May 172014

Come along and enjoy our ride on what’s left of the “The Impossible Railroad.”  Our tour begins on the San Diego & Arizona vintage train in Campo, California.

The designing engineers originally dubbed it “The Impossible Railroad” because of the mountainous terrain.  After 13 years and almost 19 million dollars, this became a monument to the challenges and determination of the last of the great railroad builders.

In 1907, John D. Spreckels, a sugar heir, developer and entrepreneur, ceremoniously broke ground in San Diego for the railway. The route went south across the Mexican border to Tijuana, east to Tecate, then back to the United States. It then traveled north through Carrizo Gorge, and east to a connection with Southern Pacific near Plaster City at El Centro, California. San Diego & Arizona railway map
The builders experienced delays in the ruggedly beautiful, but difficult, terrain of Carrizo Gorge from cave-ins, fires, floods, and hard rock. Other delays came from a scarcity of labor during harvest seasons.

Then World War I threatened to halt completion of the rail. John D. Spreckels successfully argued that the line would benefit the war effort, because of San Diego’s military installations.
San Diego & Arizona RR Mexico border
Finally in 1919, the golden spike was driven to open the first modern line between San Diego and the East.San Diego & Airzona RR international border
As the train moved along past the international border fencing, we asked the guide about the border patrol station at Campo. He sadly shook his head and said the border is an ongoing dangerous problem and drug trafficking is a major concern for the town. Self-appointed Border Militiamen protect their ranches along the border.

Also, the guide explained that Border Angel volunteers constantly re-stock plastic containers with water at stations. They are marked with wooden crosses to offer relief to the desert crossers. He said many don’t realize how harsh and dangerous the climate and terrain becomes when attempting to cross the border areas.
San Diego & Arizona RR Trestle at Border
As long as we stayed on the train, we didn’t need passports to enter Mexico. The volunteer guides are certified to unlock and open the gate, so the train can cross the border. We only went far enough into the tunnel to say we crossed the border and then started the journey back to Campo.

In the Carrizo Gorge, the railroad crosses 14 trestles and goes through 21 tunnels in only 11 miles.  The final passenger run on the San Diego and Arizona Eastern was in 1951. A brush fire burned two trestles in 1983 and, coupled with diminished freight traffic, terminated freight runs to El Centro.
Carrizo Gorge Trestle
There is hope for a joint continuation of the route into Mexico one day again.  It depends on Mexico’s meeting some agreements and refurbishing a section of track.
Golden State Limited
The Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo has many trains and locomotives outside in various stages of restoration.  Several restored trains with their bells and horns of yesteryear are stored in a large building to comfortably walk through as well.

This train ride can now be crossed off our bucket list. What train ride is on your bucket list?

Oct 142013

We didn’t expect to stumble upon a mystery on this scenic drive through California, from Portola to Oroville.  The road is forty miles of curves that follow the Feather River.  We stopped at a very picturesque spot to enjoy the panoramic view.  There were many huge rocks, but this rock held a life story needing to be told.Feather River Canyon memorial

I was beginning to think I would never solve the mystery of this plaque for Thaine Harrington Allison, Sr.  October,1915 – August, 1997,  “He was a decent man”.  There was no doubt when I found the name Thaine Harrington Allison, Jr. on Linkedin, he had to be related.  Thaine commented that in 16 years, I was the second person to ever ask about the plaque.  He was kind enough to share his dad’s story and here is an excerpt of why the family chose this rock for his memorial site.
Feather River Canyon Railroad Tracks“My parents met at a gas station in Kansas on May 2nd, 1938.  They married 17 days later and enjoyed their life together for just shy of 60 years.”

“They hitch-hiked their way to California and he found a job pouring buckets of concrete into the Los Angeles River, near Griffith Park.  That fall the rains came, which became known as the Great Flood Year.”

Feather River Railroad Crosses Over Road Bridge“He lost his job and my mom, pregnant with me, had to take the bus back to Kansas.  He then hitched a ride to be with his wife in Fort Scott.  They lived in an apartment that was a converted box car and he milked cows for a dollar a day.  Three years later they saved enough to move back, where he did construction work in the San Fernando Valley.  He eventually moved his family to a small farm in Northern California, where he built sewage and water treatment plants.”

“He was one of the original environmentalists, cleaning up sewage with the facilities that he oversaw as a construction superintendent.  Dad loved trains and knew the challenges of building railroad and highway bridges in this canyon.  He worked on the dam powerhouse that’s just a short distance from the location of his memorial.”

Feather River Canyon blog Mount Shasta“Mom was always specific about wanting her ashes spread on Mt Shasta, which she could see from her kitchen window.  Although he never said, we suspected he wanted his ashes released there too, but was afraid mom would say “find your own darn mountain, I put up with you for 60 years”.

Feather River Canyon Trestle“When it came time to find a place for his ashes, at one point mom said “Well, Pa always liked to drive. We could go over to I-5 and drive north.  With a hole poked in the bottom of the plastic bag, we could hang it out the window and turn around when it ran out.”
Feather River Canyon view
“My brothers and I agreed that we’d like a place where we could visit. His favorite spot on the Feather River to stop, seemed like the perfect place to reunite him with the earth.”

Feather River Canyon Rail Runs Under The Road Bridge “We always leave an orange, a beer and a pack of cigarettes when we visit this rock. The orange was his favorite Christmas gift, when he was a kid growing up in Iowa and Kansas during the depression. The beer was a bit of rebellion against my mom, who was a strict Women’s Christian Temperance Union Methodist. He smoked 2 ½ packs of Chesterfields a day for 45 years. At age 60, he gave up smoking.  Just in case he wanted to start again, he kept a half pack on top of the refrigerator.  That half pack of Chesterfields stayed there for 22 years.”

“He may not have been the most successful man, but was honest and generous with those he knew and cared about.  He wasn’t very good at expressing his love, yet we knew he deeply cared about us and is greatly missed by his three boys.”

What interesting mystery or story have you stumbled upon in your travels?

Enjoy links to other travel photos and stories on Travel Photo Discovery



Sep 122013

A logging railroad was built in 1885 to move the massive redwood logs to the Mendocino County, California, coast sawmills.  Skunk Train

Skunk Train Leaving North SpurThe 40 mile trip from Fort Bragg to Willits crosses the Pudding River and creeks with over 30 bridges and trestles.

Some of the original timbers buckled in one of the two  tunnels and collapsed this spring.  Over 200 tons of debris had to be cleared from the blocked portion of the 1,112 foot long tunnel.Skunk Train Entertainer

Because the redwoods absorb massive amounts of water into the six foot base of their trunks, the loggers left this very heavy part of the tree standing.  A notch was chopped into the trunk and a plank inserted above this six foot level.  Then the loggers chopped down the trees, while perched on this plank.  The six foot stumps are still solidly standing, with some regrowth showing after almost a hundred years.

The train ride would be boring, if it wasn’t for the train songs.  Even the dog had a smile on his face.

SkunkTrain Entertainer At Lunch Stop Northspur is the half way point and lunch was served under the redwoods, while the engine was switched to the front for the return trip.

The singer’s handmade flute entertained us with hauntingly beautiful music, that echoed through the trees.Skunk Train Cottage In Redwoods

Railroad workers were able to buy land for one dollar an acre.  Many families still live in, or vacation in, their grandparents cottages.

The only access to these homes is still by train.  The engineer will drop off groceries and mail to these hardy folks, as they did in the 1800’s.

California Western Rail Car

“You can smell ’em before you can see ’em” was the comment that gave the Skunk Train it’s nickname.  The combined fumes from the gas engines and the coal stoves that kept passengers warm, stunk like a skunk.

The yellow engine is an example of the gasoline powered locomotive that caused the “aroma.”

More about the skunk train can be found at this website:

I’ve always loved the majesty of trees.  My favorite is the Blue Spruce, what’s your favorite?

Enjoy other links to photos and stories at Travel Photo Discovery , the Travel Photo Monday series.

Sep 062013

Amazingly, this tree is so big and strong that it has survived the gaping wound in it’s base. The hole was carved six feet wide and nearly seven feet tall in the 1930’s.  Drive-Through Redwood Chandelier TreeA 315 foot tall redwood tree is the focal point of a 200-acre redwood grove in Leggett, California, that you can drive through.

The Chandelier Tree’s massive branches grow out of each side in such a way that they copy the shape of a chandelier.Redwood Tree

Environmentalists are making sure that no new holes are cut in redwood trees, so the few that remain are precious and fairly rare.

The gift shop has souvenirs that are mostly tacky.  If you want to grow your own redwood tree, this is the place to buy one!

The picnic area is a beautiful place to relax and try to see the tops of these amazing giants.  To put the magnitude of these trees into perspective, they are taller than the Statue of Liberty and were growing when Christopher Columbus was looking for China.

Would I want to drive through this tree again?  Probably not.  Am I glad that I experienced driving through a tree.  Absolutely.  What’s the tackiest, but fun trip you’ve ever taken?

Aug 292013

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse was built in 1909.  It’s bright beam of light was visible for more than 20 miles, to guide ships away from the jagged rocks and reefs of the Mendocino Coast.Point Cabrillo Lighthouse Scene

Lighthouse Museum California
We had to walk the one half mile to the lighthouse, since driving is restricted to service vehicles or people vacationing there.  According to the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society website, a French physicist, Augustin Fresnel invented the lens.
Lighthouse Museum lightLighthouse Museum FireplaceThe Fresnel lens’ glass prisms are clustered to appear like one enormous beehive.  The hand ground and polished glass prisms were fitted into the frames, so they bend the light into a horizontal beam.  Since this type of lens produces more light with less weight, the Fresnel lens has many uses even today.

The lighthouse keeper’s full-time job was to keep the lens’ oil lamps burning brightly, make sure the lens turned smoothly and clean the smoke off the prisms.  Today, this function is done electronically with minimum maintenance work involved.Lighthouse Museum toys

Originally, the fog horn had two steam-driven diaphones that produced a two-tone “bah-rump.”  The keeper and his assistants had the tedious job of tending the boilers that produced the steam.  The fog horn is no longer needed, but I wonder how the light keeper’s family slept through the noisy bah-rumps.

The children had tinker toys and a rocking whale to play with.  I love the whale’s colorful, pink lips!

The job of lighthouse keeper offered low pay, but free room and board for the families living there.  If you’ve always wanted to experience a quiet and isolated vacation, you can rent the Head Lighthouse Keepers home at this website:
This historical museum is a short distance from Fort Bragg, California.  If the youngsters in your family aren’t ready for a quiet vacation, I highly recommend visiting the lighthouse just to see this lens operate.  It is so unique and amazing to watch, as it silently sends it’s beacon out to sea.  Please share where you enjoyed your most unusual vacation.

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