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Book Preserves History of Logging in Calaveras and Amador Counties
By Thomas Atkins   - 10/02/2008

Sierra Mountain Times

When the word ‘Gold!’ was first yelled by James Marshall in 1848, California was changed forever. It wasn’t just the rivers and rocks and hills that were transformed by dredging and tunneling…but the forests. In fact it was the wood from the forests that helped fuel what soon became known as the gold rush. As the shafts and tunnels penetrated further into the earth and the stamp mills increased, more and more trees were felled to provide the much needed timber for the mines and the booming communities they brought with them. Yet when the gold petered out, the seemingly endless forests did not, and for over 150 years logging was a predominate industry in the Central Sierra and became essential to California’s economy. This era was a fascinating time and thanks to

Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America’s latest book, “Logging in the Central Sierra,” one can relive the history, development, expansion and technological advances of the logging industry that took place right in our back yard! Written by Amador County historian, researcher and genealogist Carolyn Fregulia, the book offers an insightful look at the logging that took place in Calaveras, Amador and their surrounding counties.

Arcadia Publishing, which has published over 5,000 books since its start in 1993, has become the leading publisher of local and regional history in North America and has chronicled the history of communities from Bangor, Maine to Manhattan Beach, California. With more than 200 vintage black and white photographs, each book celebrates a town or region, bringing to life the people, places and events that defined the community. The Mother Lode area has been captured in several of these books including, “Murphys”, “Sonora”, “Columbia”, “Yosemite National Park”, and “Northern Calaveras County.” And now with the summer release of their latest book “Logging in the Central Sierra,” readers can enjoy another enthralling journey into the history of the Mother Lode.

Fregulia, who has also published a book entitled, “Italians of the Gold Country” with Arcadia Publishing, offers an insider’s look at the Central Sierra logging industry in her latest offering.

“Much of the information in this book has never been published,” she said. “It discusses the regional logging and sawmilling industry, in which a number of families were involved. Logging was essential to the Mother Lode region of California during the time of the Gold Rush and the era of hard rock mining. It became the primary industry during the mid 1900s. Today many individuals who participated in this industry still reside in the region.”

Fregulia interviewed several old time logging families in the area for her primary sources, but the key to this book, as to all of the Images of America books, are the spectacular photos. Each picture in the 128-page book tells a story and you will find yourself staring in awe as you flip through the pages containing images from the gold rush to the 1960s. Each page will transport you into a different era or a different forest, and it is quite an adventure. With a nice thick caption to go along with each picture, the book can be read from cover to cover in about an hour..but it definitely isn’t a one time read. Because it is so rich in information, it is a book that one will constantly be returning to for his or her fill of logging history. It is a delightful and captivating read and you will find yourself flipping through the pages time and time again, finding something new and intriguing to catch your attention.

To help one digest the information into more manageable doses, the book is divided into six sections. Chapter one: “Euro-Americans Come to the Central Sierra” gives an overview of the history of the land before it was settled and the devastating effects the settlers had on it. After discussing the gold rush it segues into the primitive days of logging. In the early years the logs were used for small cabins, flumes and fuel, but between the years 1860-1890 when the hard rock mines were in their peak, the demand for timber was insatiable and the Sierra was robbed of much of its prehistoric growth. Between 1855 and 1860 the number of lumber mills in the state had increased from 80 to 320, and by 1880 over one-third of the Sierra forrests on the east slope had disappeared. This eventually caused a public outcry and the Federal Forest Reserve Act in 1891 formed the Sierra, Stanislaus and Tahoe Reserves, which in 1907 were reorganized into 8 national forests: the Plumas, Tahoe, Toiyabe, El Dorado, Stanislaus, Sierra, Inyo and Sequoia.

Chapter 2: “The Early Years of Logging” focuses on the expansion of the logging industry and the various techniques that were produced. Circular saw blades soon replaced the whipsaw and steam engines and boilers soon replaced waterwheel mills and increased production substantially.

Chapter 3: “Early Transportation” was one of my favorite sections of the book as I learned the various ways logs were transported to the mills. At first the logs were dragged by animals, and oxen were the first draught animals employed in the woods. These brawny animals could easily pull 15,000 pounds of dead weight! Mules and horses were also used, but if possible, loggers preferred to float the wood down rivers or flumes. Between 1860-1862 millions of feet of sawed logs, mining timber and cord wood floated down the East Carson River with the spring thaw. There were as many as six log drives each spring, taking an average of 22 days to reach Empire, Nevada. The river was filled with wood six feet deep, stretching a distance of 4 ½ miles upstream. The largest drive was said to have contained 150,000 cords! During this time, the steam donkey, named for the animal it replaced, and road locomotives were also in use, but it’s not until the next chapter the real advances begin.

Chapter 4: “Twentieth Century Advances” discusses the larger, more permanent, high-production, steam-powered sawmills as well as the rise of tractors and mechanically powered saws. The picture of the first gasoline powered chainsaw in 1905 is incredible!

Chapter 5: “Logging Trucks” is pretty self-explanatory,
but you will be amazed at their development, which began thanks to the technologies introduced with World War 1.

Chapter 6: “The Berry Lumber Company” ends the book with a focus on the logging company that dominated the industry in Calaveras, Amador and El Dorado Counties for many years. Although it originally started as a small sawmill built to manufacture apple crates for the Berry apple orchard, it quickly became a profitable business and provided 120 jobs each season. The company was in operation for almost 50 years and the stories from the Berry family give wonderful insight into what life in a logging family was like.

All in all, “Logging in the Central Sierra” is an excellent addition to Arcadia’s Images of America series, and it is comforting to know that the fascinating history of the Mother Lode will not be forgotten.

“Logging in the Central Sierra” can be purchased for $19.99 and is available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com.

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