Robert Stinson

Robert Stinson
Robert Stinson’s grave at the Westwood Cemetery.

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.

Westwood’s First Train

First Train
First train to Westwood, February 21, 1914

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

Antelope Grade

The Spires
The Spires, Antelope Grade

Antelope Grade first came into existence in 1867 when a crude wagon road was constructed. Crude was a very appropriate term. With the increased population growth in Big Valley, the traveling public clamored for improvements to the grade. In the fall of 1878, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors sent a survey crew to plot a new road on the mountain. The county estimated the cost of the new grade at $1,000. Of that amount individuals had already contributed $300 to the cause. The county budgeted $300. The county stated the balance would have come from donations. A campaign to raise the funds from Big Valley and Hayden Hill provided the balance. By the summer of 1879, most of the work was completed, with volunteer labor making up the workforce.

While new grade was superior to the original one, it was still a narrow, treacherous road. Of course, accidents were a rather common occurrence. In November 1890, for instance, Lewis Knudson was returning to his Willow Creek home accompanied by Dave Thomas. Half way up the grade, they encountered William Brockman’s freight team. Knudson pulled his brand new spring wagon over to the edge of road as safely as possible. As Brockman’s team passed by, it spooked one of Knudson’s horses where the animal bolted and jumped off the grade, dragging the other horse and wagon down the mountain. The sudden jolt, threw Knudson out of the wagon, but fortunately he did not sustain any injuries. However, Dave Thomas was not as lucky. It was not until the wagon crashed into a large boulder that it came to an abrupt stop. At the point of impact, Thomas was thrown from the wagon, his left shoulder struck a rock and was dislocated.

In the mid-1880s, the grade received its first impromptu rest stop. About three-quarters up the grade, after road goes through a narrow canyon passage, dubbed “The Spires” is small level area containing a spring. A water trough was constructed and it provided a nice respite for the traveler and more importantly for their horses.

However, it would not be until the 1940s, when the current grade was built, and stayed tuned for that post.


Karlo, 1920

The Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad (NCO) did a great deal for the development of eastern Lassen County. As a result, a number of communities sprang up, some a mere outpost and others a bit more substantial. However, like the railroad, many in time would fade into oblivion.

In 1899, the (NCO) established a station in Secret Valley. Those residents thought it would become a major shipping point on the NCO, like its recent predecessor, Amedee, but that did not occur. This did not prevent James Sellick from constructing a two-story hotel at the Karlo Station that summer. The station was named for the DeCarlow Brothers—Alonzo Metardus (1868-1949), Charles William, and Walter Henry (1859-1949). Charles W. DeCarlow was the first member of the trio to arrive in Secret Valley when, in 1889, he and H.F. Buhrmeister purchased 200 acres from D.C. Hyer for $2,400. When the station was established in August 1899, there was confusion as to how to spell it. The locals spelled it Carlo, but the railroad clearly indicated it was K-A-R-L-O. The Lassen Advocate noted: “The management of that road seems to have a liking for short names and odd spellings following in the wake of the Postal Department in this respect.”  It is interesting to note the next station the railroad  established was named Termo.

Susanville’s First Deli

The Big Store
Susanville’s The Big Store as it appeared in 1916. Photograph courtesy of the Worley family

In 1866, David Knoch purchased a lot on Main Street for $1,400. This  address would later become known as 722 Main Street, the current home of Margie’s Book Nook since 1995. For the next 76 years three generations of the Knoch family operated the store. The current building was constructed in 1893, though it did received substantial damage from the 1900 fire.

In 1912, Fehr & Worley took over the helm of the general merchandise store, which they renamed the Big Store. Times were rapidly changing with the arrival of the railroad and lumber mills.  In 1919, Fehr & Worley did the first remodel of the building changing its exterior and interior. They also opened a new department inside the store, and a first for Susanville—a delicatessen.

Buggytown Ditch

Buggytown Ditch
Survey crew to enlarge the Buggytown ditch near Johnstonville, 1889. Courtesy of Betty Barry Deal

Originally known as Batcheldor & Adams ditch which portions were constructed in 1858. It later became known as Buggytown ditch, for the area just west of Leavitt Lake in the 1870s. It was so named as one of the first settlers possessed a buggy when such luxuries were rare on the frontier. The ditch/canal is what feeds into Leavitt Lake.


The tale of two Susans

Susan Arnold and Anna Hall
Susan Roop Arnold and Anna Hall at Constantia

While it is fairly common knowledge that the City of Susanville was named for the town founder’s daughter, Susan Roop, who later married Alexander T. Arnold. Many assume that the Susan River that flows through the community would also be named after Susan Roop.  However, that is not the case, because the river was so named, prior to Isaac Roop’s arrival on the scene.

Susan River, February 1972

During the years 1851-1852, William H. Nobles located a new emigrant road from Shasta, California to Lassen’s Meadows, Nevada. This road passed through the Honey Lake Valley. Nobles named the Susan River for his wife, Susan Parker Nobles.  While we know a lot about Susan Roop Arnold, very little is known about Susan Parker Nobles. She resided in Minnesota for the majority of her married life, moving to California when her husband, Nobles, died in 1876.

Amedee Hot Springs

Amedee Bath House
Amedee Bath House courtesy of John M. Gibson

The springs were originally referred to as Lower Hot Springs. In the 1880s they were also known as Brubeck Springs, for the owner of the property, L.W. Brubeck. The name was changed to Amedee with the establishment of the town. A unique feature of the springs was a geyser. In 1854, Lt. E.G. Beckwith, during his exploration of a transcontinental railroad route visited the hot springs and noted that the geyser consisted of a column of water twenty inches in diameter. The geyser was quite an attraction when the town was established. Amos Lane, bartender and inventor, devised a clock to measure spurts of the geyser that rose and fell at intervals of 38 seconds. At times the geyser would shoot as high as eight feet. The geyser ceased to exist in May 1893, as the ground around the springs cracked and allowed the steam to escape.

 The hot springs became a focal point in the town of Amedee. The springs were heralded for their curative properties and the first public bathhouse opened in 1892. In 1900, Arthur Holland appeared on the scene to transform Amedee into a health resort. Holland dubbed his enterprise the “Karlsbad of America,” a bold attempt to associate it with the famed Czech resort. Holland’s venture never materialized in the grandeur he desired and he abandoned the project within a years’ time. The bathhouses, like the town, slowly deteriorated into oblivion.

Amedee Bath
Amedee Bath House courtesy of Tom Armstrong

         In 1984, Matti Ripatti and California Hydro Systems recognized the geothermal potential of the springs. They applied to the Lassen County Planning Department for a permit to construct a geothermal plant there. The permit was granted and in 1988 the power plant was constructed.


Westwood Saw Dust Pile

sawdust 1 purdy

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.

Felion Sawdust

Pigeon Cliffs

Pigeon Cliffs, 1899
Susan River Canyon, looking towards Pigeon Cliffs, 1899

Can anyone enlighten me how Pigeon Cliffs, located in the Susan River Canyon, just west of Susanville received its name? A good portion of my childhood during the 1960s was spent exploring the Susan River Canyon. In all my years, I never seen any pigeons there. Some of the rock debris below the cliffs came from when Highway 36 was being constructed into Susanville in 1921, and the contractor pushed the rocks over the cliffs to make the current roadway.

Pigeon Cliffs
Pigeon Cliffs, 1972