Standard Lumber gets book spotlight

Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Berkeley author Mark Steven Francis has written a new book about Tuolumne County logging and railroads.

"Empire: The Development of the Timber Industry in Tuolumne County, the Standard Lumber Company and Its Railroads, 1850-1920" fills more than 500 pages with history, documents and rare photographs.

"The great Sierra forests - filled with sugar pine trees from the Oregon border to where the deserts begin in southern California - remained virtually untouched until the Gold Rush of 1849," Francis writes. "Mining and miners needed plenty of water and plenty of wood to maintain their operations and their personal well-being. The two would become inseparable."

By the end of the 19th century, he said, well-financed individuals and companies - many moving west from the depleting forests in the upper Midwest states - "brought their money and bought their way into the local areas."

In Tuolumne County, domestic and foreign capital produced the West Side Flume and Lumber Co., founded in 1897. Four years later, the Standard Lumber Co. would be created with similar sources of capital, Francis said.

"Both companies would construct railroads to reach into the timberlands," he said. "But they would initially follow different paths to success."

West Side constructed a single sawmill in the town now called Tuolumne and built a narrow gauge railroad into the vast lands it owned east of the North Fork of the Tuolumne River. In contrast, Francis said, the Standard Lumber Co. bought four of the small independently owned sawmills already existing in the mountains above Sonora.

While accumulating timberlands from numerous owners and making contracts with the U.S. Forest Service, Standard spent several years toiling with outmoded means of transportation before constructing two narrow gauge railroads and one standard gauge railroad, he said.

Later, the company would emulate the path of West Side with a single mill in the town of Standard with logs hauled in by its subsidiary, the Sugar Pine Railway, Francis said.

"The history of the West Side Flume and Lumber Co. and its successor, the West Side Lumber Co., along with the company's railroad, have been the subjects of numerous published works," Francis said. "The Standard Lumber Co. and its railroads are less well-known."

Mark Steven Francis was born in Berkeley and attended the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in history and English. He retired in 1995 after 30 years with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He spent many summers in Tuolumne County as a youth and was received the Order of the Wheelhorse award from the Tuolumne County Historical Society in 2001.

Priced at $60, "Empire" is available at the Tuolumne County Museum, Mountain Bookshop, Cold Springs Market and Charley's Books and Galleria.

The Union Democrat
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