About the Mendocino County Railway Society


The society was founded in 1983 by a group of enthusiastic railroad supporters in Fort Bragg, California, the home of the California Western Railroad, the “Skunk” train. Their main goal at that time was the rehabilitation of steam engine No. 45, a formidable task that was accomplished with the help of many volunteers who organized several fundraising events.


In 1986, Georgia Pacific Corporation – the owner of the locals saw mill and the railroad – applied to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for discontinuance of winter service for the Skunk railroad. Abandonment of the line loomed in the background. The communities at the ends of the line - Fort Bragg at the ocean and Willits inland – protested against this move and the CPUC denied the application. The fight to keep the railroad going brought railroad supporters from both communities together. In 1987, they decided to extend the bylaws of the society to include support for rehabilitation of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP).


In 1984, Southern Pacific had sold the northern part of the NWP from Willits to Eureka to Brian Whipple, a private businessman. Unfortunately, extensive track damage from heavy winter storms forced the new owner of the “Eureka Southern”, as Whipple had named the railroad, into bankruptcy.


At this point MCRS got into action: In 1988, after MCRS members had helped for several months restoring California Western’s steam engine No. 45, they now focused on the regeneration of the NWP. In September, MCRS sponsored a railroad meeting in Northspur, the halfway point on the Skunk line. It was the first of three major meetings. The first two meetings resulted in two bills. One created the North Coast Railroad Authority and the other one provided funding for short-line railroads. The third meeting, in December of 1989, laid the cornerstone to the purchase of the entire NPW line in 1996.


In 1988 it became obvious that the bankruptcy period of the Eureka Southern would most likely not lead to a successful reorganization but rather to the demise of the whole Northwestern Pacific Railroad.  In August of that year advice was given to have a government backed railroad authority in place by the time the bankruptcy period was to end.


The Mendocino County Railway Society acted swiftly by sponsoring three consecutive rail conferences. Participants included representatives from the Mendocino and Humboldt County Boards of Supervisors, the Willits and Fort Bragg City Councils, Assemblyman Dan Hauser and Senator Barry Keene, the California Public Utilities Commission, Caltrans' District Office in Eureka, several railroad organizations, the California Western Railroad, the Mendocino County Museum, the College of the Redwoods,

the local press and all MCRS Directors.


Since that time, MCRS has been an ardent supporter of the NWP. In our newsletters, we have regularly reported on the ongoing issues and often have encouraged our members to engage in letter-writing campaigns, sending of faxes, and telephone calls. We publish a newsletter three to four times a year, depending on special events and important news.  


Historical Timeline





NWP tracks completed from Willits to Eureka. Regular freight and passenger service from San Francisco (ferry) and Sausalito to Eureka


Passenger service abandoned from San Rafael to Eureka, but service from Willits to Eureka 3 days per week


Southern Pacific applies to CPUC to drop service to once a week, application is denied


December flood causes extensive damage to the line between Willits and Eureka, reconstruction completed by June 1965.


Southern Pacific applies for and is granted Willits to Eureka passenger service 2 days per week.


April 30, last day of Willits to Eureka passenger service


SP applies unsuccessfully to CPUC and ICC to abandon line between Willits and Eureka


November, Brian Whipple buys line from Willits to Eureka 


May 25, Whipple introduces passenger excursions on “Eureka Southern”


December: Eureka Southern files for bankruptcy


December: First MCRS rail conference in September in Northspur


January/February: Second MCRS rail conference in Willits

August: Bills to fund rail rehab and authority introduced;

December:  Rail bills signed into law by governor; railroads superior to roads in earthquake


February: Third MCRS rail conference in Willits

April: Commissioners appointed to NCRA

October: Meeting to discuss acquisition of line south of Willits.

December: Sierra Club supports the Eureka Southern


August: Bill signed for NCRA to buy Eureka Southern (ES) out of bankruptcy.

December:  NCRA successful bidder to take over ES as North Coast Railroad


May/June: NCRA becomes owner of North Coast Railroad

July/August: Caltrans meeting in Santa Rosa


February/March: Rail bond measures and  acquisition negotiations

May/June: North Coast RR running full speed ahead

August/September: Sonoma County joins NCRA


February: NCRA makes bid to run entire line.

May/June: acquisition of Willits to Larkspur rail line moves closer to realization

December: NCRA compromises on acquisition, NWPRR Authority joined power agency established


May/June: The NCRR needs your help!

September/October: CTC endorses rail; NCRA receives $12 million federal loan (Q-Funds)

December:  Tunnel # 11 reopens


March: State sanctions railroad future of north coast

May:  Acquisition of line south of Willits completed.

September: Return of the NWP, passenger celebration train from Marin County to Willits

December:  Passenger trains from Healdsburg to Willits.


March/April: Mud slides and tunnel closure shut down operations until March, dedication of Santa Rosa depot.

August/September: Financial and other problems with FEMA, excursions cancelled.


January:  Rail-Ways Inc. private freight operator for NCRA. Line north of Willits closed because of slides.

March: NCRA needs support

July: End of the line?

October: NCRA is promised $2 million by January.

December: Big rail meeting in Ukiah. FRA shuts down entire line at the end of November


March: Repairs requested by FRA are started at south end.

July: Dedication of Cloverdale depot, FEMA funds to be released?

October: Goal posts are moved again

December: More delays; Ruth Rockefeller resigns as NCRA commissioner


April: Governor Davis includes $65 million for NWP in his budget

July: Governor signs budget, $60 million for NWP, $37 million for SMART. Railways Inc. sues NCRA and CWR

November: New rail support group in Humboldt County; final draft of SMART’s plan released .


February:  NWP reopens from Petaluma south for freight operations; Rail Advocates refute disparaging AP Article

May: Abandon the line north of Willits? Open letter to environmentalists; Eel River facts

October: FRA closes line again, serious defects. Track work between Windsor & Willits contracted to Stacy & Witbeck

December: some historic NWP stations receive recognition



March: More problems with FEMA. Environmental consulting contract to Willdan.

July: Private party makes offer to buy the railroad. Comparing “the reasonable to the extreme”.

November: Doug Christie becomes Executive Director. AB 2224 signed by governor.

 December: News Alert, serious funding problems because of state budget deficit.






April: SMART II; NCRA moves to Ukiah; waiting for good news from FEMA, Executive Director Christie resigns August: Mitch Stogner hired as new executive director; mid-section of Larkspur trestle removed.

December: FEMA funding becomes reality, rehab to begin soon.





July: Final paperwork for FEMA funding completed; Humboldt County considers passenger trains