"Hidden below the steep, rocky walls of Big Chico Creek Canyon," Andy Mark writes, "located in the foothills east of Chico ... , lies a story of hardy men who, at the turn of the twentieth century, often risked life and limb to help shape the growing western frontier. Today this country is mostly inaccessible by vehicle, except to Sierra Pacific Industries and the loggers. ..."
Mark, who worked as a railroad brakeman and conductor for more than two decades, returned to Chico State University and emerged a data analyst. But he is also a member of the Butte County Historical Society and an avid hiker and mountain biker. As he traveled the back country of Butte and Tehama Counties, he was intrigued by traces of milling operations. Standing on the shoulders of local historians W.H. Hutchinson and John Nopel, he "felt the only way to get unique stories about this place was to literally go back in time by reading what the newspapers then had to say about it."
The stories come together beautifully in "The West Branch Mill Of The Sierra Lumber Company: Early Logging In Northeastern California" ($19.99 in paperback from The History Press, www.historypress.net). It features dozens of carefully selected black and white photographs and maps.
Mark will be signing copies of his book this Thursday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.
Mark is intrigued by the process a century ago: "The rough-cut lumber from the mill was sent down a twenty-five-mile-long flume to the Chico factory, which specialized in fruit box and tray stock and more. Injured loggers were sometimes sent in makeshift boats down this same waterway. ... There was essentially only one way to get to the mill from the valley, and that was on the Humboldt Wagon Road" which was not exactly a smooth ride.
"In 1900," Mark writes, "it was reported that Sierra Lumber Company paid out more money for labor than any other industry in Butte County, primarily because of the West Branch Mill." The centerpiece of the book is the story of Dr. N.T. Enloe who became on-site physician for the West Branch Mill in 1901.
In the end, says Mark, "we tip our hats to the boys of yore."