Friday, December 6, 2013

REDISCOVERING THE WEST BRANCH MILL


A book review and part two of this two-part epic…

The West Branch Mill of the Sierra Lumber Company Andy Mark; The History Press; Charleston, SC; 2012


Tucked away in a corner of your local independent bookseller, or, perhaps, sprinkled through their collection, one will find gems not destined for the New York Times Best Seller List.  Works by little-known local authors who have a story to tell or a piece of history to regale, simply because that is their passion. 

Back in about 1969, my father and I took it upon ourselves to find West Branch, the site of a small lumber mill that, by the time we’d arrived, vanished. [See related Post: http://thechurchoftheopenroad.blogspot.com/2013/12/discovering-west-branch-mill.html]  I'd been reminded of our adventure by an old Kodachrome slide of his I uncovered.  Then, the other day, while shopping for books for others, I stumbled across Andy Mark’s The West Branch Mill at a small bookseller in Chico.

Mr. Mark apparently shares my love of history that oozes from the canyons and foothills in and around Chico.  But he did me one better: He researched and wrote about his discoveries.

Within the cover of this little work one finds the thread linking Chico’s earliest pioneers to an industrial past I still remember.  Historic photos and their contemporary counterparts illustrate the massive efforts in which men engaged in order to tame this little corner of the west – and what remains of their work.  I’d heard that flumes not only carried logs from the mountains to town, but also, on rafts constructed solely for the purpose, injured loggers.  A photo shows Dr. Newton Enloe (grandfather of a high school classmate) riding the flume on one of these.

I thought I knew Chico Creek from headwaters to the Sacramento.  As a kid I swam and canoed in the creek.  I bicycled and hiked in Upper Bidwell Park and was tapped, at 16, to help designate the route for the Yahi Trail, which is maintained by the City of Chico to this day.  In 1986, my wife and I chose to be married at the headwaters of the creek in Chico Meadows.  Still, I had no idea that, four or five miles east of the park, a huge, hand-built arching, wooden structure supported a flume from the mill.

Original Source: Mr. John Nopel
Well-researched (Recall church elder “John” from a previous post?  That’d be John Nopel, longtime area historian who contributed the flume picture included herein) it contains stories of humor, determination and grit.  This piece of local history makes me want to discover more bits of lore in the field and more historic works in the bookstore.

One unfortunate footnote, however:  The text and the maps included in Mark’s work confirm that all those years ago, Dad had not parked the Land Cruiser anywhere near the old West Branch Mill.  I think we may have found the hotel a mile or so up the hill from the mill.  To me, this revelation appears to present a challenge, now doesn’t it?

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press

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