Glen Blair

Glen Blair Glen Blair (originally called Glenela) is gone to the point that you cannot even get there unless you know your way down the logging roads and have the keys to the gates. This map shows its location.

The valleys behind the mill that the Glen Blair mill logged were reputed to hold the finest redwoods on the coast. One old local told a club member that any tree less than three feet in diameter was considered too small to log. The mill (see picture) became part of Union Lumber Company in 1891.

The mill began operations in 1886 and was prosperous until the 1920’s when lumber prices plummeted. It closed in 1925, re-opened in 1926 and finally closed in 1928.

Club member Hank Simonson lived at Glen Blair when he was very young. When Hank was in his late eighties, some 75 years after he lived at Glen Blair, Hank was taken by a forester who now lives near the site of the Glen Blair Mill out to where he used to live. Hank was amazed to find that the second growth redwoods had engulfed the mill site and where he lived and were already 50 and 60 feet tall.

When he was in his eighties Hank helped a Fort Bragg High School student prepare a paper on Glen Blair. It provides an excellent history of the rise and demise of Glen Blair and is reproduced below:

In 1885, Captain Samuel Blair purchased the land where the Glen Blair Redwood Company, formerly the Pudding Creek Lumber Company (PCLC), was located. He first arrived as a ship’s captain and then who moved here and married Abigail Kelly, the sister of one W. H. Kelly for whom the Kelly House in Mendocino is named. Alex McCallum, the husband of Abigail’s niece Daisy, was Blair’s choice for mill’s manager. J. W. Barrett, a man who had been involved in the construction of other mills in the area such as the mill at Mill Creek, was hired to assist Alex McCallum in the planning and construction of the new mill for Capt. Blair. He stayed on as the first mill boss at Glen Blair. John Ross Jr., the son of the Baptist preacher from Casper, was hired as the bookkeeper and store manager in 1886 as the mill got underway. John Ross had been recruited from the Heesers, for whom he had worked effectively and who were unhappy to see him go, to work at the mill as both the bookkeeper and the store manager for $75 a month. The first woods boss at the mill was Charles Murray, for whom Murray Gulch was named.

The area, formerly known as Glenela, had been logged within one mile of Blair’s property line. At the same time that the Glen Blair mill was being constructed, C.R. Johnson was starting a mill in Fort Bragg, and was using the railroad to haul the logs from the close logging site into town at this mill (Fort Bragg Redwood Co.). The original camp for the construction of the mill may have been at the Mud Flats, according to Charlie Weller, located at an area within about a mile of the Glen. This would have provided a location for the men to camp in a flat space and be near the area to work. The location of the mill is 6.6 miles by rail up Pudding Creek. The property continued up Pudding Creek to the Junction, a spot where Little Valley Creek meets the main fork of Pudding Creek, perhaps a mile upstream of the mill itself. At times, the pond on the north end of the mill filled all the way back and past this Junction. Until the completion of the (CWR) tunnel (#1) in 1893, Glen Blair was the end of the line for the railroad tracks.

The Glen Blair mill was designed using the most current technology of the time including, one of the first band saws on the North Coast. The band saw, a circular piece of metal band with teeth, first on only one side, but later on both, was used stretched between two wheels that spun and drove the blade. This was an effective method of sawing because it not only allowed any size of log to pass through the blade, but it also sliced a smaller kerf. The kerf is the cut in the log and the narrow blade made it possible to make narrower cuts and created less sawdust to manage inside the mill. It was designed and built as a modern steam mill, steam driving the belts for the wheels, as well as a shingle mill. As was needed, the mill’s boilers grew in number accordingly, from the original one, to four. Shingles were cut from the sections that were cut from the log in order to square it. An article in the Mendocino Beacon on Sept. 11, 1886 that was quoted from Wood and Iron read:

Pudding Creek Lumber Co., owned by Capt. Samuel Blair, the well-known capitalist of this city, and A. McCallum of Mendocino, have their mill in complete order. This mill is located on the F.B. railroad, 7 miles from the coast, in a section of splendid timber. It has an 18 x 30 engine, a heavy Stearms band mill, steel tubular boiler, Stearms head blocks, steel carriage irons, Goodell and Waters planing machinery and Hull’s shingle machinery. This mill commenced running last month and is doing fine.

Glen Blair Mill and town in 1890

In 1886, in the summer, the mill began to operate. Approximately 80 men were employed at this time. Trees were harvested and brought to the mill pond by bull teams, Glen Blair being one of the last mills to continue logging with bull teams and skid roads. In 1887, the railroad tracks reached the mill, and lumber began to be hauled out by train on the railroad to a drying and retail yard in Fort Bragg on Fir Street next to the Fort Bragg Co.’s lot, from which the lumber was loaded onto ships through Fort Bragg Lumber Company’s dock. The PCLC rented the land to dry the lumber from the Fort Bragg Company. The lumber went out on several different ships. Glen Blair lumber had a reputation for especially clear redwood and was shipped all over the world. Capt. Blair sent some of the lumber on his own ship, the Rival. John Ross sailed with one load to San Pedro in December of 1888.

Glen Blair Mill

The Glen Blair community began to thrive and prosper. After a big storm in January of 1888, the area continued to develop and the mill ran despite having had water run through it. During the fall of the same year, the school was constructed. The community was trying to be as independent as possible. A blacksmith shod the hooves of the bulls. His shop was in the town, and he had a sling in which to lift the bulls to shoe them. Bulls have cleaved hooves and need a different shoe than a horse. The land that was logged in the Glen and on the surrounding slopes was fenced off and used for the cattle to graze. The cookhouse produced food, usually prepared by Chinese cooks. The community now lived, worked and ate in the Glen, self-sufficient and flourishing.

However, in 1893, a world-wide depression forced the mill to close. John Ross and many other employees left the mill. The next year, PCLC bought land in Little Valley to use for agricultural purposes and further enhance the independent self-sufficiency that enabled Glen Blair to remain isolated and continue to survive. The land farther up the main fork of Pudding Creek was later planted with an apple orchard. Seymour Burwash was in charge of the agriculture, both on the Little Valley ranch and in this orchard. He planted several different types of apples in the orchard, but although John Gildersleeve found them appetizing, they were generally avoided when Burwash tried to dry them with his new apple drier. Supposedly they tasted a little smoky. Burwash also planted other type of agricultural products such as potatoes on the Little Valley property. The mill started up again in April of 1895 and rail was purchased by the company. The mill continued to run in to the next year, and John Ross was hired back. Six months later, Capt. Blair died. Alex and Daisy moved to San Francisco with their children and managed the estate, leaving John Ross in charge. He managed the mill until 1899, when he was offered a job as the manager of the Greenwood mill in Elk. He accepted, and the mill was turned over to the management of Alex McCallum’s brother, John McCallum. The year before, an earthquake shook down chimneys and damaged the water tanks. The Rival was sold to Robert Dollar in 1899, and eventually headed up to participate in the gold rush in Alaska that started in ’98.

In 1903, Abigail Blair sold the mill to Allen A. Curtis, John Sinclair, formerly of Pacific Lumber Company, and C.R. Johnson of Union Lumber Company. This signaled the end of the old mill. It was given an extensive overhaul and restored. A Post Office was established, and for practical purposes, the name of the town was combined to “Glenblair.” The first locomotive, Shay 1, was purchased at this time from the Usal company. It had to be disassembled and reassembled after shipment. A fire destroyed the cookhouse and the saloon, ignited from the burning trash pile. It was later reconstructed.

Glen Blair logging Camp in 1924

Business surged again in 1906, as the mill ran night and day to produce the lumber to rebuild San Francisco. The men worked frantically to fill the need, and the profits were large. In 1908, the Shay 2 was purchased and Andy Dockham was the engineer. He was unique in that he did not have his feet and wore prostheses to get around. The Shay 2 was specially designed to pull, and worked well in the woods. The tracks now extended into the woods for the train to bring the timber to the mill as well as away from it. However, bull teams were still used frequently, as well as steam donkeys around this same time.

The (steam locomotive) Dinky was purchased in 1910, and was later driven by Oscar Harrison. In 1911, construction was started on the social hall which would be completed sometime in 1913. This replaced the social hangout at the store. In 1914, a new camp was built at Cookhouse Gulch, farther up the main fork of the creek. In 1924, new boilers were purchased from the Eureka Boilerworks. Unfortunately, these were only used for a year, as the mill closed for the last time in mid-April of 1925. The woods operation continued until around 1928, when the Little Valley drying yard was emptied and the tracks were taken up from the mill.

Pudding Creek was dammed at the north end of the mill to form a log pond. Logs were brought to the pond and floated down to the mill. Most of these logs were skidded down skid roads by bull teams. The pond was dammed, but water ran over this dam four feet deep in 1888. The dammed water allowed logs to be dropped in almost a mile upstream. Some of the logs were kept on land, usually ones on which the butt was so heavy that it would sink were it placed in the pond. They were they guided in the pond by a man with a long pole, directed toward the log slide which pulled logs up on a belt.

Once in the mill, the logs were squared, using the slabs from the sides as pickets or shingles. Then the log was cut so size and sent to be sorted for any further cuts. The addition of the double-sided band saw allowed the logs to be passed though more times and moved around less inside the mill, saving time and energy. One of the difficulties faced was finding someone who could sharpen the blade for the band saw. The edger gave a standard width and size to the posts, which were then sent on to the trimmers to be cut into standard lengths. The edger was usually made up of six saws and cut the boards up. After the trimmers, the lumber was graded and then sorted according to grade and sent out the south end of the mill, where it was loaded onto the cars of the train and sent into town.

An airyard also existed at Little Valley where the lumber could air-dry before being taken in to the retail yard in Fort Bragg. The area to the west of the mill was eventually decked over, where it was originally only lined with logs so as not to wash away the banks of the creek. A conveyor took the waste up and over the river to the west and waste-burning “slash” pile. The waste was then burned in the pile that eventually resulted in the fire that burned the cookhouse. Working in the log pond and in the mill were dangerous jobs, and more than one man lost his life doing them.

The tracks extended into the woods, using a steam donkey to load logs on to the cars and bring them to the mill where they were deposited in the log pond. They ran along both sides of the river to the north, with a roundhouse on the east side of the river past the mill on the way to the Junction. This also enabled the train to dump logs on this side of the pond and turn around to get to the cabins on the east side of the creek. The tracks ran along the east side, back even to the south and to the men’s cabins to pick them up at various times. The trains ran a passenger car at times, leaving for Fort Brag at an early hour (around 6 a.m.) and returning around 8. The earlier trains burned wood, not coal or oil. The trains did more passenger trips in 1913 and 1914. The Dinky used to collect people and bring them to the Social Hall to see the Thursday movie presented there that usually played on weekends in Fort Bragg. In 1913 and 1914 it ran several passenger trips. The blacksmith operated the hand-cranked movie projector. As well as watching movies, one was also filmed in Glen Blair. “Strange Gods,” with actors Dustin Farman and Doris Pawn, was filmed in Glen Blair, and John Fonts remembered having been dressed up like Charlie Chaplain and entertaining the movie company.

The men worked from 6 to 6, Monday through Saturday. The Social Hall became a place to hang out and socialize. For about a year and a half, Alex McCallum had a saloon next to the cookhouse, open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., and closed on account of any drunkenness which did not seem to be frequent. It is unclear why he discontinued its use. The barber shop contained a barber’s chair and was open for anyone who felt like they could cut hair. The watchmen spent time here when they were needed around the clock after the mill closed in 1925. The cookhouse was reputed to be hard on the digestive system, yet commonly used by the single men. The store and school remained part of the community until 1928 when most people left.

Disease was dangerous during this time, and an outbreak of diphtheria or TB could be devastating. The men were not well groomed, rarely washing their clothing and only bathing in the river and inconsistently at that. Women landscaped and gardened, keeping the community self-sufficient, and there was even a vegetable garden behind the cookhouse to provide a variety. Beef from the cattle was a major source of food for the loggers.

The mill worked on steam-turned belts, producing around 50,000 board feet each shift. The train ran to town twice each day, taking around three carloads per trip. The bull teams would bring 15-30,000 lumber feet per load, in between five and twenty-five log chains. There were generally between five and seven pairs of bulls pulling the log chain. This was a dangerous venture, and more than one bull team went over the edges of skid roads. The roads were banked away from cliffs and embankments on sharp corners, but were dangerous nonetheless.

The skid roads were made up of different types of wood for different uses. Should a road only be planned to be in use for a short amount of time, the type of wood was not important. However, if the road were to be in use for more than a couple of months the wood used was oak or madrone, or occasionally, redwood suckers without any sapwood would last for an extended amount of time. The logs were generally laid around four feet from each other. Skid logs were only used where needed, especially if the stretch of road was not sloped or had uneven ground. Jack screws were used to move the logs to the road, move the trees that have been bucked and so on.

Falling a redwood was a difficult undertaking. The bed on which it was to fall had to be designed and cleared so that the tree would not shatter when it landed. The whole tree made more lumber than shattered sections. Oscar Harrison said at times, the layout for where a tree would fall could take up to a week, where it would take most of one day to fall a tree ten feet in diameter. Men generally started on a tree by deciding where to fall it. The next step was to make an undercut to direct the tree’s fall. The bed where it would fall was cleared and padded so the tree would remain whole. After this cut was made, the chopper would often make another cut, the back cut, on the other side of the tree, slightly higher, then go to work. Choppers used spring boards for the purpose of falling the tree between ten and fifteen feet off the ground. This allowed them to avoid the heavy bottom of the tree that would cause it to sink in the pond if it remained. The board was usually around the size of a two-by-eight and about five feet in length. The board was tapered so that it could be placed in a hole cut into the tree. The chopper then stood on this board to fall the tree. By jumping and pulling with his feet, a chopper could move the board as he stood on it. A saw was then used to finish the job, often including the back cut on the tree. The axes used for chopping were around four inches wide, twelve inches from bit to bit, and had a handle around three to four feet long.

When the tree was on the ground, other men set to work. Either the barker, a man who removed the bark from the tree, or the bucker, a man who would buck the tree into sections to haul to the road, would cut the limbs off the tree. The bucker would take a cross-cut saw and buck the tree into manageable sections. He usually worked alone, as it had been discovered that they worked less efficiently in pairs. The barker would then take the bark from the tree, peeling it with a peeling bar to remove the bark. When the sap was at its best, the bark could easily be peeled from the redwood with the razor-sharp piece of steel. The idea for spring boards was most likely from this region, because redwood trees are of such a size to require the use of a tool like this. A jack screw was then used to move the logs to the skid road where they could be chained together in order from largest to smallest for the bulls to pull later.

The bull teams were the true workers in the woods. Teams of five to eight yoke of bulls pulled the logs to the mill and provided the means to log remote areas. The bulls averaged around two miles per hour on pulls to and from the mill. The Bull Punch was in charge of driving the team. He called out the commands to the bull team: “Haw” to turn to the left and “Gee” to turn to the right as well as other commands. His position was a good one, but the skill was in the way the commands were given to the bulls. The Leaders were the first yoke of the team and had to respond to the commands of the Bull Punch. Each bull weighed between fourteen hundred and eighteen hundred pounds. These animals were able to pull between five and twenty-five logs. The Wheeler was the last yoke and held the load back. The next man was the Sugler. He rode the first log and was in charge of the chains and couplings for the “rough lock.” This was a chain strung over the first log to be dropped in front of it as the team went down a steep grade. This provided friction and kept the logs from running over the bulls and killing them. At the bottom of the grade, the chain would be removed, with shovels if it was necessary, and returned to its place. The Sniper would cut a “snipe” at the front of each log, an angular slice to prevent the log from catching on anything on the skid road. He used a special wide axe, and also might help the barkers remove limbs. The logs were placed on their “ride,” the side on which the log lay most naturally, so that they would not bounce around on the skid road. The logs stayed on their ride even in the pond when they had been deposited. “Dogs” were driven into the log, an iron ring through which the chain and pulling line could be attached to the log. The last log in the line was a hollowed out shell called the boat. This was used for hauling all of the tools back to the camp. When everything was ready to move, the team set out to the sound of the Bull Puncher’s call. A water boy ran along in front of the team, wetting the skid logs to keep them smooth and slick for the logs coming with the bulls. Occasionally the logs were greased with mutton tallow, but most frequently water was used because it was cheaper. The water boy carried two five-gallon coal oil cans of water, which he refilled at points along the way where barrels held water placed there for this purpose. When the team reached the end of the skid road, the logs were unhitched from the team and a jack screw was used to push them into the log pond at the bottom.

A log pond was created by building a dam to stop the water at the mill. However, in some cases, the water had to be stopped above the mill with a boom that would raise the water level in the river upstream and the logs could be deposited there. When the pond was full enough above the boom, the water could be released and the logs would flow downstream with the ensuing flood. However, at times these booms gave way and the logs were lost, along with much work. Once at the log pond, the logs floated until the mill was ready for them. When it was, it is possible that the steam donkey that can be seen in early pictures of the mill was used to move the logs into position or perhaps even pull them up the slide into the mill. The actual bull teams were used longer at Glen Blair than at most mills, but even at Glen Blair, they faded around 1910.

The community of Glen Blair was alive with people. The school ran and several children attended. The cookhouse was rebuilt without the saloon and looked different than the original. An interesting story from John Ross tells of his return trip following his voyage on the Rival. Coming home, he was accosted in a stage robbery in Anderson Valley. Not too long after this, the company store was held up. According to the Beacon, a robber broke in and woke John, demanding the money from the safe. After he opened the safe, John let the man bend down to get the money, and proceeded to knock him down with a chair. A fight followed and John was hit with the revolver several times and the burglar escaped. Stories such as this fill the memories of those who lived and worked at the mill. The community lived independently and prosperously for some time.

After the mill shut down in 1925, the woods continued to operate. Lester Cavanaugh was the woods boss in 1927 and 1928. The cookhouse was run by Bill Quinn, reputedly one of the best ever. In 1928, the school, store and post office all closed, leaving Glen Blair a ghost town. The rail was torn up in 1941, and later sold for scrap with the ensuing World War II. Later, H. H. Wonocott came and photographed the mill for the owners. The mill was auctioned off by its owners at a point not long after Wonocott’s photos returned, making the mill look in ill repair and poor shape. At that time, other than being obsolete, the mill probably could have run with a little work. It was simply no longer feasible nor desirable to keep this mill running.

Today, there is very little left of what used to be the mill. A few pilings stand in the creek. Rose bushes and daisies, originally from Daisey McCallum’s gardens, spot the area between two and three miles from Sherwood Road on the old G-P logging road, just a bit past the gate from the Mud Flats. The most telling indicator of the town’s presence is the grove of black walnut trees on the south-west side of the road which were planted by Seymour Burwash.

Glen Blair was the subject of pages 2 through 5 in Issue 261 of the Western Railroader issued in September, 1961. This magazine is reproduced in full here or by clicking thumbnail right. A pdf version can be downloaded  here.

Glen Blair – The End of the Line by Denise Stanley Stenberg Published in 2009 by the Mendocino Coast Historical Society ISBN 978-0-9817979-1-5

Author Denise Stenberg’s mother was born in Glen Blair and her family still owns property at Glen Blair. Ms. Stenberg’s book tells the story of the birth and death of Glen Blair very well. The book contains very good photographs and maps to augment the text.

Property of Club Member Tony Phillips