Konocti Kannonball

By Dante DeAmicis

Why do people plan organized bicycle runs? Usually there’s overlapping reasons of endurance, tourist promotion, fund raising, or building fellowship among cyclists and nature freaks. Another reason to get all sweaty, also overlapping, is historically themed courses. Right. Do I mean just doing the “points of interest” along a route that you would have chosen anyway? Why bother? Why not create an exciting attraction for people who wouldn’t get on a bicycle if all their cars were up on blocks?

One bit of local history that we can’t talk about in Lake County is trains. Lake and tiny Alpine are the only counties in California that never had a railroad other than to move trees around on a piece of property. But there were plans. Serious plans. Wild plans. Some plans were short hook up spurs from the West, requiring a 900 foot tunnel from Hopland to Highland Springs. Most lengthy connections from Lake planned to take the same route to the South, at least until they had to decide what already running line to tap into.

The line would start (or dead end) in either Upper Lake or Lakeport, move along the West shore to Kelseyville, carve a track around Mt. Konocti, hugging the Lake to Lower Lake where freight would be loaded or unloaded onto boats. Floyds Landing has been mentioned as the main train-to-boat transfer point to destinations on the far North Shore. The tracks would then swing through a little of Seigler Canyon, out to Middletown, then away from current pavement to the Guenoc Ranch. Lillie Langtry had wrangled a stop and helped sell stock in the company.

Lake County is high and surrounded by mountains. Trains don’t climb well so they have to make their own longer, easy going roads. There’s only one escape route for a train without tunnels. From Guenoc Ranch, the surveyors staked out Oat Hill, Loconomas, Butts Canyon, through Pope Valley, Chiles Valley, Conn and Sage Canyons, then dipped down to Rutherford – hangout of movie mogul Francis Coppola. Some plans included a spur going off to the Berryessa Valley farming area or linking up to the train coming across from Winters.

Probably the clearest ending/beginning point in the city of Napa is the Coombs St. bridge over the Napa River. It had to be built to get the project started and it was. What a great angle, I mean unintended consequence, of tying in a piece of Lake County history to Napa.

Where’s the excitement I promised? If you aren’t interested in bicycles or trains that never happened, there are theatrical, music, contest opportunities, as well as the standby of a couple wine tasting rooms located on the route. This could be a period event as well. Most of the serious attempts to lay down rails occurred between 1902 and 1909, involving electric trains powered by generators on Cache Creek. Bike teams could ride as “a train” that “punch tickets” at rest stops. The photos and video will provide ongoing memories on the internet.

The main wheeler and dealer that actually put 50 surveyors in the field as well as paid for two-thirds of the Coombs St. bridge was Richard M. Hotaling. He was involved in many railroad companies, on paper as well as in the steel. One of his companies would eat another one, change its name, or just change the name of a planned railroad line.

So the actual name of the railroad or train that was inching its way toward Lake County really isn’t important historically. But it is for my planned ride. Behold! The ride that will be done, commemorating the train that never was will be called “The Konocti Kannonball.”

I’m in the process of researching old topo maps to identify original road references and historical sites to spruce up the event map. Follow up evening events will involve more cooperation and make the run go both ways – ending and beginning in both Lake and Napa Counties. One bonus of using an old railroad route is that there’s no steep climbs and Napa is a good place to meet non pedal pushing friends at the end of the day.

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