Monday, December 29, 2008

Owens Alley

My Mother, Elsie Branscomb.
Even having two teen aged kids at home, raising Flying Squirrels Grey Squirrels, and every other kind of a critter that I brought home, she still had time to run a soda fountain, with my aunt Vivian as a partner.

My mother, Elsie Branscomb and my aunt Vivian Newland owned a small soda fountain and hamburger grill in Garberville back in the late fifties called Owens Alley. It was the quintessential “Chocklit Shop” right out of an Archie Comic book. The shop was literally built in an alley between the Ford garage and the Unique Log House. It was about ten feet wide and maybe fifty or sixty feet long all together.

Back then, all of the Garberville waitresses wore uniforms . It was thought of as “professional” to do so. People took food service very seriously back then. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, and all that stuff.

Most all of their customers were "regulars". People that worked in town would have their lunch there, and they always had a large after school crowd. The grammar school kids would come in and have their after school treat to tide them over until dinner. The high school kids would come in on the bus from Miranda and they would gather there. It was more a social gathering than food eating, but they would all enjoy a treat before heading home.

One gentleman that my mother remembers well was a world famous man that most of the north coast surfers will remember. Doctor John Ball was the town Dentist back then. I still have a tooth with a root canal that Dr. Ball put in for me. He used to have lunch there every day. He was a health nut even back then, and he used to worry about what was in everything. The one downfall that he had was that he got hooked on moms “Sweet-potato Pie”. He never asked what was in it, he would just order his wicked little treat, and eat it like he was a little kid with candy.

Dr. Ball made his own surf boards back then, and he helped a friend of mine build one out of plywood. It was hollow inside and it was fiber-glassed on the outside. It was about nine feet long.

The fountain served any kind of a sweet concoction that you can imagine. We made all of our own Ice Creams and Ice Milks in the ice cream machine right out front. I say “we” because I used to work there after school. So, I get “part-time” credit. The ice cream room was state certified and it had to be built to state standards to sell ice cream that was made for retail sale. It had concrete floors and walls up four feet, with a central drain for hosing out the room on a regular basis. I’ve often wished that houses were built that way, so instead of dusting and cleaning all the time, all you would have to do is get out a hose and hose everything , dust and all, to the central drain.

We had a full “Soda Fountain” with the Swan-Neck tall faucets. One for soda water, and one for fresh water. We had all of the little tubs filled with strawberry sauce, pineapple sauce, and chocolate. We had pumps with every kind of syrups known to mankind.

We made malted milkshakes on order. One person that came in liked a chocolate malted milkshake, with a raw egg in it, then all whipped together on the milkshake mixer.

One of my girlfriends liked a chocolate cherry coke, and she always wanted me to make it for her because it had extra stuff in it that wasn’t really on the menu. The standard drink was three pumps of syrup, and soda water mixed up with ice. We would put an extra pump of syrup in the drink no-charge, but she liked three pumps of coke syrup, one pump of cherry syrup, and one pump of chocolate syrup. I had to sneak the extra pump of syrup past my mom. (I think she knew, but she liked all the kids that came in there, and the pretty much got anything they liked.)

I’ve said before that we made all of the ice-creams for the upscale restaurants in the area at the time. We were the only ones that could provide the restaurants with the high butterfat content and freshness that they required in their ice-creams. So we were kept quite busy with making ice-cream out front.

I think that the best way to describe the place, is that it was the Starbucks of the fifties. Everybody had their own custom designed drink or fountain treat made to order. My personal favorite drink was a Vanilla Soda. Three pumps of vanilla, one scoop of vanilla ice-cream, soda water, then blended on the mixer with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the top. That’s called a “Soda”. A freeze is soda and ice cream mixed on the mixer, like a Brown Cow, which was Root Beer and ice cream mixed on the mixer. A Purple Cow was grape soda and ice cream mixed. A Pink Cow was Strawberry soda and ice cream, unless you wanted a Cherry Pink Cow, which was cherry syrup, soda and ice-cream mixed.

The shop also had a broiler grill that they made hamburgers, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, and hot dogs on. They also served a variety of cold deli sandwiches.

Boy, has this ever been a trip back in time for me. One of my old girlfriends from Alaska stops into the store once or twice a year and we reminisce about the good old days, when all we had to do was hang out in a soda fountain. (It’s okay, my wife and her are friends.)

Willits News

Fred Sent me this link about an old-timer from Willits that thinks he can educate people about what's wrong with our north coast. He bears listening to. (Ed, we knew George Pinches as "Georgie")

A BETTER WAY: We have to grow to survive

By Ed Burton
Posted: 12/23/2008 10:51:59 AM PST

Before World War II, the Willits area had a balanced economy that supported thousands of people with very little cash money.

Potatoes were grown in the valley; sheep, cattle, horses and dairy cows grazed in the hills. Orchards grew apples, peaches, cherries, apricots and berries that local folk ate, dried or canned. Almost every farmer who had those crops had a flock of "mama cickens" that roamed freely in the corrals, scratching and feeding on the bugs and larva in the manure.

The railroad made it practical to plant, raise and sell tanbark, potatoes, cream, wheat, cattle and lumber to ship to market. They traded for money, or for sugar, coffee, clothes and other things folks here could not make easily. Many times they brought dozens of "mama's eggs" to town for a bit of "fun money".

When I brought my little family here in 1950 the Willits area had 22 sawmills, 22 bars and 22 churches. I do not think the figures were completely accurate, but they were close.

Redwood and Douglas fir lumber from most of the mills, and plywood from Industrial Plywood Company, sold by the trainload and truckload for the post-war building boom.

Hattie and I bought in 1948 a new three-bedroom home in Pleasant Hill for $10,500. We paid $250 for the down payment for veterans. Our payments were $75 a month. We sold it two years later for $12,500.

The $2,000 profit made it possible for us to buy land and have George Pinches build the house I now live in alone, since the family has grown up and my Hattie died more than two years ago after 60 good years together.
After about three years as company forester for Willits Redwood Products and one year teaching math and forestry at Willits High School, I began the Ed Burton Company. I specialized in "Research for the Lumber Industry." Most of my effort was devoted to finding a profitable market for the bark, sawdust and scrap wood that smoked and burned in the big teepee burners all over town. For the last 20 years I have focused on how to profitably cut, dry, process and haul small, round wood under six inches in diameter. This wood burns very hot in a wildfire on a hot dry windy afternoon.

Unmanaged wildlands here gradually become covered with brush and trees, which shade out the grass. Soon all of the grazing animals and wildlife cannot reach and feed on the nutritious leaves and twigs. Tall older trees shade out the brush, and absorb more and more of the water and nutrients in the soil. Some of the rain that falls just wets the leaves and twigs of the trees and evaporates back into the air. This results in less water in the upper root zone (upper three feet) which filters out the pollutants from wastewater as well as sand and silt from storm water.

If you spray or flood septic tank effluent, or too much poorly treated wastewater, on land a layer of bacterial slime fungus mat forms on the surface of the soil. Tiny "root hairs" that grow on the roots that you can't see actually absorb the water and nutrients the plant or tree need to live. The root hairs need to "breathe" in oxygen from the air. Without the air (oxygen) the plant dies. That fungal and bacterial mat that rows on the soil surface will also grow on any surface that has nutrient (pollutant)-containing water flowing over it.

Next week I will tell you how all of the above, including "mama's eggs," can lead to a better way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ed Burton is a Willits scientist, businessman and environmentalist.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Twizzle catches Santa!

Photo By Janis

"I caught this guy trying to sneak down the chimney! What do YOU think that we should do about him? I say we eat him".

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Photo and Card by, Kim Sallaway.
The Redway Fire Department with Santa, Saturday before Chistmas. Santa was making a list and Checking it twice. That's me On the lower left. Pete Genolio, and Aroura Studebaker. The mystery answer is Mark Martin. Fun was had by all. we saw more kids this year than we have in years.

The photo of Aroura looks like she may have gotten her share of candy canes also. I wondered why we almost ran out!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Pioneers had it made!

We always thought that it was kinda' funny that people think that they NEED electricity. The pioneers had everything that they needed.

One thing that the pioneers didn’t have was power failures! When the pioneer’s fire started flickering, they just poked it a few times and added another log, or more oil to the lamp.

When our lights start to flicker we start to cross our fingers and start saying; “Stay on, stay on, stay on… Oh please stay on. Usually the lights dim and get dark yellow. It’s not really a brown-out like they call it. I’ve seen it a lot, I know! They get yellow, then maybe red, but not brown. Then they come back on and we say; “Oh thank-you, thank-you, thank-you“. Then they dim again and we say; “Oh nooooo“, then we hold our breath. If they come back on we say, “oh good!” with a huge sigh of relief. Then when they start to dim the third time, we curse profusely under our breaths, because we know that the inevitable is about to happen. Then sure enough, the lights go clean out and it gets completely black, and you can hear the refrigerator and freezer coast to a stop, and the fans slowly stop turning. Black, peaceful, silence. It’s almost a relief, because now you don’t have to worry about it any more.

Then, beep… Beeep… Beeeeeep… We have so many power failures that we wisely put uninterruptible power supplies on our computers. All three of them; mine, my wife‘s. and downstairs my mother has a computer. The beep means that you have to turn the computers off. So then we feel our way to the flashlights, all kept in strategic places, for when the power goes off. Woe be unto him that moves the flashlight. Moving a flashlight, whether or not we are in a power failure, is the impetus for a lecture. “The flashlight being in the right place during a power failure could mean the difference between life or death”. At least we like to pretend that they are that important, because we were smart enough to stock up on flashlights. Every time the power goes out, we say Thank-God we were smart enough to stock up on flashlights. We even have a Five Million candlepower flashlight, just in case we need to see clear across the valley. Never mind the fact that we have never needed to see clear across the valley at any time before the power failed. But the old “five Million” is a real comfort to us in a power failure.

The bad thing about a power failure, is that the dog is afraid of thunder. Yes, that same dog that rips out her doggie door in the middle of the night to fly into a gaggle of Coons, to chase them all up trees, and keep them there until I tell her that it is okay, and it is all over. That same dog that bays from her porch at passing Bobcats, Mountain Lion, Bears and the like, is afraid of thunder. That same dog that if it weren’t for her, she knows full well, that any number of animals would slip in the doggie door and eat our faces off while we slept. She is very proud of herself for saving us. She is a dog, and she fails to see the irony in the fact that if we didn’t have a doggie door, we would be safe from those critters anyway! Yep, that same dog is afraid of thunder. At the first far off rumbling of thunder, she will bound up on the bed and curl up on your face, and shiver uncontrollably. When that happens, I usually thank myself for bathing her regularly.

As I’ve probably told you, she is a very smart dog and she has been able to make the connection between thunder, fireworks, house lights flickering, and power failures. Now that we have un-interruptible power supplies that beep, she has been able to connect the beeping sound with all of the above. Now, if anything beeps she is terrified. No, not during the day, she can sleep right through beeping sounds all day long. But, at night when YOU are trying to sleep, she will be curled up on your face shivering. My wife and I always make sure that our cell phones and beepers are plugging into the charger at night, so the low battery beep doesn't happen.

If the power failure goes on for very long, we have a generator, that only I can hook up and make run, so that gives me great importance. We can run the refrigerator and the freezer and still have enough power for lights and microwave cooking. If you turn the refrigerator off you can perk a pot of coffee with the electric percolator. The power usually goes of in the winter time, so we already have a fire in the stoves. The downstairs wood heater has a flat top that is good for cooking, and it also has heat collection coils plumbed to the water heater in the attic. The upstairs heater is also a flat top heater but doesn’t have water heating coils. If we get too much hot water it relieves out the temp valve to the outside. I used to work for the cable TV company, so there is a generator at the cable satellite receiving station. So it keeps the TV on just in case the only power failure is in Benbow. That way the rest of the system can be working. So, I can watch the storm on television with Jim Bernard. I usually mutter something like “I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight?” That usually stops us from envying all of those people with power.

We don’t need the generator we have wood heat and oil lamps for long term failures, and we could cook the food from the freezer and refrigerator if it looked like the power would be off a long time, like it was in 1964, during the aftermath of the flood.

I've recently been reading that you can keep grain and cereal products preserved indefinitely in plastic five gallon buckets that have been purged of all of the oxygen with a nitrogen bottle. I have everything but the grain, so I might put forty or fifty gallons of grain up. But, my wife reminds me that I still have the stash I put away for the first gulf war, 9-11, the second gulf war, and there was something else I hoarded grain for but we can’t remember. She says that I’m like the dog, if it weren’t for the men of the world causing all of these problems, that we wouldn't need to protect ourselves from them.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the lights flickered tonight.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Understanding the Indigenous Person petroglyph as they exist in the Eel River and Mattole drainage.

Indian Rock Photo By Robin Shelly.

I've been to this rock many times.

With the exception of the top photo, all of the following photos are taken from a California State Parks website. I have not personally been to any of these sites, but according to the states website these are all in the Eel river drainage. According to the State Parks these petroglyphs were carved during the period of 2,500 to 500 years ago. I have personally see many Indian petroglyphs. The zig-zag line is at most of the sites that I've seen, and circles inside of circles. Small, sometimes deep cupules, about two inches in diameter are common. Cupules are all over California, there is a rock in San Diego with identical cupules to what we have right here in the Eel River Canyon. I've seen crows foot patterns about a foot long. I've heard conflicting reports of what they all mean. My cousin Jim Newland had the best theory that I've heard. He said that it was probably the kids, or the young people screwing around and trying to outdo each other. If you look a today's society and try to decide which among us would do these sorts of things, it bears some consideration. Maybe we may give too much meaning to things that we don't understand, or maybe we should try to understand harder.

Some say that the rocks were carved to attract rain. but I can't believe that the north coast would ever be so dry that it would concern the Indian people. Some say that they were maps. If they were maps, why don't they look like maps. I couldn't follow them, and I was born here. What really makes me wonder are the cupules. There should be some explanation for them, because they are so common. Maybe it was a religious ceremony. If you sinned, it would be like saying three Hail Marys, only you had to carve a cupule to atone for your sins.

At anyrate I've not heard anything difinitive about the Rock carving. But I do enjoy hearing the theories. I think that just like most things, if you speculate enough the truth comes out. Maybe it was something as simple as art. Stranger things have been done as art.

Elaborate rock pecking

Pecked patterns, and possible fertility lines

This "lost site" was identified by historic photographs and descriptions as the same one noted in 1913 during surveys for the railroad.

Deeply incised lines are superimposed over other elements at the site. These may be related to Wailaki female fertility rituals as described for the Pomo.

The same cupules that we have in Californie are found on a cave wall in India. They are of the same size and seemingly random order as the California Indian people made. Only these were made up to a half a million years ago.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

For those still interested in Tan Oak

Harry Cowan was the Ken Forden of the early 1900’s. He was the ramrod of the Tan Oak industry. Like the history of Mr. Grothe, From Bell Springs, I am very familiar with the history of this man. Harry was the one that made the Tan Oak extract business work for the Wagners. Harry Cowan lost his seat as the Justice of the peace to Leopold Frederick Grothe.
I noticed that Harry was married to a “Miner”. The Miners are an old Humboldt County family. I wonder if Harry Cowan was related to George “buck” Miner from Petrolia. Buck was a blind man. He was blinded by a disease that took his sight by age six. He went on to be a TV repairman, a ham radio operator, a bar tender, a guitar player and singer. He also wrote a book about the Petrolia area. The book is called “The Origin of the Mattole, through the eyes of a Salmon” By Goerge “buck” Miner.

In doing research for the post on The Tan bark Industry, I came accross this piece of history from a man that peeled Tan bark for a living. It Includes soom rather fuzzy photos, but they are good enough. Peeling Tan Bark. By warren Ormsby. This story is a very exciting find for me because he is talking about the time before the steam ships and the Briceland Tannin Extraction plant. He worked in the same camps that my ancestors did. It was back in the days when the bark was taken to the Sacramento Valley on the small small ship that it was loaded on. They were called "dog hole schooners".

History of Humboldt County California History by Leigh H. Irvine: Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California, 1915
Transcribed by Martha A Crosley Graham 14 October 2006

HARRY COWEN.—The prosperity of the little town of Briceland has been materially aided by the operations of the Pacific Oak Extract Company, which affords employment to some fifty men, supplying the Wagner Leather Company, of Stockton, Cal., with a high-grade extract of oak bark used in the tanning of its superior products. Harry Cowen, one of the most respected citizens of this place, is the efficient woods foreman for this company, whose employ he entered in 1906, and his varied duties have been so capably performed that he is recognized as one of the men whose conscientious efforts and intelligent understanding of the requirements of the business have been the foundation upon which its success is laid. He has been a resident of southern Humboldt county since 1901.
Mr. Cowen is a native of Pennsylvania, born November 15, 1871, near the center of the state, on the Susquehanna river, at Clearfield, Clearfield county, and was the sixth in the family of fifteen children born to Robert and Hannah (Henchbarger) Cowen, who were married in Pennsylvania ; the mother was born in that state. Robert Cowen made an honorable record as a soldier in the Civil war, enlisting in 1863 in the One Hundred Tenth regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and serving until 1865. At one time he owned five hundred acres of timber land in Pennsylvania, but his patriotism cost him his property, for he lost his land and home on account of accumulated interest debts. Subsequently he rented farms in that state. In 1898 he and his wife moved to California.
Harry Cowen was brought up in Pennsylvania and began to make his own living when only a boy, becoming used to hard work early. His first experience in his present business was acquired there, cutting and peeling hemlock bark, and being large for his age and very strong he did heavy labor when a mere youth. When eighteen years old he began to follow the log drives on the Susquehanna river, from the lumber regions, being thus engaged for ten seasons. Having concluded to settle in the west he spent some time deciding on a location, looking over twenty-two of the northwestern states and eventually making his home in Mendocino county, Cal. For the several years following he was employed there by the Usall Lumber Company, at Usall. In 1900, at the time of the rush to Nome, he went up to Alaska for a season, and upon his return to California in the fall of that year he located at Garberville, Humboldt county, renting the Swithenbank place, four miles north of that town. He remained on that property five years, during which time he was very successful. The year after the big earthquake, 1906, he took the contract from the supervisors to fix the road to Shelter Cove, a large undertaking and difficult to carry out for many reasons, and his highly satisfactory completion of the contract was a proof of executive ability, it being done in the thorough manner typical of everything he handles. He was then induced to help out a friend who had entered into an unusually responsible contract with the Pacific Oak Extract Company to furnish a large quantity of tanbark, and then began to work for the company on his own account, in the fall of that year. His valuable qualities were soon recognized, and in the spring of 1907 he took the position of woods foreman, which he has since filled. Most of his time and attention is given to his work in this connection, which includes a variety of arduous and important duties. The cutting and peeling of the oak tanbark, and its delivery to the works, which are located on Redwood creek half a mile from Briceland, are entrusted to him, with all the incidental business of buying tanbark timber as needed, or when there is a favorable opportunity ; of looking after the curing systematically and economically ; and of laying out and building the roads necessary to facilitate its transportation from the woods, which must usually be accomplished over long and difficult mountainous trails. The average quantity required at the works is eighty cords weekly, and the difficulty of procuring enough to keep the works going is increasing steadily, the company being obliged to go farther and farther for the bark each year. Moreover, the location to be cut over must be chosen in good time and all preparations made, as the cutting has to be done at the proper season, after which the bark is cured and hauled to the sheds at Briceland to be stored ready for use. Fifty mules and horses are used in the woods, and a five-ton automobile truck supplements the teams in taking the finished product from the works to Shelter Cove, where it is loaded onto steamboats for shipment to San Francisco, being sent thence by river boat to Stockton. The extract company is subsidiary to the Wagner Leather Company, of Stockton, which uses all the extract made at the Briceland works. Mr. Cowen has proved to be the right man for his work, and his efficiency has increased as he has acquired familiarity with its details, his resource and ingenuity in making the best of every situation being no less remarkable than his strength and energetic disposition.
While his activities for several years have been devoted principally to the business of the extract company, Mr. Cowen has also looked after some private affairs and has taken part in the public affairs of his locality. He has made a number of good investments in stock range and timber lands in Humboldt county, having a half interest in two hundred forty acres of redwood timber lands ; and also three hundred twenty acres of tanbark oak land, his wife owning a similar quantity.
For the last four years Mr. Cowen has been filling the office of justice of the peace in Briceland township, with office at Briceland, and his recent nomination for another term shows how well satisfied his fellow citizens have been with his services. He has every reason to be well pleased with his choice of a place to live and work. He found the opportunities he was seeking, and has proved himself worthy of them; the change has brought him contentment and prosperity, and he is repaying the community which held out these attractions, and made good, with citizenship of the highest order.
On May 12, 1896, Mr. Cowen was married at Ferndale, Humboldt county, to Miss Annie Miner, daughter of Allen Miner, a stock-raiser in Union and Mattole, where she was born. Mr. and Mrs. Cowen have two children, Edward Allen and Harry Miner. Mr. Cowen owns the comfortable little home at Briceland which they occupy.
Mr. Cowen was the first of his family to come to California, and he was sufficiently impressed with its advantages to encourage other members to follow him, his parents, two brothers and five sisters joining him here in 1898; the next year another sister came out. Politically he has always been a stanch Republican

I noticed that "staunch" was spelled wrong, so I decided to look it up. Here's what I found! Hmmm...
(There are two words spelled both staunch and stanch. The adjective staunch is the most commonly used form in the meaning "loyal" (a staunch defender of freedom), though stanch can also mean the same thing. Conversely, stanch is much more common as a verb meaning "to stop the flow of liquid," though staunch can also mean the same thing: trying to stanch the flow of blood. Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.)

(There is nothing more pathetic than a rained in Blogger)

Lost History

In My whole life I've never heard of William Light. Apparently Old Bill was a very prominent Citizen of the Garberville area. His ranch was 2 ½ miles west of Garberville, on what we now call “The Old Briceland Road”. Back in 1915, when this history was written it was the only Briceland Road. I’m not sure where Old Bills ranch was, but it sounds like it could have been where the Pancoast Ranch is today, or maybe the Swenson ranch, which is now the Garberville Airport.

Maybe Bens old maps can tell us where it was. It sounds like he lived here from 1883 to1915. That’s long enough to have become very well known. He had one daughter who inherited the ranch, Mrs. Alexis Hinkley, who I’ve also never heard of.

Leigh H. Irvine, who wrote this historical piece back in 1915, sounded like he was very enamored by Mrs. Light, Mrs. Cynthia Light.

History of Humboldt County California History by Leigh H. Irvine: Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California, 1915
Transcribed by Martha A Crosley Graham 14 October 2006

WILLIAM LIGHT.—Lying on the Briceland road two and a half miles west of Garberville, Humboldt county, is the Light ranch of three hundred twenty acres, where Mr. and Mrs. William Light have resided continuously since 1883. They have been residents of California, however, for a much longer period, both having come to this state during the sixties. Mr. Light, in common with many emigrants from the eastern states ,in his day, tried mining when he began life on the Pacific coast, but a very brief experience in that line, and a better understanding of the varied resources of the country aside from its mineral wealth, convinced him that it was not the only road to prosperity, and he has followed agricultural pursuits with highly satisfactory results. He and his wife are counted among the most esteemed residents in their section of the county.
Mr. Light was born in Broome county, N. Y., January 16, 1842, and lived on his father's farm until he reached his majority. Then he decided to come out to California, and made the trip by the Nicaraguan route. He was soon at work in the gold fields in Placer county, but he became disgusted after a week's trial of mining and went to work for his uncle, Elijah Light, on a farm in Marin county, remaining with him one season. Proceeding thence to Sonoma county, he rented a dairy ranch comprising one hundred acres situated in the Coleman valley, and was successfully engaged in agricultural work on his own account in that county until his removal ao Humboldt county, in 1883. That year he bought the ranch of three hundred twenty acres where he has since had his home, and which during his ownership has undergone steady and intelligent improvement. Besides cultivating it carefully he has put up two sets of buildings, one occupied by himself and wife, the other by their daughter, Mrs. Hinckley, to whom the property was turned over recently, Mr. Light having retired from active labor to enjoy the comfortable home and competence he acquired during his busy career. Mr. Light's honorable life, his pleasant relations with his neighbors, and thrifty management of his property, all combine to establish him as one of the highly desirable residents of his locality.
During his residence in Sonoma county Mr. Light married Mrs. Cynthia (Williams) Barton, who came to California with her parents in 1865. By her first marriage she had two children : Clara, Mrs. Good, who died in Oakland, March 12, 1909; and J. W., living at Eureka. One child has been born to her union with Mr. Light, Amy, now Mrs. Alexis Hinckley, and they have two children, George and Clara. Politically Mr. Light is a Democrat, his wife a Republican. She is a Christian Scientist in religious belief, and possesses estimable personal qualities which have endeared her to a large circle of friends and acquaintances. Even-tempered and serene, and accustomed to accepting her duties philosophically and her pleasures gratefully, she has a disposition which attracts friendship, and her generous nature is appreciated by all who have had the opportunity of knowing her.
Mrs. Light was born at Hyde Park, Vt., the third child of Mr. and Mrs. 'William Williams, farming people, who moved to New Hampshire during her early life. The father came to California alone in 1853, and became interested in farming at Tomales, Marin county. Some time later he returned to Hebron, N. H., for his wife and family of four children, whom he brought to the Pacific coast in 1865. They were at sea when news was received of Lincoln's assassination, and the diversity of opinion among the passengers regarding the affair nearly caused a riot on board.
Just as this goes to press Mr. Light died, July 18, 1915. His loss is mourned not only by his dear ones, but by all who knew him. He was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows for forty-two years, being a member of Occidental Lodge, Sonoma county.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Them Grothe boys, cohorts of my Great Grandfather, Ed Branscomb.

Just recently I was asked if I knew anything about a name that was carved on a rock at Bell Springs, along with the names of a few of the pony soldiers that rode up the ridge on their way to Fort Humboldt.

I suspect it had something to do with the Grothe family that pioneered the Bell Spring ranch back in the early 1870’s.

The bell Springs Ranch:
Just as “Art imitates life” Coyotes follow sheep. The Grothes are rumored to have brought Coyotes to Northern Mendocino. The old timers used to say that “We never had them infernal Coyotes ’til them Grothes brought them damn snot nosed sheep. Now we’ve got Coyotes killin’ ever'thing”. They called them “ky-yote”. “Yote like in “note”.

There was a bad set of winters back in the 1930’s( Wild guess, I couldn't find the actual date) that snowed in the cattle and sheep. The snow was so bad that most all of them, that couldn’t get down to the lower elevations, starved to death. My job is the “Bullshistory” part, it’s up to real historians to provide the facts, but those that are familiar with Bell Springs know that it is a place of very snowy winters.

The following is taken from:
History of Humboldt County California History by Leigh H. Irvine: Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California, 1915

LEOPOLD FREDERICK GROTHE.—The justice of the peace of Briceland township in Humboldt county, Cal., a popular and enterprising man in that vicinity, and the owner of extensive property in that county, Leopold Frederick Grothe is a native son of California, having been born at Bell Springs, Mendocino county, on August 15, 1880, the son of Frederick August Grothe, who, with his brother Ferdinand, came from Germany to New York and two years later to the northern part of California in the early days, they being among the first permanent settlers of northern Mendocino county.

Berlin, Germany, was the native home of Mr. Grothe's father, and there he grew up and learned the blacksmith's trade, in 1867 coming to the United States, where for two years he remained in Long Island City, N. Y., in the year 1869 making his way to Sacramento, Cal., where he commenced farming operations in company with Messrs. Chittenden and Weinkauf. With his partners he removed to Mendocino county, locating claims at or near Bell Springs, and with them engaged in stock raising, continuing the partnership for a period of about seven years, when it was dissolved and by the division of the property Frederick August Grothe became the owner of the ranch at Bell Springs. Building up a well improved ranch there, he added to it from time to time until he had in his possession about ten thousand acres of land at the time of his death. With the aid of his sons he engaged in cattle and sheep raising on an extensive scale, meeting with remarkable success and erecting a comfortable residence on his ranch at Bell Springs, which has for many years been the stopping place for travelers between points in Humboldt county and the Bay region. Both Mr. Grothe and his wife were devoted to the Lutheran faith, in which they had been reared, his wife having been Anna Weinkauf, a native of Germany, who died in June, 1891, the death of Mr. Grothe occurring in January, 1910. They were the parents of nine children, as follows : Louise, now Mrs. Linser, residing near Bell Springs ; Selma, who was formerly a teacher, but now presides over the Bell Springs home ; Otto, engaged on the home ranch ; Leopold Frederick, the owner of an extensive ranch in Humboldt county ; Franz, who remains on the home ranch ; Henry, engaged in the dairy business at Woodland, Cal. ; Paul and Weinkauf, who are also on the home ranch ; and Rose, a teacher, who makes her home on the Bell Springs ranch. The father is remembered as having brought the first drove of sheep into northern Mendocino county, and as being the last to go out of the business on account of the coyotes which brought destruction to so many of the flocks of that region. The ranch is still owned by the family and is operated under the firm name of Grothe Brothers.

The son, Leopold Frederick Grothe, who was brought up on the Bell Springs ranch, receiving his education in the public schools, from a lad was well acquainted with the business of stock raising and continued at the home ranch until accepting the position of foreman of the Ramsey Home ranch near Bell Springs for Harry Ramsey, after the great fire in San Francisco, however, removing to that city, where for a year he followed the carpenter's trade, returning to the Ramsey ranch for a short period of time. In 1911 he came to Briceland, Cal., to assume the management of the Ferdinand Grothe ranch which his family had inherited from the uncle, Ferdinand Grothe, who in the early days had settled at Bell Springs, where he homesteaded with his brother and carried on stock raising for several years, selling out his business and removing to Briceland, where he purchased the William Marshall place. Here he engaged in sheep raising, meeting with success until the inroads of the coyotes caused him to give up the raising of sheep and devote himself to his cattle, wherein also he was successful. A well known and popular man, active in local politics and an ardent admirer of the Republican platform, Ferdinand Grothe was a prominent member of the Independent Order of Odd. Fellows, having joined the Cahto lodge No. 206 soon after coming to California. He was never married, and his death occurred in 1911, at which time his nephew, Leopold Frederick, assumed charge of his property, where he has since resided, in 1914 selling his interest in the estate at Bell Springs and purchasing the Briceland ranch of the estate, by which transaction Leopold Frederick is now sole owner of his uncle's Briceland ranch, which comprises over fifteen hundred acres located on Redwood creek, and is known as the Heart G ranch, Mr. Grothe's brand being a G within a heart. On this estate range over one hundred twenty-five head of cattle, Mr. Grothe making a specialty of high grade short horn Durham cattle and also raising hogs. The property is splendid grazing land, well adapted to stock raising, and besides the advantages of Redwood creek, there are numerous small streams and springs upon the land, including a sulphur spring, and Mr. Grothe is placing redwood troughs in convenient locations for the stock, the water being brought thereto by iron pipes, so that his cattle have ample drinking facilities.

A member of the Cahto Lodge No. 206, I. 0. 0. F., and in politics an enthusiastic and stanch Republican, Mr. Grothe is actively interested in the welfare of the community where he resides, having been elected justice of the peace of Briceland township by a handsome majority, assuming the duties of his office in January, 1915.

My Great Grandfather, Ed Branscomb was a member of that same Lodge in Laytonville. The Cahto Lodge is named after the Cahto Mountian, that my family homesteaded back in the pioneer days of the Laytonville area.

The Grothe Family is still scattered around the hills of Southern Humboldt and Northen Mendoncino, and some live up in Oregon, but they are a most important Pioneer family. I found this in the Uhiah Daily Jounal:

Paul Henry “Hank”
Grothe passed away
Sunday, February 5, 2006
after a lengthy illness. He
was 58. Born June 12, 1947
at Howard Memorial
Hospital in Willits, to parents
Fred A. and Mildred
C. Grothe. He was raised
on the family ranch in Bell
Springs. “Hank”, as he
was known to family and
friends, took several
career paths during his
life. He was a fisherman,
working off the coast of
Alaska and all over the
eastern coast. He was also
a truck driver, driving for
a local soda company and
cement company. Hank
was also an extremely talented
woodworker, creating
beautiful clocks and
jewelry boxes that he often
gave to family and friends.
Hank had a wonderful
sense of humor and an
infectious laugh that we
will all miss greatly. One of
the many things that we
will miss the most about
him is his ability to talk to
anyone about anything. He
made friends easily and
would give you the shirt off
his back if you needed it.
He was truly a wonderful
person and we will feel his
loss always. Hank was preceded
in death by his
father Fred A. Grothe in
1975 and his mother
Mildred C. Grothe in 2004.
Hank is survived by his
wife Linda of Ukiah,
Brother John Grothe and
his wife Rene of Petrolia,
Ca, daughter Liz Grothe
and her partner Nancy
Curran of Ruth, Ca., son
Freddie Riley, his wife
Beth and their children
Haley, John, Samantha,
and Austin of Lucerne.
Hank is also survived by
his favorite “Da-Nephew”
John and “Da-Niece”
Kristina Grothe and their
children Bailey and Kenna
of Ukiah; niece Elaine and
her husband Willard
Leggett and their son
Michael of Ukiah, and
nephew Matthew and his
wife Misha Grothe of
Private services will be
held at a later date. In lieu
of flowers, donations can
be made to: Hospice 1712-
D S. Main St., Willits, CA

Here is where some of the Grothe family is today.

My Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas
Ho, Ho, Ho

South Fork Ernie

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Little Bitty Critters, Lots of Them!

This is a photo of a "Red Tide" wave breaking on the beach at Carlsbad California. The Tide water is red, But the action of the wave excites the biolumenecent factors of the Eukaryotes.
more dinofagellate eukaryotes

There are little bitty critters all around us, in fact there are so many little bitty critters that they outweigh all of us big critters.

When you think of "biomass" you think of trees and grasses, elephants and giraffes-es. Some people think of ants and termites, some even thing of amoebas and euglenas, but few think of bacteria’s and viruses, they are just too small to count right? Right…
Take a deep breath and hold you nose while we explore “micro-critter world”.

All the world's a phage: viruses that eat bacteria abound—and surprise - bacteriophages

"Smaller than bacteria, some of them look like microscopic spacecraft. You can find them almost anywhere' under a rosebush or miles out to sea. These strange entities are bacteriophages, viruses that prey upon bacteria, and there's a staggering number of them. A pinch of soil or drop of seawater, for example, contains many millions of bacteriophages.
"They're nature's most successful experiment," says Marisa Pedulla of the University of Pittsburgh. "They outnumber all the bacteria, all the humans, whales, trees, et cetera, put together."

Remember those MRSA's? (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

Well check what the soviets do with virus bactereia eating microphages. I hope Kim Sallaway reads this. He almost lost his Camera Shutter finger to a MRSA.

"In the 1920s and '30s, with diseases like dysentery and cholera running rampant, the discovery of bacteriophages was hailed as a breakthrough. Bacteriophages are viruses found virtually everywhere—from soil to seawater to your intestines—that kill specific, infection-causing bacteria. In the United States, the drug company Eli Lilly marketed phages for abscesses and respiratory infections. (Sinclair Lewis' Pulitzer-winning Arrowsmith is about a doctor who uses phages to prevent a diphtheria epidemic.) But by the 1940s, American scientists stopped working with phages for treatment because they no longer had reason to. Penicillin, discovered by the Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming in 1928, had become widely available thanks to synthetic production and zapped infections without the expertise needed for finicky phages."

Rather that trying to kill the bacteria with a antibiotic, they simply give the bacteria the micro-world version of the "Bird-Flu". by giving the MRSA a viral infection that kills the bacteria, but not the patient. Tidy, right?

Bacteria under ice

A white mat of bacteria with clams living in the top was found on the icy sea floor 2,800 feet down, on the bottom of the sea under the Larsen B Ice Shelf. The ice shelf was 600 feet thick before it broke up in 2002. The water is some of the coldest on earth. There is no possibility of food or light reaching into those depths under the ice shelf. Yet there is bacteria and clams living there. There is no explanation what this under ice bacteria and clams are living on.

“You do not expect to find a lot of food down there falling from the sea surface, because of the ice shelf," Although this has changed since the collapse of the ice shelf, the sea-bottom life still seems to be independent of usual oceanic food sources.”

Bacteria 1,000 feet beneath the seafloor.

In a scientific "time Sharing arrangement" scientist used a drill hole made by other scientist to test for bacteria in the porous basalt rock beneath the sea floor.

"CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study has discovered an abundance of microbial life deep beneath the ocean floor in ancient basalt that forms part of the Earth's crust, in research that once more expands the realm of seemingly hostile or remote environments in which living organisms can apparently thrive."

"Until now we knew practically nothing about the biology of areas such as this, but we found about the same amount of bacteria in that water as you might find in surrounding seawater in the ocean. It was abundant."

Viruses kill deep-sea bacteria

The deep sea covers two thirds of the Earth’s surface. Bacteria are the dominant life form in the sediments of the sea floor. “There are 100 million to 100 billion bacteria per gram of sediment,” Professor Antonio Dell’Anno of the Polytechnic University of Marche in Italy, one of the authors of the paper, said. “This adds up to a huge amount of carbon on the global scale.”

The scientists found that viruses are responsible for almost all bacterial mortality in deep sea sediments, and that at depths beyond 1,000 metres viral mortality is close to 100%. The viruses effectively split the bacteria open, releasing their cell contents into the environment where the nutrients are quickly re-used by other, as yet uninfected, bacteria. Professor Dell’Anno describes the process as a kind of 'deep sea cannibalism' that effectively accelerates the carbon cycle.

Thirty percent of feces is critters.

There is a story about the young lady that invited her boyfriend to the family farm for lunch. After lunch the young ladies father pushed back from the table, excused himself and said, “Sorry, but I gotta’ go spread some manure on the pasture”.

Mortified by her fathers lack of class by saying manure at the dinner table, the young lady cornered her mother in the kitchen and said, “Can’t you teach father to say “Fertilizer” instead of “manure”?

The mother said, “Just never you mind young lady, it took me ten years to get him to stop calling it shit”.

Quoted from Encyclopedia Britannica
"also spelled faeces, also called excrement solid bodily waste discharged from the large intestine through the anus during defecation. Feces are normally removed from the body one or two times a day. About 100 to 250 grams (3 to 8 ounces) of feces are excreted by a human adult daily.Normally, feces are made up of 75 percent water and 25 percent solid matter. About 30 percent of the solid matter consists of dead bacteria; about 30 percent consists of indigestible food matter such as cellulose; 10 to 20 percent is cholesterol and other fats; 10 to 20 percent is inorganic substances such as calcium phosphate and iron phosphate; and 2 to 3 percent is protein. Cell debris shed from the mucous membrane of the intestinal tract also passes in the waste material, as do bile pigments (bilirubin) and dead leukocytes (white blood cells). The brown color of feces is due to the action of bacteria on bilirubin, which is the end product of the breakdown of hemoglobin (red blood cells). The odour of feces is caused by the chemicals indole, skatole, hydrogen sulfide, and mercaptans, which are produced by bacterial action.Many diseases and disorders can affect bowel function and produce abnormalities in the feces. Constipation is characterized by infrequent evacuations and the production of excessively hard and dry feces, while diarrhea results in frequent defecation and excessively soft, watery feces. Bleeding in the stomach or intestines may result in the passage of blood with the stool, which appears dark red, tarry, or black. Fatty or greasy stools usually indicate pancreatic or small-intestine afflictions. Typhoid, cholera, and amoebic dysentery are among diseases spread by the contamination of food with the feces of infected persons."

Now for the "biggie".

Huge hidden biomass lives deep beneath the seafloor.

I'll highlight the details here for you. Scientists are pretty smart people, but sadly they can't speak in a language that anybody can understand. So, just like Lawyers, somebody has to tell normal people what they said in simple terms. I'm not normal, but I'm fairly simple, so I'll tell you what they said.

They said:
Just a little over a mile beneath the seafloor, where the temperature is about 212 degrees Fahrenheit, they have found life where they least expected to find it. Furthermore, the rocks beneath the sea are teeming with life.

A scientist by the name of John Parkes has discovered a organism called a “Prokaryote”. Prokaryotes are an organism that often has only one cell. Parkes says, “Where cells living so far beneath the sea floor could have come from remains a mystery. They may have been gradually buried in sediment as millions of years passed by, and adapted to the increasing temperatures and pressure” or “that they were sucked deep into the mud from the sea water above. Hydrothermal vents pulse hot water out of the seabed and into the ocean. This creates a vacuum in the sediment, which draws fresh sea water into the marine aquifer.”

About 60% of the cells Parkes and his team found were alive. They are related to organisms found in deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Depending on the depth, between one in 20 and one in 10 of the cells were dividing, which is the normal way prokaryotes reproduce.

Parkes goes on to say: “It is important to understand the way the cells got down there, because that has implications for their age. The cells are not very active and according to Parkes they have very few predators. "We find very few viruses, for example, down there," he says. "At the surface, if you don't divide you get eaten. But if there are no predators, the pressure to reproduce decreases and you can spend more energy on repairing your damaged molecules."

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if our cells could repair themselves instead of worrying about getting eaten. After reading a little bit more I began to understand the implications of “No Predators”. Some of the cells that Parks is studying are up to 120 million years old.

Even more fantastic than the depth and temperature that these cells grow, or I should say, live, is the amount of them. “the rocks beneath the oceans could be home to the largest population of prokaryotes on Earth, and account for one tenth of all living carbon. He estimates the combined undersea biomass could be equivalent to that of all the plants on Earth.”

Let me repeat for the unscientific people; The biomass beneath the seabed is as much as the surface vegetation of the Earth!

And, that's just the critters beneath the seafloor.

More Wood

The slab of wood in the last post was Walnut that was cut in the Whitethorn Construction Mill. The two photos below are also Walnut from the Thorn mill.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Here are some more photo albums of some pretty amazing work. After you click on the following blue line, a screen will open. In the upper left you will see "View Slideshow". Click on that, then you will find some option boxes at the top of the screen. Click on "3-Seconds" and size at 1024 x 1024. then wathch the show!

Sometimes I amaze even myself!

Wood slide show.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I need to have my hide tanned with a Tan Oak switch.

Everything that is wood in these photos is a localy made product, made out of local wood. The floors are Tan Oak.

Ken Forden and his crew at Whitethorn Constuction are understandably proud of these products.

All of the photos but the top two will greatly expand by double-clicking on them.

Mea Culpa
1. "An acknowledgment of your error or guilt."

Okay, I made a huge error in overlooking one of Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino’s most important, and long lasting businesses. My total focus on the Eel River Valley made me overlook Whitethorn Construction. That’s those guys one ridge over in the Matole drainage. The Matole drainage and the Eel River drainage have almost identical ecology, but totally different geology, a fact that will probably be reflected in a post on this blog one day. But, the people are the same kind of people that cover all of Sohum and Nomend. A poet by the name of “Deerhawk” coined us to be the people of the Mateel. The word is a combination of the Matole and the Eel. I campaigned for us to be called the Eetole, but I lost and Deerhawk got his way.

Back to my huge error. No amount of apologizing can make up for my oversight, because the people of the Whitethorn Construction Company are my friends and Neighbors. Indeed, the Owners of Whitethorn construction, the Mckees, are one of the oldest families in Southern Humboldt. Bob Mckee and I are even related through marriage a few generations ago. Also, as Ken forden, the manager of Whitethorn Constuction’s Hardwood Products division said, we have known each other for over thirty years. We’ve even been to many social events together. So I understand his being miffed.

After I show you the local hardwood products that they produce, you will see that I was very remiss in not thinking of them in my Tan Oak Lumber post. I offer my sincere apologies to Whitethorn Construction, and especially Ken Forden. I admire a person that will tell me when I’m wrong and allow me to repair the error.

Ken proceeded to fire some rather frank and much deserved e-mails my way and the following is being printed with his permission:
"Ernie, rather than submit photos of Tan Oak products directly to the site ( I actually don't know if that is how it works) I think I will try and get some together and send them to you for your review. I hope that at least a couple will be worth your while to put up on the site to continue the discussion. Local woods have a place and I've built a lot of items from them over the last 30 years. I didn't mean to start out rudely but I was upset that so little seemed to be known about the subject and our part in making it happen. Forgive me please. I'll try to work something in today but no promises. I enjoy giving tours but I have regular work to do and that is why I specified an appointment. I can usually accommodate wherever people have in mind but I need to work it in to my own schedule. I would truly like to show you around, I'd like you to see me on my own turf. thanks, ken"

The presented photos are of their mill, and a few photos of their local product, produced one ridge over to the West. I'm pretty sure that Ken will be monitoring this blog for a while, so if you have any questions just post them here with your other comments, and we will get them answered.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Okay one more tree, amongst many more, but my feet are itching to move into new territory. Before I go on, I want to pay the majestic Madrone tree its due respect.

The mighty Madrone is one of the north coasts most beautiful trees. The Madrone is an evergreen tree, and it’s green year around. I lifted these photo’s off of the ones that are readily available on the internet, to reflect some of it‘s stages. Although the Madrone is an evergreen tree, it reflects the four seasons with true character, and it easily melds the seasons together in its smooth transition from one phase to another.

In the spring, the Madrone forms large bunches of blossoms that look like bunches of white grapes from afar, and close up each blossom looks like a tiny white Chinese lantern. Later the new leaves start to bud and form, then the new bark grows a new green layer under last years cinnamon orange colored bark.

As the new bark ripens underneath the old bark, the old bark splits and peels away in tiny rolls that look like ringlets in a young girl’s hair. The fresh green bark underneath springs from under the old bark, anxious to bask in the young summer’s sun and gain its own cinnamon tan color.
The new leaves ripen and harden, last years leaves start to lose their green, then mid summer, they turn a creamy yellow. Then as if waiting for a clue from mother nature the leaves await a gentle breeze, then they all flutter in majestic unison to the ground. Leaving the tree it’s bright evergreen color.
The bark curls that are shed in the summer are sometimes collected and used as tea. My wife tells me that if you collect the bark before the rain ruins it, it makes a great fabric dye. In the fall of the year the Madrone berries ripen and they become the favorite food of the hungry Robins returning to our moderate climate for the winter. In the higher elevations the berries become the victim of the wild Bandtail Pigeon.

In the winter the tree becomes the umbrella of the deer, that like to eat its low hanging branches. I can safely say that the Madrone tree is one of the deer’s favorite foods. The Madrone thrives in acid soil, with out many soil nutrients. The tree needs to stay dry in the summer. To irrigate it will cause root rot, and kill it.
The Madrone makes beautiful lumber, but it must be cured by someone that really knows what they are doing. The lumber can warp badly, and it is subject to false post powder beetle blight.
The old-timers used it in their forges for making horseshoes and shoeing horses. Madrone burns hot and clean. It leaves little ash. The only wood that burns hotter and cleaner is Manzanita. It is sad that the Madrone tree is used mostly as firewood, and it is the most expensive wood that you can buy.
There once was a Madrone tree in Ettersburg, called The Council Madrone, that was over one-hundred feet tall and over one-hundred and fifty feet wide. The base of the tree was twelve feet through. It was acknowledged as the largest Madrone tree in the world. A windstorm in 2000 twisted it, and laid it open. The remains of the tree are still sitting there on it's hilltop. It's history as a large tree descends back into legend. The Indian people held council under the tree, and it is rumored that is how the tree got it's name.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Conversations about wood, with Ben.

Ernie..." I saw some nice tanoak board floors when Wild Iris Forest Products was making it in Briceland. I did buy flooring for a place in Salmon Creek tho someone else laid the floor. It looks great today. The best looking one I have seen is out at the Wilson's in Briceland."

It's a shame that the women in our lives, that seem to appreciate beauty more than us guys, just don't seem to appreciate technology, so this post will be for the guys and the more technologically minded women.

Jan Iris (Pronounced Yon, and he was a guy, for those that didn’t know him) used a refrigerated lumber dryer, so I was familiar with his operation. I really believe that if Jan still with us we would have a viable Tan Oak industry. He was a remarkable person that didn’t know the word “fail”.

The flooring product that Jan produced, was not produced by the Coombs operation, because they deemed it to be an inferior product. It was deemed inferior because of the high rate of expansion and contraction that it had in comparison to Red Oak. Red Oak is the oak that standard oak flooring is made from.

What Coombs failed to consider, or was maybe reluctant to risk, was the fact that Tan Oak is drop dead beautiful, and people would tolerate cracked edges on their flooring for the beauty. The other factor nowadays, is that our houses are tighter, better insulated, and sealed, than the houses in the sixties and seventies, The humidity and temperature stays much the same, and the fluctuations are moderated, so the joints don’t crack as bad as they thought that they would.

Now, to get to the really fascinating part of Jan’s lumber dryer. It was a plain old, off the shelf, heat pump. Some of you are aware of my love for machinery, so you will have to forgive me while I ramble. The dryer was so simple that I’m amazed that it wasn’t thought of, or used more by small lumber operations years ago. Jan’s lumber dryer was a highly insulated room that was heated slowly from room temperature to 160-180 degrees. That is the temperature required to dry lumber and kill wood bugs. The air was heated by the heat pump, and the electric heat strips that are standard equipment in heat pumps.

I’ll try to describe it in simple terms, so the non-refrigerator types can follow. A normal heat pump works by refrigerating outside air, and returning the greatly chilled air back outside, while taking the heat gained in that process and running the inside air through a radiator, and blowing the much heated air back inside. When it is real cold outside the heat pump will kick-in regular resistance electric heat strips for supplemental heat.

With Jan’s lumber dryer, it ran the room air into the cooling coil first, then ran the cooled air through the heating coil to reheat the air, then through the electric heat strips to increase the temperature up to 180 degrees, then back into the room. By running the room air through the cooling coils first, it condensed the wood vapors and moisture from the wood, and drained the condensed water outside. Then the air was reheated by the heating coils back up to the original room temperature. Then heat was added to the room by the electric heat strips to raise the temperature to the dying and bug killing temperature. The temperature, humidity and the rate of heat and final temperature is all controlled by a computer that tells the machine what to do.
The only problem being, that a standard heat pump won’t work in those high temperature extremes, due the fact that the pressure gets too high at that high temperature and simply overloads the heat pump.

Okay, now here’s where the “Genius Factor” kicks in. Voila! Eureka! And Ain’t life wonderful stuff; By simply changing the refrigerant from the standard heat pump refrigerant, to another off the shelf refrigerant, the heat pump runs at much reduced pressures, and it is exactly like shifting your truck into a lower gear to climb a hill that it wouldn’t normally climb! Dang, I love machinery! The best part is, that it is all affordable stuff for the small lumber mill operator.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Tan Oak came back with a vengence.

Ben Said:
"Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) is looking for ideas on how to remove tanoak and have the trees pay for the removal. They have 50,000 acres from Piercy/Legget to the coast. Any ideas?"

Ben as you know, the forest/timber industry considers the Tan Oak to be a weed. Back in the sixties and seventies, Mal Coombs spent a lot of big bucks hoping to find a use for Tan Oak. He had thousands of acres of them choking out Redwood and Fir trees. He brought many of the oak logs into his mill and experimented with them. He already had a steam powered drying kiln for the kiln-dried Redwood products that he sold. He did a lot of experimenting in drying the lumber for high quality furniture. The tan wood proved to be too unstable for furniture. I think that people nowadays would be glad to have it. We have forgotten what quality is.

He developed a baseball bat out of the Tan Oak. There was something wrong with the wood where it wasn’t strong enough, or something like that. I’m not sure what was wrong with the wood, but they even made a bat that was laminated with fiberglass to make a wood quality bat, but it was not approved by the baseball industry. I think that he was just not one of the baseball “good old boys”.

After the bat thing failed, they tried to manufacture various small board flooring options. The only flooring that Mal would approve of, that he would put his name on, was the small wood pieced Parquet flooring. The flooring was beautiful, but it was not as successful as a product as he had hoped it would be.

An interesting story: When Mal was just going into full production with the Tan Oak flooring, the Humboldt County Airport in McKinleyville was just being built, and Mal negotiated a deal with the county to put his Tan Oak Parquet Flooring in the main terminal. Somehow a piece of Chinquapin Oak, that he was also experimenting with, got mixed in with the Tan Oak. It was not noticed until the Varnish was applied to the floor, then the different colored Chinquapin stood out like a sore thumb. Mal had to stand the cost of re-flooring the whole main terminal. He was not a happy camper!

The flooring was in the main terminal of the airport until the recent remodel. It would still be beautiful today if it had been taken care of. Unfortunately, the way the county takes care of things is smear wax on the dirt over the top of the floor until it becomes unrecognizable, then replace the beautiful oak floor with concrete.

Now back to the question that you asked me…
The Tan Oak can only be used for small piece lumber due to the fact that it is unstable, but it might be practical to chip as hog fuel for all of the co-generation plants that are going to run out of fuel with all of the mills closing. The plus there, is that there is a bunch of already trained woodsmen that could do that work if they get right on it. If not they will be leaving for somewhere else, because there is just no work for them here.

Rogan Coombs tried manufacturing firewood out of Tan Oak in piercy. I’m not sure why that failed. One thing that Rogan did was sell logs and put them on a landing for peole to cut firewood out of. I think that it was also an attempt to to get rid of them out of the conifer forest.

I've been told that it makes high quality paper products, but that is kind of a moot point with all of the pulp mills closed.

Sad ain’t it? Such a beautiful wood to be so totally worthless.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tan Oak

Range of the tan oak. Mostly a tree of the pacific coast of north-western California.

These are a few photos of the Tan Oak. Most of them will enlarge if you click on them. The Tan oak is a tall slender tree that grows to great heights. The tree grows on a single trunk, similar to a fir tree. It usually grows with a slight lean to it, and it is one of the tallest oaks trees. It is an evergreen tree, and does not lose all of it’s leaves at the same time. The tree sometimes grows as large as six foot through at the base, but its average diameter is around one and one half foot.

The tree was valuable back in the late 18th and early 20th Century because of it’s importance to the leather industry. The tree has more than twice the tannic acid of any other tree.
The leather industry, mostly located in the Sacramento Valley, caused a large demand for the tall and stately tan oak. The tan bark is where the tannic acid is stored by the tree, so to harvest the acid all one had to do is peel the bark off of the tree. The tan bark was at first hauled by mule to the coast and shipped by “Dog Hole Schooner” to the bay area.

Dog Hole Schooners were small ships that could sail in and out of small ports along the coast. They would sail straight in toward the shore, then they would send two men in a row boat to attach a line to the anchorage, which was usually an exposed rock offshore. Once the line was attached, the ship would simply swing around and come to rest off the breaker line. The bark was loaded by overhead cables. Once the ship was loaded. They would simply set their sails and sail away. Many times the rowboat crew didn’t get the line to the anchorage in time, and the poor small ship would sail right on into the rocks along the shoreline. Most of the sailors were Scandinavian and they were called the Scandahoovian navy.

Stockton soon became the center of the leather industry because the small Schooners could sail to Stockton to unload. The reason that the leather factories were in Stockton was because that’s where the cattle were. It was easier to bring the tannic acid the leather than the other way around. The tanned hides were then transported from there.

At about the turn of the 19th century the Wagner Leather corporation scouted out a port to land their ships more safely. They decided to build a wharf at Shelter Cove. To further simplify their growing company they decided to build a Tannic Acid extraction factory in Briceland. They went about buying up Tan Oak Forests. They ended up buying over 7,000 acres of Tan Oak forest land.

The larger Tan Oak trees were fallen to the ground, and the bark was peeled. The bark was then dried in the summer heat right where it was peeled. The smaller trees were “creamed” which meant that they didn’t even fall them. They just took the bark that they could reach, and left the rest that was to far up, right on the tree. It was considered to be too small of an amount to bother with. Then the dried bark was skidded on sleds or strapped on a mule and hauled to a landing wher it was loaded on huge wagon loads and hauled into Briceland to go through the tannic acid extraction process.

Now, I know that you are probably thinking that it was a terrible waste to cut a tree and just leave it lay in the woods to rot. You’re right, get over it! Things were a lot different back then than they are today, they did what they had to do to survive.

The good thing about the Tan Oak is that, just like a Redwood tree, it regenerates from sprouts from it’s root system and it readily replaces the forest with many more healthy young tan Oaks. The Tan oak has a tendency to take over if it is allowed. A good example of a Tan Oak takeover is from the Finley Creek fire in 1972. The fire burned from Ettersburg to Shelter Cove in one night. It burned over ten thousand acres and was one of the hottest fires that we have seen on the north coast. The fire killed the fir trees and other small trees, and they had to be replanted. The Tan Oak sprouted from their own roots and beat out most of the other trees. The other trees are just now catching up. So the Tan Oak makes a great “Nurse tree” it provides shade and protection for the Douglas fir. That won’t do as well when exposed to the hot sun.

The tan oak makes beautiful lumber, but it is unstable in larger board sizes, so it make great Parquet Flooring and other small-piece wood products. Sadly the mighty Tan Oak is one of the major trees to be killed by Sudden Oak Death. Massive die-offs are happening as you read this. I hope that they are wise enough to harvest some of the die-off for energy production, by chipping it for co-generation plants. It is my hope that some trees will be found to be resistant, and we will have a healthy forest again.

Again, as with every oak tree that ever existed, it is said to be one of the favorite acorn trees of the Indian people. The fact is, that it has a bitter nut and takes much leaching to get the acids out of it. But, that is the beauty of the Tan Oak acorn, it doesn’t rot because of its high acid content. It has a hard shell, so it is somewhat bug resistant, and it lasts under the tree longer. So the Indians used it when they had a hard time finding other acorns, which was most of the time. So, it appeared that the Tan Oak was their favorite nut. When they probably simply thought of it as being better than starvation.

I have many logging stories to tell about the Tan Oak. Too many to tell here. But, it was a much hated tree because of it’s “Tan Oak Dust”, which is a combination of pollen and the fuzz off the fuzzy leaves. It can darn near choke you to death. If your think that a respirator would solve the problem, you’ve simply have not worked in the woods when it was 100 plus degrees and there was no fresh air.

I take questions!

In researching why they stopped using Tan Oak extract to tan leather; I thought that I would find that a cheap synthetic tannin was developed, but apparently they simply ran out of cheap and easy to get tan bark. In the late Nineteen-twenties they started running out of available tan bark in the quantities that they needed. The Wagner Leather Company requested that Humboldt county build a road down Redwood Creek to access the new highway 101 that was being built north and south, with the hope that they could truck in the still abundant supply of Tan Oak that was growing inland. The County said no, and the Wagner Leather works closed their factory and switched to other means of tanning their leather. After that the road was built

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

We called them Black Oaks.

If any of the photo's remind you of Humboldt County, it's okay, the California Black Oak is a very common tree here on the north coast. They only grow on the north coast and the western slope of the northern Sierra Nevada mountains. They are straight and leggy when growing in groups, or in shade. They usually have two main trunks after they leave the main trunk. (What the loggers called a "Schoolmarm". I'll let you figger out why. Hint: The loggers liked to talk dirty!) They have darker bark than a White Oak, but it would be hard to tell, because they are usually mostly covered in moss. They have large watermelon shaped acorns. They are probably the meatiest acorn of all of the Oak trees. The ones that I gathered last year were some of the largest that I've ever seen. I laid five of them end to end on a tape measure and they measured eight inches.

Sometimes we called the Black Oak the "Mountain Oak", because they grow on the side-hills and near the ridge-tops. The White oak sometimes called the "Valley Oak". One of the things that the old-timers noticed, that few of the newcomers do, is the difference in the flora and fauna of the valley as compared to the mountains.
There is a "Mountain Quail" and a "Valley quail". A "Mounntain Jay" and a "Valley Jay" (Stallar Jay and Scrub Jay). There is "Mountain Manzanita" and "Valley Manzanita". The Mountain Manzanita is a lighter color, the stems have hair on them, and the blossoms are white. The Valley Manzanita is darker in color and has no hair on the stems, and the color is a beautiful pink and white. Did you get that Robin? Check to see if your Oregon Manzanita, that has white blossoms, has hair on the stems. If so, It’s a “Mountain Manzanita.”

The wood of the Black Oak is dark brown, about the color of Root Beer, almost the same color as Black Walnut. It makes fair lumber. The white oak wood is a tan color and the wood is unstable, and not very good for furniture because it likes to warp and change shape with the weather and humidity.

The Black Oak is said to be one of the favorite trees for acorns for the Indian people. It's funny, but I have heard that same thing about every single oak tree, except the Live Oak, and the only thing wrong with the Live Oak is that the acorns are to small to bother with, but when times were tough, you can bet that the Indian people were gathering live oak acorns.

When used as fire wood it burns long and slow, and leaves a moderate amount of ash. It's a good log to put on the fire before going to bed at night. It will burn slow all night, keep the chill off, and all you have to do in the morning is add wood and open the draft. That's way more fun than waking up to a cold house and having to build a fire.

A lot of people won't agree with me, but Black Oak is one of my favorite woods to use for smoking pork sausage. It has a honey sweet maple flavor to it. When I split Black Oak for firewood I spend more time picking it up and inhaling the sweet smell than splitting.

If you want to try it, here you go:
Gramma's breakfast pork sausage mix.
2 lbs. ground pork. Use good meat, like shoulder meat.
1 Tbls. brown sugar.
2 tsp. dried sage.
2 tsp. salt.
1 tsp. pepper.
½ tsp. garlic powder, I'd probably use more, but I like Garlic.
½ tsp. onion powder.
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram.
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or if you’re lazy, ½ tsp. Tobasco Sauce. I'd probaly use more but I like hot sausage. It's best to add you own hot sauce later, that way everybody can enjoy your sausage.
Stuff it into a 1/2" sausage casing and smoke with Black Oak over night and eat for breakfast. Be sure to invite Ernie!