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California \ Greenwood Railroad \ Narrow Gauge on the Mendocino Coast

Narrow Gauge on the Mendocino Coast.

By Chuck Ross

Over a span of some six decades, three or more companies operated a narrow gauge railway near the town that is, today, called Elk California, on the Mendocino Coast.

The saga began at a town called Cuffey’s Cove and ended roughly sixty years later at nearby Greenwood, a town that did not exist when the first tie was laid. By the time it ended Cuffey’s Cove no longer existed. Today both town names exist only in the memories of a few old gray heads. But by 1875 or so, Cuffey’s Cove was a prospering little port, shipping potatoes by the ton, beef, railroad ties and the dried bark of the tan oak tree, used in making leather – still a huge commercial product in those years. It was reported than on some days as many as eleven ships waited outside the small harbor for their turn under the wire.

No one thought to document the origins of the three-foot gauge railway that began at the top of a wire chute landing on a south-facing bluff at Cuffey’s Cove. Some time in the late 1870s a small locomotive was slung ashore from a schooner and reassembled on newly laid rails. The tracks curved around the inside of the cove then angled in across the potato fields to a shingle mill in Laurel Gulch only a five minutes’ walk away, surely one of the smallest short lines ever. Rails may have been laid farther up Laurel Gulch, because a few historical memoirs suggest there may also have been a small sawmill farther up the gulch. No maps of the route, and no photographs are known to exist.

But Laurel Gulch was not the only place timber could be found and soon entrepeneurs began laying claim to other stands. Small steam sawmills were started, closed down, changed hands, but the timber went on seemingly forever. Eventually the tracks were laid across Laurel Gulch to make their way south across the fields of Michael Donahue to a stream named Donahue Creek. The tracks then ran up the north bank of that creek on a more-or-less level run about two miles or a total distance from Cuffey’s Cove of about 3.5 miles. There the rails crossed to the south bank where, on a level bench of bedrock, a man named Fred Helmke built a steam sawmill. A camp was built on the sunnier north bank. The cookhouse, cook’s cabin and two bunkhouses still stood there, overgrown with second growth redwood until the early sixties.

The stretch of track from near the present PG&E substation on the Greenwood-Philo county road, up to the mill was said to have been “half on trestle” and this was very nearly true. It is difficult to follow that right of way because there is so little excavated road bed. A dam was built across Donahue Creek at this point, the first on that stream. Logging was by ox team. The mill could cut about fifty thousand board feet of lumber a day but was plagued by the economic turbulence of the time and changed hands more than once. Charlie Crocker is said to have been a partner in it briefly.

In February, 1881 heavy rains caused a huge mudslide on the north bank which carried away a large part of the camp. The cook, and the wife and child of the steam engineer were swept away in the slide, their bodies never found. 72 years later as Daniels & Ross Lumber Co. pushed logging road past this spot each pass of the bulldozer unearthed lumber from the lost cabins. The hillside remains unstable to this day and whole groves of trees stand at odd angles to each other. This would be a factor the next time rails were laid up this creek. It is not known whether the tracks were replaced across the slide but it seems likely that a shoofly would have been constructed. Eventually, though, the mill would shut down and the machinery was removed and used again somewhere else.

This whole operation may have remained nothing more than a brief footnote in the history of the county but a man named Lorenzo Estack White stopped in to visit his friend Osro Clift at his homestead astride the old inland Pomo trail to the coast along the top of a ridge that would later bear Clift’s name. It is said that White, already a successful businessman and lumberman, was staggered by how much untouched redwood forest could be seen, particularly off the south side of Clift’s Ridge. It seemed to go on forever. White soon set about to acquire rights to that timber.

How he came into possession of the timber lands would be an interesting story in itself, especially since the land was unsurveyed and not technically open to settlement. It was also not completely unoccupied but that would be dealt with later. In looking around, White realized that the only port that would serve the region was Cuffey’s Cove near the head of the two streams flanking Clift’s Ridge. White’s sister Helen happened to be married to Cuffey’s Cove postmaster and businessman John Kimball. Kimball served as White’s front man both in land acquisition and in negotiating use of the port facilities, which were in the hands of James Kenney, one of the earliest settlers.

No deal could be struck between White and Kenney. White had offered as much as forty thousand dollars, but Kenney held out for seventy five thousand, a huge sum of money in the 1880s. White was determined and soon figured out an alternative to Kenney’s wire chutes. The next string of rocks south of Cuffey’s Cove created some shelter from southwest winds, in fact it was slightly more sheltered than the older port. The water to the north side was deep enough to handle vessels of the size needed so White began new negotiations. This time he struck a deal with Michael Donahue for some of his flat pasture land fronting the ocean at the mouth of Donahue Creek.

In 1884 a switch was cut into the rails of the Helmke sawmill line. This was at a point about 1.6 miles from Cuffey’s Cove. The location is roughly 150 yards north-northeast of the present day Post Office at Elk California. From there, rails were extended west toward the ocean, along the south bank of Strawberry Gulch (today called Li Foo Gulch) then to the point of land nearest the string of rocks where he envisioned the wharf being built. At that point a small turntable was constructed and from it, rails would stretch in several directions. In the summer of 1885 construction was begun on one of the more imposing wharves along the redwood coast. It sloped down the south side of the promontory, then across the top of a string of three rocks at about 30’ above tidewater. From there it ran on trestlework and cut beds along north slope of a high table rock to its northwest end. Here a wire chute would transfer lumber to the ships and goods from the outside world ashore.

Around this time Donahue Creek was re-named Greenwood Creek after James and Britt Greenwood, sons of the mountain man Caleb Greenwood. Both men held homesteads on the south side of that creek. All future reference will be to Greenwood Creek. Also noteworthy is that in July 1890 White incorporated the Greenwood Railroad. This company would be the first of several as principals died and new family members took over.

From the turntable, tracks were also laid south and east, along the top of the bluff, down across the coast road and up Greenwood Creek to a crossing on an 18° Howe truss bridge. A switch at the north end of that bridge sent the lower tracks downstream about six tenths of a mile to a piling trestle log dump over the mill pond. This lower track ended just downstream from the present Highway 1 bridge over Greenwood Creek.

At the same time, construction began on a large double-side steam sawmill on the flat near the mouth of Greenwood Creek. A 630 foot long wooden dam, faced with concrete, right at the beach, formed the mill pond. A town was also laid out, up on the bench above the 150’ cliffs and roughly between the old coast road and the Helmke railroad. The westernmost part of the townsite became the lumber yard. The company built a store and a hotel. Clearly L. E. White had invested a substantial amount of money in this project, to begin construction of dam, mill, railroad and town all at the same time. The town would be named Greenwood. At some point, it appears that the rails were taken up on the old track, from Cuffey’s Cove to the Helmke sawmill. No doubt the rail was reused in the new construction. Some pieces of this older rail still lie in the creek. Some are round on top, rather than flat.

Up until this point the only motive power on this line was the little 1876 Baldwin 0-4-0 saddle tanker named “Tie Coon” This engine was the first, but it wore a star in place of a number on the nose of the smokebox. At some point, early on, it seems White purchased the 1873 Baldwin #1 from the North Pacific Coast Railroad. This was Baldwin No. 3495 and is listed on the NPCRR registry as a 2-6-0 but every photo of this engine at Greenwood shows it to be a 4-4-0 with oddly spaced drivers. It is also easy to imagine other work crews, independents, hitching horses to lightweight rail cars and hauling loads of ties, tanbark, or shingle bolts to the landing for shipment to San Francisco.

As the rails to Cuffey’s Cove no longer existed all future mile markers will be in reference to the turntable at the head of the wharf. The railroad, while still using the same locomotive and perhaps even the same lengths of rail, can now be considered a separate operation from Cuffey’s Cove.

As work progressed on the mill and town, the rails crossed Greenwood Creek on the Howe truss, called by then, the Horseshoe Bridge. From there, track was laid, climbing the south bank of Greenwood Creek until reaching the first bench above the ocean across from town. Here the tracks were laid across pasture lands, eventually out to the ocean bluff and then on a fairly level run, turned up Elk Creek.

Before they could access the rich timber seen by White from Clift’s Ridge, the smaller north fork of Elk Creek had to be crossed. This was accomplished with a timber trestle measuring 484 feet long and about 145 feet high. From there the tracks ran only another half mile before another large trestle was required. This, the Stevenson Bridge, named for the homesteaders on the flat beneath it, crossed an insignificant little stream but had they graded track up into and around the gulch, the sharp ridge forming its south bank would have necessitated either a tunnel or a massive cut. Timber was free and building bridges takes less labor than excavating so a bridge 532 feet long and 100 feet high was built. These abandoned bridges were burned by a local rancher in the 1940s because local kids were walking across them to get to fishing holes up Elk Creek.

L.E. White had always envisioned river logging on Elk Creek. On other streams along the coast it had been possible to fall giant redwoods right into the rivers and float them down to the mills. Perhaps the large natural lagoon at the mouth of the stream deceived him into thinking Elk Creek had the depth to float logs. Clearly White had never walked the stream which can be jumped easily only a short distance upstream. But with this end in mind he pushed the tracks to a point up past the confluence of the south fork where he built Camp 1 on Elk Creek. Just above here at about 6.6 miles from the turntable he hired a man named Rafter to build a dam. The rails crossed to the south bank on this dam. It is doubtful that any meaningful amount of timber was ever stored in the little pond behind Rafter’s Dam but it is reported to have been good trout fishing.

By 1890 L. E. White’s sawmill at Greenwood Creek was running, even though not yet complete. He had been spending considerable amounts of money for five years and it must have been good to have entries being made on the other side of the ledger. Some revenue had been coming in. The Company hotel had been advertising for nearly three years and commercial lots had been sold along the east edge of the lumber yard. By 1890, White had contracted with Thomas P.H. Whitelaw for construction of “steam schooners” to carry the lumber from Greenwood to the San Francisco Bay or even San Pedro. They were the “Greenwood” the “Whitesboro” (named for the White brothers operation at Salmon Creek six miles north) and the “Alcatraz.” These wood-hulled steamers displaced 192, 193 and 255 tons, respectively. By 1904 the fleet had grown to five with the addition of the 263 ton “Alcazar” and the 309 ton “Helen P. Drew.”

By 1894, when a second boiler was added to the mill, logging operations in Elk Creek were in full swing. Ox teams skidded logs to landings along the railroad. It is not recorded when the first Dolbeer steam donkey was brought in, but early photos do show early vertical-spool donkeys in use. Track had been laid up the South Fork of Elk Creek and that stream had been logged out and the rails removed by the time the April 1906 earthquake took out two hundred yards of that right-of-way and formed a small lake on the South Fork. The main line was extended up Elk Creek, climbing with the terrain, maintaining a height above stream of twenty to forty feet. Some of the larger side gulches had rails temporarily laid until they were logged out, then the rails were taken up to be reused.

Timber Cruisers would have had a better look at this rugged land by now and White would have been aware that vast stands of redwood lay ahead, over the ridge into Alder Creek and even in the upper Garcia River watershed, farther south. That became the plan – to lay track over the 1020’ divide between Upper Elk Creek and middle Alder Creek. There lay another problem to be faced. Like the plot of a B-movie western, “squatters,” homesteaders had taken up sites along Alder Creek and the big timber company wanted their land. This would become an issue in the early 20th century.

Camp Two was established above Three Springs Creek and below the Sulphur Fork on a nice sunny flat along the creek. These two streams as well as the Soda Fork could be logged while the main line pushed on up and over the divide and down toward Alder Creek at a point just below the north fork which heads up below Coldspring Mountain. Photos of Camp Two show that some families appear to have planned to be in this spot for a while. Vegetable and flower gardens can be seen.

Facing advancing age and declining health and having recently divorced, L. E. White had incorporated the L. E. White Lumber Co. on March 10th 1894 with himself, his son Will, and also James Townsend, Charles Wilson and John Tate as stockholders. Increasingly, son Will took over the day to day operation. July 1st 1896 Lorenzo E. White died at Cazadero. This would set off some turbulence at the top of the company that would play out over the next few years on-site and in courtrooms. In the short term, however the company was run by Will White. This might have been satisfactory but Will White died only two years later, July 4th 1898. The younger White left his share to his wife Helen P. (Ramsey) White. His sister, Helen E. Paddock sued, challenging the will. Through the upheaval to follow, the name remained L.E. White Lumber Co. until it was eventually sold about twenty years later. John Tate assumed the day to day operation of the mill, railroad and ships while family factions fought over control and profits.

By 1897 Sam McCanse was the woods boss on the Elk Creek side. He was apparently a natural genius at rigging and began experimenting with ways to get more versatility out of the Dolbeer donkey. His highline system became known as the McCanse Flyer and it is unfortunate that no good descriptions, diagrams or photos exist of the system in operation. The goal was always to move the skid-mounted donkey engine into one spot and there, erect standing and running rigging that would permit it to move logs from anywhere they fell within that setup to fly them through the air, rather than skidding them over the ground, down to a landing where they could be rolled onto the rail cars for their trip to the pond at Greenwood. This would decrease the unproductive moving days, skidding the donkey from one setup to the next.

Many times a setup lasted long enough to pipe water in for the boiler and build a roof over the mechanism.

At this point the transport of logs from the place where they were being felled to the mill, some fourteen miles distant was the work of the two old Baldwin rod engines. Train dispatch was apparently not an exact science. At times one of the engines would be sent out to the woods to find no log cars loaded and waiting for them. Other times they would find more than they could pull.

The logs were carried on disconnects – two axle bob cars with a swiveling 12x12” wooden bunk. These cars were link-and-pin coupled and had mechanical brakes set with a vertical spool mounted on one end of the car. A square key, called a brake hickey was inserted into the top of the spool and it drew up chains to draw in the brake shoes at the other end and by means of a bellcrank, draw in the near end shoes. A ratchet on the top of the vertical spindle held the set of the brakes. The brakemen wore caulk boots and ran along the top of the log loads from car to car to tighten or release brakes on whistle signals from the engineer. The brakies were, to a man, young, athletic and fearless. They took pride in mastering their very dangerous jobs. Sadly quite a number of them were killed over the years, one jumping down to run alongside the train to set the brakes, and not noticing that the train had run out on a high trestle.

In 1899 John Tate recruited his friend Edgar Budd “E. B.” Salsig into the company management, first at Rollerville near Point Arena, then to Greenwood. Salsig, in turn, recommended they hire John S. Ross Jr. (my paternal grandfather) who had worked for him at Glen Blair. Ross became superintendent of the L. E. White Lumber Company in 1899. In 1900 Will White’s widow married a San Francisco attorney named Frank C. Drew. John Ross had been hired by John Tate and felt his allegiance was to the Company and Mr. Tate and that is was only from Tate that he took orders. Frank Drew began involving himself more in the operation of the company. Apparently his wife Helen, and even her sister Alice Pollard were also personalities to be reckoned with.

During John Ross’ tenure at Greenwood he had telephone line strung along the tracks, from the company offices in town to the most distant camps. By this means, trains only went out to the woods when a load had been made ready for them.

He had also been ordered to put in another dam on Greenwood Creek. Dam No.1 was the long main dam that formed the mill pond. The new one would be dam No.2 and would be just a hundred yards upstream from the Horseshoe Bridge about a quarter mile above the top end of the mill pond. This made the old dam at the Helmke mill No. 3 and later a number 4 dam would be built even farther up to help with river logging. The intent of dam No. 2 was to back up a head of water then in the spring freshet, release it to wash hundreds of “sinker” logs off the upper flats of the mill pond and down to where they could be reached to be moved to the mill. To this end wing walls were built along both sides of the creek below, to guide the force of the water around a bend of the creek and onto the pond. It was done over John Ross’ objections and failed completely. After the flood spread out over the flat, most of those sinker logs still lay in the same place and there they stayed. Some had to be extracted by means of a temporary railroad spur but many were split into shingle bolts in place, as much as fifty years later.

Facing family intrigue and having to argue every decision, John Ross left at the end of 1901 to take over the Mendocino Lumber Co. Frank C. Drew was fully in charge of the company for the next few years.

In the early part of the 20th century, the rails over the divide were completed. Arriving at Alder Creek the rails split three ways. From the north bank a branch went around the bend and as much as a mile and a half up the North Fork. The real split, though was on a Y-shaped trestle to the south bank. To the left tracks went upstream on Alder Creek and to the right they went downstream. This junction was at a point about nine miles upstream from the present Highway 1 crossing near the mouth of Alder Creek.

The lumber company’s arrival at this point set off the “Alder Creek Range War.” The homesteaders had taken up their property before the land was surveyed and eligible for settlement. Some of them had been there for years, others not so long. It was even said that some arrived just in time, hoping for the lumber company to buy them out of a claim they did not really hold. On the morning the land was available to file on, many of the squatters were waiting outside for the door to open. They shuffled inside only to find that the lumber company had somehow, already filed on their land. They appealed to the U.S. Government for support but no help was coming. One of the squatters, whose family name remains a place-name to this day, is said to have walked in to Greenwood, stuck a ten gauge shotgun up under Drew’s nose and told him: “When the shooting starts, I’m coming for YOU.”

The company asked E.B. Salsig to evict the squatters, without being very specific as to how he was to do this. The task did not appeal to Salsig and he resigned instead and removed to family property in Anderson Valley. Frank C. Drew hired “guards” from the Bay Area to “protect” his woods crew. The company issued them Iver-Johnson pistols and, perhaps, no clear orders as to what to do with them. Some of the squatters settled with the company. The situation dragged on while the company logged other tracts. The guards, who , allegedly had been recruited with the help of the San Quentin parole board, got bored, started packing their own whiskey out to camp and the situation became a problem for the lumber company. They called the guards back to town on some pretext. There the men of town surprised and overwhelmed them with their own firearms. The guards were disarmed, paid off and put on a company steamer to San Francisco. The Alder Creek Range War was over. Eventually all was settled without gunfire. A few old Elk families may still have one of these Iver Johnson pistols in their possession.

Faced with rugged terrain and the prospect of another summit even higher than the one at the head of Elk Creek, the company ordered a Shay geared locomotive, and then another. Shay number 800 was delivered on 9 May 1903. It was slung ashore from one of the lumber schooners and hauled up to the shop atop the bluff for assembly. It will carry the road number #139 and will be lettered “Campbell” in honor of Drew’s senior partner in his law practice. It would later be lettered “Helen P. Drew” on the tender for Drew’s wife. Finally it would wear the road number #5 on the tender and on the number plate. It has erroneously been reported that it wore road #1 but that number was always assigned to the Saucelito, a Baldwin rod engine.

On January 9th 1904 Shay # 139 rolled off the Soda Fork bridge and landed upside down in the stream bed. Engineer Josiah Foushee was killed, but fireman Clarence Stout jumped to safety. It was put back on the tracks and towed back to the shop at Greenwood for repairs.

Shay factory number 957 was built in late 1904 and delivered in pieces to the wharf at Greenwood. It will wear road number #2 and for a time will be lettered Frank C. Drew on the tender. Both these Shays were 37-ton, three cylinder two-truck units. Both had 29.5” drivers and a 42” wagontop boiler.

The Alder Creek unit was the big show at this time. At the south end of the Alder Creek Y-bridge, a camp was erected, seen as the nexus of all the Alder Creek operations. It was 17 miles by rail back to the log dump at Greenwood. This camp was named Salsig after the woods boss and eventually got a Post Office.

Downstream the tracks crossed back to the north bank and about 1.5 miles below Salsig was a large flat. After it was cleared, Camp Eleven was established there. Camp 11 would eventually have a school, locomotive shops and houses for married families along the hill to the north. It would even host weekend dances with young ladies riding overland on horses or buggies from Manchester and Point Arena. Tracks continued downstream along Alder Creek to within sight of the ocean.

Upstream the tracks made their way all the way to the headwaters of Alder Creek, finally crossing what is now the Mountain View Road between Boonville and Manchester at about 1390 feet above sea level. Rail was laid a hundred yards or so beyond the watershed, into the Garcia River basin. End of track here was over 23 miles by rail back to Greenwood. Eventually the functions of the camp called Salsig were moved about half a mile upstream to a sunny spot and a camp there was named Manzanita (E.B. Salsig having left the company by then) Manzanita too, got a Postmark, becoming a “town” with no access to the outside world except by company railroad.

Short temporary tracks were laid into every little tributary stream, then taken up as the gulch was logged out. These sidings became shorter as time went by because of a local invention. Woods boss McCanse had moved on and was eventually replaced by a man named Davenport “Port” Lawson. Lawson was a man without very much formal education but he was an authentic genius when it came to rigging. He designed a machine that came to be called “The Lawson Flyer” that truly revolutionized logging. Standing rigging might have covered forty acres or more. A traveling highline system could pick up a large redwood log anywhere in that area and fly it down to land it on the railroad cars. There were more than one version of this, the final ones being enormous triple-drum donkey engines, with a folding headframe above them. When the cable drum was nearly full a flying log would be traveling nearly forty miles per hour. The whole thing was controlled by men with telephones, an incredible innovation in the age of steam. It required no fewer than eleven spar trees and “hold” stumps for the blocks.

The Lawson Flyer was so powerful that on occasion they used it to rock a full tree back and forth breaking the roots. The flyer then laid the tree down gently so buckers could cut it into railcar lengths. The whole tree was taken down without an axe or a saw. On one occasion they notched the bark on a very large redwood, then set a cable choker on it. The flyer hooked up to this and snatched straight up, stripping the bark and branches from the standing tree. Of course thousands of pounds of huge branches and foot-thick bark rained down for a quarter mile in every direction so that did not become a practical technique.

At some point the LEWLCo began constructing new track up Greenwood Creek. From a new switch at the Horseshoe Bridge, they blasted rock and carved a bed up along the north bank, initially well below the old, abandoned Helmke line. As the creek bed gained elevation they came ever closer together until they must have crossed the old rails somewhere around “the gum trees” a eucalyptus grove planted by someone associated with the Helmke operation. Knowing full well about the unstable north bank that had caused the deadly slide of 1881, the White crew crossed over to the south bank on a truss bridge about sixty feet high. The rails then wound along in deep shade most of the way, sometimes on cribbing, about a third of a mile up to the site of the old Fred Helmke sawmill. The mill and machinery must have been gone by this time because the new track alignment ran right through the middle of the old mill footprint.

From the south bank the second crossing ran 80 feet or so on short frame bents to a wooden truss across to rail bed cut into native rock. The tracks then ran along the north bank for a few miles. It is not recorded but the end of track, for now was likely in the vicinity of a watershed known then as Lanahan Gulch, the first major north side tributary below Barn Gulch and across from a rocky ridge-end known as Devil’s Kitchen. Somewhere here was Camp O. Where the camps on Elk Creek and Alder Creek were numbered, those on Greenwood Creek were lettered.

In late 1909 the company began constructing a new log dump. The old one dropped logs nearly thirty feet into the water. The coast road passed under it and the public bridge across Greenwood Creek was a short distance across the pond from the log dump. The new one required a new alignment below the Horseshoe Bridge and new piling bridge for the last quarter mile. It angled in closer to the north bank, leaving more of the pond open and ended in only a ten foot drop to the pond. A rail car was fitted with a steam ram and heavily weighted with scrap iron. When the log cars were positioned along the laterally sloping dump, the locomotive would uncouple, connect to the steam ram car, connect their steam to the cylinder and pass along pushing the logs off the cars into the water. The coast highway had a grade-level crossing at this dump.


So passed the last years of the L.E. White Lumber Company. Increasingly, the lives of Frank C. and Helen P. Drew were centered in San Francisco. Eventually, the Goodyear family interests, involved in lumber production in Pennsylvania, Mississippi and elsewhere came calling. The Goodyear interests were fronted by Mississippi lumberman Lamont Rowlands whose wife was the former Josephine Goodyear. Anticipating a successful sale, Frank Drew transferred the Greenwood Railroad Company, its roadbeds, rights of way, rolling stock and all to the L. E. White Lumber Company. The two activities, rails and sawmill had been operated as separate companies from the beginning. In an enormously complicated bill of sale, Drew et al sold the entire company, 85 thousand acres of timberlands, railroad, logging equipment, dams sawmill, planing mill, picket mill, tanbark mill, lumber yard, Bay Area facilities, company ranches that raised beef, pork and lamb for the cookhouses, all remaining inventory and five steamships to the Goodyear Redwood Lumber Company for $3.5 million dollars. The sale was final in May 1916.

By this time the sawmill had been operating for over a quarter century and some upgrades were in order. The old boilers from the west side of the mill were scrapped and a new installation was made on the east side, next to a new fuel bunker and, more importantly, next to the water supply. Company offices had been in original company store, which had been attached to the back of the second Company Store, built in 1899. In 1917 a new company office was built adjacent to the store on the south side. After the plans were drawn up it was decided to include a town post office so this was appended to the north side between office and store. This building still stands and is, today, the visitor center for the Greenwood State Beach Park. Four large houses were also built for company executives. These were on the west side of the coast road, at the north end of town. All four still stand and at least three are, today operated as a bed & breakfast.

A third Shay locomotive was purchased. Factory # 2942, built October 1917 would be the largest at Greenwood. Still a three cylinder, two-truck engine, it is a fifty ton unit, with an empty weight of 80300 pounds. It wears road #4. It will be converted to an oil burner like the rest.

Some years earlier a small H K Porter 0-4-0 had come to Greenwood by way of the Salmon Creek and Rollerville operations. It was a yard engine, moving lumber from the top of the tram up from the mill to drying stacks around the yard, to the turntable at the head of the wharf. The tramways for the sorting table in the mill, the tramway up to the drying yard, the yard tracks, the tracks down to the wharf and the railroad itself were all 36” gauge. There is a story that the Porter, locally called “The Dinky” once backed too close to the head of the lumber tramway and started slipping down the incline toward the mill. The engineer tried to get it going back up the hill but could not get traction so he jumped before it picked up too much speed (and altitude) The little Porter accelerated down the long ramp, its wheels spinning in the opposite direction, men below scrambling out of the way. It hit the bottom of the incline with enough force to break right through the tracks and the platform finally coming to rest stuck in the ground down on the machinery floor of the mill. First order of business was to douse the fire in the boiler before it caught the mill afire. Greenwood mill was one of the few in the county that never burned.

The Porter was not the smallest engine on the line. That honor goes to the speeder, a 1911 or so Winton automobile that was converted to run on rails. It had a larger pair of drivers at the back and a small truck of four wheels up under the engine. The steering wheel was not removed and must have been the subject of many jokes.

More Changes

Lamont Rowlands was a busy man with a lumber company and a tung oil company in Mississippi to run, in addition to the redwood operations at Greenwood. He was looking for a local manager who could take on the entire California show. In early 1924 on the train from San Francisco up to Cloverdale a chance encounter with John S. Ross II eventually led to a partnership. Initially Rowlands wanted Ross to run the company as a salaried manager but by this time Ross felt it was time for him to take part as an owner somewhere. It was finally agreed that John Ross would buy 25% of the Goodyear Redwood Lumber Company and remain in Greenwood as general superintendent. Ross had been running the entire Mendocino Lumber Company for the past 22 years so it was a good fit. John Ross brought with him only his son John S. “Jack” Ross III, (my father) then 21 years old and, a year or two later, his son-in-law C. O. “Cob” Balaam.

The younger Ross was moved from one position to another all his years there, learning every aspect of logging and lumber production from the true masters of the crafts. Years later he built a 90’ tall radio antenna from heavy wooden timbers. He stood this up in our yard pretty much alone, using only rope and block and the power of our 1940 Plymouth flathead six. Rigging skills he had learned working under Port Lawson made that possible.

By 1924 the Goodyear Redwood Lumber Company had concluded that they were not going to log the upper Garcia River and haul the logs via narrow gauge railway some thirty miles back to Greenwood for milling. With the rest of Alder Creek watershed just about logged out, the decision was made to close down that show and log upper Greenwood Creek.

The big Lawson Flyers must have been among the last loads carried back over the divide, back to Elk Creek, out to the coast and up to Greenwood. All the camps were removed. Most of the small cabins were built on skids spaced to make them transportable by log cars. When the logging was done, one locomotive was converted from oil back to wood burning so a small crew could cut their own fuel. Then one crew began at end-of-track, pulling the rails, filling barrels of fish plate and bolts, and hauling it all back to Greenwood. In their spare time they walked the mainline tracks and removed every other bolt from the fish plates. All was disassembled and carried home this way. After pulling the rails off Rafter’s Dam, on request of the state Fish & Game commission, they dynamited the dam.

When the last rail was disconnected from one of the high trestles the whole bridge swung a foot or so out of alignment. The train crew said it made the hair stand up on their necks to see that.

Now the logging moved into Greenwood Creek. Some parts had been logged more than fifty years earlier but by ox teams. There were small tracts of timber that had been bypassed earlier but with the Lawson Flyer they could now be cleaned up at a profit. And so it went; up Greenwood Creek, Devil’s Kitchen, Carpenter Gulch, Barn Gulch, Valenti Gulch, Simpson Gulch, Maple Basin, the South Fork, heading up on the northeast side of Coldspring Mountain, then up past Russian Gulch to a point very near the headwaters. End of track on this line was on the Pronsolino Ranch, just off Signal Ridge Road, over 14 miles from town and at 1160 feet above sea level.

Just above Devil’s Kitchen is a very rugged, rocky area. At one point the railway crossed the creek on a wooden truss bridge some 70 feet above the stream, only to run through a cut on the south bank for less than twenty feet, then cross back to the north bank on an identical bridge, all in a straight line. A little farther up, just below Barn Gulch, the rails spanned a rocky bluff on a trestle that was perhaps thirty feet high on the uphill side and seventy feet high on the downhill side. It was then another twenty feet or so down to the creek bed. This bridge stood in a sunny place and long after the rails were gone it was planked over. I’ve ridden over it in a Jeep as recently as 1986. It collapsed against the bank just a few years ago.

The stock market crash of October 1929 came before all the small tracts could be logged out. Housing starts ended. All kinds of construction lurched to a halt and lumber prices plummeted. The Goodyears had issued bonds and taken out mortgages on most of the assets of the company to finance the three and a half million dollar purchase price. Some of this might have been re-negotiated but, facing a fifty thousand dollar bond payment with no lumber receipts coming in it seemed insurmountable. Then the bond holders cashed in. In a time of small investors making runs on banks, the big investors decided to take their money home with them. The Goodyear Redwood Lumber Company ceased operations on January 30th 1930 and the fires went out in the boilers for the last time. The last known shipment of lumber from the wharf at Greenwood was in October of that year.

On December 2nd 1929 the Company Store burned. It was right up against the post office but that building was somehow saved. Even though the company had not sawed a board in nearly a year they continued to operate the store. It could not have made much money – there was none circulating. Surviving inventory was now moved across the street to the former social hall and the last company store was set up there, next door to the company hotel which could not have been doing much business. Some of this inventory, left unsold, and some other company property lined the shelves of the social hall for another quarter century.

Some of the lumber schooners found other service for a short time. The “Greenwood” and the “Whitesboro” were abandoned at Oakland Creek. The “Helen P. Drew” was laid up near Martinez. The hull slowly rots away in the mud there to this day. The “Alcazar” had gone aground at Needle Rock and the “Alcatraz” had struck Mile Rock at Greenwood and shattered her bow in 1917. An attempt was made to careen her on the Greenwood Creek beach for possible repairs but she ended up in the surf line and broke into pieces over a couple of winters. The nameboard off the Alcatraz was recovered and is on display at the Greenwood visitor center.

As Greenwood sank into the depression, John Ross II stayed on with a skeleton crew, keeping things from falling apart too quickly from being idled. The Porter and the Shays were brought up the upper track to town and parked in the lumber yard that is the present State Beach property. The “Tie Coon” the Baldwin 0-4-0 had fallen into Greenwood Creek unnoticed by the local press and lies there to this day. Parts can be found, strewn along the rocky creek bed. The one-spot, the “Saucelito” seems to have vanished. There is no mention of it having been scrapped in the summer of 1940 with the Shays. There is an apocryphal tale of it breaking through the rail and either sinking in the mud or rolling into the creek where it was deemed not economically feasible to recover it. This seems to have happened when the locomotive was fifty years old, so it might be true. Again, no credible account of this exists.

One more Try

All through the early thirties Rowlands and Ross tried to cut losses, tried to find viable ways to use the assets of the old Lumber Company. It was known there was a substantial amount of timber left standing in scattered tracts. The old model of lumbering would probably no longer work. Eventually there was again, some demand for lumber.

In 1932 they formed the Elk Redwood Company. Again John Ross II had a 25% share but the new company came into this world already in debt to Goodyear’s creditors. John Ross III, called “Jack” had gone to Humboldt County and become a Richfield Oil distributor. In 1934 he came back to Greenwood with his old friend Warren Daniels. Both men knew every aspect of logging and lumber production. They had already determined that it was not economically feasible to start up the 45 year old double-sided steam sawmill, but thought a new, smaller mill should work at a profit.

All the best logging equipment had been parked out in the woods, at the place where logging had stopped. Jack Ross and Warren Daniels chose a flat in Russian Gulch, a quarter mile off Greenwood Creek as the best location and set about building a sawmill alongside the tracks there. The last of the logging camps still stood there, having been vacant only four years. A cookhouse, a small company store and office, several bunkhouses and small cabins were ready for their use. The tracks between town and that camp, including a couple of bridges would have to be repaired and Warren Daniels set about doing that.

Photos show that three upright boilers, probably cannibalized from unneeded donkey engines provided power to the steam engine. This eventually proved inadequate so Shay #4 was modified to help out. Later photos show a large steam pipe extending to the right from the top of the steam dome. This was plumbed into the live steam system. There is some indication that Shay #5 might also have been so modified.

The new company made very different use of the existing rail line. Instead of carrying logs down to the mill, the Greenwood Creek branch would be used to haul finished lumber from the mill, 14 miles down to the lumber yard in the town. From there it would go by trucks to markets in the larger cities. Some still went by truck to the wharf at Point Arena and then by ship as in earlier times. The rails would also haul heavy machinery up from town to the mill. My oldest brother John (John S. Ross IV) was run over and had his leg broken by one of the lumber cars in the lumber yard at Greenwood at this time.

The nearest road to the new mill was Signal Ridge county road that went to the fire lookout on Coldspring Mountain. This was about a mile and a half from the mill. Jack Ross kept a 1928 Buick parked at Pronsolino Ranch. His wife would load a handcar with her two babies and pole it up to her car to drive to town for groceries. She lost control of the pushcar one day, coming back down the hill to camp laden with groceries and her two babies. She would not let go and it drug her a couple hundred yards down the track, stopping very near her cabin.

The Lawson Flyer and a couple of smaller donkey engines were used to move logs. The mill sawed lumber and, more importantly, provided employment for most of 1934, all of 1935. On April 21st 1936 the mill burned to the ground. There was no insurance. It was all over.

Eventually the scrap metal from the mill was gathered up. The donkeys were either abandoned in place or hauled nearer town to be scrapped. The Lawson Flyers, two of them, were hauled up the coast to Rockport where one was set up permanently over the pond and log deck. Disposition of the other is not known but it is known it was used in the Rockport woods.

When the town of Greenwood first got a post office, there was already another Greenwood in California, in El Dorado County, named after the father of the two men honored by the one in Mendocino County. So the place got the awkward handle of “Greenwood Post Office, Elk California” Old timers called it Greenwood all the days of their lives. We who lived the transition think of it as Greenwood when talking about the age of lumber production and Elk when visiting there today. Newcomers to Elk, meaning people who have been there less than two generations have to be told it was once called Greenwood. For the remainder of this discussion I will call it Elk.

The rails were taken up from Greenwood Creek in a manner similar to the Alder Creek show. Rail was stacked in the old lumber yard on the west side of Elk. There are photos of the Shays parked there, slumped over, awaiting the scrapper’s torch. The Porter is there too as well as all manner of mill machinery, huge belt pulleys, shafting, gears, bearings. In June 1940 the scrappers got the last of the locomotives but before they did some interested parties steamed up one of the Shays and ran it down to end-of-track which was then next to the coast road (Highway 1 at the junction of the Greenwood-Philo road) A photo taken that day shows steam escaping from every seam.

The mill had been intentionally burned by this time. A short temporary road built down to the flat to recover the scrap iron including two large bandsaws, two edgers, planers, picket sharpeners, rollways and a huge Corliss single-cylinder steam engine that ran the whole mill by means of a forest of shafting, belts and pulleys. It was said by the men of those times that almost all the scrap iron was bought by the Japanese. They commented ruefully that “we got it all back at Pearl Harbor.” This was very nearly true as our own wartime scrap drives did not harvest very much from Elk.

In 1938 two men fishing from the end of the wharf got cold and built a fire on the wooden planking. Alcohol may have been involved. The outer end of the wharf, the hoisting works for the wire chute, and the small warehouse there all burned. A single drum cable spool still stands on a ledge on the outer end of the rock, not visible from shore.

At about this time Fish & Game asked the company caretakers to remove dam #1 and open the stream to steelhead runs. Warren Daniels dynamited one end of it and the rest stood there above the beach for another twenty years.

As the great depression wore on, many men in town built buzz saws on the back of old Model-A Fords and the abandoned company houses, sheds, barns and fences slowly went up the chimneys of the town’s dwindling population. Weeds grew over the lumber yard and dairy cows grazed where the mill had stood.

John Ross was owed back pay and bonuses. He took the largest of the four “executive” houses at the north end of town, along with its three acres and private beach. He also kept the lumber yard, mill site and about two miles of ocean frontage and about two miles of Greenwood Creek but in narrow strips so it totaled only about four hundred acres. With this, he wiped his debt off the company books. He stayed on in Greenwood until his second wife retired. The two of them then retired to the family ranch at Cleone, north of Fort Bragg. He passed away in early 1950. Lamont Rowlands went back to Mississippi to run his other family enterprises. He passed away in October 1958 in Picayune Mississippi. Warren Daniels went on to make a good living in either scrap or logging. Jack Ross went to run the Rockport Redwood Compan for the Dusenbury family. In 1940 he built a large sawmill for Sage Land Improvement in Willits California, then partnered with his friend Warren again to create the Daniels & Ross Lumber Co. and build their mill on the upper Noyo River. He was killed at Willits in August 1950 but the company went on with his name attached. Cob Balaam, would in later years be yard master for SP in Sacramento. He died in 1975.

The next generation

It would be about 1952 before the town of Elk would again hear the howl of saws. Daniels & Ross Lumber Company of Willits built a mill right in the old White / Goodyear lumber yard, leased from Jack Ross’ widow. It was a modern electric mill with Swedish gangsaw and double-circular headrigs. It had a fleet of off-road log trucks and some miles of haul road built right along the old railroad right of way. Eventually it even had steam drying kilns and a fleet of new Peterbilts hauling the product to outside markets. But the entire face of the lumber industry had changed. Chainsaws had replaced axes and crosscut saws. Caterpillar tractors had replaced the Dolbeer donkey. Trucks replaced the trains of an earlier time. World War II surplus ten-wheel-drive Whites were popular for a time. In about 1958 a crew cutting new logging road arrived at the old Elk Creek right-of-way to find a small trestle still standing. Warren took a chainsaw and cut off the end of one of the mud sills and removed the outermost upright of that bridge. Then he finished the construction past it, spending a whole day doing nothing but sparing the old abandoned trestle. A few years later the property owner pulled it down just to watch it fall. Warren Daniels died in 1960 and the surviving partner sold a few years later. Another mill was built on the old Company ranch near Elk Creek. Both these mills were shut down by 1970 and there has not been another board sawed in Elk since then.

Bit by bit the evidence of the pioneer lumber operations disappeared. Until the 1970s or so it was easy to see old rail beds on hillsides around. As sheep ranching died out, and open burning became illegal the entire region became so overgrown with tickbrush and bullpine that it is very hard to find any sign of this once enormous operation. On a walk in the bed of the old White millpond a few years back I found second-growth redwood trees already two feet in diameter in the thick silty soil.

White and then Goodyear had pretty much a vertical monopoly. They owned the land where the trees grew. They owned the equipment and employed the men who cut them down, bucked them to length and moved them to the railroad. They owned the railroad, the sawmill and the ships that hauled the finished product to the big markets in the San Francisco or Los Angeles area. In the East Bay they had finishing plants that produced wooden pipe, coated with tar and wrapped with heavy wire. They made rain gutters, bannister rail, baluster and newel posts, all manner of trim, the various wooden bits that become sash windows. They made 1x3 tongue & groove lumber by the shipload which became the paneling of half the houses in San Francisco. Visit the Winchester House in San Jose to see some of their products.

It all came about because Lorenzo E. White walked across the fields from his friend Osro Clift’s homestead and gazed at the timberlands stretching away to the horizon.

California \ Greenwood Railroad \ Narrow Gauge on the Mendocino Coast
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