First View, A Reader Writes (with photos):
Almost 200 feet of the Skunk Train tunnel has collapsed! Almost a month ago! This time on the west end. A couple years ago it was on the east end. Luckily for the owners it didn't happen when a trainload of passengers was going through! This tunnel is fragile and nearing or maybe over 100 years old. Portions of this tunnel have collapsed three times.
That is not the problem though. The problem is that it is being repaired via the band-aid method and nobody is supposed to know about it! Chief Skunk Robert Pinoli is telling everyone it is only routine maintenance. BS. Look at the pictures below. Imagine if this collapse happened while the train was rumbling through.
Mr. Pinoli has a sign on the depot door in Fort Bragg saying that the train is out of service and will be back in May. There's no chance in hell that will happen. Anyone seeing this area is told to keep quiet and not to take any pictures. It is hard to get to, but Big River Realty has the adjoining property for sale.
The Fort Bragg Advocate News says the collapse is just unfounded rumors according to their March 13 issue.
I would bet that Fish and game or the Department of industrial safety/relations (or whatever they're called) has been kept in the dark about this to or else this would have been shut down immediately until it could be fixed correctly.
The pictures tell it all.
Second View, An Essay by Malcolm Macdonald:
The March 30th meeting of the Fort Bragg City Council offered up a truckload of subject matter, but one of the few that seemed to temporarily divide the council was the topic concerning how serious the damage to the California Western Railroad (Skunk Train) Tunnel #1 is. Opinions differed from routine maintenance to catastrophic collapse. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, inside that tunnel that truly did suffer a major collapse (thousands of tons of rock falling onto and covering approximately forty feet of track) in April of 2013. Repairs to that collapsed tunnel cost roughly $450,000 financed largely by donations both private and from the Save The Redwoods League.
A few weeks ago Robert Pinoli, general manager of the Skunk line, offered up an explanation regarding the gobs of clay and damp dirt covering the Pudding Creek entrance to Tunnel #1. That explanation involved heavy equipment work to make the repairs above that entrance more permanent. Eyewitnesses in the first week of April, 2015 verified that a wide swath of the hillside above the Pudding Creek tunnel entrance had been scooped and/or scraped away and that a series of steel bolts, many reportedly twenty feet long, had seemingly been anchored to support steel netting that would go along with shock-crete (for a detailed explanation of the application of shock-crete see: pacificsouthwest.net/assets/docs/ShockcreteSLSpecification.pdf).
All of this labor is aimed at more or less permanently pinning the hillside back and stopping the sliding that has plagued the Pudding Creek side of Tunnel #1 for the past four decades. Four to five pieces of heavy equipment have been employed near that tunnel entrance since late February or early March. According to Pinoli, much of the 35 feet (or so) extension that was added to the top of the tunnel's Pudding Creek entrance in the 1990s will be removed as a part of the current maintenance; work that has kept the Skunk train out of commission during tourist friendly Spring breaks and Easter week.
As Easter neared rumors persisted that something more was wrong with Tunnel #1. In an effort to find out the truth of the matter two coastal citizens walked down the road to what locals call Madsen's Hole where they took off their boots, rolled up their trousers and waded the relatively shallow Noyo River to the other side. Feet wiped dry and shoes and socks restored, the pair used branches to whack their way through several feet of nettles and brush to a trail that leads directly to the Skunk rail line, approximately four miles out from the depot at the west end of Laurel Street in downtown Fort Bragg.
Our two locals walked south and west alongside the rails to the the bridge that crosses the Noyo just southeast of Tunnel #1. The twosome noticed some evidence of minor rockslides above that tunnel exit, apparently an ongoing problem of its own as the hill above appears somewhat unstable.
With a hand held lamp the duo cautiously trekked into the tunnel, silent except for intermittent dripping from above. Within a few strides they encountered mud that caked their boots. A few hundred feet in the mud turned to puddles, which steadily grew deeper; over the tops of their boots, then halfway up the calves of six feet tall individuals.
The two slogged on because they were convinced they could see hints of light from the Pudding Creek side of the tunnel. With the dirty brown water up to their knees, the tunnel rats stopped dead in their tracks when it became clear that the “light” they thought was coming from the other end of the tunnel was…
In any self-respecting adventure tale it would turn out to be the lights from an oncoming locomotive, but no locomotive is going to be traveling through Tunnel #1 of the Skunk line for awhile. That faint light was in actuality the creamy gray of an earth-and-rock landslide blocking the California Western (Skunk) Railroad. The tunnel walkers described it as possibly 1,000 feet in from the Noyo River side. Tunnel #1 is reportedly about 1,200 feet from Pudding Creek to Noyo River.
Contacted by phone a day before Easter, Robert Pinoli was at first reluctant to discuss this second problem inside the tunnel, but eventually he acknowledged the slide, describing it as being made up mainly of serpentine. Pinoli stated that this inside-the-tunnel slide was about 35-50 feet in length, tapering off toward the Pudding Creek entrance. He further claimed that the interior slide would not be a great problem to remove and reaffirmed his earlier statements that the Skunk train line out of Fort Bragg would be open for its usual 21 mile run to Northspur on May 16, 2015.
Two years ago, the collapse in Tunnel #1 sent California Western reeling financially. Public fundraising brought in a little over a hundred thousand dollars in a two month span when at least three times that amount was needed for basic repairs that could re-open the tunnel. Eventually the conservation group Save the Redwoods (at the time Fort Bragg attorney Jim Larson was the President of that non-profit's Board of Directors) provided the needed funds, paying approximately $300,000 for many acres of forested property along the Skunk rail line. Nearly all, if not all, of these funds were eaten up by the repairs necessitated by the 2013 tunnel collapse. On the phone, April 4th, Pinoli estimated that by mid May, 2015 the Skunk line will have spent approximately $450,000 more on track maintenance (including what Pinoli called extensive rail and tie upgrades) as well as tunnel repairs over the past two years.
In a small town where one of the radio stations calls itself "The Skunk — FM," the financial importance of the Skunk railroad cannot be overestimated. Several casual observers have noted the positive impact on businesses up and down Laurel, Main, and Franklin Streets in the hour or two following the Skunk train's return to the depot each day.