Copyright  2000, 2013 Harry Marnell  Photos by author unless otherwise noted

THE ALTON & PACIFIC RAILROAD
Humboldt County, California

New! 1970's Alton & Pacific Flyer, from Karl Symons

New! More "Snug Harbor" Info, before and after its days at Alton

Other North Coast train pages...

"Confusion Hill" Mountain Train, just over the Mendocino County line
(if you want to see, hear and feel steel wheels on steel rails, you have to leave Humboldt County... but just barely)
Northwestern Pacific in Eureka... the "Balloon Track" and old depot area
My Miscellaneous stuff page about the NWP
New Address: Northwestern Pacific Railroad Historical Society
The North Coast Railroad Authority's Website

 

In September of 2000, Wolf Sterling rode and photographed the "Skunk Train" in Mendocino County.   Across from the depot in Willits he noticed this weathered old sign advertising something called the "Alton-Pacific Steam Railroad."  Returning home, he posted an inquiry on the internet, "I've looked around, but I can find no reference to this line anywhere else.  Does anyone know anything about it?"  I knew where it had been, but I knew nothing else about it.  So I drove down to Highway 36 near Fortuna, and I took a few pictures.
 

Wolf Sterling Photo

Obviously it had been a tourist attraction, a little train ride in a forest setting.  But when had it run, and who had built it?  Had it used real train cars or miniatures?  Steam locomotives, perhaps?  So I put together a small webpage with some of the pictures below, and inquired of some railfans and groups, and a few long-time Humboldt residents, "Does anybody know anything about this place?"  Well, within hours I found out that a LOT of people knew about it, and were willing...even anxious...to share their knowledge and their memories.  I thank you all, including those quoted below, those who haven't been specifically quoted, and, especially Larry Buerer, Tom Cockle and Titia and Wes Fulton, and of course, Frank Bayliss.

This page remains very much "under construction," and I hope to continue getting more information on here from time to time.  So enjoy...and check back soon!

If you have any information or memories to share about the Alton & Pacific, please email me


The Alton & Pacific was a 24" gauge steam railroad operated from 1968 until 1989 by Frank Bayliss, a Los Angeles native and lifelong railfan.  In his younger years he tried to get hired on by the railroads, but it never quite happened.  So he did himself one better...he built and ran his own railroad for some twenty years.

 

The main power was #5, a 1935 German-built Orenstein & Koppel (not Koeppel, apparently) 0-4-0t locomotive, which was one of a dozen such locomotives brought to the U.S. after World War II.  Bayliss did alter the cab a bit to make it look more "American," by moving the door to face the rear rather than the side, but the trumpet-shaped cast iron smokestack was original.  Frank built the tender himself, and kept it piled high with local fir, pine and eucalyptus for the fire.

Postcard view of #5. Wes Fulton Collection

 

With a little help from his many friends, Bayliss built all the cars for the two trains that ran on the 3/4 mile loop around the former mill property, a passenger and a freight.    For the passenger train there was a "combine" and an observation car, painted bright orange with black trim.  Sometimes all the passengers would migrate back to the outside rear platform, which was considerably behind the rear axle, and the weight would cause the front of the car to raise up...and derail.

Taking on water at the end of a run.

Wes Fulton photo

 

About 1974, Titia Fulton snapped this picture of the combination coach-baggage car

The freight train had a flat car with two logs running long ways, with a quarter of each log cut out for a seat.  Another flat car, this one painted light gray, had more comfortable benches with cushions "for little old ladies."  The little red caboose was last, of course, and was the favorite of the kids.   Toward the end of the operation, Bayliss was just finishing up another long passenger car, which was painted "Pullman green" and had separate swiveling trucks.

The rear of the Alton & Pacific property bordered on the Northwestern Pacific's Carlotta Branch, and once or twice the crews and passengers on an A&P train and a rare NWP excursion train would be treated to a brief free-whistling "meet." The section of track adjacent to the NWP was three-rail "dual-gauge," to accomodate the regular 24" train and several standard-gauge cars that were on the property for some years. Among others, these included a caboose and a boxcar, and two passenger cars from the Napa Valley, which subsequently went to the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista

With the generous assistance of Wes Fulton, who spent many summer weekends working at the Alton & Pacific, I've prepared this rough approximation of the trackage and buildings on the site. It is drawn on a 1998 satellite-eye-view of the area.

State Highway 36 runs across the top of the scene. US 101 and the Northwestern Pacific main line are a half mile to the west (left). Immediately to the east (right) of the Alton& Pacific you can see the neighboring Parmallano Cheese Company

Trains generally ran clockwise twice around the loop, starting at the depot (4) and around the perimeter of the seven-acre parcel. After passing the seasonal pond (2), the trains made the sharp turn on the 12-pound rail that went around "Hairpin Curve" (1) before straightening out for the short run alongside the highway

In hopes of greatly extending the ride, rail was eventually laid nearly a mile to the southeast, paralleling the NWP line in the bottom right corner of the picture. Only a few "light engine" runs were made on that trackage, though, as night was falling on the A-P by then, and plans for a turntable or run-around track at the end never materialized.

 

Other equipment on the property included an operating 0-4-0 Plymouth switcher.  It was the backup power, in the event the #5 was undergoing repairs.  On display were the "John Fowler" an 0-6-0t engine from Fiji, built very early in the 20th century; and a two-truck "Heisler" locomotive that had been steam-powered but was given a Murphy diesel engine in the 1950s.  

  The Heisler had a varied career in Humboldt County, having been built in 1927 as Elk River Lumber Co's #3. About 1954 it was sold for use at the plywood mill at Fairhaven on the Samoa peninsula, across the bay from Eureka. There it received the diesel engine and was renumbered "U.S. Plywood #54," but it kept its original cab and water tank. At some point Frank Bayliss bought it for the Alton & Pacific, where it remained on display until 1992, when it was acquired by the Northern Counties Logging Interpretive Association, who have it in indefinite storage.

Wes Fulton

   

 

"Snug Harbor" 2-6-2 locomotive and train: on display only

Mr. Bayliss acquired a 15" (or 18" depending on who you talk to) gauge 2-6-2 steam locomotive, tender and caboose from Leonard N. Hall in Charleston (Coos Bay) Oregon. Hall had named it the Snug Harbor Railroad, and operated it along the tidal flats of the Charleston peninsula on weekends and holidays. Appropriately enough, it was numbered #262.

Frank set this equipment on display, on rails above the ground, in front of the carhouse and the "new" engine house, to the east of the depot.

Photos courtesy of Wes Fulton

The 2-6-2 (and its train, apparently) had been built by Oscar Coffman and Rodell James of "Coffman Miniature Locomotive Works" in Reseda, near Los Angeles, probably in the 1940s. Before going north to Oregon, the locomotive had been run for some time at a park in Malibu, and possibly also in the Sunland-Tujunga and Redondo Beach areas.

In about 1986, he sold it to Aldo Alberigi of Healdsburg, who operated it there for a few years.

CLICK HERE to see the train operating at Alberigi's ranch


Don Ross provides this photo of the 0-4-0 Plymouth locomotive, A&P's "back-up" power. It is reported to have since gone to the town of Dorris, Siskiyou County, CA

 

 

Here's a faded 1968 newspaper photo, showing Frank Bayliss at the throttle of the "5-spot" pulling his combine and observation coach. How do you like that stack and the whistle!

Bayliss was truly dedicated to his Alton & Pacific Railroad.  Ten years after the park opened he was still barely attracting enough riders to keep the trains running.  A reporter from the weekly "Humboldt Beacon" did a write-up in 1979 as the A&P entered its second decade of operation. "It's been a battle," Bayliss told him, "...people come out, but not thick..."

The crowds never did get very thick at the Alton & Pacific, but that didn't deter Frank Bayliss.  He continued working on his railroad for another ten years, never quite finishing all the projects he intended to get to.

 


Henry Brueckman's camera caught #5 and train heeling to a
right curve on a Summer morning in the early 1970s.

On the south side of the property, hard by the NWP's right-of-way, was a small "old west" street.  The street is still there, and it's still "old west," but it hasn't heard, felt or seen a locomotive - steam or diesel - in several years.  And it quite possibly never will again...


Well, there's not much left of Frank Bayliss' Alton & Pacific Steam Railroad any more...except memories.   But if you take California State Highway 36 off U.S. 101 and go exactly half a mile east, you can see from the road a little bit of what once was there.  It's all private property, of course, sold by Bayliss to an out-of-town "investor," who supposedly planned to include the railroad in a retirement development on an island in the South Pacific.  But he doesn't seem to have invested much effort in countering nature's gradual reclaiming of the railroad.  Visiting the property in late 2001, the new owner let it be known that he didn't want folks snooping around, and he "doesn't want to be bothered by people asking what his intentions are with the equipment."

Other folks - with dogs - live on the property now, and the "Welcome" sign has been replaced by smaller ones that instead say No Trespassing  and KEEP OUT ! and seem to mean it.

Here's a quick glance at what the A&P looks like today.  The cars zipping along Highway 36 won't really let you slow down much.  But you have to look quickly anyway... because the Alton & Pacific has already been gone for nearly a dozen years.


The 2-foot gauge rails are visible crossing the driveway in the foreground.

In 1974, Titia Fulton was greeted by a much more inviting scene...

Until toppled by an earthquake, a "wig-wag" protected the crossing in later years...

Photo by Wes Fulton



Late 1980s - Wes Fulton Photo

October, 2000

If you look closely, you can see the ties and rusted rails still in place


U.S. 101 - the "Redwood Highway" was high on Ladybird (Mrs. Lyndon B.) Johnson's list for beautification, which meant severe restrictions on billboards.  So Frank Bayliss found an alternate route.  He took a Divco Challenge milk truck and an old moving van and painted simple but effective signs on the sides, and drove them out to Harvey's property at 101 and Highway 36, where he parked them on operating weekends, which were usually from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Parked adjacent to the Highway

Someone had to be inside the property to get this shot

And this one, too...

 

 A sign of the (old) times - down in the weeds now.  The new railroad opened on the 4th of July, 1968.  A round trip ticket - two loops around the property - cost 50 cents for adults and 35 cents for kids under 16.

 

 

Here sits 1908-vintage Northwestern Pacific Railroad wooden coach #79 as seen in September of 2002.  It saw service as NWP maintenance-of-way car #259 for a number of years, and for a while was used as a home by a railroad worker in Eureka near the "balloon track."  It was trucked to Alton in 1975, but despite some unsuccessful attempts at refurbishment it was obviously in very poor condition.  At one time there were plans to possibly move this car to the Virginia & Truckee Railroad  in Virginia City, NV, but that never happened.

I've recently (2013) located a picture I snapped just a year and a half later, at noon on February 18, 2004, shortly after age and gravity finally took their inevitable toll on #79. I was later told by one of #79's potential buyers that the car had been wrapped so tightly for so many years that the moist, salty Humboldt coast air trapped inside the plastic sheeting probably contributed to its quick demise, and it was entirely beyond any hope of salvaging.


Frank Bayliss did a nice job with the scenery, though, including rebuilding the old water tank...

 

1974 VIEW - by Titia Fulton

26 years later, 1999

 

But what is holding that tank up...and together...today?


The sprouts have long since overtaken the spout


"East Alton" Station on the Alton & Pacific was a full-service operation

Wes Fulton

Titia Fulton

 

And Frank Bayliss provided a little something for everyone...

 

But a great many things have changed with time...

 

I had to include this picture, despite its lousy focus

The rails are in pretty bad shape too.


Hopeful riders in the Summer of 1990 were no doubt disappointed to see this sign on the locked station

"CLOSED THIS YEAR DUE TO HI INSURANCE RATES"

 

The last day of train operation at the Alton & Pacific, in 1990, saw only some "non-revenue" moves to put the equipment in storage, in hopes of better times ahead. But they weren't to be...

Wes Fulton Collection


"Alton" is the name of the town and the junction of Northwestern Pacific's 5 mile long Carlotta Branch and the main line.  It was here that the Pacific Lumber Company Railroad met the Eel River & Eureka Railroad in 1885.

 

After nosing around the Alton & Pacific, I checked out the NWP thereabouts.   And you know what?   It's not in much better shape than the A&P...

The Alton & Pacific occupied the land straight ahead, between the highway and the tracks.

 

This is the actual junction at Alton, Northwestern Pacific Milepost 262.7, looking south.   Main line is on the right, siding to the left, and you can see the Carlotta Branch track just starting to diverge left from the siding.   The buildings in the background are the town of Alton, just beyond the Highway 36 grade crossing.


In the "olden days" they sure built stuff so it would last. You can't really tell in this blurry picture, but that "X" crossing sign is a carved concrete post.  Up in Eureka, there's at least one crossbuck sign mounted atop a 15-foot concrete post, with "Look Out For The Cars" in the concrete.

Yep...built to last...


Would you like to take a quick drive by the old Alton & Pacific site? If you have the free "Quicktime" player on your computer, hop right in. Hang on, though it's kind of a jerky ride. When your QT player is installed, just click on the GP9s to get going:

 

 

We'll start by turning left off U.S. 101 onto Highway 36. At about the 9th frame we'll cross over NWP's Carlotta Branch, followed about 9 frames later by a very quick glimpse of old NWP coach #79 wrapped in heavy plastic right at the front of the former A-P parking area.

After racing past there, we'll continue east on 36. Note the sawmill on the right just a few seconds later. The Alton & Pacific rails were extended almost to the mill, but revenue trains never operated out that mile or so before the operation ceased. Beyond here, we'll pass thru Hydesville and end our litle tour just past the Carlotta Mill of Pacific Lumber Company, again on the right. You may notice a line of stranded freight cars in the mill property. Since the NWP was embargoed in 1997, all the rolling stock north of Willits has been held captive. Enjoy your walk back!

 


The customers always write...

I'm Wes Fulton's sister. Our parents and I rode on the Alton-Pacific RR with him in about 1973 or 1974.  Because of our connections we got a free ride and I got to ride in the cab with Frank.  Frank put a lot of work into the railroad and it was a great little ride.  It's too bad that someone couldn't have kept it up.  I am sending some photos that I took during that visit.

Titia Fulton

The A&P was created by a Mr. Frank Bayliss. 24" gauge, some double-gauge (24" and standard), a turntable, 1-1/2 mile ride. Equipment (as of 1979): #5, 0-4-0 Orenstein & Koppel (1935) wood-burning 24" gauge; 0-4-0 Plyomuth switcher; 0-6-0
John Fowler (c1900) from Fiji Island cane fields; #M62, two-truck Heisler converted to diesel in late 1930s; #63, Napa Valley & Calistoga interurban; #100, NV&C box motor; asst. passenger gondolas, a caboose, and an NWP chair car on display.

Sean Zwagerman

Heisler #1546 is now at the Northern Counties Logging Museum, 3431 Fort Ave., Eureka, CA. I have been sent a picture of it for the database. I should add it is no longer a steam locomotive, but a Diesel Conversion. Visually, the boiler and steam engines have been removed and replaced with the diesel powerplant and a hood that extends from the front of the cab to the front of the engine. The sides are open in the picture I have. The rest still looks like a Heisler.

James Hefner - Hebrews 10:20a
Surviving World Steam Locomotives
http://www.pernet.net/~james1/us_steam

Some thirty years ago, while camping at Patrick's Point, my young son and I drove down to the Alton & Pacific to ride it. It was operated by an elderly gentleman who had built the equipment, buildings, and trackage apparently by himself. The passenger car was not the one in your picture. It was open with a sunshade roof and was clearly home built. My memory of the locomotive is very unclear. I think that it was a small industrial 0-4-0. The proprietor said that he had to wait for six fares before he could run a train. There were just the two of us, so we chartered the train by paying six fares and my son got a cab ride while I occupied the passenger car in solitary splendor. Even in 1970 (or so) the operation was showing signs of age, so that I am surprised that as much is left as appears in your pictures.

Maurice Wood, Napa
We visited this railroad about 20 years ago. It was for sale and the owner told us we could take it all away for $10,000. We now kick ourselves many times!! Does anyone know what happen to the locomotives? Had a long conversation with the owner. I gathered at one time he did rather well but it was to the point where people were dropping off their kids and coming back for them many hours later - he was a baby sitter! and not by his choice. Parts of it were quite overgrown at the time of our visit. Would be interested in what became of it.

Marie Myers, Oregon
My Dad and I tried to ride on it, in the early '80s. It was a one-man operation, and the owner would give rides if he had four passengers. (No one else was around to ride.) The locomotive was some sort of industrial dinky from Europe, which he had modified to look like an early American steam engine (diamond stack and so forth). It was kind of surreal standing by the track and photographing the train, because it wasn't much taller than I was.

Theo

I RODE ON IT AND PHOTOGRAPHED IT. AMONG THINGS THAT HAD BEEN THERE WAS THE STANDARD GAUGE HEISLER CONVERTED TO DIESEL POWER. THE RAILROAD WAS 18" AND USED A GERMAN 0-4-0T AMERICANFIED WITH PHONEY STACK, WELL TANK LOCO SIMILAR TO THESE LGB MODELS.

At that time, early 1970's, I primarily shot slides. I did some black and white, and if I can find it 30 years later, I will have it scanned and forward them to you.

Rick Weil

I really enjoyed your photos on the A&P, and the pictures at Alton. They brought back some memories...

I got to ride over the Carlotta Branch twice. The first time was on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend 1985. The Eureka Southern was running branchline excursions that day - in the morning we went to Samoa, and in the afternoon we went to Carlotta. The highlight of the return trip to Alton was a short stretch where our train passed the Alton & Pacific train at a spot where the tracks were parallel. I have a really crappy slide of this somewhere in a box...

The second time I rode over the Carlotta Branch was on an excursion sponsored by the Arcata and Mad River Historical Society in October, 1988. On that trip we had a photo runby at Alton on the return, and I took a broadside of the engine (EUKA 30, I think) on the branch, with the cement phone booth and the mainline track in the foreground, from almost the identical spot of your picture on the website.

Sad to say I don't know much about the A&P, but I did get to ride on the Arcata & Mad River's excursion train about 1969 or so, and I also rode the Klamath & Hoppow Valley. Do you have much material on that one?

-
greg -

Wow, that's so overgrown by jungle, you need an archaeologist to figure out what was there! The Alton-Pacific is in even worse shape than the NWP!

David M. Solomon


Yeah, but $60MM will go a lot further in reopening the Alton-Pacific!

Wolf Sterling
http://www.sisterbetty.org/skunk/

The 1979 Steam Passenger Service Directory lists the 24" gauge A&P as "a 2 mile, 30 min. ride... The Alton & Pacific is the only 2 foot gauge steam train ride on the Pacific coast. 1979 is the 10th year of operation here. Passengers may watch (or help) as the locomotive is turned on the old Armstrong turntable at the end of the line." (A notation states 4 fares must be sold before the train operates.)

"Locomotives: #5 0-4-0, Orenstein & Koeppel (1935)

Train: Two open-end coaches and a bobber caboose

Displays: #1 0-6-0, John Fowler (1903), from sugar plantation at Suva,
Fiji being rebuilt.

Other cars displayed include the last two coaches from the former Napa Valley Route and a N.W.P. wooden coach and caboose."
The next Directory I have is for '89 and the A&P doesn't appear there.
Steve Melton

The A&P RR was a 1.5 mile, 24" gauge, operation that ran a John Fowler
1909 0-6-0T, with tender, #1 and an Orenstein & Koppel 1935 ex-0-4-0T/0-4-0 #5. They had 2 coaches and a caboose.

They also had some standard gauge freight cars, an NWP caboose, and some interurban cars on the property. One can not help but wonder where the 2 cabooses went?
Cheers,
Roger Kirkpatrick, wondering

The Surviving Steam Locomotives the USA page
(
http://www.steamlocomotive.com/lists/USA.html) lists two locos in Alton, CA, one belonging to the Alton Pacific. The references are probably very old. Is/was Franz Heimer a lumber company?

No: 12676
Type: 0-4-0T
Gauge: ng
Railroad: Franz Heimer
Location: Alton & Pacific Museum, Alton, CA
status: display

No: -
Class: 14ton
Type: 0-6-0T-T
Gauge: ng
Railroad: Colonial Sugar
Location: Alton, CA
status: private

Regards,
Joe Thompson
The Cable Car Home Page (new url alias)
http://www.geocities.com/cable_car_guy/cablecar.html

Highball back up to the pictures.

Northwestern Pacific area happenings

Other Train and Trolley Pages

Humboldt County Scanner Frequencies (well it does include the NWP's!)

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