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California \ Sierra Lumber Company.

The Sierra Lumber Company.

By Andrew Brandon

Sierra Flume & Lumber Co. Operations
Incorporated in 1878 by creditors of the bankrupt Sierra Flume and Lumber Company, the Sierra Lumber Company inherited an array of flumes, sawmills, horse drawn tramways and a short standard gauge railroad. Prior to its bankruptcy the Sierra Flume and Lumber Company had been formed in 1875 by the acquisition of a handful of logging operations spread across Butte, Tehama and Plumas counties. After the first year of operation, the company boasted 10 sawmills, 23 miles of logging tramway, 156 miles of flume, 3 planning mills, 2 sash, door and blind factories as well as 250 miles of telegraph lines allowing for communication between all of these operations. During 1876 the Sierra Flume and Lumber Co. erected an expansive planing mill and factory on the on the Eastern side of the Sacramento River near Red Bluff. There, they constructed a standard gauge connection from the mill to the Oregon & California Railroad. On July 9th, 1878 the company suspended operations after accumulating nearly $600,000 in debt. Within a month the creditors had appointed trustees and resumed partial operations. On October 4th, the Sierra Lumber Company was incorporated.

In September 1880 the railroad began planning a meter gauge line from their mill at Lyonsville deeper into their timber holdings and potentially, even further into Plumas county. In March of 1881 construction began from Lyonsville. Using the tramway roadbed, George Winans and crew constructed strap-iron rails towards the "New" Yellow Jacket Mill. The choice in meter gauge is reputedly due to county taxes only being levied against railroads with gauges common among American practice, of which, meter gauge was not. The first steam locomotive, a 0-4-0T built by Union Iron Works of San Francisco, arrived in Red Bluff on May 4th ,1881. and a second was added in 1883. A third locomotive was purchased in 1896. During these early years the company logged primarily with the use of horse teams, in 1889 put their first Dolbeer steam donkey to work in the woods. Shortly there-after more Dolbeers were purchased, replacing much of the work formerly done with horses. Logs would be moved to landings along the railroad, at which they were loaded upon disconnects and moved to the mill. From here rough cut lumber would be shipped by flume down to the associated finishing mill.

In 1900 the company had expanded operations at their Providence Mill along Big Chico Creek far enough out into the woods to warrant construction of another meter gauge railroad. Initially, the railroad purchased another locomotive, numbered "1" for their Big Chico Creek operations. In 1902 the original number "1" was rebuilt from an 0-4-0T to a 0-6-0T, renumbered "2" and moved from the Lyonsville operations to Big Chico Creek. Minnesota lumber firm R. W. Turnbull & Son purchased the Sierra Lumber Co. for $3,000,000. Survey crews were dispatched the woods surveying new routes for railroads between Lyonsville and Chico to their respective mills. Despite this, operations out of the Providence Mill were suspended in 1906, when the mill was dismantled to be moved 10 miles further into woods. The railroad would also be packed up and moved, its former roadbed used for the extension of the flume. December of 1906 saw construction of the new mill at Soda Springs, just about a mile from Butte Meadows. Grading was begun on the new line from this mill into the woods in early 1907, this work would be in its infancy when the company was purchased by the Diamond Match Company in March of that year. The Diamond Match Company would operate the property for several years before packing up the entire operation and moving it holdings further south.

Reference Data Available Online:


Collected Sierra Lumber Co. Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Sierra Lumber Co. Photographs.
California State University Chico, Meriam Library Digital Collections.

California \ Sierra Lumber Company.
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