The Skunk Train route was built in 1885 to carry redwood logs from the east to a lumber mill to the west at Fort Bragg along the coast. The route runs through 2 tunnels, and Chinese laborers built the 1,112 foot Tunnel #1 in 1886.
The name “Skunk Train” came after the railroad introduced single car passenger trains to the route in 1925, and comes from the combination of two odors: the gas used to power the train; and the oil-burning heating stoves within the rail cars. The train’s lumber use rapidly declined in the late 1980’s as companies switched to highway transport vehicles.
The construction of tunnel 1 was not an easy one. Due to an anti-Chinese sentiment, the hiring of Chinese to construct this tunnel caused a riot. In an attempt to run the Chinese out of town, nearby white workers showed up to the site and attacked the Chinese workers. The Sheriff soon became involved and told the crowd the Chinese would leave if they were willing to do the work themselves. Not willing to work in such dangerous conditions of digging through a mountain, they gave up and the Chinese workers resumed construction. Though an attack was evident no charges were brought against the attackers.
This type of behavior was common in the 1800’s. White workers felt Chinese employment was unjust. This sentiment rang true even with jobs the white workers themselves were not willing to do. The sentiment was so strong that companies who employed the Chinese were either boycotted or the company buildings were burned. Even more disturbing, many of the white workers were not from the America they claimed the Chinese were overtaking. They, too, were coming in from another land in search of gold, yet they never experienced the many injustices the Chinese did.
The “Skunk Train” company now uses the historic route to carry tourists in open train cars through redwoods along the Noyo River. The western route begins at Fort Bragg, but reverses before it reaches Tunnel #1 due to the collapse.