Redwoods and Hiking trail

Historic Redwood Logging

Lumber Industry in Del Norte County 1881 - 1939

Continued from: Largest Coast Redwoods

This page is one of a 6 page set on historical redwood logging. See:

Historic Coast Redwood Logging Equipment and Machinery

REDWOOD LOGGING HUMBOLDT COUNTY 1850-1860

REDWOOD LOGGING DEL NORTE COUNTY 1853-1881

REDWOOD LOGGING DEL NORTE COUNTY 1939-1953

REDWOOD LOGGING CAMPS 1870-1920

REDWOOD LOGGING HISTORY

Hobbs, Wall & Co.

Hobbs, Wall & Co. expanded the capacity of its Elk Valley Mill in the period 1880 to 1893 from 6,000,000 feet of lumber per year to 8,500,000, or 45,000 feet per day. The company continued active in the box manufacturing trade, which called for large quantities of spruce and hemlock. Its payroll, including those working in the plant and logging camps, averaged $8,000 per month.

At this time, Hobbs, Wall owned about 8,700 acres of timber land in the county, most of which was between Crescent City and Smith River. In 1890 Hobbs, Wall lumberjacks had logged from a 480-acre tract, 110 acres of which produced 20,174,329 feet of logs.

In 1903 the lumber industry of Del Norte was tied-up by its first major strike by loggers and mill hands. They had walked out in protest against the wage scale established by Hobbs, Wall, the principal producer. In May the strike was settled at both the Lake Earl and Elk Valley mills, and in the logging camps. The strike, although of short duration, had hit the community's economy hard. According to terms of the settlement, a minimum wage of $40 per month was set for unskilled labor. Skilled blacksmiths and carpenters would be paid $80 per month for a ten-hour day. Head choppers got $60 per month, with board, while the head sawyer was the best paid man on the job, $125 per month.

Before May 1903 was over Hobbs, Wall had secured control of J. Wenger & Co. (J. Wenger & Co., besides the Lake Earl Mill, owned considerable timber acreage and several coastal freighters.) In 1919 Hobbs, Wall & Co. was operating both the Elk Valley and Lake Earl Mills, three logging camps, a big company store in Crescent City, and smaller ones at each of the camps. Twelve miles of railroad, extending from the logging camps on Smith River, led to the two mills, with a spur continuing on to the wharf. This railroad, a common carrier, was designated the Crescent City & Smith River Railroad. It had been built in the period 1890-1894.

Although the corporation owned vast tracts of timber in Del Norte County, the only portion that had been logged was that "lying on and in the direction of Smith River" and Lake Earl. Between 300 and 400 men found employment in the three logging camps, and so great was their production that logging trains passed up and down the track every few hours.

The Lake Earl Mill could turn out 40,000 feet of lumber in a ten-hour day, while the larger and more modern Elk Valley Mill was able to saw in excess of 100,000 feet the same period. From Crescent City the forestry products were shipped to San Francisco and San Pedro in the company steamers, Del Norte, Mandalay, and Westport. These vessels could make the round trip in a week to ten days. On their return run, the ships brought in freight and merchandise for the public, as well as passengers.

Boarding houses were operated and manned by Hobbs, Wall at the camps and mills. These were supplied from the company store. In fact, Hobbs, Wall was "termed the main business artery of the county." In 1908 the company had shipped 19,193,800 feet of lumber from the Crescent City wharf.

In 1908 Hobbs, Wall began construction of the Del Norte & Southern Railroad to enable their people to begin timbering the western slope of Howland Hill and the portion of the Mill Creek watershed in Section 25. Camps 10 and 11 were established. To reach the latter, a spur of the railroad was carried over Howland Hill, via the famous switchbacks of the seven and nine percent grades. The only trainmen authorized to take an engine over the nine percent grade were Roy and Leo Ward.

Smaller spool donkeys were used to bunch the logs. The logs were then loaded aboard the cars and shipped to the Elk Valley Mill. As the company was running a number of camps, its policy was to convert as much of the cutover land as possible to pasture to raise beef cattle for slaughter to feed the hands. This involved extensive slash burning.

During World War I there was a demand for Sitka spruce for airplane construction. Hobbs, Wall took advantage of this situation to extend the Del Norte & Southern Railroad into the area between Sections 1 and 2, Township 16 North, Range 1 West, where their foresters had pinpointed a heavy growth of Sitka spruce. Camp No. 12 was established near today's parking lot of the Rellim Lodge, serving the Demonstration Forest. Under the direction of the woods boss, Alex Moseley, the logs were yarded on the main skid roads with huge Humboldt bull donkeys (steam engines). These roads could be as much as 3,000 feet in length. In 1920 Hobbs, Wall establish Camp 12-2 (the loggers were a superstitious group so there could be no Camp 13) on Mill Creek, near the present site of Rellim Redwood Company's Mill Creek Nurssery. This was a big camp and quartered up to 150 men.

The right-of-way of the Del Norte & Southern was extended down the east slope of Howland Hill and up Mill Creek two and one-half miles. Loggers were soon hard at work cutting timber on the upper Mill Creek watershed. To facilitate the task of getting logs down off the steep slopes, three inclined railways, varying in length from 3,600 to 1,800 feet, were built.

On February 22, 1939, the Hobbs, Wall employees were told that the company was shutting down its Elk Valley Mill temporarily so that the equipment could be modernized. The loggers and railroaders were also laid off. The company did not resume operations, however, and in April boards were nailed across the windows and doors of the company store on 2d street.

J. Wenger & Co.

After J. Wenger gained controlling interest in the Lake Earl Mill, the Crescent City Mill & Transportation Co. became known as J. Wenger & Co. In 1890 the sawmill was destroyed by fire, but it was rebuilt in 1894.

The new mill had a capacity of 50,000 feet of lumber per day. To compete with Hobbs, Wall & Co. in the carrying trade, J. Wenger & Co. operated two intercoastal steamers—Albion and Scotia.

In 1890 the company had owned 1,708 acres of timberland. On a 160-acre tract, east of the railroad leading from the Lake Earl Mill to Crescent City, loggers from J. Wenger & Co. in 1890 had cut from 16-1/4 acres 5,098,608 feet of lumber. The lumber jacks on a second tract of 500 acres had logged a quarter section which had yielded 27,802,121 feet of lumber, or an average of 173,763 feet per acre.

Hobbs, Wall acquired the Lake Earl Mill and Timberlands of J. Wenger & Co. in 1903. The mill on Lake Earl was now designated Hobbs, Wall No. 2, while their other mill in Elk Valley became Hobbs, Wall No. 1. In 1912, in the face of rising labor costs, Hobbs, Wall closed the Lake Earl Mill.

Hume, Westbrook & Bomhoff

A large mill was erected near the mouth of Smith River in 1882-1883 by R. D. Hume, Henry Westbrook, and John Bomhoff. The lumber had to be shipped out Smith River, but as the channel was constantly shifting this plagued the operators, and they sold their interests to the Del Norte Commercial Co. The mill was then closed, but it was reopened in 1894 on completion of the Crescent City & Smith River Railroad to Smith River. This provided only a temporary respite, and by 1909 the mill had closed for good, permitting Hobbs, Wall & Co. to monopolize the Del Norte County lumber industry.

Sawmills on the Klamath

The first commercial sawmill on the Klamath was one of the ventures undertaken by the Klamath Commercial Co., which had been incorporated by R. D. Hume for the "purpose of lumbering and fishing at or near the mouth of the Klamath River." Martin Van Buren Jones was named general superintendent. On August 27, 1881, it was reported in the Del Norte Record that Jones had been on the ground for several weeks with a crew of workers, and "has the mill and building sites all ready and timber cut for the frames." Jones planned to saw cedar, laurel, and oak, which would be shipped to Crescent City on small schooners and then sent to the San Francisco market on steamers.

The sawmill was not successful, however. In 1890 Edward and Henry Schnaubelt built a mill on Hunter Creek. With its engine and boiler brought in by a schooner from Crescent City, the Schnaubelt Brothers' mill was "a model of ingenuity and good convenience to the farmers" of the area who had been accustomed for "years to split out all the materials for buildings, fences, etc. etc." Subsequently, Ed Hughes acquired and operated the mill.

Logging on the Klamath

About the close of World War I, Bull & Dunn began logging the Klamath Bluff area. To get their logs out, it was necessary to float them down the Klamath to its mouth, where they would be made into rafts. G. G. Davis had rafted logs during World War I in Alaska and Canada. An ingenious plan for putting together ocean-going rafts had been developed by Davis. These rafts, called swifters, on which Davis and his sons held 32 patents, were held together by cables laced in a fashion designed to hold the raft together and keep it from breaking up when towed to sea. So efficient were the Davis patents that one of their rafts which was en route down from Alaska, when cut loose during a storm, drifted across the Pacific and ended up aground on the coast of Japan. A huge swifter raft would hold up to several million feet of timber. The Davis rafts were towed out to sea and down the coast from the Klamath to Eureka. There they were broken up, and the cedar exported to Japan.

One of the problems encountered by the Davises, in rafting logs out of the Klamath, was shallow water found over the Klamath Bar, during prolonged droughts. On September 25, 1926, it was reported that Bull & Dunn Cedar Co. had experienced difficulty in getting out their rafts, because of "unseasonably low water and the deplorable condition of the mouth of the river." Never-the-less, three rafts, after being assembled by Davis' crew in the slough below the Douglas Bridge, were one after the other towed downstream. Near the bar, lines were sent aboard the rafts from the Golden West anchored outside the bar. At flood tide the rafts were floated across. The little freighter then headed down the coast to Eureka, with the three cedar rafts in tow.

It was known that enough additional logs were coming down the Klamath for Davis and his boys to build two more rafts. To get the logs over shoals Jackson Ames and Frank Ryvison were out with their motorboats.

Superintendent Davis and his crew were called on during the second week of October to assist Captain Olsen of the gasoline schooner Martha. Captain Olsen, scoffing at the fears of the others, attempted to cross the bar. He hugged the north shore too closely and stranded his vessel, Davis and his people quit work on the rafts and rushed to Olsen's assistance. A channel was cut around Martha, lines run out, deadmen positioned, and the craft winched off the bar. She floated free, but before she could get steerageway, she was caught by a powerful eddy. The lines parted, and she was again driven hard aground, but this time on the south beach. She was freed a second time. Once again, she was buffeted by the current and driven ashore. A final effort succeeded in freeing Martha, and she beat her way up the coast.

While Martha was aground, the channel through which the Klamath discharged into the Pacific was obstructed, and the river began to back up. It continued to do so, until it covered the flat on the south side of the Klamath, where cars drove onto the ferry. A number of motorists turned their vehicles around, drove back down the road, and turned into the new road, leading down Richardson Creek to the Douglas Bridge. Although the road crews tried to flag them down, they drove across the bridge. Though dedicated in May, the structure was not yet officially opened to traffic. As soon as Martha was freed, the water rushed out through the channel. The pool that had been backed up quickly drained and the south approach to the ferry was again open to traffic.

On October 18, Golden West crossed the bar, using the channel opened by Davis' men in freeing Martha. She lashed onto a raft of cedar logs. As she headed out into the Pacific, the little freighter grounded on the south beach, and "the raft floated out, made a circle, and struck on the south beach near the boat, causing the raft to go to pieces with every breaker pounding floating logs endwise against the sides of Golden West." The freighter was re-floated at flood tide, and most of the logs salvaged. These incidents, however, were indicative of the difficulties experienced in rafting logs out of the Klamath during the 1920s and 1930s.

THE LUMBER INDUSTRY IN DEL NORTE COUNTY—1939-1953

Immediately following the end of World War II, the lumber industry of Del Norte County, which had died prematurely when Hobbs, Wall Co. shut down in 1939, received "a most effective shot in the arm." Operators from Washington and Oregon were looking toward a rapid expansion of the industry. To whet the operators' interest, the Del Norte Chamber of Commerce had circulated promotional literature, calling attention to the bountiful supply of timber in the region. When they came the northern operators brought with them "know-how and skills" that quickly changed Crescent City "from a slow-moving, relaxed resort town into a busy, small town metropolis with visions of a promising future."

With the companies came experienced loggers, mill hands, truckers, and shippers. Between 1940 and 1952 the population of the county doubled. Gone were the colorful days of the logging camps, donkeys, skid roads, and railroads. The operators of the late 1940s and early 1950s used power saws, bulldozers, trucks, and trailers. Instead of living in camps, the loggers were family men, who commuted to and from work.

The lumbering industry, as before the closing of Hobbs, Wall, again became the county's major industry. By 1954, of the county's aggregate labor force of nearly 4,500 there were 2,800 engaged in lumbering and related industries. Nine of the 40 logging, lumber, and plywood operations in Del Norte owned standing timber. According to the county assessor, there were on the books, 140,000 acres of privately owned commercial timberlands. This acreage held 5,725,000,000 board feet, of which 75 percent was owned by five companies—Simpson Logging, M & M Woodworking Co., S. A. Agnew, Howard Mill, and Arrow Mill. The annual timber harvest zoomed from 53,000,000 feet in 1946 to 300,000,000 in 1953.

As another index of the importance of the lumbering industry, it was pointed out that in 1953 the six largest operators had paid over 40 per cent of the taxes needed to keep the county in business.

In 1953 there were in the county about 400,000 acres of public land administered by the United States Forest Service, on which there was an estimated 5,800,000,000 board feet of marketable timber. Jurisdiction over this timber was divided between the Siskiyou and Six Rivers National Forests. Most of this timber was Douglas fir. Guidelines established by Department of Agriculture foresters permitted this timber to be cut at a rate of 50-60,000,000 feet per year on a sustained yield basis.

Currently, cuttings had fallen short of the sustained yield capacity, because of the inaccessibility of much of the timber. Roads would have to be opened to get at much of the federally owned stumpage. The two state parks, Jed Smith and Del Norte, in 1953 embraced 15,000 acres, containing 1,800,000,000 board feet of virgin timber.

News that 300,000,000 feet of timber had been harvested in 1953 caused concern to conservationists. Checking this figure against reserves, they found that this figure greatly exceeded the sustained yield of the county. It was urged that the cut figure be reduced to 150-200 million feet per year. Another pressing problem was to provide for "an orderly removal of the over-mature and decadent portions of the stands, using wisely with as little waste as possible." Fire must be controlled, and the logged areas left in good condition for rejuvenation.

PAGE SOURCE

The information on this page is from:

REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK: History Basic Data, Del Norte and Humboldt Counties, California - 1969 / 1982

National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service Division of History Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation.