Redwood, King of Humboldt County

Redwood, King of Humboldt County

By George A Kellogg, Secretary, Humboldt County Chamber of Commerce
From the 1914 edition of the Davis Commercial Encyclopedia of the Pacific Southwest

Redwood has no pitch, and the acid contained in it seems to resist combustion. It is difficult to ignite, and a fire of it is easily extinguished. It strongly resists decay, the lower portions of the trunk especially, being the equal is not the superior of any known wood in this respect. No known land insect will prey upon it, and only the teredo, against which marine scourge no wood is proof, will injure it. Redwood shrinks but little in drying, and none at all after that. Neither will it, when once dry, swell to any extent when wet. Its shrinkage ;lengthwise is, proportionately, much greater than across the grain. It is little affect by extremes of weather conditions, and so is especially adapted for patterns, mouldings, tanks, vats, flumes, house finishings, and railroad ties. Its color is a rich red, varying from that of light red cedar to the deepest mahogany. In general appearance and qualities it resembles red cedar more than any other wood. Quite a percentage of it is curly grained, and this variety is especially adapted for interior finishing in its natural color. The great size of the tree and ts freedom from knots render it possible to get out planks of almost any desired width without knot or flaw. Much of this lumber shipped to Australia and other foreign countries as "rough clear" is in great planks or pieces 6 or 8 inches in thickness, and from 24 to 36 inches or more in width, absolutely clear. Redwood is soft in texture, and easy to work. This, taken in connection with the extra widths that may be had, and its weather enduring qualities, make it a most convenient and serviceable wood for building purposes.

Scotia Panorama, 1912.

Scotia panorama, 1912, click to enlarge (1.2MB file).
Known in 1882 as Forestville, Scotia is one of the few company towns still in existence. By 1888 the mill was the largest producer of lumber in Humboldt County. The Pacific Lumber Company and its employees weathered economic downturns, fires, floods, supplied the lumber for rebuilding San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, and World War I. At the time this photograph was taken the mill employed about a thousand people and its new mill was hailed as the largest, most modern and best equipped sawmill on the West Coast. On the right, in the distance and across the river you can see the town of Wildwood (Rio Dell today).
Picture courtesy of the Fortuna Depot Museum.

The manufacture of lumber in Humboldt began in 1850, but was at first confined to pine, spruce and fir, as the great size and weight of redwood logs placed them beyond the primitive facilities of that early date to handle and saw. Nor were the good qualities of redwood as a lumber known to the pioneer lumberman of that day, while they were familiar with the other woods mentioned. In 1855 the first cargo of redwood lumber was sawed and shipped to San Francisco. In 1862, the introduction of the circular saw gave additional impulse to this industry. In 1886 the band saw began to replace the circular saw, and its economy of timber and other advantages soon gave it the lead, and now all the mills in the county are fully outfitted with band saws, which, perfected by time and experience, seem now to be the acme of progress in comparison with the old fashioned sash or muley saw mill which would cut from 4,000 to 8,000 feet per day. Now a single band saw mill is rated at from 60,000 to 80,000 feet per day, while a double band mill, especially if provided with a band splitter, may produce from 200,000 to 240,000 feet of lumber per day. The eleven large mills now operating in the county are rated as having an aggregate capacity of 1,500,000 feet of lumber per day, at 450,000,000 feet in a working year of 300 days.

Ox Team Pulling Redwood Log on Skid Road

Ox Team Pulling Redwood Log on Skid Road.
Picture courtesy of the Fortuna Depot Museum.

The improvement in methods and facilities in logging has fully kept pace with he advancement of the mills. Owing to the great size and weight of the trees, and their thick stand on the ground, redwood logging offers many problems not met with in other woods, but these conditions have been met and conquered, and now redwood logging moves along smoothly and systematically, conducted by men who know how. IN the beginning, the logs handled were small and comparatively light, and they were moved by means of oxen, on bob-sleds. Soon heavy trucks with solid wooden wheels replaced the sleds, but with oxen still as the motive power. In the early 70's, the oxen were partially replaced by horse teams. About 1874, logging railways were introduced, and in 1882 the steam donkey began to be used to assemble the logs in the woods. Ten years later the heavy and powerful bull donkey came in. At first these were mostly stationery, but later on they were made removable, making changes of location readily practicable. And now the bull donkey and the logging railway have replaced all other forms of logging machinery and adjuncts, and the glory of the ox team and the horse team as essentials in redwood logging has passed away forever.   continued

Excelsior Redwood Company.

Excelsior Redwood Company lumber train and camp operating out of Freshwater, approximately 1890.
Ericson Photograph Collection, Humboldt State University Library.




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