On being a Historian

A while back a lady asked what it was like being the historian for our club (the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society). It was not the sort of question I get every day for sure. The two words I used to answer her were, “Interesting,” and “Time Consuming.”

I am currently wading through Volume IV,  California, of the Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History by a man named Donald R. Robertson. I wish I had read the section, “Afterwords” before the lady had asked me the above question. He said,

If anyone reading these words plans to take on the project of writing a history of something, and sets a time frame for it, disabuse yourself of any time limits that you set. As soon as you start you will find avenues that lead you to other resources, And those resources will lead you to others and on and on it will go.”

Is that the truth. Our website – 450 pages of text, 1,500 photos, 600 plus blogs – started off as a loose leaf binder of “bits” I had collected. I have “stuff” from over 100 books and two large boxes of “bits” to sift through and add to the website and more arrives daily.

Mr. Robertson adds this quote in the last paragraph in his “Afterwords.”

In April, 1905, an author known only as “The Compiler” wrote of his difficulties in writing a history of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Some excerpts from that work: “No person who reads this little history will, from the reading thereof, be able to form any conception of the difficulties that have been encountered in getting together the data that form the basis thereof. In the nearly 69 years that have intervened since its charter, more than a generation of men have passed away. Documents, that to them were trivial and valueless but that would have been above price now were destroyed, lost or so scattered that much time has been used in digging out a very small part of them from oblivion. Other documents passed out of existence when the (rail)roads died, became bankrupt, sold or consolidated or otherwise vanished. This little history has cost more time and labor than would have required to write a fair history of the last hundred years of the United States.”



1868 Topo and Railroad Map of California

In a blog a few days ago I was seeking additional info on Bourns or Bowens Landing, a shipping point on the Mendocino Coast in the late 1800’s. A logical step seemed to be to search the internet for old maps to see if Bourns Landing existed and or when it existed. As I had plenty of time whilst I was here in the Bone Marrow Transplant unit at Stanford University Hospital I was able to spend a fair amount of time trundling around the ‘net. The good news is I did find some old maps of California which, with webmaster Roger Thornburn’s inestimable assistance, I “liberated”.

Below is a Topographical and Railroad Map of the States of California and Nevada made by A.C. Frey & Co. in 1868. Whomever scanned it did a wunderbar job ‘cos the detail when you enlarge it on the screen is stupendous.

1868 Topo & Railroad Map of California & Nevada

1868 Topo & Railroad Map of California & Nevada

Below is the Mendocino County section which I have “cut out” of the “big” map so that I could see the detail. And that’s what so interesting ….. how little detail there is and how different places/rivers were known.

1868 Topo & Railroad Map of California & Nevada - Mendocino County Section

1868 Topo & Railroad Map of California & Nevada – Mendocino County Section

Fort Bragg is shown as Camp Bragg

Big River is shown with a Spanish name, Rio Grande …. New to me.

Gualala River is shown as Gasseir River …. Again, new to me.

Ukiah is Ukiah City and on the road south of Ukiah, per the map, there are two towns I have never heard of: Parkers and Felix – Wikipedia hasn’t heard of them either!!!!

Navarro is shown as being on the coast versus where it is now 14 miles from the sea along Highway 128 ….. the Navarro on the coast we now know as Navarro by the Sea.

Now here’s a couple of juicy ones …..

Number one ….. look at the bottom right hand corner of the map. Quicksilver mines? Quicksilver mines? Did you know there were quicksilver mines near Santa Rosa? There were. Check out this link and you can read all about them.

Number two …. Anderson is shown as a place. Anderson was located about 1 mile northwest of Boonville. The town had a store, hotel, and blacksmith. A post office operated at Anderson from 1858 to 1875 when service was transferred to Boonville. The name honored Walter Anderson who settled the place in 1851.

Boonville was founded by John Burgots in 1862. The place was originally called The Corners. Burgots built a hotel, and in 1864 Alonzo Kendall built another hotel. The town became known as Kendall’s City. W.W. Boone bought a store in town and gave the place its current name. Although Boonville existed when the map was made it didn’t make it the map.

I’d never looked up Anderson Valley in Wikipedia ….. wished I had. Here’s a very interesting quote …. None of which I knew ….

“Early Native American inhabitants of Anderson Valley were speakers of two of the seven Pomoan languages. The Late Pomo of what is now the Yorkville area spoke the Central Pomo language. The Tabahtea (Tah-bah-tay) Pomo of the Boonville area west to Navarro spoke the Northern Pomo language. These residents occupied nineteen known village sites, with an estimated population of 600 in 1855.

The early European American settlers of Anderson Valley arrived after 1850. They practiced subsistence farming and expanded into resource extraction economies based on timber harvesting and livestock ranching. Some of the first European American settlers included Henry Beeson (who took part in the Bear Flag Revolt), his brother Isaac Beeson and William Anderson, their stepbrother, for whom the valley was named.

John Gschwend established the first water powered lumber mill along the Navarro River in 1857, and Thomas Hiatt built the first steam powered lumber mill in 1877 near present day Boonville. In 1880 a human population of around 1,000 maintained 75,000 head of sheep and 20,000 head of cattle. Commercial production of apples and hops began before the turn of the century, along with the development of Boontling, the local folk language.”

No Bowen’s Landing on the map so in 1868 ………

Wow, how do I get all this into the website ….. guess I am going to be busy ………

Colin Menzies 1:24 Scale Scratchbuilt Caboose

Before Colin died he gave me one of the earlier models that he built, a 1:24 Scale Caboose. The model has languished on the shelf of my train room for several years because, because ……..

When I was preparing for stages 1 and 2 of my BMT (Bone Marrow Transplant) I had to move it. Alas, it had suffered minor, but repairable damage. My neuropathy (lack of feeling at the end of my fingers – a side effect of the chemo) caused me to doubt my ability to repair it without messing it up. So, I turned to Jim Williams, club member, electronics wiz and fixer of little things and asked him if he could “fix it” and mount it onto a piece of track. This Jim did brilliantly.

The next step was to ask webmaster, movie director and photographer Roger Thornburn to create a gallery of pics of Colin’s masterpiece. No prob, as you can see in a couple of his pics below.

Colins Caboose

The last step was to have trackmaster and Skunk Conductor and Motorman,  Deb Smith donate the model to Robert Pinoli, the capo di capo of the Skunk Train who has agreed to display it along with Colin’s Steam donkey at the CWR (California Western Railway) depot in Fort Bragg.

I like it.


Last Train Over the Pudding Creek Trestle?

Quite some years ago I was given a home movie belonging to a local (Fort Bragg) resident which I was told contained a brief scene of one of the last logging loads from the Ten Mile Basin to the Union Lumber Mill in Fort Bragg. Thanks to webmaster Roger Thornburn I now have the software to “cut” the “bit” from the home movie.

The movie was some two hours long and it took quite a lot of time/patience to find the less than one minute of video. But, I did find it ….. and here it is.

The  buildings on the right of the beach in the middle of the movie are, I believe, changing facilities and were, again – I think, put there by the local Rotary Club. If I am wrong I would love to be told so.

If anyone has any more movies of Mendocino Coast logging operations they would like to contribute to our website we would be delighted to have them.

Places which are now only names – Alpine, Christine, Duffey, Iveson and Salmon Creek

When I was “down south” yet again last week doing tests in anticipation of my BMT (Bone marrow Transplant) I was reviewing the “Towns” section of the website. I was “upset” that the info we have on places which have all but disappeared is really “thin”. I started searching the ‘net to see if there was info that I could use in the website to “fill out” what little we know of some of these long gone communities. I found precious little so I figured I had little to lose from asking if anyone “out there” has “dope” on any of these places that they would be willing to share. Below is a list of “towns” I am interested in.

Alpine – or Alpine Junction was located on the Californai Western Railroad (Skunk Line) (CWR) 12 miles north of Comptche. It was a thriving community bigger that Fort Bragg in its heyday.

Christine – was a settlement located on a stage coach line 6.5 miles northwest of Philo at the end of the Albion Lumber Company Railroad. A post office operated at Christine from 1874 to 1912, with a closure during part of 1910. The original white settlers were a set of Swiss families, one of which had a daughter with the name Christine, after whom the town was named.

Duffey – was located 2.25 miles east of Gracy. It was connected by a branch line to the CWR and had a mill. A post office operated at Duffey from 1904 to 1912.

Gracy – A post office operated at Gracy from 1896 to 1908, moving in 1899, 1902, and 1905. It was located on the CWR 16 miles east of Fort Bragg.

Iverson (also spelled Iversen) was located 5 miles (8 km) south of Point Arena. A post office operated at Iverson from 1890 to 1910. The name honored Charles Iverson.

Salmon Creek was located near the site of present-day Whitesbro. There was a mill there.

Logging Big Wheels at the rear of the Guest House in Fort Bragg – their origin?

When I posted my blog on “Claude Monet and Logging Big Wheels” I included a picture of the big wheels at the back of the Guest House in Fort Bragg:

Logging Wheels at the back of the Guest House Museum in Fort Bragg

Logging Wheels at the back of the Guest House Museum in Fort Bragg

The last time I looked there was no notice/information board by the wheels to indicate their origin. Clearly, they must have been used somewhere along the Mendocino Coast to be here …… but where?

I have this picture in my “collection”:

Logging wheels in Big River at Mendocino

Logging wheels in Big River at Mendocino

If you compare the size of the wheels and the man in the above picture it seems unlikely that these big wheels are the Guest House Wheels.

So, can anyone give me some help on the source of the Guest House wheels?

Claude Monet and Logging Big Wheels

If you are wondering if I have finally lost it connecting a 19th century French  Impressionist painter and logging big wheels read on and decide for yourself ……

First, what are big wheels or as they were also called – high wheels, logging wheels, logger wheels, lumbering wheels, bummer carts, katydids or nibs? Logging wheels were a specially designed large set of wooden wagon wheels that could carry logs that were up to 100 feet in length, several at a time.

Restored logging wheels from Michigan

Restored logging wheels from Michigan

Michigan logging wheels (big wheels) were invented by Silas C. Overpack in 1875. Overpack lived in Michigan which, at the time, was the nation’s leading producer of lumber. His equipment could be identified as genuine as it was always painted red – see picture above.

How were they “invented”? Overpack was a wheelwright in Manistee, Michigan around 1875, when he was approached by a farmer to build a set of 8 feet wagon wheels. He built these unusually large wagon wheels and sold them to the local farmer. Time passed and later this same farmer returned asking Overpack for an even larger set of wagon wheels. Overpack was very curious by this time. He asked the farmer what he was doing with such large wagon wheels. The farmer replied he was using them to skid logs and, as they say, the rest was history.

Now for the Claude Monet bit. When I was going to and from getting chemo earlier this week I was reading the latest copy of the Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette (the Gazette). I was taken by a letter to the editor by John Nicoles. John pointed out that the invention of Logging Wheels may not have been in the USA at all ….. but possibly in France. Look at the 1864 painting by Claude Monet below:

Painting by Claude Monet in 1864

Painting by Claude Monet in 1864

….. Sure looks like Logging wheels to me!!!!

Having marveled at John’s research I realized (a) that there is no page on logging wheels in our website (to be rectified soon) and (b) a pair of logging wheels still exist right here in Fort Bragg at the back of the Guest House Museum – see pic below.

Logging Wheels at the back of the Guest House Museum in Fort Bragg

Logging Wheels at the back of the Guest House Museum in Fort Bragg

The Fort Bragg wheels are original but over at Roots of Motive Power there is a set of “modern” ones:

Logging Wheels at Roots of Motive Power

Logging Wheels at Roots of Motive Power

If you want to make a pair for your railroad consult the May/June 2012 edition of the Gazette. In there is, as John Nicoles points out, a superb article by Dick Whitney entitled, “ 1:20.3 Scale Logging High Wheels” which shows you how, step by step.


Climbing a Spar Tree

When Roger (Thornburn) and I set out to create this website a million moons ago Roger really put me through the hoops about “getting the structure right”. He did a good job ‘cos we’re/I’m at the point where I am back tracking over material I have laid aside which I am using to “flesh out” the pages we have created. One of the “thin” pages is the one on the spar tree – a vital part of the operation to bring the fallen trees from where they were cut to the landing area where they could be loaded onto the train to take them to the mill.

When I was looking for the article on tools needed to Climb a 270 foot high Redwood Tree for my geriatric friend (see this blog) I came across another article by Jerry (Gerald F.) Beranek, a local faller, on climbing a spar tree. I took it with me to read when I had my PICC line replaced this morning. For someone who these days gets dizzy when he shuts his eyes in the shower the article is quite terrifying BUT, it does provide a fascinating glimpse of what it takes to go to the top of a spar tree. It’ll be a great addition to our spar tree page. I’ll have Roger add it to the spar tree section in a day or so.

Have a read for yourself.