Caspar Lumber Company

A sawmill was built at the mouth of Caspar Creek in 1861 by William H. Kelley and Randall. In 1864 this sawmill was purchased by Jacob Jackson, who was born in Vermont in 1817. About 1870, Jackson purchased the schooner Cora to transport lumber from his sawmill to San Francisco. A second schooner “Elvenia” was built in 1872. When all timber close to the sawmill had been cut, Jackson built a 1.5 mile railroad north to Jug Handle Creek in 1874. This “railroad” had ties spaced at 6-foot intervals, and the “rails” were 6-inch by 8-inch wooden beams. Logs were transported to the sawmill from Jug Handle Creek on small cars towed by a horse and 5 mules. The wooden rails were shortly capped with iron straps to improve durability. The animal power was replaced in 1875 by a geared locomotive formerly used to transport sand fill behind the Embarcadero seawall in San Francisco. The strap rail proved troublesome for the locomotive, and was replaced by French iron rail salvaged from a shipwreck. Two more schooners “Abbie” and “Maxim” were purchased in 1876.

Caspar Lumber Company was incorporated in 1880. By that time the railroad was 3.5 miles long had ten railcars for transporting logs. The sawmill capacity was 45,000 board feet per day. A trestle was built over Jughandle Creek in 1884 to reach logs in Hare Creek to the north. The 6-mile railway from the sawmill to Hare Creek became known as the Caspar & Hare Creek Railroad. A new locomotive (#2) was purchased for better efficiency on the longer rail line. The locomotive was delivered disassembled on schooners. The largest piece weighed 8 tons. The pieces were transported from San Francisco aboard the schooner “Abbie” in 1885 and transferred to lighters for assembly ashore. The steam schooner “Caspar” was built in 1888. By 1888 rails had been extended 8 miles up Hare and the logging train was making five trips per day. A larger locomotive, # 3 was purchased in 1894.

Caspar Lumber Company began using steam donkeys in the early 1890s to load logs onto railway cars. The logs were typically 32 feet long and up to 12 to 14 feet in diameter. Screw jacks had previously been used to load the logs. Steam Donkeys were used to haul cars up and down inclines which were too steep for the locomotives. Cars were lowered or raised over these inclined tramways using a system of cables. One steam donkey could do the work of ten oxen skidding logs to railway loading points. The bull teams were replaced by steam donkeys between 1907 and 1915.

Steam donkeys belonging to the Caspar Lumber Company being transported on a railroad flatcar

The railroad was incorporated as the Caspar, South Fork and Eastern in 1903 with authorization to build to a connection with the Northwestern Pacific at Willits. A 1000-foot meter tunnel to reach the South Fork of the Noyo River was completed in 1904 passing under Route 20 near milepost 7. Camp 1 was constructed on the South Fork Noyo River in 1904; and became the headquarters of logging operations. In addition to redwood logs, carloads of tanoak were to shipped to San Francisco. By 1904 the 15-mile (25 km) railroad had 4 locomotives and 58 cars. A proposed extension of the railway down the South Fork to connect with the California Western Railroad at South Fork was never completed and the railway never reached Willits. 

Camp 1 of the Caspar Lumber Company

Caspar Lumber Company acquired the Redwood Manufacturers Company plant in Pittsburgh for seasoning and planing lumber milled at Caspar. The Company used its own steamships to transport its lumber from Caspar to Pittsburg.

Aerial view of the Caspar Mill in the 1930’s

The Jughandle Creek trestle collapsed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and was rebuilt in six months. The first Mallet locomotive in the Redwood Empire was delivered in 1910. Like the others, it was assembled in Caspar after arriving in pieces on ships. Wyes were constructed at Caspar and at Camp 1 to turn this large locomotive. Locomotives had previously burned wood, but Mallet number 5 had the capability to burn oil, and locomotives 2, 3 and 4 and the steam donkeys were soon converted to burn oil. In January, 1914, storm caused a landslide closing the tunnel. The sawmill was closed until the tunnel was reopened that summer. A Shay locomotive, #6 was bought to work on an isolated branch line on Three Chop Ridge connected to the remainder of the  railway by an inclined tramway.

An early photograph of the Caspar mill

Locomotives 2, 3 and 4 worked on branches out of Camp 1 while Mallet locomotive number 5 pulled trainloads of logs from Camp 1 to the mill at Caspar. The railroad was 30 miles long when the last locomotive (Mallet # 7) was delivered in 1924.

The gallery to the right contains photographs made on glass plates. They show Camp 1 and Camp 7 in operation. The photo of the Mill in its early days was obtained from the Berkeley Library.

Logging headquarters shifted from Camp 1 to Camp 19 in 1929. The depression closed the sawmill from 1931 to 1934. Logging headquarters shifted from Camp 19 to Camp 20 in 1939 when Caspar Lumber Company terminated steamship operations and began trucking lumber from Caspar to Pittsburg. All branch lines were dismantled by 1944. Trucks brought the logs to Camp 20, and Mallet locomotives 5 and 7 pulled trainloads of logs from Camp 20 to the mill at Caspar. Camp 20 was the easternmost extent of the 35-mile railroad.

Redwood log train belonging to the Caspar Lumber Company, on its way to Caspar from Chamberlain Creek Camp #20 along Willits-Ft. Bragg road, near 2-log creek
Camp 20 lies about halfway between Fort Bragg and Willits on the south side of Route. Today the Camp has this sign in front of it
Today to the left of the meadow there is a Donkey Engine
This picture of centralized peeling taken in the early 1920’s, shows Camp 20 when it was in operation. The bulldozer turned the logs and dumped the peeled bark over the bank for burning.
Bulldozer pushing away the peeled bark.
General view of landing. Logs are peeled to the right; loading to the left.
Opposite the meadow on the north side of Rte 20 is a road leading to Chamberlain Creek. On the right, going down the road is a barn. When this picture was taken, it was the tractor and bulldozer barn.
This is what the barn looked like when it was in operation. It had 40′ x 60′ main bay with 20′ wide lean to, a traveling crane with 2-way travel operated from ground by hand. The crane had a 10-ton Yale Block
This shows what the barn looked like when it was in operation. Close up view of the crane hoist.
When you drive by the barn now you will find it in sad shape. The barn, we are sure, was built of old growth redwood and whilst dilapidated the wood is in great shape. This is the front of the barn.
and this the West side of the barn
If you drive to the west side you will see that lifting machinery in the roof is still there.

A map of the Caspar Railroad, which also shows the route of the CWR from Fort Bragg to Willits can be seen here.

Most of old growth timber on Caspar Lumber Company lands had been cut by 1947. The sawmill operated until 18 November 1955. Caspar Lumber Company land was acquired by the State of California and became Jackson State Forest. The forest was named for Caspar Lumber Company founder, Jacob Green Jackson.

A detailed history of the Caspar Lumber Company appeared in Issues 315-316 of the Western Railroader magazine. This magazine is reproduced in full here. A pdf version of the original can be downloaded  here

We have been given a movie of the Caspar Lumber Company operations which contains amazing footage of the Caspar mill operating in 1903 (1903 IS correct!). Click the image on left to see the movie.

Jackson Demonstration Forest, which you pass through when you come to Fort Bragg via Route 20, comprises the forests that were logged and owned by the Caspar Lumber Company. They reverted to the State of California when Caspar lumber Company ceased operations.

The size of Caspar Lumber Company’s holdings can be judged from the two maps included herein. A copy of the first map can get be obtained from CalFire. The map has good topo info as well as showing the logging roads. Click here to see it.

The second map has less topo information but is easier to see the logging roads and camp details. Click here to see it.


Mallets on the Mendocino Coast – Caspar Lumber Company by Ted Wurm

This book is contains a very comprehensive history of the Caspar Lumber Company. ISBN0-9650213-4-3 Published in 2002

Property of Club Member Tony Phillips