The early steam driven sawmills needed three things – access to a shipping point, a supply of logs and water to feed the boilers. Every creek (they say “crick”) along the Mendocino coast was a site for a mill at one time or another. There are none left.
And, the mills came in every shape and size. Very few of the mills were very big. The largest by far (and the longest lived – over 100 years) was the Union Lumber Company Mill in Fort Bragg. Right is a gallery of mills that produced the redwood “gold” for over a century.
Union Lumber Company Mill at Fort Bragg in the 1920’s
In the gallery to the right are a series of postcards of the operations inside and outside of the Union Lumber Company Mill. The pictures are unusual because those taken inside the building use available light. All the pictures seem to have been taken in the 1920’s.
When we started the research for this website we had no inkling that there were any working steam powered saw mills in existence. Our research has found three within a reasonable (depending on your definition) distance from Fort Bragg:
- Roaring Camp and Big Trees at Felton (http://www.roaringcamp.com) – the mill is a very simple affair and does not operate very often.
- Hull Oaks Lumber Mill outside Monroe Oregon – This mill can still handle BIG trees – here is a link to a video and here is a link to a tour of the mill using photographs.
- Sturgeon’s Mill near Occidental. Occidental is but a hop, step and a jump from Fort Bragg (see map)
Mills of Mendocino County Edited by Alice Holmes and Wilbur Lawson
Published the Mendocino County Historical Society in 1996
A record of the Lumber Industry from 1852 to 1996 in Mendocino County. The book lists more than 900 mills that operated in Mendocino County. A brief description and the GPS of each mill is given.
Sawmill Modeling by Morgan Griffiths
Published 1998 by Paradise Publishers
This book was assist in building the mill for our G Scale layout, The Mendocino Coast Railroad and Navigation Company (read all about it here). Whilst the sub-title is “Sawmilling from 1850 to 1960 in the Truckee River Basin of Northern California” I it was felt there should be a lot of similarities with the numerous mills that were built along the Mendocino Coast from 1850 to the early 1940’s – the period our club is modeling.
Apart from the detailed plans of a small sawmill the book is full of useful facts. For instance – Lumber mill production is generally given in board feet. A board foot is 12 inches by 12 inches by 1 inch thick. Logs are also measured in board feet, but it is a fixed quantity depending on log diameter and length. This is referred to as board feet log scale. Alas, the two are not related. For example, a log which is 3 feet in diameter and 16 feet long has a volume of 113 cubic feet, or 1,356 board feet, log measure. However, if you allow for bark, sawdust and waste, the volume of lumber could be as little as 60 cubic feet, or 720 board feet, lumber measure.
The pictures in the book aren’t the world’s best but they do the job of informing the uninitiated. If you want to build or help build a sawmill for your layout the book provides a very good reference.