said you could smell them before you saw them, so the name “Skunk Train” became popular.

Now the Skunk Train mostly carries tourists, although some of the people who live in isolated houses on isolated land along the isolated route, still depend on the train to bring needed supplies. I think (not positive) the conductor also said that some of the kids from the few camps along the route get to ride to camp on the train. (Again, not sure, but that’s what I understood.)

Because of the season – the train (on the day we rode) only ran from Fort Bragg to Northspur where we had lunch and then returned to Fort Bragg. We went through a deep and VERY DARK tunnel (which collapsed last year and almost closed down the railroad. Enough donations were given to fix it and last August, the train again began to run). The tunnel was dug by hand back in the day.

From what I’ve read, the second half of the ride between Northspur and Willits might be the more exciting – the train travels up the mountain until it reaches a tunnel at the top. (The train actually travels 8.5 miles of switchbacks to go less than a straight-line mile.)  The first half (from Fort Bragg to Northspur) was pretty, but to be honest, not spectacular.   Don’t get me wrong. I truly enjoyed it and would do it again, but it did not have spectacular scenery such as, for instance, the Georgetown Loop Train out in Colorado.

But I’m thinkin’ that second half might have had some spectacularity to it.

The ride did a lot to simply help me relax, however, after going nonstop the past couple months.  I needed that and that made it all worthwhile. We passed some interesting mining camp remains, had good narration by the conductor and were serenaded by a young man who specialized in train songs. (I’ll see if I can post a video.)

After about an hour and a half or so we arrived in Northspur and had a 45 minute break. You could purchase hotdogs, brats and hamburgers and fortunately, hot chocolate, since it was a just a little cold. The food was grilled right there in front of a miniature train set.  The place smelled like camp … which is a good thing. Picnic tables were set up – but it was damp and cold so we didn’t sit very long.

Then we got back on the train and returned to Fort Bragg.

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