Lumber boom in post-war years

Courtesy of the Calaveras County Historical Society

The lumber industry during the 1930’s was at a low ebb in Calaveras County.  Other than demand for mine timbers, there was little activity in the lumber market during the depression years.  But as the nation’s economy slowly improved and with the outbreak of World War II in Europe, lumber sales began to expand.

The end of World War II saw the lumber industry booming in Calaveras County as never before.  By 1946, there were 46 sawmills in operation in the county.  They ranged in size from small, two- and three-man portable outfits to huge plants such as the Blagen and Stockton Box mills, and the Associated Lumber and Box Company mills which were all later absorbed by the American Forest Products Company.

“It seemed there was a sawmill behind every pine tree,” said Gaylen Core, of San Andreas, who in those days in addition to being involved in sawmill operation, brokered and hauled lumber produced by some of the smaller sawmills.  They ranged from the primitive to the fully automated “push button mill” constructed in San Andreas by the late Marius “Maury” Rasmussen, who later was to become the developer of Mt. Reba Ski Complex above Bear Valley.

The Associated Lumber and Box Company mill at Sandy Gulch, near Wilseyville, at the height of its operation, employed up to 300 men and women and turned out 35 million board feet of lumber per year.

In addition to the Associated Lumber and Box Company at Wilseyville, the two Stockton Box mills at West Point and the Blagen Mill at White Pines, there were sizable mills at San Andreas, Toyon, and Wallace.

Joe Josephson operated a mill in Mountain Ranch at the northwest intersection of Mountain Ranch and Whiskey Slide roads; there were two mills on Hawver Road: Paul Morris had a sawmill in Sheep Ranch,  (Editor’s note:  Morris was spelled this way in the Historical Society document, stayed the same in the Calaveras Enterprise reprint, and I brought it into this website the same way.  The mill was owned and operated by Paul Morse and his son, also Paul Morse. It was on Armstrong Road a couple of miles out of Sheep Ranch close to the boundary of the Robinson Ranch from where the timber was coming. It provided timber for the Sheep Ranch Mine until the war broke out, prospered during the war, and was closed down in the mid 1950;s because of the cost of workers compensation insurance. The younger Mr. Morse went to work at the Cement Plant in San Andreas)

J.W. Griffin operated a mill on Summit Level Road.

The Matson Mill also was located on Summit Level Road and the Hamilton Mill was on Swiss Ranch Road. There was another mill on Prussian Hill Road, and the Powell and Burleson mill was operating on Moran Road, just east of Avery.

The Mitchell Mill was moved from Swiss Ranch  to its new location on the Licking Fork of the Mokelumne River. There is interesting and entertaining information about this mill at: Your editor has been refused permission to excerpt from this book by the widow of the author, which of course, is her prerogative. Very interesting description of the mill and how primitive their equipment was.

At that time, the local lumber producers estimated that 80 percent of their lumber was utilized in the California market with the remainder being shipped to the East.


  1. Hey, nice site you ve got!

  2. Thank you so much. Hopefully, it will just keep getting better and better.


  3. James French Says: January 9, 2010 at 3:20 am

    Do you have any information on the Calaveras Lumber Co. at Mitchel’s Mill from about 1940 to 1946? I’m interested in the history of this mill, pictures, maps, etc. I obtained a copy of my grandfather’s Social Security application dated 1940 and his place of employment was Calaveras Lumber Co. I’d just like to find out more information about my grandfather, who I never knew. His name was Waldo Wood French, although on the SS application he put W. Waldo French. He was supposed to have been a construction engineer, and I’d like to know more about where he worked.

    • James,

      See the changes in the story giving you a source for more information about the Mitchell Mill.


    • J.Wheeler Says: May 25, 2015 at 4:23 am

      The mill at Mitchell is still there and it still works. Popular camp site called they are neighbors just up river from me.

  4. It’s interesting that you are the second person in the last month or so that was interested in Mitchell’s Mill. We don’t have any information about the mill there, but somewhere in our picture archive we have a photo of the mill. So far, I haven’t been able to find even that photo. Sorry that we’re not going to be able to help you. Typically, the smaller mills didn’t leave us many written records or photos. Too bad.

    When I was a boy, I knew an Ed French who may have been a relative of yours.


  5. Do you have any information on the sawmill owned by Paul Morris in Sheep Ranch, CA.
    Was there a sawmill owned in Murphys, CA by William ARMSTRONG?

  6. Yvonne,

    The main answer to your question is, not much.
    There were so many small mills around especially in the 20’s and 30’s that written histories are few and far between. Those who can help with oral histories are now also few and far between. My family came to this area to mine gold and we have much the same problem with the histories of the small mines as we do with the history of small lumber mills.

    OK here is what we might know. Not necessarily the facts. The Armstrong mill was probably across the highway from today’s post office in Murphys. My uncle worked in that mill until it went bankrupt and the workers eventually received 10 cents on each dollar owed them. We’re pretty sure about that mill and the one that replaced it on the same site, but we’re not positive about it being the Armstrong mill.

    We know about the Morris Mill in Sheep Ranch, but I’m not even sure that it was the Morris Mill, and not the Morse Mill. The Morse family was prominent in the Sheep Ranch area and many of the Morses are still around. If I were to guess, I’d guess that it was that family who owned the mill. I’ve talked to several people who remember the mill and even remember Paul Morris or Morse, but none of those people are sure of which Morse or Morris is correct.


  7. Yvonne, and whomever,

    Thanks to Yvonne’s question your editor went pursuing more information about the Morse Mill at Sheep Ranch. I’ve inserted the correct information and some additional information into the article above.

    Yvonne, I got the information about the mill from the daughter and grand-daughter of the two Paul Morses, whose first name is Paulie which is as close as the Morses could come to having a third generation Paul without waiting to see if any boys were going to be born into the family,I think.


  8. Robert Jay Fischer Says: March 7, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    I found some stuff about Mitchell Mill at http://www.goldcountrytimes/kenny88.main.htm I tried to print it but wasn’t able. The Otis Andrews mentioned is the same one that was later pond monkey at Stockton Box, West Point. All best wishes. Bob Fischer

  9. Meredith Says: July 11, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Hi! I’m currently writing a master’s thesis on women and the East Texas timber prducts industry, and I was wondering if, for comparisons sake, you had any information on women in the Sierra Nevada industry from roughly 1935-1975. I would be mostly interested in women who were not in clerical positions but were actually in the mills and plants. Thanks!

    • Sierra Nevada Logging Museum Says: July 11, 2011 at 11:39 am

      As you can read on our web site, the Blagen Mill moved down to White Pines in 1938 in order to access a large stand of Sugar Pine. When the war broke out, the need for boxes for shipping caused the government to declare the lumber industry an essential industry. The Blagen mill operated with 3 shifts and the shortage of available men caused the mill to hire quite a few women to actually work in the mill. “Tailing off the green chain” was a job which, although strenuous, could be done by women.

      We don’t have records of how many women were actually employed in the mill but it was a substantial number.

      In the 1980’s I had a woman in my photo classes that worked for Georgia Pacific in their Martell mill. Her job, ‘Tailing off the green chain.”

      snlm John

      • Meredith Says: July 12, 2011 at 5:45 am

        Did any stay on after the end of the war? It seems that women did stay on in East Texas box factories and handle factories after the war ended.

        • When the war was over, the mill cut its shifts back to a single shift, and with veterans coming home, I don’t think any women worked in the mill. Actually, I just checked with a worker there, and he says no women in the mill after they moved to a single shift.



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