When timber was king in Truckee
This weekend Truckee celebrates it’s history with Windows on History. Historic downtown will be the scene of a wide array of events that will give visitors and residents alike a taste of times past in Truckee. In it’s beginning, Truckee’s commerce and economy were directly tied to the Central Pacific Railroad, without which the town never would have existed. Many towns along the tracks came into being with the construction of the railroad, and died just as quickly as soon as the railroad was completed. The forests of the Truckee River watershed provided the basis for the town to survive, thrive and become the modern Truckee we are familiar with today. From 1866 until 1989, the lumber industry was a major force in the area’s economy.The forests of the Truckee area were composed of mostly large diameter pine and fir. Trees that grew up to four foot in diameter were common, with numerous other trees of two foot diameter. This wilderness was viewed by society of the time as a resource to supply the demands of Western America for adequate houses and businesses. They felt that the forests would last forever.The first major lumber markets were Reno and the silver mines of Virginia City. Over the decades the market would expand to Eastern Nevada, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Southern California, and even to Arizona and New Mexico in the 1880s.
Before the railroad was built, a small water sawmill was started in 1863 on Coldstream Creek near Donner Lake. The mill lumber from Angus McPherson’s mill was used to build stage stops on the Dutch Flat-Donner Lake Wagon Road in the Donner Lake and Truckee area.The first lumber mill in the immediate Truckee vicinity was built by Truckee River pioneer Joseph Gray and George Schaffer in 1867, when the village was known as Gray’s Station. They built a wooden bridge to transport their lumber from the mill across the river to the railroad tracks. The modern bridge is still in the same location, though the exact location of the mill has been lost.Trees were cut into 16-foot logs and dragged to the sawmill. As cutting moved back into the forests, the logs were loaded onto open wagon frames, known as trucks and hauled by oxen or horses to the sawmill. In 1872, Schaffer moved his mill three miles south near Martis Creek and continued his operations. Schaffer was noted for winter logging. Horses with snowshoes on their hooves would pack trails through the snow, which allowed them to drag larger loads of logs on sleighs over the snow than they could in the summer.Experienced California sawmill operator Elle Ellen moved to Truckee in 1868 at the height of the railroad’s demand for ties and timbers. He selected an ideal site for his steam powered sawmill along Trout Creek, just beyond the eastern edge of Gray’s Station. This site is now the area near the Recreation Center. Ellen logged the northern hills above Truckee and up Trout Creek. He used winter logging as well as trucks in the summer to haul his logs. He built a shingle and planing mill on the site as well. In 1878 he moved his sawmill up Trout Creek three miles into what is now Tahoe Donner.
George & Warren Richardson first built a sawmill near Soda Springs in 1868. They moved to the West Branch of Martis Creek in 1874. This location is now in what is Northstar. They logged up Hot Springs Road, now Highway 267, moving the mill to a second location further up the mountain in the 1890s. They closed their operations down in 1903.The brothers built a lumber yard, planing mill and box factory at Martis Creek Station on the Central Pacific Railroad across from the confluence with Martis Creek and the Truckee River. After that complex burned in 1887, they relocated to East River Street in Truckee, hauling their lumber through Martis Valley with a steam wagon. This site would later provide the power for an electric light plant serving Truckee residents.Seth Martin built sawmills on both Prosser Creek and Sagehen Creek in the early 1870s. They were taken over by Oliver Lonkey by 1880. This was the start of an operation that included these mills, a box factory at Prosser Creek Station on the railroad and a large factory at Verdi. Once these two mills were closed down in the late 1880s, Lonkey began building up the Verdi Lumber Company rail system that eventually ran through Dog Valley, Sardine Valley, into Lemmon Canyon and to within three miles of Sierraville.Wooden V flumes were used to transport their lumber to town and the railroad. Water was used to float timbers, ties, rough lumber and firewood down the wooden artificial stream that was technologically advanced for its time. Small boats were built to ride loggers down the flume to get to town on Saturday nights. At least seven separate V flumes were built to move lumber to the railroad. Large quantities of lumber and barrels of square nails were used in the construction of these flumes, but the cost was offset by the huge demand for lumber throughout the west.
The major lumber industry employer in Truckee from its start in 1867 was the Truckee Lumber Company. It was founded by George Geisendorfer and Edward Brickell, and in 1873 William Kruger bought out Geisendorfer. The Truckee Lumber Company’s sawmill was located on the Truckee River in the area of West River Street and the McIver Undercrossing.A separate lumber factory was by J.H. Hoadley further downstream about the same time. The factory was bought by the TLC and expanded. While the sawmill cut up to 12 million board feet during a typical summer season, the factory ran all year. Eventually it used all of the sawmill production and bought lumber from the Ellen & Schaffer sawmills.