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Brookings Lumber & Box Company.

By Randy Hees

L ogging in the San Bernardino Mountains started in the Mexican era, with Mormons logging using primitive methods. In 1890, James and C.D. Danaher purchased 1600 acres of land from David Seely. Shortly after the purchase they organized the Highland Lumber Company and in 1892, the first sawmill in the Fredalba area was completed.

In 1899, their holdings in Fredalba/Running Springs were sold to the Brookings Lumber Company, who added timber acreage (to a reported 6,000 acres), enlarged the operation significantly, adding a narrow gauge railroad to haul logs to the mill by summer 1899.

Between 1901 and 1911 the Brookings Company was delivering about 10,000,000 board feet of lumber per year, both for lumber yard stock, but also to feed the company box plant at Highland. Transport between the mill and Highland was via a steep mountain road, and accidents were common.

In the mountains, all was not always good. In November 1900 a fire destroyed the sawn lumber at the mill, but the mill was saved. In September 1902, the camp was quarantined for small pox. In December 1903, a forest fire, started by a spark from a donkey engine destroyed standing timber, but was again kept away from the mill. In October 1906 the Fredalba mill burned with a significant loss of stock, a year later there were labor issues and a strike by 50 loggers. Fire again threatened Brookings mills in 1911.

The company had a baseball team, the “Lumber Pilers” of some notoriety and skill… opposing teams included the team representing the Santa Fe railroad’s San Bernardino shops as well as the “Colton Fruit Express Boys” and the team from the Pacific Fruit Express.

Their "clear-cut" methods of logging completely stripped the watershed from large areas of the mountain. As early as 1904 there were newspaper headlines speaking of “Wilderness Destroyed.” Eventually San Bernardino valley residents got lobbied to save what was left of the timberland, and forced replanting the areas that had been cut, but it is not clear if the outrage was over loss of forest or the negative effect on the watershed. Eventually, the Forest Service stepped in and increased its control and established new regulations. In 1907, a local “Ladies” group sued the company to preserve the reported “largest tree” in San Bernardino County, a 230’ tall, 20’ 8” in circumference found on company land.

In October 1910 the Los Angeles Herald reported on a tour of the newly reforested lands associated with Brookings operation. In September 1912, the company is planting apple trees to replace the pine forests. It is likely the railroad ended operations in late 1912. Most histories suggest that the Brookings Lumber Company dismantled its operations because of such pressure, but it is equally likely that the available timber had been cut. By December 1913, they are advertizing lumber at a discounted to “Clear the Lot”. The mill finally shut down on June 10, 1914, with a 15 minute long whistle blast.

In any event, the company started to move their operations to Oregon in 1912, establishing a new mill and mill town at Brookings Oregon, where they built a standard gauge logging railroad. There, the legacy of the logging continued. Back in San Bernardino, the company had deeded the roadbed of the logging railroad to the county in 1913, to be converted to road along the crest of the mountains. The company intended to convert some company owned lands into a resort, but as of early 1917 the County had failed to begin construction, but apparently did soon afterwards.


Revised: November 29, 2016
1. The Timberman, April 1912.

Bibliography
Koch, Michael; The Shay Locomotive, titan of the Timber, World Press, Denver 1971
Turner, George, California High Country Narrow Gauge Railroads, Oso Publishing, 2001, (originally published as Narrow Gauge Nostalgia, 1965)
Donald R Floyd, California Narrow Gauge, The role of Narrow Gauge Railroads in California’s Transportation Network, The Gibson Press, Mt View, CA 1970

Reference Material Available Online:

Photographs.

Collected Brookings Box Lumber & Box Company Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

California \ Brookings Lumber and Box Co.
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