While there were numerous proposals to construct dams in the Susan River Canyon very few ever came to fruition. This dam was constructed in 1886 on the Susan River about a half-mile above Hobo Camp. It was an impressive structure being 250 feet long and 25 feet high. It created a reservoir in which water was backed up over a mile. The dam was constructed to provide waterpower for a sawmill at the location to be featured in a future post. The sawmill and subsequent power plant was destroyed by fire in 1894. The sawmill was never rebuilt and the power plant located downstream where a flume from the dam provided the waterpower. By 1900, this too, had gone by the wayside, and residents were concerned about a possible dam failure, flooding people downstream. In 1906, some unknown party attempted to blow up the dam with explosives, but not familiar, did little damage. Between the railroad construction, in 1913, and time the dam slowly deteriorated. During the drought of 1977, the foundations of the dam were revealed.
If you were gainfully employed in Lassen County in the early 1880s, the following was the prevailing wage. Regular farm hands with board were paid $30 to $40 a month. If you happen to just work at harvest time such as haying $2 a day, and possibly board. The sheep industry was a major component in Lassen County’s agricultural community and sheepherders salary ranged from $25 to $40 a month. The task of sheep shearing was paid at 6 cents a head.
In the lumber industry the head sawyer was paid $75 a month, plus board, while the average mill worker received $40 a month plus board. Since firewood was a much needed commodity those laborers were paid on the average 75 cents per cord.
When the Red River Lumber Company moved its operation from Minnesota to Westwood, California it would become quite the learning experience for the company. In addition, the company’s founder, T.B. Walker, desired that the California operation be under the full responsibility of his five sons, which was easier said than done.
One of the sons, Fletcher Walker, was the resident manager of Westwood and had more or less full control of the operations. However, it was necessary for Fletcher to keep his father and brothers informed of the company’s activities, especially since it cost $3,5 million to construct the company town of Westwood during the 1912-1914 era. In addition, another $3.7 million was spent on the purchase of 800,000 acres of timberland in Northern California.
One of the many early family disputes was where to locate the company’s first mill, (there were plans for several small mills throughout Northern California) which would eventually be the location of Westwood. One of the biggest concerns of the Westwood site was that it was located in a snow-belt region. This would have a ripple effect on operations because more kilns would be needed to dry the lumber to hindering logging operations.
Whatever the case may be, it was Fletcher’s goal to operate Red River year round, much to the chagrin of his father. On February 25, 1915, T.B. wrote to Fletcher criticizing him for running the mill during winter storms, and that he should just shut it down. T.B. commented: “I have never expected that we could run all year in the mountains of California. I had in mind when I was securing the millsite where you built, that this would likely be about a nine or ten month’s milling job.” T.B. then chastised Fletcher’s decision to cut white fir and second-class pine trees. Again, T.B. commented, “If we get a mixed lot of lumber cut, considerable of which will pay us no more than the milling and marketing will cost, it will leave us behind in meeting our obligations. I have never figured on cutting timber in California, clean.” T.B. continued to stress in only cutting the best timber to turn it into money to meet its many obligations, especially taxes and bond payments. In addition, Fletcher stated he needed at least a half million dollars to finish the plant. In conclusion, T.B. was sympathetic when he wrote, “I realize the disadvantages and drawbacks that you work under in trying to build a milling plant out in the open woods, with everything to contend with, and where logging, sawing, handling, cutting up and shipping are all at a serious disadvantage, and where you have more or less bad weather, in the winter at least, that naturally makes it an up-hill battle.”
Finally, Fletcher questioned his father’s judgment on the ease of operating a winter mill in Minnesota, and remarked, “I never discovered that it was an easy operation to get through four months of cold and snow.”
The following year T.B. again requested Fletcher to shut down the logging operations in the winter as it was just plain too costly. Fletcher agreed the winter operations operated at a loss. However, his justification was that outfits such as McCloud River Lumber Company that called it “quits” in the sawmill operation on November 1 placed Red River at an advantage by having a ready supply of lumber. In summation, Fletcher wrote, “In place of our figuring from this end on closing down, we have been figuring carefully the pros and cons of taking advantage of the bulging market to produce a bunch of timber of lumber this summer and make a real killing.”
Whatever the case may be, it was a lesson learned and not repeated, so in 1918 Red River discontinued its attempt at year-round logging. One practice that Red River implemented like other large lumber concerns of Northern California of the era was to harvest addition logs during the fair weather season, to have a stockpile to keep the sawmill in operation during the winter months.
To wrap of the long holiday weekend I share a couple of logging photographs of the Lassen Lumber & Box Company that are provided by Ron Linebarger . Lassen Lumber’s main logging camp, was that of Camp Lasco at the base of Peg leg Mountain that was more or less shuttered in 1929.
Antelope Mountain on the west side of Eagle Lake. On July 28, 1924 a fire broke out from a steam donkey engine of the Fruit Growers Supply Company near Camp D. In the aftermath Fruit Growers constructed fire lines. The Lassen National Forest sent a bill to Fruit Growers for $156,000. In a negotiated settlement Fruit Growers agreed to replant 2,000 acres of forest service land and to contribute $1,500 annually for a ten year period for reforestation.
It came to forefront in 1924 when a fire broke out on the west slope of the mountain that destroyed 7,000 acres to timberland. The fire had a legacy when a lookout was built on top, along with the first reforestation program in Lassen County.
A Civilian Conservation Corp Camp operated at Halls Flat, near Poison Lake, in western Lassen County, from 1933-1942. The camp provided the manpower for the Lassen National Forest’s nearby Blacks Mountain Experimental Forest. This CCC camp did everything from the actual logging of pine beetle infested trees (1.6 million board feet in 1938) to grazing studies and range habitat improvements.
When Fruit Growers established their Lassen Operation they purchased two billion board feet of timber to the west of Eagle Lake. In 1921, Fruit Growers established its second logging camp, designated as Camp B. Many of their camps were portable in nature, in that once an area was logged, the cabins and other buildings could be conveniently be put on railroad cars and moved to the next location.
Camp B was unique as it was a mixture of both portable and permanent buildings. It was one of their largest camps that could house over 300 men. While the camp closed by 1926, its concrete foundations for the commissary, along with other remnants can still be seen today. Fruit Growers had a reputation of taking good care of their employees. This was evident at Camp B whereby motion pictures were shown. In addition, the logging camps even had their own baseball teams. This is rather amazing since these men who worked ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week still had the energy left to play ball.
Camp Harvey was a railroad logging camp during the 1940s of the Red River Lumber Company and later Fruit Growers Supply Company and located approximately 20 miles east of Poison Lake.
The cookhouses in logging camps always operated at a loss. However, a cookhouse could make or a break a camp—poor food resulted in an exodus of loggers. In 1948, Fruit Growers raised the price of a meal to one dollar at Camps Harvey and Stanford, and the complaints were loud and clear. Fruit Growers instead of losing 36 cents per meal, they only lost 8 cents.
In 1949, Fruit Growers leased the cookhouses and commissaries at those two camps to H.S. Anderson Company for one dollar. Fruit Growers thought maybe an outside company could handle the operations for more efficiently. They would never find an answer.
By the end of May the cookhouse crews represented by Local 769 of the Bartenders and Culinary Workers Union walked off the job in a wage and hour dispute. Logging came to standstill. The two camps with a population of nearly 500 became ghost towns, with Robert Simons and Harry Beal remaining as caretakers. After the weeks went on and no end to the strike Fruit Growers closed down the camps permanently. In addition, they abandoned that railroad logging line.
On the front page of the Lassen County Times of November 8, 1978, there was a bit of irony one of the falling a large sugar pine tree, which running next to it a story of the Westwood Cemetery dispute involving logging.
On November 6, 1978 Ernest Cluck felled the 432 foot sugar pine tree that contained 16,000 plus board feet. It was part of timber sale that Beaty & Associates sold to Sierra Pacific of Susanville, though article failed to mention where the tree was located.