Yes, there really were redwood pipes (see picture right). Our Train Society members have held pieces of a 100 year old piece of pipe which were still sound. Wooden pipes were used between 1885 and 1935 in the water system in Fort Bragg. 20 foot logs were bored to 6" diameter with an auger and the ends were bound with iron hoops which usually rusted before the wood rotted. The small ends of the pipe were driven into the larger and locked with a wooden plug.
Redwood pipes were an important product for the mills at Cleone and Mill Creek.
Kitty corner to where we are constructing our layout in the Skunk yard is a squarish wooden building. The building, we are told, was “brought in from the woods.” If you look at it carefully you can see that the rain gutters are made of redwood - see pics left and below. That makes the building close to 100 years old because we believe wooden gutters went out of vogue in the 1920’s.
Early wooden pipes were constructed out of logs that had a large hole bored lengthwise through the center. 20 foot logs were bored to 6" diameter with an auger and the ends were bound with iron hoops which usually rusted before the wood rotted. The small ends of the pipe were driven into the larger and locked with a wooden plug. Later wooden pipes were constructed with staves and hoops similar to wooden barrel construction. Stave pipes have the advantage that they are easily transported as a compact pile of parts on a wagon and then assembled as a hollow structure at the job site. Wooden pipes were especially popular in mountain regions where transport of heavy iron or concrete pipes would have been difficult.
Wooden pipes were easier to maintain than metal, because the wood did not expand or contract with temperature changes as much as metal and so consequently expansion joints and bends were not required. The thickness of wood afforded some insulating properties to the pipes which helped prevent freezing as compared to metal pipes. Wood used for water pipes also does not rot very easily. Electrolysis, a bugbear of many iron pipe systems, doesn't affect wood pipes at all, since wood is a much better electrical insulator.
In the Western United States where redwood was used for pipe construction, it was found that redwood had "peculiar properties" that protected it from weathering, acids, insects, and fungus growths. Redwood pipes stayed smooth and clean indefinitely while iron pipe by comparison would rapidly begin to scale and corrode and could eventually plug itself up with the corrosion.
You can see samples of redwood pipes on the floor at the top of the stairs in the Fort Bragg Guest House museum – see pic left. Note how the smaller stave pipes are not augered out but consist of six smaller pieces of wood bound together with wire.