Willits California is a small town on Highway 101 a couple of hours north of San Francisco. It is perhaps best known as one end of the “skunk” train, a restored train engine and cars that run between Fort Bragg on the coast and Willits and is quite popular with tourists. As explained here, Roots of Motive Power Inc. is a group of people that operate in conjunction with a fine little museum (the Mendocino County Museum) and that have space next to the museum and across from a small park on which they can and do run antique heavy equipment . They sponsor several events during the year, and over time have accumulated an excellent collection of old steam and diesel equipment, much of it restored, and more under way. Their largest event (The Festival) just occurred, and I attended with my older son Bob and one of my older friends, Marc Faye, the owner of the farm in the Sacramento Valley to which I escape. Lest you think age is required to attend, the group that attends includes large numbers of kids, partly because there is a restored train that runs continually around the property, and because kids like large dirty machines with whistles that make clouds of steam and smoke.
I attend this show for a number of reasons, including my love of old machines, my interest in the history of technology, and because people with rather unique hobbies and interests, who are not always understood by their friends and neighbors, are so happy when they get together with others of similar interests, that one cannot help but become swept away by it. It is also a nice size (you don’t need a smart phone to keep track of each other), fairly close to where I live, and in beautiful country. And it’s even free.
A few photos might help. One of my favorite machines is a Bucyrus power shovel, often seen in photos of the digging of the Panama Canal. The photo at the left not only shows the shovel when not moving, but if one looks closely one can see the very clever way it is steered — by placing logs into one of the tracks, causing that one to slow down. The man standing by it is the log placer. The next photo shows it in action.
The photos below show a beautifully restored steam roller that is benign enough to be allowed to run on the city streets. a machine waiting to be restored, and a large crane I had not seen in action before
I have a friend named Loren Bryon who is very interested in and active in the restoration of old equipment and a superb craftsman, particularly if steam is involved. He is a regular at these activities and was busily conquering the details of how to control this beast which he had not driven. The controls of such machines do not include such things as steering wheels or other devices now normally used to control machines. But after an hour or two passed, he became confident enough to drive it down a street on the grounds with cars parked on the sides. The remaining photos show him at work.
An excellent day, and as usual, I came home much improved because of the experience—and highly motivated to work on my own restoration projects, because they seem to be so straight forward and easy compared to the ones being done by the Roots people. Tractors are much easier to handle than locomotives, and aren’t as likely to blow up and kill you.