Ruggles Tract to Sierra Pacific, a history of Cal. Co. timber holdings
15 Sep 2008
A concise, although occasionally inaccurate, history of the large tract of forest land that was first cut by Blagen Mill, then American Forest Products, and ended up being owned by Sierra Pacific Industries can be found in the following history:
We gathered more information about the Ruggles tract and its ownership path from Frank Blagen Jr., and we thank him for his major contribution toward trying to make this history accurate.
Limbaugh and Fuller tell us in their book, Calaveras Gold, that at least part of the timber industry in Calaveras County had overextended in the twenties, and many had disappeared during the depression. They relate that even the giant, Pickering, failed during the depression and had to be reorganized before it could resume operations in 1937.
Of particular interest to the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum sitting near the original site of the Blagen Mill, were the changes that took place in the timber holdings in Calaveras and Amador Counties. In 1909, a Michigan lumberman, known as “The Last of the Lumber Barons”, Charles Ruggles, purchased the huge Calaveras County timber holdings of Frank Solinsky and in the process, Frank Solinsky Jr. became Ruggles’s forester. In the twenties, Ruggles and Frank Solinsky Jr. formed the Calaveras Timber Company to serve as a holding company for the timber business.
Frank Solinski Cabin out on what was the Ruggles Tract,
Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy of Faith Roberts).(Taken as a slide by her husband, George, a State Forest Ranger, in the early 1960’s)
We think it was near the Middle Fork of the Mokelumne River near what is still listed on some maps as Solinski crossing
Death Notice for Frank Solinsky Jr.
I’m including this here because I think it gives us information about Solinsky that I, at least, didn’t have. editor
Frank Solinsky Jr. died of a heart attack at his home in Mokelumne Hill in August, 1950.
Solinsky, the son of pioneer California parents, was born in San Andreas, the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Frank Solinsky Sr., pioneer attorney of Calaveras County.
Solinsky was a veteran of World War II and commanded the famous California Grizzlies in France. He was discharged from the army with the rank of major.
He was the west coast representative of the Calaveras Land and Timber Company. In 1901 Solinsky as a young man began the task of putting the famous “Ruggles” timber holdings together and by 1940 had bound into a single unit 55, 000 acres of virgin timber lands in Calaveras County alone.
Mr. Frank Blagen Jr. tells us that:
As the depression approached, Ruggles defaulted on the taxes and eventually the timber lands were taken over by the Detroit Trust and the Michigan Trust. Frank Solinski Jr. was still in the act as the local representative. The Calaveras Land and Timber Co, was formed to act on behalf of the timber owners (Detroit and Michigan trusts).
Backing up in time a bit:
Ruggles wanted to have the rail line that was built to serve Calaveras Cement in San Andreas and Pardee Dam near Valley Springs, to be extended up into his timber holdings, but by 1927 well before the depression hit most businesses, his Michigan operations had fallen on hard times, Ruggles was in deep financial trouble, and the extension of the railroad became a dead issue. Ruggles died in 1930 at the age of 84.
From mergers with the Winton Lumber Company in Amador County and acquisition of the Brown Brothers Lumber Company’s holdings in Amador and Calaveras Counties, the Calaveras Land and Timber had become one of the largest timber owners in the southern Sierra. They held about 60,000 acres in Calaveras County and about the same in Amador County.
In 1938, Frank N. Blagen contracted with Calaveras Land and Timber to harvest part of its holdings in Calaveras County. When the mill started operating, the Calaveras Land and Timber Company had a scaler at the mill who scaled the logs as they entered the mill, and the company was billed for them. The price was based on a minimum amount and then adjusted for the rise or fall in the “western pine index” (which was published monthly by the western pine association)
When Blagen got into financial difficulty caused by his Northwest relatives pressuring Crocker Bank to withdraw the credit that had been promised to Blagen’s new operation, he was forced to sell out to Stockton Box Company, a subsidiary of American Box Company (ABC) , who continued to harvest the timber belonging to Calaveras Land and Timber.
Some time after American Forest Products purchased the controlling interest in the Blagen Lumber Company, the contract with Calaveras Land and Timber was renegotiated with the result that the minimum that was to be purchased annually (40 million board feet) was reduced, and in exchange the so called Amador tract was separated from the deal. This later allowed the Winton Lumber Company to purchase the Amador timber and build a mill in Martel.
WWII brought great demand for lumber and lumber products and as a result American Forest Products harvested timber at a frenetic pace.In 1943 AFPC built a mill and a company town south of West Point. The town was named Wilseyville after Lawrence Wilsey the manager of the Blagen Mill from 1939 to 1954, and that mill was specifically built to harvest the large quantity of prime sugar pine in that area.
AFPC purchased the holdings of the Calaveras Land and Timber Corporation in 1961, but closed the Blagen Mill a year later. Another year after that, they also closed the Wilseyville mill. AFPC acquired the Winton Lumber Company and used the Martell Mill for its processing of both Calaveras and Amador timber.
In 1970 or 1971, American Forest Products was taken over by Bendix Corporation who built the Martell operation into one of the largest lumber operations in the state. In 1981 Bendix divested itself of AFPC. In 1988, Georgia Pacific acquired AFPC including 125,000 acres of timber land and the Martell mill.
In 1988, Red Emmerson of Sierra Pacific Industries mortgaged nearly everything they owned and bought 522,000 acres of timber land from the Santa Fe-Southern Pacific Railroad, making SPI the largest private land owner in the US.
Sierra Pacific Industries also acquired all the GP holdings in both Calaveras and Amador Counties, immediately shut down the Martel mill, and hauled all of the logs on that deck to their other mills for processing.. SPI now sends all of its logs, except for Cedar, to either Standard in Tuolumne County or Camino in El Dorado County. The cedar goes to Chinese Camp for processing. Editor’s note: In early 2009, SPI closed both the Standard Mill and the Camino Mill. In 2011, SPI reopened a modernized mill at Standard. The Camino mill remains closed, and the Chinese Camp mill mills only cedar.
In 2000, SPI secured permits for limited clear cutting, but has faced major opposition from environmental and business groups to any clear cutting on either public lands or their own holdings.
SPI continues to harvest timber in Calaveras County, but the total amount of lumber from the trees of Calaveras County is very small compared to the years when timber was king.
White Pines: an addendum to the story. Frank Blagen Sr., as we’ve said above, didn’t own the timber that he, and later AFPC, was harvesting, but he did acquire the land upon which the Blagen Mill sat, and where the town of White Pines was established. We know that he acquired this land, in 1938, from the Davies-Johnson Lumber Company, the company who owned the mill in Calpine, from where the Blagens moved to White Pines. This company was owned by Mr. Blagen and his Washington lumbering family, but at the moment, how Davies-Johnson had acquired the Calaveras property is unclear. The reason for the purchase, or perhaps just a transfer of ownership, is also unclear. More to follow, we hope.