Friday, March 13, 2009

NWP Tracks Over Old Highway

This short viaduct crosses the old Highway 101 route now called Walker Road, as the former Northwestern Pacific rails double back to climb the grade to Ridgewood Summit. From there, they descend Laughlin Ridge south to Redwood Valley and Ukiah, then on to Sonoma and Marin counties.

The local paper reported the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Report for starting freight service from near Santa Rosa up to Willits on these tracks, which is very good news indeed! It would be such a shame to lose this valuable infrastructure after all the work that was done to build it in the first place, more than a hundred years ago, and the North Coast Railroad Authority is working hard to move it forward.

* * *

This post concludes one full year of Willits Daily Photo.
When I started this blog on March 13, 2008, I had no idea where it would take me within Little Lake Valley, or if I could come up with 365 subjects to post. I feel amazingly blessed to have a new circle of international friends with city daily photo blogs of their own, offering insights and discoveries that enrich my perceptions of the world. Their kindness here in the comments has been immense, and I will treasure them always. I encourage everyone to see more City Daily Photo blogs at their portal website.

This a good point for me to retire Willits Daily Photo.
There are more photos in my archives that I'd like to share, and more new pictures I'm sure I'll feel compelled to snap, but the time commitment of "every day" is more demanding than some might imagine. I'm not one to call this a "Daily" photo blog, and then not post daily. I want to keep learning and growing and building skills, and time is what I need for that. But, I have an alternative! Built into this blog is a link to my Willits Photo Overflow blog, and that's where I'll be posting additional images from time to time. They could be out-of-season, or different views of things already posted here, or entirely new images of Willits and Little Lake Valley, and possibly further afield. They will be posted sproadically and without warning, but if you would like to "follow" that blog to catch what comes up, you are more than welcome. It's my way of not having to go "cold turkey" on photo blogging altogether.

If you are new to this blog, and want to see what has been posted throughout the previous 365 days, you have several options. You can scroll to the bottom of this page and click on the words "Older Posts" on the lower right, and keep doing that as far back as you want to go. Or you can go to the sidebar (right column of this page) and find the Archives link, arranged by year and month (they can each be expanded by clicking on the little triangular arrows). Or you can go to the sidebar and look for the list of "Labels" to click on those for loosely categorized groups of posts for each idea. I expect to be expanding and refining that label list sometime soon.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your visits and comments.

Click here for Willits Photo Overflow.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

CWR Water Tank

This old, wooden water tank still stands at the ready along the old California Western Railroad (the Skunk Train) tracks just as they head west to Northspur and Ft. Bragg far beyond. As you cross the tracks on Highway 101, look east and you'll see it. There's a pipe mechanism that extends out to go above the tender tank, to refill any steam locomotive awaiting in need.

No news on whether the Skunk will run more frequently out of Willits this year or not. All of the events posted on their website right now are out of the Ft. Bragg depot. The coast end of the line gets far more tourism business than we do, so it's easy to imagine Willits will get the short end of the stick in this economy. The Ft. Bragg depot and trains have been featured in Racing With the Moon and, I think, The Majestic.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

They Have a System

They have a system, these two men, as they find their way around town to do errands on any given day. One seems to shift forward to blaze the path across the day's obstacles, to find the safe path. The other seems to lean back in counter balance, blind and holding his head high, poised to meet the day, in complete faith that his comrade will not lead him astray.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Willits High School Hallway

The floor seems to float in the downstairs hallway of the old building at the high school. Generations of Willits Wolverines have had their stories of adolescent drama and despair, played out upon this stage. Hang in there, kids. Your brains are still growing, and better perspective will come soon enough. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Eye Doctor

This is another residential type building converted to a medical office. I like the symmetry, appropriately enough, for an eye doctor's establishment. I also like the shadows cast by the bare branches of a sycamore, as the winter sun lowers in the west. Elsewhere, ornamental plum and pear trees are just beginning to open their blooms. Soon, it will be spring again.

It's countdown time at Willits Daily Photo. This blog was started last year on March 13th. There's just a few more days to go.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mimosa Blossoms for Women's Day

The only mimosa tree (also called acacia) I've noticed in town cascades over the barbecue hut next to the Masonic Lodge on Main Street. They used to have salmon barbecues here as an annual fundraiser. Right now the blossoms are at their peak.

March 8th is International Women's Day, but is almost never observed in the United States. The first time I heard of it was when I lived in Hungary a dozen years ago. Saretta pointed out on her Molfetta blog that Italians traditionally give women yellow mimosa blossoms for this occasion. So today, I offer these to you, wherever you are.

Just four more days will complete a year of Willits Daily Photo.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Miner's Lettuce

Our recent spate of cool rain successfully conjured secret gardens of Miner's Lettuce, tucked away where no one will notice it (next to the Odd Fellows building). This native annual herb has disk shaped leaves around tiny clusters of white flowers. The gold miners of the 1850s near Sacramento were said to have eaten these as an early season source of vitamin C, to prevent scurvy. It seems I seldom see them growing wild, except along urban margins like this, and even then only in forgotten spots where someone hasn't "cleaned up the weeds".

Friday, March 6, 2009

Construction Progress

Work continues apace on the office construction on the site of Mason Cook's towing and automotive services lot. When the developer started, it was to be a mixed retail frontage, but an engineering firm down the street spotted it, and grabbed up a lease on the whole new and spacious complex. It's good to hear that the firm needs to expand and add staff, and good to see builders employed. Before the recent rains this past week, the roof was already on.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Drinking Fountain

Before this most recent series of storms embraced us with welcomed rain, I explored a greenbelt trail up in Brooktrails. I hadn't realized they had an old parcourse, children's playground and this softball field along the way. Why am I featuring the drinking fountain? I just read in Wednesday's paper that, here in Little Lake Valley anyway, the water crisis has been averted by the water falling from the sky! Our supply reservoirs are nearly topped off, which should carry us through the coming dry season if we are sensible about its use.

Yay! Elaine will stop talking about drought all the time!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Casino Name Change

The Sherwood Valley Pomo Rancheria has the small Black Bart Casino on its land, which is now undergoing a name change to, simply, Sherwood Valley Casino. As with all American Indian gaming businesses, it provides important income for the local band or tribe, and can employ Pomos and non-Pomos alike.

For those unfamiliar with the name Black Bart, he was a legendary stagecoach robber in the late 1800s in northern California, accomplishing one such hold-up just on the other side of Ridgewood Summit, to the south of Little Lake Valley. That Wells Fargo stage happened to have Hiram Willits as a passenger that day. Charles Bolles, aka Black Bart, was a white man, so "black" didn't have racial significance, rather he adopted the name from a popular fictional character of the time. He eventually served time in San Quentin. I'm not really one for romanticizing criminals of any era, so I personally welcome this casino name change.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Abalone Ash Tray

Outside the front entrance to Anna's Asian House restaurant, guests may stub out their cigarettes in this carefully presented abalone shell.

Sport fishing of abalone is only allowed in California north of San Francisco, and there are strict limits on the number and size anyone can gather. The "bag limit" is only three a day, 24 a season. The edible part is the big foot muscle of this big flat snail, and it has a flavor something like scallops. The meat can be quite tough unless it's pounded thoroughly with a toothy kitchen mallet. My grandfather used to prepare them for us, but it was a rare treat. Because the resource is limited, no commercial sale of abalone is allowed.

Having said all that, there's hardly an old barn or farmhouse in this region that doesn't have a few of these "red" abalone shells around.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Officer Down

On Saturday, mourners gathered at Willits High School to honor Officer Dave Tiller, who finally succumbed to cancer last Wednesday. Members of law enforcement from all over the area gathered along with local family and friends in the Auditorium, then proceeded to the Community Center for a reception. As with the recent Smith memorial, the Boy Scouts set out American flags to line Main Street and Commercial in Tiller's honor. We are all moved by a community united in grief.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

March Theme Day: Glass

Twenty five years later, this art project by Willits High School students still brightens the row of windows on the side wall of the City Council Chambers. About a dozen panes in all, they depict cultural and natural history themes of our area. Arts education has many lasting effects, and this investment in it was sponsored in part by an Exemplary Arts Grant from the California Arts Council.

For more examples of glass seen in cities around the world, click here to view thumbnails for all participants in today's City Daily Photo Bloggers theme.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Life Itself

On Friday, California Governor Schwarzenegger declared a water emergency for the state, and warned that we can't count on upcoming years to be any better. Leaking toilets, cracked underground pipes, leaving the water running while brushing teeth - all add up to wasted gallons of this necessity of life. Some people can't stand to drink plain, pure water. I savor it, like this glass at Ardella's Diner.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Mortuary

There's one mortuary in town, Anker-Lucier, located on the corner of Commercial and School Streets. The red tile roof with white stucco is rare in this county, and reminds me of the Spanish Colonial Revival style found in more southerly parts of the state. There were a couple of Mexican land grants in Mendocino, but the Spanish era missions came no further north than Sonoma county.

I did not personally know Dave Tiller, but earlier this week he lost his long battle with pancreatic cancer. I do know that he was a police officer who touched many lives here in Willits, and his memorial will be this Saturday. Photos of a barbecue to raise funds for his treatment trips to San Francisco were posted here last June.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Corraled Black Cattle

Little Lake Valley offers wide swathes of pastureland, but I read recently that the dry winter we've been having has slowed the natural growth of grass on the fields and hillsides. What currently look like putting greens ideally should be full of lush grazing by now. At a season not normally requiring it, ranchers have had to purchase supplemental feed for their herds. It's a clear indication of the fragile balance of nature with local economics. The Willits Action Group is exploring what it would take to revive local grain and legume farming, and have started by investing in small scale storage facilities, and offering shares in the commodities to the local population. If the capacity and demand can be put in place, the our area's own farmers might be willing to fill the void.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bunny Dumpster

I'm not entirely clear on what all the spray-paint tagging on the one dumpster means, but at least I can read the word "bunny" on the right. Can anyone tell me what it says on the left?

These were just the outer edge of a large collection of commercial sized dumpsters, apparently being stored on the big lot next to the Solid Wastes of Willits transfer station. They turned out to be fun photo subjects, so I may have to post some more from that excursion. The large structures in the background are part of the Willits Redwood Company mill, across Blosser Lane.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Water Feature

This big vacant lot is smack-dab in the middle of "old" Willits, and is right next to the Deco house on the Hiram Willits property seen yesterday. To the south is the Van Hotel. To the west is St Francis in the Redwoods church, at the intersection of Main and Commercial Streets. I've been in Willits since 2001, and this is how it has always looked - puddles in the winter, dry potholes in the summer. It would be great to keep it open with a vast food and medicine producing garden, with all the Highway 101 traffic lumbering by, but maybe the owner has other plans. Right now, it serves as a sort of downtown art installation, with random amoeba shapes dispersed all across it. A sea of holes.

The deeper history is that the Willits Hotel used to stand here. It had over a hundred rooms, and included all sorts of traveler's amenities, but was torn down more than fifty years ago. I would have thought anything else built here since then would still be standing, but I don't have more information about it. It catches rain. Hurray for rain!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Deco in Blue

Moving away from the Craftsman Challenge set forth by Laurie in South Pasadena, this house is a rarity in Willits. Although it's without much of the embellishment associated with Art Deco, this building includes many of the elements that followed on from the post-Craftsman era. Extremely simple and lean in comparison to the woody struts and and natural materials of Craftsman design, and even further removed from the lacy Victorians, the glass brick flanking the front door was a huge leap in visual ideas. Also note the oval curve of the front step overhang. This is located across the street from the Van Hotel, under several big redwood trees. The booklet that told me about Churchill staying at the Van tells me this was constructed on the site of the old Hiram Willits farmstead in 1936. That must have been a shock. The former Willits house was a two-story Victorian dating back to the pioneer's settlement of 1857. Now, in its turn, this house is historic as well.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shuster's Truck Lot

The "domino" effect of the shrinking economy will likely put the squeeze on any number of local businesses. The Shuster family has been around here for generations, and their fleet of white trucks are commonly seen on the roads of the region. Let's hope they "keep on truckin'" for a long time to come.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Winter Bee

Willow catkins are opening up these days, offering plenty of pollen for bees to gather in their leg pouches.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Loose Caboose

The Loose Caboose is a popular sandwich eatery tucked away on Wood Street behind the Book Juggler, with their dining patio leading to the restaurant. As you step through the gate, this fantasy painting greets you with childlike conceptions of castle and rainbow and fairy, along with a "loose" caboose, unaided by a locomotive. The railroad theme is appropriate for a town with so many rail connections, and so many fantasies of seeing them all operate again.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dog Laws

This sign was posted all around the periphery of the cemetery. I suppose the neighboring properties have livestock, and when mourners bring their pets some conflicts ensue. Tucked away on this edge of the lot, the grave of an infant lies, long gone in 1910.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mariposa Metamorphosis

I wasn't around Willits for the beginnings of Mariposa Market, but I'm told they once were located in the shop spaces behind a wall I posted on this blog last spring. For the past decade, they have done business behind this iconic mural. Now, once again, they have metamorphosed into a new and larger space, right next door to the last one, on the site of the old Skunk Motel. They dedicated themselves to natural and organic foods, health products and clothing way back when only "hippies" were interested in such things. Today, they have more mainstream competition, but seem to be going strong on greater mainstream interest.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

METALfx Employee Patio

The outdoor break area is too damp for comfort these days for employees of METALfx. A recent story in the local paper indicates far greater discomfort is looming for them if this manufacturing company decides to leave town. The hope is that they will sufficiently retrench by simply consolidating their two Willits plants into one. If that doesn't pencil out, 150 jobs will go somewhere else.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lichen With Rust

A collection of valves and other parts rest on a yet-to-be restored open rail car in the work yard of Roots of Motive Power, punctuated by a spontaneous primitive garden. I kept this in my secret stash for a few months, so the dry sunshine is misleading. The blessed rain still falls these days.

Happy belated 200th birthday to President Abraham Lincoln, celebrated along with the birthday of President George Washington, together designated a holiday today in the US.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Meat Marketing

The John Ford Ranch is right here in Little Lake Valley, and makes the beef they raise available locally, with their name right on it (the package on the right). Willits is a good place to be if you value knowing exactly where your food is coming from. The cattle take a detour to Eureka up in Humboldt county, where the nearest licensed slaughterhouse is located. But the food comes back here, and I am reassured that I can talk to the Fords, see the cattle in the pastures, and trust the environment they have been in.

We can also get American Bison meat, raised near the Ukiah Valley just 25 miles south of us, from the J Bar S Ranch (the packages on the left). Nearly driven to extinction in the 19th century, they've made a comeback as a marketable food source. I've never tried the meat, but it is said to be low in fat, so appeals to calorie-conscious diners.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Up at Howard State Forest, about as far south as I can go while remaining within the watershed of this blog, a young tanoak tree was recently cut up and stacked. We have a cold storm pelting us with hail, accumulating nicely at this higher elevation, and snow is building up on the ridgetops. Many households in the area, especially those outside the city infrastructure, still use wood-burning stoves to heat their homes, and tanoak properly cured packs a good amount of heat. The dark center of the wood is called heartwood, appropriately for Valentine's Day. Sort of. Even better, I love the lush growth of lichens on these logs, even as my heart breaks for their possible destiny in a fireplace.

Bonus Valentine trivia: The movie Heartwood was filmed in and around Willits and these mountains, with many locals involved in its production.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Flower of February

With our daffodils running strangely late, it's nice to see the violets are right on schedule. I caught this one several days ago, before the blessing of rain now falling. Happy Friday the Thirteenth!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Memorial

After the procession and flag raising and the multitude of preparations, came the actual memorial for Jeff Smith inside the vast warehouses of the former Little Lake Industries. The announcement in the paper simply invited "family and friends" to come here at 3 PM on Sunday. The city limits of Willits contains about 5000 people. The planners of the event were wise to anticipate about two thousand guests. For more images of the memorial setting, click here for my Overflow blog.

Half a dozen speakers told their stories, and eulogized the man. His professional gifts were widely known. He had been awarded an unprecedented two Medals of Valor from the California State Firefighters Association; once for retrieving a man from a "fully engaged" burning fuel truck wreck, and most recently for intervening as a gunman shot two women and then himself. Jeff saved the life of one of those women, but he was the sort who never felt he deserved the medals. As one speaker said, he was a low visibility guy in a high visibility job. A similar spirit has recently been demonstrated by Captain Sullenburger, who safely landed his passenger plane in the Hudson River, when he said he was just doing his job, and even though the event went as well as possible, he continued to imagine how he might have done better. Such humility combined with such competence inspires everyone graced to witness it, and Jeff Smith was all of that.

He was also a man of tremendous good humor and good will. Those of us who glimpsed it through his professional role and composure, and those endowed with his high-spirited friendship at play, will be forever grateful.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Preparations

A former industrial site, developed by Little Lake Industries once upon a time, now leased for storage by a horticultural/agricultural supply retailer called Sparetime, was the location for the memorial ceremony. Jeff Smith had died Monday afternoon, and by Tuesday his fire department colleagues launched forward with one of their many professional skills: logistics. Calfire work camp inmates came to move out tons of sacks of fertilizer, etc., along with department and community volunteers, who then cleaned and arranged warehouse spaces, installed temporary toilets, etc. Word went out to schools and churches for tables and chairs, as well as other community networks for staging equipment, food, beverages, waste management, etc. Decisions had to be made quickly about what would happen, who would do what, and where, and when.

With the ready stand-in assistance of other regional fire departments, the Little Lake/Willits crew were all able to participate in the event. None of them wanted to miss honoring their former Chief. A matching ladder truck was brought up from Ukiah to hoist and bear the huge flag, along with the Willits ladder, which was suspended over the entrance to the industrial grounds. Brooktrails fire trucks were positioned at the Main station in case of any alarms.

By the end of the procession from the south end fire station, winding up Highway 101 (Main Street) to the headquarters station, then west to the Little Lake Industries site on Commercial Street, the Percherons had pulled the heavy steamer pump for about a mile, with a couple of inclines, and were dripping with sweat even on this very cool day. Click here to see more photos of these events on my Overflow blog.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Procession

The memorial for Jeff Smith was Sunday, and began with a procession through the length of town. As I noted earlier on this blog, he was a member of the Willits/Little Lake Fire Department for 31 years, and was Chief for 22 of those years. An antique "steamer" pump wagon, provided by the California State Firefighters Association, led the way, followed by a stream of the department's trucks and personnel. Bringing up the rear was a pack of Smith's Harley-Davidson riding buddies. For more photos of the procession, click through here to my Overflow blog.

I like the quote in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat obituary, where a long-time colleague pointed out that Smith was "the closest thing to a celebrity we had in Willits." When I positioned myself to catch the action near the Willits Arch, I had no idea how moved I would be by the sight of the black cross, pulled by three draft horses. Then, even more, by the long line of silent, flashing fire trucks, knowing how respected he was by so many who knew him so long.

There were no California Highway Patrol officers anywhere to be seen. I believe they were busy looking the other way during this unconventional use of Highway 101. City police officers handled traffic control.

This will be a short series. More tomorrow.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Antique Wheel

It was a gray day Sunday, but this brightly and minutely decorated wheel cheered up all who saw it. It was a 200+ photo day, an emotional day, and I'm beat, so more tomorrow.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

For Tomorrow's Archeologists

Remnants of technology gone by, these glass telephone line insulators lie near the abandoned railroad tracks crossing Walker Road, itself a remnant of old Highway 101. Chipped and broken, I suspect these are not collectible like the ones recycled by crafters for last year's Christmas fairs. I appreciate finding such treasures of the past, but would be glad to see all the overhead wires and cables go underground. Perhaps any kind of land-line will soon be obsolete.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dog Walk

Finally a little rain broke the dry spell on Friday, and while it wasn't enough to contribute to the municipal reserves (less than an inch predicted), at least we are somewhat damp again. But while the sun still shined, people could walk their dogs without much suffering. My camera couldn't resist this recumbent tricycle rider with his gorgeous husky strutting by Recreation Grove.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Birdwatching Horse Watching Bird

Or is it a horsewatching bird watching horse? In either case there's a bird on the fence seen through the barn, and the two could be having a stare-down. (Even if you enlarge the photo, it's hard to see.)

It's easy to imagine that only humans take any pleasure in observing the fauna around us, but I suspect more than a few creatures size each other up, determine the level of threat, watch for patterns of behavior, and might even become amused. Certainly we must be the prime objects of such sport, with the One Who Brings Food garnering a very different reaction than the One Who Walks By or the One Who Shouts. But there's a time for observing, and a time for munching hay.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Handicap Parking

With the redevelopment of a central city parking lot, regulations to supply handicap access took effect. It really is the right thing to do, jokes about "political correctness" and "too many rules" aside. Here, two parking spaces are specifically designated for specially equipped vans, with side lifts, for wheelchair using people to have room to get in and out of their vehicles. The curb of the sidewalk slopes down to accommodate them as well. I hope if I'm ever disabled, this kind of infrastructure will be in place, to allow me to interact with my community with a minimum dependence on others, with the self-determination that able-bodied people take for granted. I explain all this because readers from some other countries don't yet build this way.

This is another wall of the building you saw here and here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Fire Training Tower

Here we are in February, and already we're thinking about, talking about, and preparing for extreme water limitations. And where there's drought, there's fire. Last summer's Lightning Complex fires showed how fragile the system is, and as big as those fires were, there's still plenty more to burn out there. With government budgets crashing from top to bottom, and water reserves practically nonexistent, I can't help but wonder where the resources will come from to protect us this year.

Meanwhile, anyone know what those 6000 pound blocks are for?

Sad news to report. Retired Little Lake Fire Chief Jeff Smith died Monday night. I hope he knew how much our community loved and admired him. He had been retired less than a year. Late edit: Jeff Smith's obituary in the paper.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

CWR Switch Signal

Along the still active Skunk line track, it speaks for itself.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Such A Name

Seeking new vistas on my territory, I went to Willits Cemetery, on acreage rising from Highway 20 just west of town. My first time here, I wandered a bit to see the names and artful monuments. There were a couple of areas with these standard military veteran's grave markers, with surviving vets and casualties of the 20th century wars indicated on the inscriptions. This one stopped me short.

George J DeBourbon-Habsburg, California, PVT [Private], Army Air Forces, World War II

Notice that he was born in 1901 and died in 1973. That's pretty old to be a lowly soldier in that war. How did someone with such a bombastically historic name from two royal houses of Europe end up in Willits?

I could have held this one back until I could do some more research, but the mystery itself appeals to my inner novelist/screenwriter, and there may be no information to be found. I did check the county phone book, and the names don't appear to continue here. Do any local readers know his real story? Or should I continue to imagine one of my own?