Hell’s Gate Dam on Big River

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. 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.

We have modeled Hell’s Gate dam on our layout without much help in the form of old photos. Hence these three photos will be very valuable when we work on our Big River diorama in the coming winter. Click on the photos to enlarge them

Hell's Gate dam being built

Hell’s Gate dam being built

Hell's Gate Dam.

Hell’s Gate Dam.

Hell's Gate Dam

Hell’s Gate Dam


2 thoughts on “Hell’s Gate Dam on Big River

  1. More info Tony. When at UC Berkley Forestry, up in the forestry library back in the “”stacks””, there were thousands of old pictures from the north coast of logging and trains. it was open then but I am sure now closed to folks. IF no o0ne has checked, might be able to get a look at some of them. Believe they might have finally been cataloged instead of just in boxes and filing cabinets.

  2. Tony–A number of years ago when I worked for Calfire as a forester, I came across a dam on upper Valentine Creek out past Two Rock Lookout. It is/was on the old Williams ranch and appeared in fair shape–about 1990. Since retired don’t know who owns now but it might be worth while to try and get in to photograph. Just a heads up for you.

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