Tag Archives: Agricultural

Milford Flour Mill

Milford Flour Mill
The abandoned Milford Flour Mill as it appeared in 1901. Courtesy of the A.J. Mathews family

One of the first agricultural enterprises undertaken in Lassen County was the establishment of flourmills. Due to the region’s isolation during the 1800s it was important for the region to self sustain itself. One of the most important products needed by the residents was flour. In 1861, J.C. Wemple and Judson Dakin built the region’s first flour mill at Milford. In 1882, H.H. Dakin, built a larger, more efficient mill at Janesville, which eventually replaced the Milford mill. The Milford mill did remain in operation until the late 1880s. In the 1890s, the mill was abandoned and in the early 1900s it finally collapsed. Other flourmills were established at Bieber, Janesville, Johnstonville and Susanville, more on those later.


Alfalfa Weevil Infestation

The inspection station at Jacks Valley, ten miles north of Susanville. It operated from 1931-1934.  Many folks know the location as the cement water trough on Highway 139.

Most people may not be aware the agricultural inspection stations originated with an alfalfa weevil infestation in the southern portion of Lassen County in 1921. The county originally conducted the operations, and in 1923, the state took over.

The infestations spread and more stations were opened one just west of Susanville near the present day intersection of Highway 36 and Eagle Lake Road. Another one ten miles north of Susanville, just before approaching Willow Creek Valley.  These would later be replaced and in 1953, the main station was at Long Valley. In 1976, when the segment of highway 395 was to become a divided highway, the station was in limbo, and the current one was put into place in 1986.



Wild Horses

Wild Gatheres
In 1978, the Sierra Club published The Wild Horse Gatherers. It is an illustrated story of BLM’s wild horse round-up locally.

Note: Margie’s Book Nook has received a couple copies of The Wild Horse Gatherers. First come, first serve. There are some other out of print books that the store has recently received.

A hundred years ago, the wild horse population was kept under control by out of work wranglers. During the winter months, it was not unusual for ranches to let go extra help, especially single men. A number of these men, would take a 160 acre desert homestead to make a home, especially properties with unclaimed springs. To make some extra money, they would catch wild horses and break them. By spring they would sell the horses, and pocket the money. Continue reading Wild Horses

The Iron Horse Irony

Leona Jackson posing in front a locomotive at the Susanville Depot, 1919.

When the Fernley & Lassen Railroad was built through a major segment of the Honey Lake Valley, the residents rejoiced. This was especially true for the agricultural community. One of the major crop exports was apples, and now there was an easy and efficient way to ship them.

Yet, on the other hand, no one knew what to expect when the Red River Lumber Company established its company town. Again, the agricultural community was a main benefactor. In a sense, the railroad was not needed to ship meats and produce out of the area, but to ship to Westwood, a new town that had to be fed. When the mills of Fruit Growers and Lassen Lumber were established in Susanville, that increased the demand for more local products.


Leavitt Lake

Leavitt Lake
Leavitt Lake, 1938

Believe it or not, it is a natural sink. According to the Government Land Office Survey designated it as Alkali Lake. It was still referred to as such as late as 1889. In 1875, Benjamin H. Leavitt constructed a small reservoir at that location. In 1889, the reservoir was enlarged. When construction was underway, Victor E. Perry, Leavitt’s son-in-law, worked on the dam. Perry planted a gold nugget there and when it was discovered it caused great excitement with the other workers. Leavitt informed the construction workers that they could keep whatever gold they might find, as long as it did not interfere with the construction. With that incentive, the men worked twice as fast to build the reservoir, in hopes of locating more gold.


The Government Land Office

Susanville's Knoch Building, 1900. For many years it housed the Government Land Office. Courtesy of Philip S. Hall
Susanville’s Knoch Building, 1900. For many years it housed the Government Land Office. Courtesy of Philip S. Hall

The United States Government Land Office played an important role in the development of region locally, as well as across the western United States. It was through the Government Land Office (GLO) is where a person went to file for a federal and, in certain instance a state, land claim, once the region was officially surveyed by the government. Continue reading The Government Land Office

Honey Lake’s Sugar Beet Experiment

The Zarbock Brothers on their desert homestead near Stacy. Courtesy of Pam Zarbock Bell
The Zarbock Brothers on their desert homestead near Stacy. Courtesy of Pam Zarbock Bell

In 1910, the Nevada Sugar Company of Fallon, Nevada came courting Honey Lake Valley farmers in the Standish district, as well those homesteaders on the east side of Honey Lake to plant sugar beets. One of the reasons, was the Nevada Sugar Company was in the midst of constructing a $600,000 factory at Fallon.

As an enticement the company stated it would build a second factory at Standish if production was successful and needed transportation facilities. In 1912, with the announcement of Fernley & Lassen Railroad to be constructed through this section of the Honey Lake Valley solved that transportation issue.

It should be noted that in 1911 was the first irrigation season of the Standish Water Company’s pumping plant on Honey Lake’s eastern shore.  In that year they provided water for 1,000 acres that was planted in sugar beets, with the Nevada Sugar Company providing the seed. No  one locally knew anything about growing sugar beets, but they learned quickly. One of the biggest problems encountered  with beet production was the amount of labor required. The problem was compounded as there was a local labor shortage, and then there were those who did not want to work in beet fields. To alleviate the problem 25 Japanese laborers were brought in to assist. Their tenure was brief, even though it was reported they worked twice as fast at a cheaper price.

There were two other problems that ended the experiment. First there was not an adequate water supply and the beets were substandard. It was not only a problem locally, but in Fallon as well for in 1917 the beet factory there closed.

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Susanville – Cy’s Dairy

The flooded dairy, April 1938. Courtesy of Betty Barry Deal
The flooded dairy, April 1938. Courtesy of Betty Barry Deal

In 1909, Cy Houghton arrived in Lassen County. After the establishment of Westwood, Cy went to work for the Red River Lumber Company. In 1934, he located to Susanville and opened a dairy, which is now Memorial Park.  In 1938, the dairy received extensive damage from the Piute Creek flood. At one point he considered abandoning the dairy, but changed his mind. In 1942, Cy’s Dairy closed for business. Not one to be idle, Cy later went to work for Sierra Army Depot and retired from the place in 1957.

Another view. Most people know this site today as Susanville Supermarket
Another view. Most people know this site today as Susanville Supermarket. Courtesy of Betty Barry Deal


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Lassen County Fair

logging expo
Red River Lumber Company’s 16 foot big wheels and team with a 2 1/2 ton log at the 1923 Lassen County Fair.

This being Lassen County Fair week, it is only fitting to have an article about the fair.  The first fair was held in 1878, a regional one that comprised the residents of Lassen, Modoc and Plumas Counties.  While it was desirous to make it an annual event it was fraught with financial problems.

What we consider the current Lassen County Fair was established in 1922, with five men who organized it. At that time major changes had taken place in the county with the establishment of three large lumber mills–Fruit Growers Supply Company, Lassen Lumber & Box Company and the Red River Lumber Company.  Lumber was now king in Lassen County. Besides the traditional horse racing and such, a new feature was added to reflect the community at large, the logging shows. This was a big attraction for the Lassen County Fair for over seventy years, though with the dwindling decline of the lumber industry, this feature was eventually cancelled.

However, in 1923, the first logging exhibition at the Lassen County Fair was certainly noteworthy. For many attendees it was the first time they were able to witness the current logging methods of the “big wheels.”  The Fruit Growers Supply Company won top honors in this category. It should be noted by 1927, the lumber companies began phasing out the “big wheels” for the motorized Caterpillar traction engines.

A full story how the Lassen County Fair has evolved since 1878 can be found in the latest issue of the California Traveler.

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Ferdinand Zarbock, Desert Homesteader

The Zarbock homestead. Carl R. Caudle Collection
The Zarbock homestead. Carl R. Caudle Collection

Reclamation of the arid American west is certainly an interesting chapter in the nation’s history. Some of these projects were fraudulent, and others not.

Numerous individuals saw huge potential to reclaim the sagebrush lands of the eastern segment of the Honey Lake Valley.  Some of these developers were passionate about their projects and would devote their entire lives and resources in hopes to see it come to fruition, but in many cases the projects never succeeded, for one reason or another. A perfect example was that of Capt. C.A. Merrill who saw the potential of Eagle Lake to reclaim the sagebrush plain of eastern Honey Lake Valley. He began his quest in 1875, and continued until his death 1901. Twenty-two years later, Leon Bly completed Merrill’s dream, only to see it end in dismal failure.

Promotion to entice settlers was a key component as providing an adequate and reliable water supply. When the Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad finally entered the Honey Lake Valley in 1888, it brought awareness of the possibilities. A second wave of publicity occurred during the 1906-1912 era with the construction of Fernley & Lassen and Western Pacific railroads through the region. This also just happened to occur during the dry farming movement, which was successful for a time locally with a string of ten years of higher than normal precipitation.

Of course, people from the eastern United States and Europe, as well, were easily lured with the thought of owning land at bargain prices. People from all walks of life arrived, some like Carl Caudle, a civil engineer, would spent the rest of their lives there and others after a couple years of a hardscrabble existence moved on.

Sometime around 1915, Minnesota resident, Ferdinand Zarbock arrived in the eastern Honey Lake Valley and filed a desert homestead 160 acre claim adjacent to the railroad town of Stacy. He was joined for a brief time by his brother, Fred. In the spring of 1916, it was reported that Ferdinand had received a shipment of seed potatoes from Colorado to plant on his property. At this time, we do not know much about his activities there. In 1917, he did receive a federal land property for the property.  However, there was something looming  larger on the horizon, that had a major impact on the lives of so many. In 1918, Ferdinand was drafted in World War I.   At that time,  he deeded over his property to his brother Fred who had returned to Minnesota. After the conclusion of the war, his brother then re-deeded the property back to Ferdinand, who had returned to Minnesota instead of the Honey Lake Valley. This was a common practice for many individuals. Places like eastern Honey Lake Valley and the Madeline Plains were depopulated during the war, and those residents never returned, leaving abandoned homesteads scattered throughout the country. On a bright note for Zarbock, in 1920, he sold his homestead to W.R. Tait for $500. Many were not as fortunate and their abandoned properties were later sold for delinquent taxes.

In a related matter, I highly recommend Sarah Old’s homestead experiences adjacent to the Honey Lake Valley which her memoirs were published in a book entitled Twenty Miles from a Match. In Susanville, you can purchase it at Margie’s Book Nook.

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