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Feather River Bulletin
Quincy, California
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September 5, 2018     Feather River Bulletin
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September 5, 2018
 

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Bulletin, Record, Progressive, Reporter Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018 1B This view of the interior of one of the bunkhouses shows how HistoriCorps volunteers have braced the interior walls while they renovate the cabin. The metal on the wall shows where the wood stove was located inside. Photo by Victoria Metcalf What served as insulation between the wooden walls of the skid shacks is still evident in a few places. HistoriCorps workers and some Plumas National Forest staff are bent on restoring at least one of the old sleeping quarters used by men from the early 1900s to around 1938. Photo by Victoria Metcalf The skid shacks were nothing fancy, but the walls and a door helped keep out the elements during the three seasons men traditionally worked in the timber. A wood stove inside each shack provided heat in the cool and cold months. Photo by Victoria Metcalf Experienced workers and volunteers with HistoriCorps work to help restore two former Swayne Lumber Company skid shacks. The enormous beams in the foreground are placed under each shack to help protect them. Photo courtesy of Plumas National Forest. ne Lum remem ion Victoria Metcalf Assistant Editor vmetcalf@plumasnews.com New roofs and some tender loving care are once again helping to secure another piece of Plumas County's rich history. In July, a new roof secured a miner's cabin in the Seneca area near Chester. Now two boxcars turned bunkhouses for loggers with the Swayne Lumber Company are receiving the attention of HistoriCorps members. Although devoid of most amenities now considered essential, the boxcars cure bunkhouses, also known as skid shacks, served their purpose in the Swayne Lumber Company's heyday in timber operations. Hot in the summer and cold in the early spring and fall, the structures were home away from home for the men who made their living in the forests of Plumas and Butte counties in the early decades of the 20th century. At work again Members of HistoriCorps -- a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and securing some of the nation's treasures on public lands -- were at work at an area just off the Oro-Quinc Highway just miles from Bucks Lake. Four Trees, a wide spot next to the highway that's popular with snowmobilers, was quiet on a Friday mid-morning. A white hardhat, a metal water bowl for dogs, a shade awning, footprints and tire marks in the thick brown dirt were among the signs that people had been working around the two former bunkhouses. That evidence, along with some new mighty, tree-sized beams, a pile of discarded siding and the shell of one of the bunkhouses attested to the work that has been done and what's ahead. Scraps of what must have served as insulation in the early quarter of the 20th century hung in tatters in the exposed walls as one examined the bunkhouse. Time and weather-damaged wood was replaced in some places with new pieces carefully fitted into spaces where damaged pieces were removed. The bunkhouse had also been raised. A combination of thick, sturdy blocks of pine and the occasional jack hoisted the structure off the ground. Obviously the original foundation heavily damaged or possibly rotten had been moved away. A glance at the nearby painted structure showed evidence of a foundation that might survive another decade or two. Logging and locomotives The use of locomotives and rails to transport timber from the forest to the mill isn't uncommon in Plumas County's logging past. But evidence of their existence is becoming harder to detect. At one.time, history enthusiasts and hikers could find ready evidence of the railroads' past. Graded areas and ties were in ready evidence of narrow gauge activities, but only the grades, now sprouting trees, remain. "As business enterprises, the several companies discussed saw the entire gamut of the lumber industry problems; overproduction and low prices, mills burned to the ground, foreclosures, exhaustion of timberlands, loss of vessels at sea, train wrecks, forest fires and the Depression," wrote David W. Braun in his 1992 book "The Swayne Lumber Company: Narrow Gauge Logging in the Merrimac Forest." In fact, it was the failure of the Truckee Lumber Company in late 1909 that eventually contributed to the 1917 beginnings of the Swayne operation. The Truckee company formed in 1867. One of its first tasks was to cut 10,000 railroad ties and two million feet of bridge timbers for the Central Pacific Railroad. The new Truckee company operated in the Truckee River basin, according to Braun, By 1883, the mill portion of the operation boasted 50 employees and had a capacity to run 75,000 feet in a 12-hour shift. The company also included a water mill at Altal a three-story box factory, a drying house and warehouse in Truckee and facilities in San Francisco. Braun said that the city-based operation was within a block of the Central Pacific Railroad tracks for convenience. During the early part of the 20th century the lumber comPanY focused on its narrow gauge operation. It was believed that locomotive transport was less expensive than transportation with what was known as river drives-- floating logs down river to its landings-- or hauls through the Truckee River canyon. In 1902 and 1903, two major fires hit the company. The box factory was lost and the following year the sawmill in Truckee burned. Although the box factory was rebuilt and the mill relocated it cost the company. The fmal day of operation was Nov. 6, 1909. The Truckee Republican, the town's newspaper said in part, "And now the institution that has supported so many happy families in the past is now silent -- a memory." "As early as the mid-1880s, William H. Kruger of Truckee was looking for other areas to expand his lumbering operations," Braun said. His holdings in Tahoe and Truckee were worked out and he set his sites on the Merrimac Forests in Plumas and Butte counties. Changing forests In 1899 the Merrimac Land and Lumber Company was incorporated in Plumas County. W.H. Kruger was one of its directors. "The purpose of the company was to purchase timber holdings in Butte and Plumas counties, especially in the area surrounding the village of Merrimac," according to Braun. The area was bordered on one side by the Feather River Canyon and by the Middle Fork on another. "From west to east, the area extends from Berry Creek to Granite Basin and Buck's Lake." It appears that Kruger planned to exhaust the Truckee/Tahoe timberlands and then move to the Merrimac Forest and Butte County, A steam tractor operation had worked this area previously. But upon Kruger's death, his son-in-law, O:C. Haslett began surveying the new land with a mind toward bringing in a logging railroad. The plan was to have it connect with'the Western Pacific Railroad. The great earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco seemed like a golden Opportunity for the company. It was there to provide the lumber to help rebuild the heavily damaged city. Haslett obtained a mortgage of $180,000 on his holdings to build up his company to meet the demands. Before the earthquake, plans progressed for the Butte and, Plumas Railway that would have gone from Oroville and up the Feather River Canyon. It would have ended somewhere in Plumas County. According to Braun's research, this was actually a front for the Western Pacific's plans to build along the North Fork of the Feather River. Why the secrecy was necessary wasn't made clear. And just how this would have fit into Arthur W. Ked(lie's plans for a railroad through the Feather River Canyon isn't discussed. With the apparent support of Oroville businesses and officials, the new company was set to relocate from Truckee to Oroville in 1909. That same year the company purchased timber r holdings along the Western Pacific right-of-way in both counties. By that fall a company with a background in building railroads was hired to establish a line from French Creek to Stanwood. Besides the men employed'to work onthe new line, another 50 men were employed in the timber and sawmill operation required for the effort. And the mill was under construction in Oroville. Eventually the operation, fueled by another funding source, was set to begin a new phase. "The newly acquired financing allowed Truckee Lumber to commence building a 36-inch narrow gauge line northeast of Oroville along the route following Dry Creek to Saddleback near Whitewashed Trees (an early name for Four Trees)," Braun explained. It was completed to Berry Creek by May 1911. "By 1911 operations were in full swing at the Oroville mill and on the railroad. The mill employed 100 men cutting 125,000 feet of lumber daffy," Another 100 men were employed in timber operations. All seemed well as far as management was concerned, however those working the new line knew differently. The line was known forits sharp curves and steep grades. On June 18, 1911, the locomotive and its four fully loaded cars went off what was known as the O'Rourke Trestle near Berry Creek. Although the men jumped free and the worst injury recorded was a broken arm, railroad workers joined forces in claiming that it was one of the most dangerous routes in the country, according to Braun. The men went on strike, calling for better conditions. Company officials however made it appear that the issue was the hours men worked and not the true nature of their concerns -- the railroad route and its hazardous conditions. Despite company demands that the men return to work, the company then filled the jobs with willing workers. The men held out as long as possible before at long last they returned to their jobs. Despite their eventual willingness to work, the company had to shut down in September, 1911. The real problem was the economic conditions of the times. Lumber wasn't getting sotd at a rate necessary to support the operation. At this point the Swayne Lumber Company that had operations near the Truckee Lumber Company, became noteworthy. At the time that the Truckee Lumber Company was organizing and building its operations in Butte and Plumas counties, another company was working in the area later named Swayne Hill. It also had holdings in the Merrimac area. In 1909 Robert H. Swayne of San Francisco, his son and partners formed the Feather River Lumber Company. They were also involved in other holdings, including a steam ship company for hauling lumber. See Swayne, page lOB 1