Willits is about 23 miles from Fort Bragg as the crow flies and about 34 miles by very twisty road. You pass through Jackson State Forest which belonged to the Caspar Lumber Company. Approximately 10 miles on Route 20 from Fort Bragg tucked on the left-hand side of the road is a sign for “Whiskey Springs”. In the days when tanbark was sought the horse teams pulling the tanbark to Fort Bragg stopped here (see picture). The teams were watered at the spring and the drivers ate lunch. There were always a few bottles of whisky among the drivers which resulted in many a late start and the place name. In this picture you can see the sign. The old railroad bed is across the road in the picture.
When you pass the pond (about 13 miles in from Fort Bragg) you are passing the site of Camp 19. The pond wasn’t there when the Camp was there. The stream was dammed to make a log pond for a small mill which began operations there after the Caspar mill closed.
Further down Route 20 there is a meadow on the right where a steam donkey is preserved at Camp 20. The steam donkey was used to “yard” the logs – bring them from where they were cut to the train that took them to the mill (see photo).
Cross over the footbridge to the east of Camp 20 and look to your right – the old camp schoolhouse stands waiting to be preserved. In its early days it was known as “Woods School”. It first opened in 1915 at Camp 1, moved to Camp 19 and then to its present location. To move the school it was cut into three pieces and mounted on skids. You can see in this picture where, on the outside, the three parts were “stitched” together.
There are three places we have found particularly of interest in Willits, the Skunk Train Depot, The County Museum and Roots of Motive Power.
The Willits Depot is the end of the CWR’s Skunk Train Route. It is where the Skunk Train meets the old Northwestern Pacific Line that ran from San Francisco to Eureka. The depot (shown on opening day in this photo) was built of the finest old growth redwood to show off the Fort Bragg Union Lumber Company’s products – the Union Lumber Company owned the Skunk when the Depot was built.
Mendocino County Museum. Down the road from the Willits Depot is the Mendocino County Museum. The museum is not large but is of immense interest to our group as it contains exhibits on the schooner the “Frolic” which sank off of Big River in Mendocino, one of the finest collection of Pomo baskets – the Pomo were the Native Americans who lived along the Redwood Empire, an exhibit of model trains (no layout) and an exhibit about the famous racehorse, “Seabiscuit” – see below. Check the web site to see when it is open.
Roots of Motive Power. The mission of Roots of Motive Power is to preserve and restore steam- and diesel-powered equipment used in the California north coast logging industry from the 1850s to the present.
They have several working steam locomotives which they run on their own one mile circle of track. Check the web site for open days which are often held in conjunction with other live steam shows and feature a first class barbecue.
Sea Biscuit. Seabiscuit was a champion racehorse in the United States. From an inauspicious start, Seabiscuit became an unlikely champion and a symbol of hope to many Americans during the Great Depression. Seabiscuit became the subject of a 1949 film, “The Story of Seabiscuit”, a best selling book, “Seabiscuit, An American Legend” and a 2003 film, “Seabiscuit” and also here (Wikipedia), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie had its premiere in the cinema on the same street as the Willits Depot, the Mendocino County Museum and Roots of Motive Power. Why? Because as you go south out of Willits in the valley to your right just past the rock quarry lies Ridgewood Ranch where Seabiscuit recovered from his breakdown, retired and is buried. The Seabiscuit exhibit in the County Museum contains memorabilia and home movies taken by the Willits vet who nursed Seabiscuit. This newspaper clipping tells of how a copy of the famous statue of Seabiscuit which is at the Santa Ana racecourse being made and brought to be installed at Ridgewood Ranch. This newspaper story tells of what is being done to keep the Ridgewood Ranch open to the public. The hospital in Willits (the Frank R. Howard Memorial hospital) was built with monies donated by Seabiscuit’s owner.
Grace Hudson Museum. 20 miles south of Willits in Ukiah is the Grace Hudson Museum. Grace Hudson and her husband spent their lives documenting and in Grace’s case painting pictures of the Pomo – the American Indians who lived in the Redwood Empire. The museum also has another collection of Pomo baskets which are considered to be the finest ever made.