Why remember Caspar?
Photo by Anthony Stewart
"As a lumber company, it was large enough to last over 90 years in the business, but small enough to be owned by one family. It was large enough to be a typical redwood lumbering operation, but small enough to be the subject of a comprehensive photographic documentary. It was large enough to run a logging railroad with a variety of motive power, but small enough to depend on water transportation to get the lumber to market.
"As a town, Caspar was small enough to be taken in almost at a glance. Yet it was large enough to have a brick building for the company store and office (one that survived the 1906 earthquake), and to have a church, its pastor being the best-known minister on the coast. It was small enough to be hard to find on the map, but large enough to be well known on the banks of the Ottawa River (a number of Canadians settled in Caspar).
"And as a seaport it wasn't overlooked. It was smaller than a port like Fort Bragg, but larger than the usual coastal landing. And Caspar ships usually had a home guard as the backbone of the crew. One of these crewmen during the first decade of this century was Caspar Charlie Carlson. Captain Charles Carlson summed it all up for me one evening during his last years: 'Caspar meant so much to me in my memory that in later years as I ran up and down the coast as a captain, I always blew the whistle when we passed the place, no matter what time of day or night it was. I didn't care what anybody thought: that's just how I felt about it.'
"Caspar Creek was named for Siegfried Caspar, a German Immigrant who ran cattle in the area. In 1862 the Kelly and Rundle Sawmill started operations near the mouth of the Creek, cutting virgin redwood on their own 5,000 acres in the Caspar Creek basin.
"The Town of Caspar is a tiny settlement on the rough and rocky Redwood Coast of California. About five miles south of Fort Bragg, it is 125 nautical miles northerly from San Francisco (142 land Miles). Centered in the lush redwood forest area, it was, like virtually all other settlements on the coast, the location of a sawmill.
"Operating from 1816 until 1955, this mill was supplied with timber for 75 of those years by the Caspar Lumber Company's own private Railroad. Using a fascinating array of motive power, crossing such streams as Jughandle Creek on massive timber trestles, extending inclined cable tramways up and over ridges, the railroad brought in virgin redwood logs from a vast area. At the end of operations in 1946 the main line extended over 26 miles eastward and there had been literally scores of branch lines and spurs reaching into every stream fork and gulch in the area.
"Starting life as the Jughandle Railroad (sometimes Caspar Railroad), the standard-guage line twice changed its name as it reached ever farther into the forests-first to Caspar & Hare Creek; later to Caspar, South Fork & Eastern. It was never a common carrier, but the possibility had been considered. It operated with seven different types of locomotives out of its total roster of eight. Since its "raw material" consisted of trees that often reached a diameter of 20 feet and a height of 350, the railroad frequently carried logs so huge that they had to be blasted apart in order to fit.
"As we examine the history of this unusually interesting redwood lumbering operation at Caspar, we find that one of the strong features of the company was single-family ownership from 1864 well into the 1980's, with corporate offices still maintained in San Francisco at the time of this writing(1986). It was a wise and profitable ownership providing excellent management, a company that made money even when competitors were struggling. The enduring ownership of Caspar Lumber Company, and the careful choosing and loving care shown in their equipment and operations started with Jacob Green Jackson in 1864.
"The Caspar Lumber Company also operated a fleet of coastal schooners, both sail and steam, to carry lumber from the "dog-hole" landing at Caspar to San Francisco and elsewhere. This facet of the operation makes for a fascinating story in itself."
Written By Richard H. Tooker