Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The California Western Roundhouse Rehabilitation: A Journey Through Mendocino Railway’s History and Heritage


The following is a press release issued by Mendocino Railway:

The World-Famous Skunk Train Roundhouse stands as a testament to the rich history of California Western’s steam and diesel locomotives. This iconic engine house, which has played a pivotal role in the development of railroad on the Mendocino Coast, has undergone a meticulous process of restoration and preservation. It has been transformed into a living museum where the community can truly appreciate and cherish its authenticity.

Originally constructed of old growth redwood and built in 1885, the engine house held a crucial place in the history of California Western’s steam locomotives. After a devastating fire in the early 1900s, the engine house was rebuilt to its current configuration, serving as a hub for maintaining and servicing the railroad’s fleet of steam locomotives. It also featured a machine shop, that was the height of ingenuity and precision of its era.

As the years passed and the railroad industry evolved, the engine house adapted to accommodate the arrival of Baldwin diesel locomotives. Notable modifications included the extension of two outer tracks through the north wall, transforming it into a run-through facility. Additional infrastructure enhancements, such as a sand hopper and plumbing for fueling, were made to cater to the service needs of the diesel fleet.

However, as the 20th century progressed, the engine house fell into disrepair. Following the California Western’s 2004 bankruptcy, and the purchase of its assets by Mendocino Railway, a commitment was made to restore this historic structure. Embracing a “replace in kind” philosophy, the restoration process began, with attention paid to maintaining the building’s authenticity from the mid-20th century.

Restoration efforts included repairing blown-out windows, replacing the roof, and restoring end doors that had not been fully operable for some time. This meticulous restoration has resulted in a faithful representation of the engine house, transporting visitors back to a pivotal era in the history of the railroad industry.

By opening the Roundhouse doors to visitors, it has been transformed into a living museum, where echoes of the past resonate through operation of railroad equipment. Visitors can marvel at the preserved historic artifacts displayed within the building, allowing them to connect with the rich heritage of North American railroads.

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Stathi Pappas, the Skunk Train’s General Manager, stated, “The California Western Roundhouse is an iconic historic structure that provides a direct link to the heritage of the Mendocino Coast. It still fulfills its purpose, supporting the maintenance efforts on the locomotive, freight, and passenger car fleet of the same railroad line it was built for. As stewards of this living history, we honor those who came before, as we create new narratives and reimagine the California Western to continue to be a viable, relevant, and vibrant institution for another 138 years.”

Douglas Crane, President of Crane of Ukiah, Inc., fondly reflected on his involvement, expressing, “We are honored by the opportunity to restore the Roundhouse. The Skunk remains an important economic engine for Fort Bragg, Willits, and our greater community. Our construction relationship with the railroad, and the mill it served, began over 70 years ago. I began riding it to Boy Scout Camp Noyo in 1953.”

Mendocino Railway’s President, Robert Jason Pinoli, conveyed his appreciation for Douglas Crane of Crane of Ukiah, Inc., the expert whose tireless quest for attention to detail made this remarkable restoration possible, stating, “When you launch into a project like this, you want someone who appreciates your vision, and Doug is someone who appreciates this work and is truly a natural.”

The restoration project required substantial financial resources, with an investment cost of $813,076. The result is not just the preservation of a building, but also the preservation of a piece of history for the community to enjoy for generations to come. It continues to serve the community by preserving historic equipment, offering a window into the past while seamlessly integrating with our evolving freight and passenger operations.

Throughout the restoration process, strict adherence to safety and preservation guidelines were maintained. The building was not altered, and every window and door was replaced like-for-like. Despite some challenges, the commitment to preserving the building with safety being top of mind was unwavering.

This achievement is a cause for celebration as a 138-year-old railroad heritage has been brought back to life through the dedication of experts. The California Western Roundhouse now stands as a shining example of historic preservation, inviting visitors to step back in time and appreciate the legacy of this iconic railroad.
Interested parties can see the roundhouse in action during the Skunk Train’s recently added Roundhouse Tours. For times and information, please visit the website at https://www.skunktrain.com.  

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  1. Do they really think anyone is going to pay that kind of money to tour the engine shed? For the same price, I can take my entire family to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

    • 50 bucks a person to look at an old restored building…That’s a lot of money for locals but then the tourists drop their plastic happily and spend even more being gouged for a room and meals when they spend the weekend….If it wasn’t for those tourists what would happen to Ft. Bragg and Mendocino?

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MendoFever Staff
MendoFever Staff
Editor's Note: Whenever an article's byline reads "MendoFever Staff", the contents of that article were not composed by any of our reporters. Types of writing that will be attributed to "MendoFever Staff" include press releases, letters to the editor, op-eds, obituaries— essentially writing that is not produced by a reporter.

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