Jul 29, 2019
by Tom Austin
The dog days, they call ‘em in Saint Louie, on account of the joys of grinding out pennant race baseball in the St. Louis heat. Hot August Nights, they call them in Reno on account of making the desert climate from a bug into a feature. Out here, we just call it summer, and summer is when Camp Meeker shines. It may be dog days and Hot Nights elsewhere in wine country, but under the shade of the Redwoods Camp Meeker sits quiet and cool. We got it made in the shade, baby. The only time we venture out from our sylvan glade is to partake of the summer festivities nearby. The Rodeo, the Civil War, VFD barbecues near and far, dunking in a quiet swimming hole up Austin Creek. Lather, rinse, and joyfully repeat.
Business continues at the Park and Rec Board. A close perusal of the meeting minutes and Agenda items (you can find it on their recently revamped web page at www.campmeeker.org) shows that although there is shortage of sexy and controversial issues in the Park and Rec Board meetings, the board gets together and knocks out the mundane but necessary issues like Bill “No Hands” Mazeroski turning the double play (he got that nickname because the ball appeared to spend no time in his hands as he relayed the toss from Gene Alley before stepping like Gene Kelly on the keystone whipping it over to Donn Clendenon at the primary sack. A regular Tinker to Evers to Chance is our Board: paying the water bill here, moving money strategically between accounts there, keeping Anderson Hall safe and properly maintained there.
With the present thus squared away, I ever turn my musings to the past.
There used to be a railroad that ran through Camp Meeker. It was called theNorth Pacific Coast Rail Road (at least at first), and it ran from Sausalito to Cazadero from 1877 to 1931. It was built to carry the redwood lumber from the sawmills that dotted the area like mushrooms after the rain. Business was good until they ran out of old-growth redwoods. That’s when the magic word “tourists” occurred to them, followed shortly by “vacation destination” and “Redwood Empire”. This was before people could fly off to Rio on a credit card, and before “Take Me To The River” was a pop song. The River was big. Big crowds at the railway station, big bands on the bandstand during the weekend dances. What, you think we were always a sleepy backwater? The river was jumpin’!
It’s all gone now. The logs are long gone, and the tourists had other choices after the Golden Gate opened things up for motorcars. The last train left the station in 1931, the tracks got pulled up a few years later, and the railroad gradually disappeared.
There are still signs of the old railroad, if you look hard enough. Bits of the right of way are still visible, although Bohemian Highway covered the great bulk of it. You can see pictures of Brown’s Trestle at the Union Hotel, at one time the highest man-made structure west of the Mississippi. And there’s a tunnel. That’s right, there is an abandoned railroad tunnel just a mile or two down the road from us.
I found the south entrance first. I was walking on an extraordinarily wide and flat trail I later realized was the railroad right-of-way. The creek was gurgling along noisily below me, and it was a perfect day. All of a sudden the trail disappeared, and a giant pile of dirt tumbled down from an old gash in the hillside. Mudslide, I thought. I climbed to the top of it, and what do you know? There was the top two or three feet of…a tunnel. Carved into the rock 140 years ago, give or take. I could have gone in there, but I don’t think I could have gotten out. Besides…that’s where Injun Joe was hiding! This Tom Sawyer’s no dummy.
Well, after this I couldn’t stop. I had to see the other side. The problem is, the tunnel is almost completely filled in by 80 years of erosion and neglect. I couldn’t just walk through; I had to climb up and over, or inch my way along the cliff. Up and over I went. That was a little hairy too, but I made it all right. After taking a bit of a rest on top, I started down the other side…and there was the north entrance. Even better, there were the remains of a small trestle leading up to the entrance.
The timbers were pretty old and rotten, but you could squint your eyes, look at those timbers and see locomotive no. 9 chugging out of that old tunnel. I closed my eyes and went back in time. When I opened them, I looked down and saw an old railroad spike just lying on the ground.
It wasn’t a dream. Our history lies under our feet.
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