Tuesday, May 2, 2006 • Historic Susanville Railroad Depot opens May 6

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, May 6, 2006 edition of the Lassen County Times.

The Historic Susanville Railroad Depot Visitor Center and Museum opens for the season on Saturday, May 6, according to Lassen Land and Trails Trust Executive Director Jan Heid.

As a visitor center, the depot provides information during its six-month season about not only the Bizz Johnson Trail but also the Lassen County area. It directs visitors to local businesses, restaurants and hotels.

Volunteer hosts, arranged by Stan Bales, a Bureau of Land Management recreation planner, will man the depot this year during its hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends only in May, for the Memorial Day holiday, Monday, May 29, and daily starting June 1. Volunteer David Sowers will be the host on the weekends, Heid said.

LLTT spends the winter planning events for May-October, installing new displays in the depot, meeting with community groups, seeking funding for summer activities and planning trails and conservation projects, among other things.

In 2004 and 2005, the depot welcomed more than 7,000 visitors. The numbers represent an increase of almost 50 percent compared to the average number of visitors for the previous five years of about 4,700.

Since the depot is also a trailhead for the Bizz Johnson Trail, which now receives national exposure, last year Heid advocated a collaborative funding effort to keep the depot open as a visitor center all year. She also cited the city of Susanville and Lassen County’s increasing emphasis on tourism.

“Even though the depot closes in November,” she wrote in a March 2005 newspaper opinion piece, “the Bizz Johnson Trail is a wonderful place for winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing and the depot is an excellent place to begin a trip up the trail. Trail information is posted outside the depot and available year round.”

LLTT members, the BLM and the Lassen National Forest, the city of Susanville and Lassen County, through the Chamber of Commerce, contribute to keep the depot open from spring through fall offering up-to-date information on regional recreational activities for Northeastern California.

“We will still be offering the third-grade school tours in May,” Heid said, advising teachers to call to set up a time.

LLTT also offers group bike rentals in May for school and out-of-town groups; call LLTT at 257-3252 to set up a time.

The LLTT Saturday Farmer’s Market starts in June at Pancera Plaza in Uptown Susanville and returns to the depot on Saturday, July 1.

The depot also houses interpretive displays on the colorful cultural and natural history of the area and a bookstore and gift shop which offer a variety of items. Mountain bike rentals are available by the hour or day.

Julie McQueen and her family loaned LLTT an extensive collection of books on railroad history. Call to make an appointment to see the books in May. They will be available daily starting in June.

LLTT is a non-profit corporation founded by local Lassen County residents in 1987 with an office located in the depot.

Bizz history
As a Bizz trailhead, the depot is part of the county’s logging history. According to the LLTT Web site BizzJohnsonTrail.com, in the early 1900’s a Minnesota lumberman named Thomas Barlow Walker moved his Red River Lumber Company from Minnesota to Northern California because of the large uncut timber stands in the area.

He arranged to have Southern Pacific Railroad build a railroad from Fernley, Nev. to Westwood, Calif. so he could ship his lumber to distant markets seeking lumber far beyond the limited demand for lumber in Lassen County.

The new railroad was called the Fernley and Lassen Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

The railroad reached Susanville in April of 1913. However, the rocky twisting Susan River Canyon made construction difficult and the railroad did not reach Westwood until February 1914.

Built to serve the newly developed logging community of Westwood, the Fernley and Lassen Railroad hauled logs, shipped milled lumber and transported passengers for over 40 years.

Southern Pacific Transportation Company had originally given the depot building to the city of Susanville for firefighting practice. However, in November 1988 the city gave the depot to LLTT.