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The Modoc Lumber Company.

By Randy Hees.

T he Modoc Lumber Co. was established in 1918 by J. O Goldthwaith when he purchased a saw mill, built in 1916 by Wilbur Knapp on the Williamson River. Located one mile north of Chiloquin (28 miles north of Klamath Falls) the company's operations are generally reported to be in Aspgrove. It appears that initially the Modoc Lumber Co was the holding company and sales unit, while the production group, including the mill and narrow gauge railroad operated as the Williamson River Logging Co. Goldthwaith rebuilt the mill, and added a 3’ gauge logging line, starting with a 25 ton 2 truck Heisler (c/n 1018, built 2/1898 for Pacific Coast Borax for the Borate & Daggett) and eventually, as many as 25 pair of disconnect log cars.

In the early 1920's a decrease in lumber prices lead to losses on trade acceptances with it's SF distributor, Macomber-Savidge Lumber Co. Finding itself indebted to the Macomber-Savidge Lumber Co., J. O. Goldthwaith mortgaged the company to the L. B. Menefee Lumber. At that time, the railroad had 8 miles of track, 1 locomotive and 25, 1 ton pair of disconnects. The company was reorganized in 1923, becoming the Modoc Pine Lumber Company. While the mill did not operate during 1923 (and possibly 1924 as well), improvement programs continued and another seven miles of track was added by April.

The date of the conversion to from narrow gauge to standard gauge is disputed, variously described as 1922 or 1923, or as after 1925 when Forest Lumber took over. The author suspects the original line, which was built west of the Southern Pacific mainline was built as narrow gauge, but when extended across the Southern Pacific to the east, after 1923, the new track was standard gauge, using Southern Pacific tracks to reach the mill. There is strong evidence that the narrow gauge line to the west of the SP was abandoned by Forest Lumber and Heisler No 1 rebuilt and reguaged.

The company reopened for the 1925 season now under control of L.B. Menefee, who added a second standard gauge heisler to the roster. Tragedy struck in May, 1925 when the mill burned to the ground. Signor reports that at the time of the take over (1925) Forest Lumber received 70 flat cars (more likely a mix of narrow gauge disconnect trucks and standard gauge flatcars), and attributes one shay to Menefee.

As a result, the property was sold to Forest Lumber of Kansas City (via Exchange Sawmill Sales Co., also of Kansas City) who rebuilt the mill and extended the railroad. As a standard gauge line Signor reports they used SP log cars, but one photo shows steel flat cars in use. Forest lumber would eventually add a 4-6-0 and a Pacific Coast Shay. The mill burned again in 1939, forcing the company cease operations and abandoned the railroad.

Sources:
Bowden, Jack, Railroad Logging in the Klamath Country (Oso Publishing, Hamilton MT, 2003) p169-179
Kline, Benjamin The Heisler Locomotive, 1891-1941 (by the author, Lancaster PA, 1982) 
Koch, Michael, The Shay Locomotive, Titan of the Timber, (World Press, Denver, 1971)
Signor, John, Southern Pacific’s Shasta Division, (Signature Press, Wilton CA, 2000) p180,181
Collections:
The Oregon Historical Society - MSS 1734: 8cubic feet of records from the Modoc Lumber Co. At present the records are unprocessed.
Jack Bowden Collection - Shaw Library, Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls.
Historic Oregon Newspapers - University of Oregon.

Reference Data Available Online:

Books.

"Lumbering in Klamath". A history of Klamath area logging W.E. Lamm, 1957. - Courtesy Oregon State University Library.

Court Cases.

Case involving Modoc Lumber, its San Francisco distributor, and L.B. Menefee. - Courtesy Public Resource.

Photographs.

G. E. E. Lindquist, Collection of Native American Photographs, held by Burke Library, Columbia University. - Includes photos of logging on the Klamath Indian Reservation, on the Williamson River. Log cars are marked SP Co, and one unidentified shay is shown.


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