Friday, November 30, 2012

Historic remains of sawmills from the 1860s

I had a fellow email me the other day and ask the question about what would he look for to find the remains on an 1850s era sawmill located in the Sacramento valley This man is a serious historian with genuine credentials, so the mere fact that he is asking ME anything is quite a boost to my pride. As many of you know this blog is mostly about historical stories. A lot of the stories told here are shared as tidbits of information that could possibly lead to the true stories that seem to come out after some great discussion. But sailing ships, sawmills, and big machines has been one of my life long passions, so here's what I came up with.

As honored as I am that he asked me, I'm not sure how much help that I could be. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about it. He told me that he thought that he had found the flume that lead to mill, and he has a board known to be from the mill. He said that the board was made from a circular saw. He knows that the saw was a 48" diameter blade because he measured the saw-kerf.

I started thinking about what I would do if I were looking for 1850s sawmills. The only conclusion that I came to is that I would give up. However, I'm not sure that would be the answer that he was looking for. Many people succeed because they don't realize that their attempts are futile. I thought about what artifacts might be left behind. Hardly anything back in the 1850 had any iron in them. I assume that iron was rare and expensive in California back then. All the Iron had to be shipped into San Francisco, then blacksmithed into whatever parts that were needed. I assumed the sawmill of the 1850s were mostly made of wood. Wood was free and plentiful. The Drive belts would have been made from leather bands. The pulleys were most likely made out of wood. Any iron shafting would have been more valuable than gold, so any remains would have certainly have been salvaged, The saw blade would have also been expensive and highly salvageable.

The only possibility of remains, that I could think of, would have been iron nails. If the mill had burned there would have been some nails left in the ashes. Even then I can remember my grandfather sifting through the ashes of a house that had burned to collect the nails, so I'm sure that any remains of an 1850s era structure would have been picked through very thoroughly for Iron, no matter how the mill ended.

Then as a "Bullshistorian" I put myself back in the 1850s and became a sawmill. I am a fine sawmill. Back in the 1950s (when I was a kid) you were considered to be a darn smart man if you could make a success out of running a sawmill. So if I were a sawmill with a darn smart man running me, where would I be found in 2012? I have the brilliant advantage of being able to see what I'm headed into, because if I can be a sawmill, then I can also have the power to ask the people of the future where I'm going to end up. Okay, Enough silliness, but we do know what the mill had to go through getting to 2012.

The first thing that the mill would have to go through would have been salvagers. There would be no metal at all. I thought of the shafting, saw blades, nails, I even thought about the old poured babbit bearing caps that the must have used. they would all had been salvaged. So, I was left with rock structures, ditches and excavations. The mill would have been built on a flat large enough to hold logs and the lumber production, there would have been a road away from it. There would have been a need for power. Back then everything would have been mule power or water-wheel driven. The flume that this historian talked about was maybe for power or maybe ti transport logs too the mill. Some plumes were used for both power and log transport. The historian says that he can possibly identify the plume. The mill would have definitely been located near the river... no doubt in my mind.

If I were a mill by the river, I would have certainly been washed completely away by the huge flood of 1862, called the "Noachian Deluge" . It was by far the greatest flood that the western United States has ever known. I really don't think that any viable remains of sawmill could possibly be left. We have also had numerous floods since then that would have further cleared out any remains.

If I were a mill on high ground (I doubt that to be the case) I would leave rust, ashes, excavations, rock structures and absolutely nothing of any intrinsic value.

I'm kinda looking for comment about what I might have forgotten. Most of the early mills that I know of from the early days of California were frame saws, with a man on top and a man on the bottom The saw was lifted by the man on top, then when the saw was pulled down it made the cut.

I'm kinda also hoping that "Oregon" might know how saws were made back then. Insert bits?

Anybody have any ideas how we might help a REAL historian find his mill???


25 comments:

Ernie Branscomb said...

Sorry
I had to turn the sqiggly line spam filter back on. I got about 25 spams on my back pages while it was off.
Durly blasterds!

Anonymous said...

Was the Noachian deluge caused by global warming?

Oregon

Anonymous said...

Ernie, I might have read about what kind of saw were being used in the mid 1800's but don't remember. Some of the old saw makers that were in business in those days recently shut their doors. I would be just as amazed at some of the technology used in those days as anyone that likes machinery. That's why I like sawmill/logging museums.
Now days I still am amazed at the new stuff, double arbor 1200 HP curve saw gangs impress quite a bit.

Oregon

Keseberg Diner said...

I found the sawmill location by overlaying a total of 7 maps from 1838-present on Google Earth. I was looking for the actual homestead of William B. Ide. There is a State Park in Red Bluff Ca but this was never his home. After finding his cabin site, I expanded the search to include some of his children’s cabins, 2 of his river ferries and now his sawmill.

I am currently trying to get the layout of the sawmill figured out in relation to the terrain. A few weeks ago the mill race to the mill was walked and plotted into my GPS. The mill race widens near the possible mill and may have been a pond for the logs. The mill itself was just a hundred yards from the 1860 riverbank and should had have a riverboat landing.

The great flood of 1862 would have done tremendous damage to this mill, but 2 maps from 1880 and 1932 show that the road to the mill site was extended to the new river course and the tail race was also extended. This leads me to believe that the mill was rebuilt after the big gulley washer and the lumber was still shipped out by riverboat.

Davef

Anonymous said...

Be easier to talk about mills operating a hundred years later,Forward Mill comes to mind............

Ernie Branscomb said...

Dave
Even though I know nothing about what a sawmill would have looked like in the 1850s I know a little bit about building and I will throw some more thoughts out to you, maybe you can put some thoughts together.

I have no idea how much lumber production a mill could have gotten with a single 48” saw, but I’m going to assume that the mill must have had more than one saw. The extent of work to build a plume and water wheel implies that it was a production mill. Even if it only had one saw it would probably have had a log carriage to move the log through the saw. The saw would have to have stayed in one position. (take my word for that)

The largest log that they could have run through the saw would have been about 18” in diameter. To get any kind of production at all they would have had to have had a smaller edger saw to send the rough slabs through to make the lumber into boards. It is unlikely that they ran the slabs back through the 48” saw. You can tell about that by checking the radius of the saw kerf on the edge of the board that you have.

You are likely right about the flume emptied into a pond the logs were probably maneuvered in the pond to the mill. The pond would have also acted as a reservoir to feed the water wheel that powered the mill. When the mill was running the water level would drop, then fill again as the mill was shut down. The mill would have been built with an escarpment beside it to get the water drop that was needed to power the water wheel to power the mill.

I think that my cousin “Oregon” could give you a better idea of how much production that the mill could have gotten. By my estimation an edger saw would have more than tripled the production of the mill.
Check the edge saw kerf for radius. If it had a different radius it would have had a different edger saw. The feed rate and the feed angle would also skew the radius of the saw kerf. (Something for the math students)
The mill would have had an area to stack lumber then make it ready to ship, probably on a very flat area.
Most of the old mills used babbitt bearings. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babbitt_(metal) So look for a lead like material.
Thank-you for including me in this thought process. Although I am at a disadvantage by not being there it has caused me no end of speculation.

I've always said that if a picture is worth a thousand words, being there just once is worth a thousand pictures.
Ernie

Keseberg Diner said...

Ernie,
When I made rubbing of the timbers I did 2 sides of each, so there is the information on those sheets about an edger saw. Other wise with on saw they would have to hold the slabs and then cut the edges. This might explain all the saws in the saw mill I work at years ago. So the 48 inch would be the head saw and then they would be cut down by the edger.

On the 1860 census, at the Ide ranch, they had not one but 2 machinists living and working at the ranch. I have thought this odd to have 2 very skilled professionals at the height of the northern mines gold rush. Perhaps they were working on power transmission in the mill?

How much fall would this mill need. They may have only had 4 feet or so, but they would have had a very large flow at certain times of the year. In fact, I am convinced that the mill washed away several times. I know where the millrace entered and exited the river, maybe there is a way to find the fall with out surveying.

The family had large financial recourses even when they arrived in 1845, plus William and his son James found $20,000 in gold at Bidwell bar in 1848. William became judge of Colusi County and was tried of his prisoners walking away. Out of his pocket had bar stock shipped up the river and built a jail. I have found the hand crank drill bits at his cabin in Monroeville that he used to make the jail. It would be a simple matter for him to say, “I want a sawmill here”. He stated, in one letter, that he only had enough work for ½ his Indians…Humm…..

The 1 ½ mile millrace would have been the same length as Sutter’s grist mill at Natomas, just north of Sacramento. It was made by “oxen and scrapers” in very short order. Sadly the grist mill was torn down by the gold rush businessman for the lumber, as was the gates at Sutter’s fort.

Again Thanks
Davef

Keseberg Diner said...

Ernie,

Ok, these measurements are from rubbings from a 4 x6 beam. The beam is mortised and tendoned, and then pegged. It is a timber in Sarah Ide’s barn from before 1860. I used the, “place the tracing on the floor and match the kerfs arcs with my tape measure method”. I picked arcs that were closely space to minimize the distortion of the saw moving though the wood.
I will make a more accurate measurement of the arcs this evening.

The six inch side of the beam (wider) was cut with a 48 inch blade. The smaller 4 inch side was cut with what seems to be an 80 inch blade. This seems really backwards!

Also the saw marks on both side of the beam seem to be grouped in a rhythmic pattern, like the log was pushed though the saw by hand in shoves or levered by pike pole?

More questions.

Dave

Ernie Branscomb said...

Dave
Now we are getting somewhere. That beam that you have was definitely from a production mill. That 48” saw blade may have been used in the humble beginnings of a mill but it would have been a pretty crude mill. The 80” saw blade would have been the head-rig saw and the first to cut the log. The log could have been up to 36” in diameter on an 80” saw. They would have used their largest blade to hog large slabs of timber off of the log, then lay the slab flat on another carriage to slab the beams off like slicing bacon off the slab.

The way they made your 4x6 was to cut a 6” thick slab with the 80” saw off of the log, lay it flat and run it through the 48” edger saw. As the mill got more modern, there would have been two saws on the head-rig The main saw would have been on the bottom, then another saw slightly behind and above the bottom saw. With that arrangement they could have sawed most any size log. The top saw would have lasted a long time without sharpening because it would have cut very little of the wood. I’m really not sure if your mill would have had a top saw. The later, more modern mills, also had gang saw edgers that would have run the slab through multiple blade saws in one pass. The slab would have gone through the gang saws on rollers.

The remains that you are finding is from a production mill that would have been quite modern for it’s time.

I’m still guessing that you aren’t going to find much in the way of artifacts, because of floods and salvage.

The kerf marks that you are finding, that you thought were from irregular feed speeds, are probably are from the teeth on the saw being slightly out of alignment. By measuring the distance between imperfections you can determine the feed rate. (inches per revolution) They probably had a lousy saw filer. My cousin Oregon knows more about modern saws that anybody that I know, but he must still be recovering from thanksgiving, and all that wild turkey.
Ernie

Anonymous said...

An 80" saw is mighty big and these days saws of that diameter and bigger are mostly cross-cut saws. All the large log circle saw head rigs I ever saw were double arbor.

Oregon

Keseberg Diner said...

Ernie,

In 1849 Ide went back east. Letters by him state he brought back metal working tools. I would not be a bit surprised he had a large saw blade shipped out at this time.

He died in 1852 so if the larger saw was added later , it was due to his sons.

Thank you for having me check the saw marks on the short side of the timber! This is a great discovery!!

Dave

Anonymous said...

Google "Forward Brothers Sawmill" its more interesting................
and its in Tehama County!!!

Keseberg Diner said...

Thanks on the Foeward Brothers information. I see that they had a large, maybe 80 inch saw. I am catching flak on another board that an 80 inch saw was impossable.

Also, there was in 1851 a sawmill on Mill Creek near Tehama.

Dave

Anonymous said...

If memory serves? I'm also thinking there was a log flume that run from the Lyonsville area,down to the valley.Maybe came out near R.B.???

Anonymous said...

Some more great history of Logging and old sawmills can be found on that logging museums website in Arnold,ca.
You can google "Doc Linebaugh". He was a successfull logger in that area also,but in later years.

Ernie Branscomb said...

An old blogger friend that hangs out in the desert texted me that a mill in Philo had an 80" mill with a though shaft and a boiler at each end. He said that some aquiantances claimed that the mill ran 110 years!

Ernie Branscomb said...

Anybody that wants to take a tour of a pretty unique mill should click on this link of a steam powered saw mill Hull-Oaks Sawmill

Anonymous said...

That sounds more like a band mill Ern.

Oregon

Ernie Branscomb said...

try again Hull-oaks Sawmill

Ernie Branscomb said...

I can't seen to get the link to work... Did it work for you?

Anonymous said...

No/

Ernie Branscomb said...

link

Robin Shelley said...

"Oaks" has an "e" on the end of it... Oakes.

Ernie Branscomb said...

I can not help it if they do not even know how to spell their own name.

Anonymous said...

Ernie,Take the time to "google" Doc Linebaugh @ Sierra Logging Museum. He logged over in the Sierras near Arnold,but he could have just as well been one of the great old loggers over here!!!