SP IndexxxWx4 Index

@ Willits, California, c1961-70:
Northwestern Pacific & California Western

It seems that we have had a "coming soon" notice hanging on this page for eight years, since 2014. Our observation is that time is relative. Eight years may represent a big chunk of your life, but not so much for us. Otherwise, the 1970 photos are not tip-top quality, since the film was lost for about a decade before it was discovered and developed. When somebody else comes up with a wad of better quality photos, we will yield the page for their display. - E.O.

What you see below is the fruit from three personal visits to the onetime Northwestern Pacific yard at Willits, plus an earlier one by Richard C. Datin. You will note that the changes were dramatic in that short period of time, although insignificant to what transpired later. Click on the images for larger versions.

NEW 4-30-24: Circa 1961
Perhaps you can identify the exact date and occasion of this presumed combined Northwestern Pacific / California Western excursion The color images are from slides apparently taken by Richard C. "Dick" Datin. The black and white photos come from the same collection, but the photographer is unidentified.

top left & right: The best I can figure is that the small excursion party arrived from points south on SP RDC #10. Once it stopped, CW motor M200 backed up to it, soon followed by motor M100. Apparently Datin and maybe his presumed companion were not part of the group, based upon the going away shot of M200 taken at the bottom end of Willits Yard.

I was freaked out when I first saw the photo at right! The teenager and old fellow in the forground appeared to be my father and me, down to his baggy pants (which he was always tucking in) and the goofy shirt which resembled the gawd-awful shirts my mother made for me. Once I figured out the approximate date, I realized that I had encountered dopplegangers.
Perhaps a viewer can tell me if I am correct in stating that the above two photos indeed show CW's Ft. Bragg Yard. The image at bottom left isn't much on trains, but it does display a lot of cool Detroit metal. The VW Microbus in the same shot showed up in another photo not shown here. Could it have been Datin's? The other phoro shows M100 in evening, just prior to its departure from Ft. Bragg..
NEW 4-30-24: Circa 1961: a quick look at "the house"
Before taking off, Datin's presumed friend recorded these shots at the NWP roundhouse. Identified units in the left hand photo including what appears to be a TR or SW hiding in the background, are SD7 numbers 5287, 5292 and 5310, while SD7 #5283 shows at right, along with caboose #30 and presumably #13 with the old style cupola.
July 5, 1966

I was a teenager at the time of my first visit to NWP and CW. Willits roundhouse was still in operation, and you will note that the sawdust burner at the lumber mill next door was still in operation, attempting to make up for the absense of frequent summer gloom. After the photography session, my family and I climbed aboard the Super Skunk for a ride to Fort Bragg, where we caught Skunk M200 for the ride back. In attendance at the roundhouse were SD7's 2719 and 2720, which I frequently drew as a head brakeman on the Permante Local out of San Francisco's Bayshore Yard many years later.

Not long after arriving to find CW #M100 laying over at the depot, I heard noise to the south coming from a 96 car eastbound train of empties, which had a three unit helper cut in at mid train. For some reason, there were several Manufacturers Railway outside braced, wood side boxcars throughout the train.
In short order, CW #45 arrived with the Super Skunk.
After unloading passengers, the train continued up the yard, first passing the freight house. In the absence of my own views of the freight house, and NWP's borrowed Budd Rail Diesel Car, SP #10, I offer this wonderful substitute photo from the Wx4 collection taken by an unknown photographer. Note the CW motor sidled up behind #10. The presence of the SD-7 #5311 (later, #2718) suggests that it may be preparing to assist #10 to Eureka. Sadly, my visits to Willits never coincided with those of the RDC.
The Super Skunk continued on past a wye switch next to the roundhouse, then backed westward on the wye. A bit of the roudhouse is behind the coach. The top end of the yard otherwise occupies the scene.
The train backed along the wye and its tailtrack to a parking spot west of Redwood Highway (foreground). Note the PMT truck in hiding.
At this point, I ran out of film, and only had a role of black and white along. Thus, I was unable to photograph Willits' other feature attraction in color: the NWP roundhouse. In fact, I was so perpetually lacking of funds in the future that all of the following images come in grayscale. In 1966, SP SD7's largely ruled NWP - hence they are all that we see here. From right to left are #2722, #2712 with #2719 behind, and #2720 coupled to an unknown. The SD7's would slowly be augmented, then repaced by SD9's over the next cuple of years. Almost exactly one year to the day, I photographed #2712 at Watsonville Junction, but I would become much more intimate with #2719 and #2720 about a decade later when they and I (as a brakeman) were assigned to the Permanente Local out of Bayshore Yard in Brisbane. A third SD-7, #2742, that alternated with the others on The Perm, also served on NWP*.

Fred Stindt's The Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Vol. Two shows 2719, 2720 & 2742 (ex 5312, 5313 & 5335) spending much of their pre-Permanente years leased to NWP. Stindt lists official transfer to Western Div. dates as follows, but physical transfers came earlier, based on my own observations at the time: 2712, 8-28-68; 2719, 4-1-69; 2720, 6-24-69; 2742, 4-13-70
Sadly, the unique-to-NWP spark arrestors on the SD7's were removed when they transferred away. IMHO, they are cooler looking appliances than those ashcan headlights, which did manage to survive for several more years.
Boarding car NWP MW42H sitting near the roundhouse.

SP bay window cabooses had not yet invaded NWP.
September, 1968
Little more than two years later, the roundhouse sat abandoned, its tracks in the process of being torn out, a victim of moving its functions to Roseville. A few SD7's like #2740 still were evident, but their numbers were rapidly thinning out.

You may notice the SP bay window caboose framed by the roundhouse opening - more about cabooses later.

Now in the majority
A sign of Roseville's victory over Willits
Otherwise, the tracks were still busy, with SD9 #3805's crew switching the yard.
While the switch crew was busy, M200 arrived on train #1 and headed for the wye and an eventual spot on the depot house track.
I simply cannot recall what came next, nor do available timetables provide any clue, but I believe that #3's motor M100 arrived on the heels of #1.
While the switch crew was busy, the Super Skunk arrived at the depot, where M200 awaited departure.
The switch crew was still at it when the Super Skunk pulled up through the yard to the wye switch...
...and backed up the wye towards the Highway 101 Crossing. In the foreground is the partially railed turntable.
The rear wall of the furthest roundhouse wall appears to be a rather crude and unpainted patch job, perhaps the result of a hostling difficulty.
In a stroke of luck, crane # MW42 was spotted in a favorable position for photography, unlike 1966.
On the cab track, wood sided hacks still predominated, but the new pooling arrangement brought in SP bay window cabooses. Note SD& 2735 still in Black Widow paint in the background.
One more sign-of-the-times item worthy of mention: The sawdust burner at the mill across the tracks from the roundhouse was still in operation, adding to the natural gloom of the day.

June, 1970

A brief visit to Willits on a heavily overcast day revealed that the roundhouse demolition apparently stalled out shortly after my previous one. No wood sided NWP cabooses were there, much to my disappointment. The pace was as busy as ever, but the lumber mill's sawdust burner has been retired.

That may be the same guy as in the 1968 photos. It least it looks to be the same hat.

Willits Roundhouse Site - May, 2004

The area looks much the same in 2022. Note the ex-SP Gallery Cars at right: I believe that they belonged to Roots of Motive Power, but they do not appear on their current online inventory. Their museum is well off to the right (east) of the photo, and well worth a visit, I am told.