Friday, September 23, 2011


Part of the North Coast – Volcanic Legacy tour

McCloud River RR Snowplow
IN TIMES DIFFERENT FROM OUR OWN, industry was thought glorious. Rails spanning the vast, arid reaches beyond the hundredth meridian conquered the west. Grasslands became range ridden by romantic figures on horseback. Minerals scratched from the ground funded our government. And felling an endless supply of trees provided materials for our expansion and growth.

During this cavalcade, crossroads became towns, towns became cities and honest people worked hard to create a future for themselves and their families and a future for America.

But industry suffers from cycles of boom and bust. Nearly as quickly as Bodie, California sprung from the hills east of the Bridgeport Valley, it turned to dust when gold’s allure faded. Similarly, the coastal town of Greenwood, only eleven hours north of the bay by sea, is remembered by only a few black and white photos of the timber harvest that occurred there. Platina died (I’ve just been told) when the platinum played out. For Cherokee, it was diamonds. Beldon’s knell came when the Feather River Railroad (the old WP) punched further up the canyon.

Some towns retooled. Others did not.

ON MULTI-DAY ROAD TRIP, we spent the night in McCloud, California. The McCloud Hotel served as the boarding house for school marms and for single men working the mill. The current owners have spared no expense in converting the building into an elegant hostelry. Common areas invite guests to mingle. Rooms range from simple singles to beautiful suites. Each is outfitted with period antiques. A stout and hearty breakfast is included.

Across the street, the depot for the defunct McCloud River Railroad tours rests. Several passenger cars patiently wait for the wail of a steam whistle. A rail switch is choked with weeds.

Walking around, it soon becomes apparent that the entire town is watched over by Mount Shasta, the second highest promontory in the state. Water from her aquifer nourishes the community and, according to the young lady at the front desk, no one in town pays for its consumption.

The streets are rolled up early
A small collection of businesses occupies another refurbished company building. Treading its boardwalk, once passes a café, candy store, general mercantile and another inn.

McCloud was, indeed, a company town. Blocks are filled with period houses of common design. Some are year-round residences; some are summer get-aways.

TAKING A LITTLE MORE TIME before departure in the morning, we toured around, discovering McCloud to be bigger than the area immediately adjacent to the hotel. Out toward the mill, we stumbled across the graveyard of the McCloud River Railroad. Soft Cushion boxcars – some cut apart for salvage – rust.

A maintenance of way car used for hauling ballast stands as if frozen in the sepia-tone of an earlier era.

An old caboose rests next to a water tower…

…and another one invites our curious inspection.

It is easy to picture a twenty-four hour cacophony coming from this yard during the heyday of Shasta lumbering.

The mill is closed. Last operated by California Cedar Products, I stop for a picture of the grand old lady…

…and poke my camera through an open door to snap a hollow, sad picture of the mill’s vast, vacant interior.  Somewhere in there I'm sure, echo the sounds of by-gone days and lost industry.  I holster the camera and wait...

NO WATER IS MORE PURE than that which flows from beneath Mount Shasta. A short while ago, a large multi-national approached the citizenry about putting a water bottling plant on or near the old mill site. The corporation would bring needed jobs to an economically struggling area utilizing an infrastructure in place from former industries. After much debate, we are told by the woman at the front desk, townsfolk rejected the plan asking, if we get our water for free, why should we allow you bottle it and then sell it to us?

Why indeed?

The company found a willing supply in Sacramento.

INDUSTRY IS STILL GLORIOUS, but it has changed. While, in America, we still are the most productive people on the planet, success is no longer measured by the number of ore cars that rumble down the right-of-way, or the board feet of lumber milled at a plant, or even the number of Chevrolets rolling off an assembly line back in Flint, Michigan.

Now, while we still manufacture cars and farm equipment and the hardware that tools industry itself, we also bottle drinking water, make films, build semi-conductors and push information around from place to place. We are less dependent on digging holes in the ground or chopping down great swaths of forest. We don’t need to. Consumer products, it seems, come mainly from elsewhere. We down that bottled water and ingest that information in a quickened lifestyle that would seem dizzying to the industrialists of yore. And we seem okay with it.

Still it’s nice to slow down and look back. It’s good to recognize the labor that went before – the labor that built the foundations upon which we now operate. And it’s welcome to find a place like McCloud or Greenwood or Bodie to simply sit quietly and reflect on it all.

(c) U C Davis
On a clear night at the base of Mount Shasta, if you listen hard, you can hear the faint clatter of steam driven locomotives and lumber mills and the muted, ghostly voices of the timber fellers and railroad men – chiseling the future we now enjoy.



The McCloud Hotel may be visited on line at  Better, however, that one visits in person!

For more information on the McCloud River Railroad, visit:

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. Mr. B,
    Excellent read and story told well as only you can do. This was one fine time! Thanks for creating the intinerary, being the tour guide, and above all for being the best pal. A great adventure and ride through history!