There’s a little bit of an error in the Times-Standard write-up on tonight’s Fortuna City Council meeting. (Warning: “paywall“!). It isn’t the Northcoast Railroad Authority itself asking the council to proclaim for the glorious return of the dozen-years-dead-and-decaying Northwestern Pacific to the shores of Humboldt Bay. Rather, according to the staff report, the item appears on the agenda at the request of certain unnamed “local individuals.”
As anyone who has followed the NCRA for any amount of time can instantly tell, the above-linked report is chock-full of crazy — crazier, even, than the NCRA itself, which has officially given up on opening the line north of Willits for the foreseeable future. But the best part of all, to my mind, is the official voice the council will give to the totally insane idea of building an entirely new railroad to the region, eastward through the Trinity National Forest!
From time to time you hear the RAPIT people whisper about this, er, ambitious, scheme. Specifics are never given because no specifics exist. Until now! The nice thing about the resolution that the Fortuna City Council will pass tonight — and pass it the council will, seeing as how it’s pro-jobs — is that for the first time, to my knowledge, the vague outlines of a route are laid down.
The resolution passed by the council refers to “the possibility of a rail line from Eureka/Fairhaven east to the Red Bluff area utilizing the 1909 Jess Lentel route and fieldnotes from his reconnoitering.” This “Jess Lentell,” it turns out, is JN Lentell, the early Humboldt County mapmaker whose reproductions you can still find for sale today, here and there.
At the turn of the last century he was hooked up with a bunch of local dudes going under the name of “Humboldt & Eastern RR” who wanted to beat the early Northwestern Pacific to the shores of Humboldt Bay. Their plan — the same plan Fortuna is talking about tonight, I guess — was to go east to Red Bluff, and to finance construction of the railroad through the sale of publicly owned timber in the Trinity National Forest. The feds gave this plan a big thumbs-up. At the time, a shocked Sierra Club called it “by far the largest amount of timber ever offered for sale by the Forest Service.”
Oh, and the railroad was going to be electric-powered! But it all fell apart for some reason. I thought I just read somewhere that the cost of building roads to extract the timber was greater than the timber’s value, but I can’t find that at the moment. Maybe it was the damned environmentalists after all. But surely everything has been worked out by now, right?
Follows: A report from the April 19, 1910 edition of the San Francisco Call.