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Skunk Train Still Chugging Along
Mendocino Visitor Magazine

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A visit to Mendocino county isn't quite complete without A ride on the famous California WesternRailroad's Skunk Train between Fort Bragg and Willits.

The full Skunk line runs 40 miles, and a round-trip between Fort Bragg and Willits is between eight and eight and a half hours long. Originally a logging railroad, the Skunk line dates back to 1885. Steam passenger service was started in 1904 and extended to Willits in 1911. It was discontinued in 1925 when the single-car, self-powered Skunk rail cars were inaugurated. The bright yellow cars were nicknamed 'Skunks' because of the noxious fumes emanating from their original gas engines. The stench prompted people to say, 'You can smell them before you can see them."

Today, however, single cars and the locomotive-powered passenger trains, called 'Super Skunks,' are used during the summer months and run on diesel fuel, although Steam Engine No. 45 is still in use and is brought out for special runs throughout the year. The route snakes through the mountains on tracks which have been used for over one hundred years. The trains meander among pastoral meadows, redwood forests, rocky cliffs, tranquil rivers, and through two tunnels carved from the mountains. Along with delivering the mail to residents up and down the line, the Skunk Train carries passengers on full-day or half-day trips through the heart of Mendocino County's redwoods, revealing a pace of life long since past in most parts of the country.

While passengers will no doubt marvel at the abundance of natural beauty along the tracks, occasional live entertainment can also enliven the trip. On some excursion the Black Bart Gunfighters put on period costumes and draw their audience into outlandish Wild West shenanigans. On other trips, musicians play toe-tapping, old-time music, delighting passengers as they take in the glorious scenery. .


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