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Mendocino Coast

The Mendocino County Coast is a sketcher’s paradise with many interesting buildings, coastal views, and flora and fauna (who doesn’t love sketching coast redwoods?).

I have sketched many buildings in and around Mendocino and there are infinite subjects to sketch in this area.

In Ft. Bragg I walked out to Glass Beach. The rock formations appealed to me and I did a loose brush pen sketch from my folding sketcher’s chair (featured sketch). Sketching these rocks was recording a moment in time because the sea coast is always in a state of flux. Rocks crumble and reform, arcs collapse and the unrelenting tide shape and sculpt the coastline.

There seemed to be more common ravens in Ft. Bragg the I remember before. These very intelligent and adaptable birds have been expanding their range along the coast. As I was sketching I was watching these large corvids (the world’s largest songbirds) foraging among the rocks and seaweed like a black oystercatcher. I even slipped one in on my sketch.

I headed south to the scenic and historic town of Mendocino. Here a had a building in mind that I wanted to sketch. This building was built in 1901 by Portuguese settlers and as it turns out, it is the largest hall in the town of Mendocino. This is Crown Hall.

Crown Hall is on a side street (Ukiah Street) that parallels Main Street. The hall can be rented out for weddings and other events. The building features a kitchen, a bar, and a stage.

The stage is what really attracted me to doing a sketch of Crown Hall. This was a venue used by a legendary Northern California folksinger, Kate Wolf. She preformed at various locations in Mendocino and the last Kate Wolf recording released, Live in Mendocino, features live recordings from concerts in Mendocino County, including a concert at Crown Hall in 1982.

Kate Wolf was born in San Francisco in January 27, 1942. When Kate was 27, she visited Big Sur and heard locals playing music in their living rooms. So inspired, she moved to Sonoma County and stared writing and performing music in local bars.

Kate’s following grew in the 1980’s and she performed all around the Golden State and was even featured on the music show, “Austin City Limits” and on the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion”. In 1981, Kate released “Closer to You”, which is probably her best album featuring her own compositions. In 1983 she release the live album “Give Yourself to Love”, the title track becoming one of Kate’s most well known songs.

Sadly, Kate Wolf died at the age of 44 on December 10, 1986 after a long battle with leukemia. In her honor, the Kate Wolf Music Festival was held in June of 1996 in Sebastopol. Since 2001 it has been held at Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, ca. The three or four day music festival traditionally ends with a cover of “Give Yourself to Love”

I included the first verse and chorus of this song to my sketch.

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California Western Railroad: The Skunk Train

For my second road trip of the summer, I chose my base camp: Fort Bragg on the Mendocino County Coast. I knew that one adventure I wanted to experience was a ride on the Famous California Western Railroad, also known as the Skunk Train.

The Skunk Train runs from Ft. Bragg to Willits, a train journey of 40 miles. A round trip of seven hours. The former logging railroad crossed 30 bridges and trestles and travels through two long tunnels.

The Skunk at Ft. Bragg. The water tower is for No. 45, a Mikado steam locomotive. Our train (No. 65) was pulled by a former Southern Pacific GP9 diesel built in 1955 by EMD.

The Skunk is a poor reflection of its former self because of the April 11, 2013 partial collapse of the 1,200 foot Tunnel No. 1. The tunnel was built in 1893 and it is in an area known for hill slides. This means that the Skunk Train only runs from Ft. Bragg to Glen Blair Junction, a distance of 3.5 miles. It seems like just when the train gets going, it stops 30 minutes later.

The railroad has also been without an operable steam locomotive. The 2-8-2 No. 45, was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1924. The locomotive is currently being restored and may be once again under steam in the upcoming year.

The end of the line, for now. Plans are underway to open the line in about a year. In the background is the western portal of collapsed Tunnel No. 1.

It is a pleasant ride on the “Pudding Creek Express”, although “express” is hyperbole of the highest order! I chose to get out and explore the area and then catch the second train back to Ft. Bragg. There are a few hiking trails and I hoped to get in a few sketches before the train returned, so I had time to sketch and paint and had extra time to let the paint dry!

I started by sketching the caved in western portal of Tunnel No. 1. The tracks were covered in dirt and rocks filled the entrance. Vegetation was growing up, almost threatening to cover the portal. A train has not passed through here in almost eight years. A maintenance worker told me that they hoped to have the tunnel open in about a year. I’m not sure they could move a mountain but I’m sure that have the funds and the manpower to clear a tunnel.

Motor car M-100 at Willits, facing west towards Ft. Bragg.

On the following day, on a flight of fancy, I decided to drive to Willits to see the eastern end of the line. From Coastal Ft. Bragg to Willits was about an hour with temperature difference of about 30 degrees! I pulled up to the beautiful redwood station in time to see the eastern Skunk pull into the station. The Willits train is a two hour,16 mile, round trip. This trips travels to the highest point on the line (1,740 feet) and travels past the “”Wolf Tree”, a large coast redwood.

The line at Willits is isolated from the Ft. Bragg side of the railroad because of the collapse of Tunnel No. 1 so what ever motive power and cars are what ever was here, prior to April 11, 2013.

On the Ft. Bragg side of the line sits the Motor car M-300 (sketched in the featured sketch). These gas powered cars where used for passenger service in 1925. These motor cars gave the railroad it’s name, because the locals named the cars “skunks” because, “you can smell ’em before you can see ’em.”

The M-100, which is on a siding in Willits, was built by the Edwards Rail Car Company in 1925. It is still operable and used when ridership is down instead of using a diesel with passenger cars.