The winter of 1923-24, was one of the driest on record in California. That summer another record would be broken–forest fires. It was June, 1924, when the Red River Lumber Company having been in operation for over a decade experienced its first major forest fire. The fire broke out at Chester Flats between Camps 34 and 38 and burned a narrow strip of land, eight miles in length. Red River’s loss was minimal as the fire burned recently logged over land and the only significant damage was 500 cords of wood burned along 1,000 feet of railroad track. Red River considered its biggest loss was to the men fighting the fire which cost the company a $1,000 a day in wages, and it took a week to contain the fire. Continue reading Westwood’s Fire Train
This was a real misnomer, for it was not a hotel, but a boarding house in Westwood. Built in 1913, it was one of the first rooming houses constructed there for Red River’s employees. It was a substantial structure with 250 rooms. Initially it housed Spaniards, though in time many of them relocated across the millpond to Old Town. It was destroyed by fire on March 30, 1918.
Support this site and Subscribe today!
As we enter our fourth year of drought, let us hope it does not last as long the 1917-1937 drought. The most severe was the winter of 1923-24. Susanville received less than five inches of precipitation this year. It was so dry that winter that in the middle of March, a one-inch snow fall at Susanville caused great excitement. There was even a greater commotion when eighteen inches of snow fell. It disappeared in a matter of hours. That was the extent of precipitation for the winter. Continue reading The Drought
In August 2013, I led a Westwood Cemetery tour as part of that community’s centennial celebration. The graves that were highlighted, provided a different aspect to Westwood and the Red River Lumber Company.
Robert Stinson was born in Quincy in 1882, and followed in his father’s footsteps as a commercial photographer. It was a tough trade to operate a business in a rural region. So like many others it became necessary to be itinerate traveling from community to community for business. In 1913, Red River hired Stinson as their company photographer, who at the time was located in Red Bluff. Stinson’s main job was to make a complete photographic inventory of all the buildings being constructed in the town, as well as the sawmill plant. A portion of this collection exists in the T.B. Walker papers housed with the Minnesota Historical Society. Stinson just happened to be at the right place at the right time, when Lassen Peak set off a series of volcanic eruptions beginning in 1914. Unfortunately, for Stinson and other photographers such as P.J. Thompson, are overshadowed by that B.F. Loomis, but that is another story, for another time. Stinson stay at Westwood was brief and left Red River in 1915 to be replaced Otto Kratzer. On a final note, Red River always had an in-house photographer, though they also hired others for commercial work.
When the decision was finally made by the Red River Lumber Company to locate a mill at Mountain Meadows, there was still the obstacle of a railroad. Actually, the selection process was a volatile one, which one can read in Red River: The Early Years. On January 29, 1912, Red River entered into a contract with the Southern Pacific Railroad to construct a 125 mile railroad from Fernley, Nevada to Mountain Meadows, to the town that would be named Westwood. As an incentive, Red River guaranteed the Southern Pacific that all their freight would be handled by this line for a period of five years. In addition, it was understood that once Red River was ready to expand north, the Southern Pacific would extend its line to Klamath Falls, Oregon. However, that is another story, though Red River gave serious consideration to build a second mill near Lookout. Continue reading Westwood’s First Train
In the mid-1920s, Red River had two hydro-plants in operation to generate power. This abundant power supply created an unusual man-made landmark. Red River was able to conserve its sawdust/wood waste pile, which took on a life of its own as it started looking like a small mountain. This created a nice reserve of free fuel that was readily available at any time should there by interruptions from the hydro-plants. To comprehend just how large it was, a Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” column once designated it as the world’s largest waste pile. In 1941 it lost its status to Portland General Electric Company who reported having a 130-foot high pile of sawdust.
Anything of this magnitude created its own hazards. One of the first lessons learned was how to prevent it from spontaneous combustion. A conveyer belt, along with a steam shovel and caterpillar tractor were employed to constantly work on the sawdust pile—whether adding to it or feeding the conveyer belt to the power house. It was not unusual for a worker to get trapped in a sawdust pocket where one could easily die from suffocation. While no fatalities of this nature occurred, there was one death attributed to the sawdust pile. On the morning of January 20, 1925 Alexander Kollinkoff was killed when he was struck by a large piece of frozen sawdust while operating a steam shovel.
Red River also explored other ways to utilize this enormous wood waste pile. When the mill operated at full capacity it produced 400 hundred tons of sawdust and wood chips in a twenty-four period, over half of which was used to fuel the boilers in the powerhouse. In February 1927 Red River installed an interesting piece of machinery, one that manufactured the modern day version of briquettes. This impressive device was capable of compressing a ton of wood waste into briquettes every hour. About a third of the wood waste which it compressed into briquettes could be used for home use, camping or even at the plant itself.
The Red River Lumber Company operated many enterprises and it still as an influence concerning electricity to many residents of the region. From time to time when the Susanville area has a power outage, many times there will be a reference to the Hat Creek line. So you may ponder how did Hat Creek come to be? Continue reading Hat Creek Power
In 1865, John C. Wright located on the abandoned homestead of Thomas Pearson, who had perished in a snowstorm on New Years Day 1865. Wright as known locally was Coyote Jack, and hence the name of Jacks Valley. In 1869, he left for parts unknown. By 1880, this had become a crossroads for travelers as five different roads converged in the valley. Frank Fluery took advantage of the opportunity provided by this unique junction and established a saloon. In 1884, as one of Fluery’s patrons noted: “. . . for ten cents he will give you enough to make you happy to cause you to forget all your trials, troubles and tribulations for a time.” In 1889, Fluery sold to A. J. Conklin who operated the saloon for a number of years. In 1907, Conklin ventured into the lumber business and built a sawmill that had a daily capacity of 15,000 board feet. In 1920, Conklin sold the sawmill to William Johnson. Johnson operated the mill for three years and then sold to the Red River Lumber Company who immediately closed it. In August 1926, a forest fire ravaged the region that encompassed some 20,000 acres. The following year, the Red River Lumber Company established logging Camp 70 to salvage the burnt timber. This was one of that Company’s earliest truck logging camps. While those enterprises have long since faded into oblivion, a cement water trough remains and is still a recognized feature to travelers. In 1913, Thomas Hill and the County of Lassen constructed the water trough. For early motorists, it was a wonderful blessing, a source of water for overheated automobiles making the trip up Antelope Grade. For the next 80 years it was popular stop to drink the water and take a break, though it appears the water line has been disconnected. The trough is located ten miles north of Susanville on Highway 139. To learn more about other places throughout Lassen County see the Lassen County Almanac.
Red River operated numerous logging camps from 1913 through 1944 when it sold to Fruit Growers. The camps were assigned numbers, though in no particular order. The majority of the camps were short lived and only had a span of one to maybe three years. One of the more interesting camps was Camp 33, but referred to as Town Camp, as it was located less than a mile west of Westwood. What made it unique was that Red River’s company town of Westwood would experience from time to time a housing shortage for its employees. On occasion, this camp was used to house mill workers instead of loggers.
In 1861, Carlton Goodrich settled at Mountain Meadows and would become one of the largest property owners there, as his ranch totaled over 7,000 acres. He located his ranch house just west where the highway crosses Goodrich Creek, approximately across from where the old chimney stands. It became known as Mountain House and was a popular stop for weary travelers. In April 1875, Sylvester Daniels paid Goodrich a visit while touring the region and wrote, “I love these mountain folks. No aristocracy among them.” When Goodrich died in 1886, due to estate issues and the subsequent sale to John Crouch, the popular establishment closed. When the Red River Lumber Company established its Westwood operation, they transformed the old Goodrich ranch into a dairy.