In the early 1880s, lumbermen C.R. Johnson, Calvin Stewart, and James Hunter joined forces to expand timber operations in Mendocino County, California. By 1885, the Fort Bragg Railroad was formed in an attempt to make transporting lumber easier. Essentially, this was the foundation of what would one day become the California Western Railroad, more commonly known as The Skunk.
The Skunk got the nickname in 1925 when motorcars were introduced (today sometimes referred to as railbuses or railcruisers). These self-propelled motorcars had gasoline-powered engines for power and pot-bellied stoves burning crude oil to keep the passengers warm. The combination of the fumes created a very distinct odor, and the old-timers living along the line said these motorcars were like skunks, “You could smell them before you could see them.”