Redwood Empire Railroad History Project


Roots of Motive Power originated in 1982 from a predecessor organization called Little Lake Valley Pioneer Engine Association. Roots started out with a single piece of logging equipment and with the mission of preserving and restoring whatever antique logging and railroad equipment they could locate. As donations of equipment began to come in, space was provided for displays next to the Mendocino County Museum. But it soon became obvious that additional space would be needed to house the growing collection.
Thus was created the Redwood Empire Railroad History Project in the mid-1980s. Roots and the Museum (with the blessing of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors) joined forces with the intent of obtaining grants to fund several phases that would provide for expanded facilities and display venues.
The project includes provision for an expanded site for outside displays of equipment, a Restoration Building to permit year-round work and protected storage, and the Learning and Education Center which also houses the Research Library and Engine House. The facilities are linked by a ¾-mile loop track which surrounds playing fields adjacent to the sites, all of which are located on East Commercial Street in Willits.

Phase 1

A larger site was needed for the outside display of Roots collection of antique equipment, plus a building for the conduct of maintenance, repair and protected storage. In 1989, Roots President Jack Wade and Museum Director Dan Taylor applied for a Transportation Equity Act grant in the amount of $229,000. It took 10 years for the process, but in spring 1999, work started on the new site and Restoration Building. By the end of 2000, all of the equipment had been moved from the old site next to the Museum to the new site some 200 yards to the Northeast.

Phase 2

As Phase I was being completed, Museum Director Dan Taylor once again worked with Roots President Jack Wade on a second transportation fund grant in the amount of $1.3 million. This grant was also awarded, and in early 2002 work was started on the Learning and Education Center. This addition to the Museum was dedicated in a special “gold spike ceremony” in December of 2002, and was officially opened on July 4th, 2003. The Learning and Education Center is a multi-use facility, which includes The High and Low Galleries, The Engine House (inside display of railroad equipment,) the Special Research Library (which doubles as Roots office,) The Wonacott Room (class and meeting space,) and two classrooms leased to Mendocino College.

Phase 3

To connect all of the various facilities together and provide continuity, a ¾-mile loop track was planned to go around City of Willits playing fields East of the Museum, and Southeast of Roots new facility. In Phase II, track was connected from the Museum to this loop track, but a 2006 grant application for the loop was turned down. Not to be swayed from their mission, Roots donors and members continued work on the loop track piece-by-piece and the first train was run over it at a Gold Spike Ceremony during the September, 2007 Steam Festival. Also planned in this phase was a depot for serving passengers riding on Roots railroad equipment. With the generous donation by Rogan Coombs of the Trainmaster’s Office from the Pacific Lumber mill at Scotia, this need may have been met.

Phase 4

With visions set far in the future, Roots looks forward to the day when their track will be connected to that of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad only a quarter-mile to the West. This would provide for easier delivery of equipment to the Roots Facility, permit interchange between railroads and Roots, and even open up the possibility of passenger excursions.