Dams on Big River located at Mendocino

Dams were used by the Mendocino mill on Big River to bring the cut logs to the mill. The Mendocino Lumber Company was “famous” for damming Big River. With rare exceptions, dams along Big River were used only during the winter season. Logs were stored in the stream beds – see pic below:

Logs stored in a Big River stream bed

Winter rains furnished the freshet (body of water) for floating the logs down river, but in most cases, did not. Dams were then used to build up a reservoir of water. When the dams were tripped (blown up), a flood was created along with a “head.” A head is similar to the shore side of an ocean wave. Near the dam, a head might begin as high as 10 feet dropping to three-foot height 15 miles down river. A higher head, which would result in being able to float more logs a greater distance, would be obtained by tripping/blowing up more than one dam in succession. This, for sure, was in the days before environmentalists were invented. In his book, Big River Was Dammed, W. Francis Jackson documents at least 27 dams on Big River.

These pics (I believe) are all of dams on Big River:

Building a Big River Dam – note mule on the right with water carrying bags

Sluice gate on a Big River Dam

A Big River Dam with the Sluice Gate Open


Effect of the 1906 Eathquake along the Mendocino Coast

As I tell visitors yo our layout the San Andreas fault is just four miles offshore. The 1906 Earthquake hit all the towns along the California coast north of San Francisco to north of Eureka.

This piece that appeared in the local newspaper tells the story of the earthquake.


Effect of 1906 Earthquake along the Mendocino Coast

This picture shows shops on Fort Bragg Main Street after the quake.

Fort Bragg Main Street after the 1906 earthquake – building on left is now Racines

USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) – One of four airships commissioned by the US Navy

This picture floated across my screen:

Shenandoah Airship over Fort Bragg

Wow, says I, a US Navy airship over Fort Bragg! Tell me more.

Per Wiki ….. “USS Shenandoah was the first of four United States Navy rigid airships. It was constructed during 1922–23 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, and first flew in September 1923. It developed the U.S. Navy’s experience with rigid airships, and made the first crossing of North America by airship. On the 57th flight, Shenandoah was destroyed in a squall line over Ohio in September 1925.

Diagram of the Shenandoah

The photo says that the flight over Fort Bragg was on October 17th – but which year? More from Wiki …….

Shenandoah was originally designated FA-1, for “Fleet Airship Number One” but this was changed to ZR-1. The airship was 680 ft long and weighed 36 tons. It had a range of 5,000 miles, could reach speeds of 70 mph.  Shenandoah was the first rigid airship to use helium rather than hydrogen, Shenandoah had a significant edge in safety over previous airships. Helium was relatively scarce at the time, and the Shenandoah used much of the world’s reserves just to fill its 2,100,000 cubic feet of gas bags. Shenandoah was powered by 300 hp, eight-cylinder Packard gasoline engines. Six engines were originally installed, but in 1924 one engine (aft of the control car) was removed. The first frame of Shenandoah was erected by 24 June 1922; on 20 August 1923, the completed airship was floated free of the ground. Helium cost $55 per thousand cubic feet at the time, and was considered too expensive to simply vent to the atmosphere to compensate for the weight of fuel consumed by the gasoline engines. Neutral buoyancy was preserved by installing condensers to capture the water vapor in the engine exhaust.

Shenandoah first flew on 4 September 1923. It was christened on 10 October 1923 by Mrs. Edwin Denby, wife of the Secretary of the Navy, and commissioned on the same day with Commander Frank R. McCrary in command. Mrs. Denby named the airship after her home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and the word shenandoah was then believed to be a Native American word meaning “daughter of stars”.

Captain of the Shenandoah at the controls

In July 1924, the oiler Patoka put in at Norfolk Naval Shipyard for extensive modifications to become the Navy’s first airship tender. An experimental mooring mast 125 ft  above the water was constructed; additional accommodations both for the crew of Shenandoah and for the men who would handle and supply the airship were added; facilities for the helium, gasoline, and other supplies necessary for Shenandoah were built, as well as handling and stowage facilities for three seaplanes. Shenandoah engaged in a short series of mooring experiments with Patoka to determine the practicality of mobile fleet support of scouting airships. The first successful mooring was made on 8 August. During October 1924, Shenandoah flew from Lakehurst to California and on to Washington State to test newly erected mooring masts. This was the first flight of a rigid airship across North America.

USS Patoka

On 2 September 1925, Shenandoah departed Lakehurst on a promotional flight to the Midwest that would include flyovers of 40 cities and visits to state fairs. Testing of a new mooring mast at Dearborn, Michigan, was included in the schedule. While passing through an area of thunderstorms and turbulence over Ohio early in the morning of 3 September, during its 57th flight, the airship was caught in a violent updraft that carried it beyond the pressure limits of its gas bags. It was torn apart in the turbulence and crashed in several pieces near Caldwell, Ohio.

Based on the above it looks like the year was 1924. It will remain 1924 till I get told different!!!!!

A sommelier’s busman’s holiday

A busman’s holiday = a vacation or form of recreation that involves doing the same thing that one does at work.

A sommelier is one VERY knowledgeable about wine.

Daughter Holly is a sommelier by profession. She works for one of the largest wine distributors in the United States. So, what did she and her friend Michelle from work do on a recent weekend? Yep, you got it – they helped with the wine harvest. Michelle wrote up this account of their efforts for their fellow workers.

Holly and I went to Joseph Swan (vineyard) to help with Harvest.  One of us worked harder than the other…. 

Holly not working too hard

Michelle working hard crushing the grapes

Holly and I went expecting to work alongside the Interns and provide harvest support hoping to jump in a few places to help where we could.  We quickly realized that this was not the case.  There were no interns (except us).  It was the Rodfather and Cody to do it all and they were thrilled for any and all help.  It has been a few years since I jumped on top of a tank for hand punch downs and my arms are still screaming.  Holly was the pressure washer and sorting queen. 

I can honestly say the Syrah and many of the Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs have our actual sweat in them.  In addition to punch downs 3 times a day for each tank and bin (6 large ones and 6 smaller ones), they had just picked the Syrah from their estate (Trenton) early that morning and pulled in the Viognier later that morning as well.  We pressed off the Viognier first putting the tiny amount (5 bins) into a tank.  It was tasting great.  Rod decided to leave the Viognier skins inside the tank post press and sent the Syrah directly in after.  This will be their Syrah Rosé. 

After pressing off the Syrah it was time for cleaning up, pressure washing and of course more punch downs.  We left around 8 pm after enjoying some 2018 Rose in bottle and a rare taste of their Cabernet Sauvignon (only 20 cases made from a super small parcel within Trenton).  I have a whole new respect for Joseph Swan, Rod Berglund (Rodfather), Cody Sapieka and the entire staff that was hosting tasters as we worked around them.  Standing at the sorting table with the Rodfather, hearing his stories or his winemaking decisions or thoughts as it was happening was priceless. 

I am not sure Holly knew what she was getting into (just confirmed, she did not) when I asked if she wanted to join me, but she was a champ and impressive at every task.  Her love of power washing is unparalleled, and one might even say borderline obsessive.”

Holly crushing

Grapes just off the vine

Michelle power washing


Real story of one that got away – freight car that is ……

When Jim Johnson and his delightful wife were visiting our layout a short while back I asked him if he would share with stories about his life working on the railroad. This first one is a beauty!!!

In 1973 I was assigned to the extra board in Portola CA. This was the summer of 73 and every year about this time Stockton ran short of men and the company, Western Pacific, forced low seniority people to Stockton. The only way to get out of this was to bid and hold a regular job. I was determined that I was not going to Stockton so I bid on a midnight switch engine in Oroville, CA. I bid the job successfully and so began my summer in Oroville.

I don’t really remember the name of my ground crew but there were threee switchmen assigned to this job. One night instead of switching the yard we got the tramp duties to spot up industries outside the yard. So out the mainline west we went, a mile or so out to a place called Forest Products. We had two cars. One for Forest Products and one to go elsewhere. They were both behind the engine so the move out was a shoving move.

We got to Forest Products. We cut the one car off and left it on the main line and ducked into Forest Products. We spent about five minutes spotting up the car and then went back out to the main. As we entered the main the switchman jumped off the train to line the switch back. As he did so he looked up at my engineer’s window and threw his hands out to the side and exclaimed “Its gone. It’s gone”.

I looked out and realized that the car that we had left on the main was indeed gone. I looked further west down the mainline at the signal that was about a mile away. The signal that had been green was now red. Well. it’s downhill all the way to Marysville, 26 miles away. Away we went in chase of that car. I called the dispatcher, Gene Edgeman, and advised him of what was going on and advised him to stop any trains headed east and to call the SP dispatcher and advise him to stop their trains at the interlock at Marysville. About 12 miles down the main, just before Craig siding we caught up with the car doing 45 mph. We made a good joint with the runaway car and got stopped.

I did not go by any absolute signals but …….  We headed back for Oroville yard just knowing we were all fired when the dispatcher called us and advised no damage had been done and to forget about the incident. Ours jobs were intact. There was no one in the yard office, and no-one including the trainmaster was any the wiser. So. we put our car away and I went home with a solemn promise to myself  NOT to repeat this this again.

As I was reading this I thought what a great movie it would make.

Thanks Jim.

I couldn’t find any songs about runaway freight cars. But, I did remember this one from my childhood ……

How do you weigh a whale?

If you follow this blog at all you’ll realize that quite a few blogs are the result of my trying to answer questions from visitors to our layout.

In the middle of the summer whilst “on duty” I had a very serious conversation with a young boy who was bitterly disappointed that he was not going to go out to sea to pet a whale. It took quite a long time to explain to him that whales went up and down the coast on the whales schedule and not his. Near the end of our conversation (Mom was doing her best not to laugh) he came out with a zinger, “You said that whales weigh more than elephants.” I agreed that I said that. “Well, how do you know? Who weighs whales.” Mom saved me and I went for a cup of coffee.

Well an article has recently come to my attention which does answer his question. The article appeared on the BBC website and was written by a lady named Helen Briggs:

Until now it has only been possible to weigh whales once they have washed up dead on beaches. Now scientists have solved the conundrum, with the help of aerial photographs taken by drones.

Their model accurately calculated the body volume and mass of wild southern right whales. Already being used to assess the survival of calves, it has many potential uses in conservation. Body mass is a key factor in the success of whales as a group, determining their energy uses, food requirements and growth rates. Yet most of what we know about the body size of whales comes from old whaling literature or from animals that end up stranded on the beach or caught in fishing gear.

“It is very difficult to measure a whale on a scale – I mean you have to kill it to do it and that’s exactly what we’re avoiding here,” said study researcher Fredrik Christiansen from the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark.

Mother and calf Right Whale

Mother and calf Right Whale

The researchers studied southern Right whales, which gather in large numbers at their winter breeding grounds off the coast of Argentina. They flew a drone over whales swimming in clear water, capturing photographs when the adults and calves came up to the surface to breathe, including their backs and sides when they rolled over. They found they could get a good representation of the body shape of the whales, which they linked back to old whaling literature recording body length, girth and mass. They were then able to convert body shapes, or volumes, to mass.

3D model of a Right Whale

3D model of a Right Whale

“The ability to predict body mass from free-living whales opens up the opportunity for us to look at animals over time and look at how they change, how they grow,” said Prof Christiansen. 

Drone studies could help in conservation by monitoring the health of different whale populations in the oceans. The approach could also be used to estimate the size of other marine mammals by adjusting the model parameters.

Whales are the largest animals on this planet, ranging from the 4 ton pygmy Right whale to the 200 ton Blue whale.

Wherever you are young man I hope this helps.

The wreck of the Ole 97

I think that I have every record that the Seekers and their lead singer Judith Durham have ever made. I had the shuffle control on the other day and this one came up:

It sounded very authentic but, was it? The ‘net coughed up this vid which tells the “real story” better than I can:

At the end of the above vid is a reference to the original best-selling version of the record.:

I hope I am not the only twit around here who didn’t know the whole story!!!