A Skunk in the Garden, Oh My!

Contributed by Louis Hough

This coming Holiday Season will see a revival of the old custom of electric trains running around beneath decorated trees-in a big way. The trees and the trains will be at the Botanical Gardens, who are hosting a seasonal train show staged by the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society. A sizeable layout will be operating just inside the Garden entrance, depicting locations on the Skunk Line as they looked back in the 1930s to 1950s.

To see the trains, come to the Gardens any day between December 15th and 24th from 11 a.m. to 4p.m.

The trains will chuff, rumble and hoot through the tunnel, across an old-fashioned A-frame bridge and over the long-extinct Virgin Creek trestle. On the right-of-way, too, will be a logging camp and the even the Point Cabrillo lighthouse. And the forest you’ll see on the layout is made of real live trees-dwarf conifers like those sold at the Botanical Gardens nursery.

Passengers on the Skunk train today huddle together inside while they rumble through the coal-black Tunnel Number 1. Few of them hear much of its history: a 1,112-foot bore completed 114 years ago, in 1893. When the local men refused to perform the tough, dangerous work of digging through a mountain, Chinese laborers were called in. That sparked a near riot. A diorama of the tunnel will be on display with a brief story of the commotion.

All dioramas at the Garden’s train show will have interpretive written histories and anecdotes reflecting “the old days” on the California Western Railroad (the actual name). These are parts of the club’s permanent layout which, when completed, will illustrate the history of many Mendocino logging railroads.

The train show will be a riot of fun for kids from 3 to 93. (And being older doesn’t mean you are too grown up to play with trains.) Layouts on display will cover a range of scales (the size of the real thing to the model), and gauges (the width of track). And different subjects too: One depicts the Fort Bragg lighted truck parade; a mini pizza box contains a tiny operating train; and three-year olds can play with one of the models. Oh yes, a miniature Thomas the Tank engine WILL be there too.

Put on your Holiday hat and join us at the Botanical Gardens and enjoy some old fashion fun watching the trains go round and round the holiday trees.

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