Pickering Lumber, Standard Lumber Co.(also Calaveras Big Trees)

The Tuolumne County Historical Society gives us this excellent history of Pickering in Tuolumne County.


To quote a small section of that history,

“Tuolumne County’s second major lumber operation was the Standard Lumber Company, headquartered initially in Sonora and later at the company town of Standard.  It was incorporated in 1901 by D. H. Steinmitz, and was joined by T. S. Bullock after the West Side Lumber Company was sold to a Michigan corporation.    The new company was formed by the acquisition of S. S. Bradford’s mountain sawmill, timber land, planing mill, and sash-door factory in Sonora.  In addition, N. L. Knedsen’s mill and lumberyard in south Sonora were taken under lease as part of the holdings of the Standard Lumber Company”

Some of the original Bradford mill buildings in Sonora can still be seen on Washington Street where JS West uses them for part of its operations.

1923 photo

(click to enlarge)

These next two links will take you to reports for the California Dept. of Parks and Recreation

They contain a history and description of the buildings that were at Standard, done for the purpose of determining if the site was suitable for inclusion in the National Registry of Historic Places, or designation as an historic site. These were given to us by Judith Marvin, one of the authors of the reports.

Standard BSO

Standard Primary

Quoting again from the TCHS site,

“Initially, Pickering Lumber Company acquired the Standard Lumber Company and its Sugar Pine Railroad in 1921.  In 1925, Pickering also acquired the West Side Lumber Company and its railroad.  However, after the depression of the 1930s, Pickering Lumber Company closed down all operations.  In 1934, West Side Lumber and its railroad were returned to its former owners.  By 1937, Pickering reopened its remaining operations after receiving a Federal economic recovery aid loan.  After improved roads were built for automobiles and the trucking industry, logging trucks were selected over railroads by West Side Lumber Company.  In 1961 the West Side Lumber Railroad was closed down and four years later Pickering Lumber Railroad (old Sugar Pine Railroad) also closed.”

“Fiberboard Paper Products purchased Pickering Lumber Company in 1965.  Following their bankruptcy, it was bought by Louisiana Pacific and finally purchased in 1995 by its current owners, Sierra Pacific Industries.  The Sierra Railroad hauled freight and processed timber products and contracted to haul logs from out-of-state to be processed at Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) located next to the old company town of Standard”

What was the Pickering Mill at Standard is now owned and operated by Sierra Pacific Industries, the lumbering giant. The mill was closed in 2009, but  reopened with modernized equipment in 2011.

Please visit the Tuolumne County Historical Society’s web site at  http://www.tchistory.org/

Gerald French, author of the definitive book, When Steam was King has given the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum a collection of his slides of the Pickering Lumbering operation in 1958. We will soon have a display of his photos in the museum.

Pickering and the South Grove of the Big Trees

Brian Wise owner of the Yahoo Group of plcorp, a group of people especially interested in the history of the Pickering Lumber Company, gives us this history of how the Calaveras Big Trees, South Grove, was saved from the lumberman’s axe.

“Actually, the push to save the Big Trees goes way back to 1900 and earlier.  After their “discovery” in 1852, various persons were quick to exploit the trees.  At least one mammoth sequoia was cut down, and another had its bark stripped for display overseas. The South Grove property was sold at public auction (by the State of CA) for $15,000 to a Mr. Sperry, who later sold it (1900) to a lumberman named Whiteside.  It was that sale that aroused public awareness of the Big Trees and inspired the creation of the Calaveras Grove Association.  The CGA assisted in the movement to create a system of state parks, which occured in 1928.  In 1931 the North Grove finally became a state park, but the South Grove property had already been sold to Pickering in 1927.  When the Great Depression hit, private donations became scarce, state park funds all but vanished, and the CGA disbanded so there was no push to acquire the South Grove and add it to the park system.

Pickering didn’t reach their South Grove property until about 1949, establishing Beaver Creek Camp in 1950.  Pickering didn’t take advantage of the South Grove property then, though, as conservationists and the Forest Service held them at bay.  A new CGA was formed in 1954 which held a massive fund raising campaign, and thanks to a huge donation from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the California State Parks Commission negotiated the purchase of the South Grove property from Pickering.  The Forest Service, however, allowed Pickering to cut timber on approximately 30 acres within the South Grove to help smooth over their relationship.”


  1. Lesley Cadwgan (nee Pickering) Says: January 8, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Searching for information about my Grandfather

    I was, before marriage, Lesley Pickering
    My father was Leslie Thomas Pickering
    My grandmother, Gurtrude Pickering was pregnant although unmarried and wished to marry her cousin Thomas Pickering who was sent away to America in disgrace in 1905/6 to ‘family’ (cousins/uncles?) to work on a ranch/farm or in the lumber company?
    We were told that Rattlesnake Creek was a name remembered, he may have returned after a few years and there was a story within the family of ‘a man with a watch’
    A contact was made in the 1940s to our family regarding a ranch and again in the 1970s my mother received a ‘phone call from the USA asking after my father, my mother dismissed this as my father died in 1962.

    I have been tracing the records back and it would appear that Alfred who founded the Timber Company may have been the elder brother of Edward who was the father of my Great Grandmother Alice Pickering who is shewn as single head of household with her daughter Gurtrude and her son, my father, in 1911.

    There are clear Derbyshire connections also Leicestershire and Nottingham all very local to each other in England.

    I have a lot more detail if required.

    • Kevin Collins Says: August 11, 2015 at 6:59 am

      In the late 30’s, my grandmother, Ruth O’Hara, worked as a secretary at the Standard Lumber Company office.

      From 1972 thru 1974, I was a firefighter at the CDF camp in Vallecito, near Angels Camp. In those two years the largest fire I fought was the 17,000 acre Cherry Lake fire, which started when a hot piece of brake shoe came off of a logging truck and rolled into dry grass along the road between Highway 108 and the lake. I remember being told the truck had been hauling off of old Pickering ground, and how huge their landholdings in that area were.

      It was quite an eventful fire for me. We were the first hand crew on the fire, and our first shift was 37 hours. We worked nonstop cutting hand line up the side of a ridge, and were finally relieved when we tied into a dozer line at the top. I can’t tell you how many thousands of feet of line we cut, but it was a long ways, all of it uphill.

      At that time the only water we had was two-one quart canteens that we carried on a surplus G.I. belt. My best friend ended up riding to the hospital in Sonora with what his doctor called the worst case of dehydration he’d ever seen. Sam later told me the ride to the hospital was miserable. The attendant told him he was delirious the whole trip, and that he had a hard time holding him down (Sam was strong as an ox).

      One great memory of that fire was the B-17 ‘Borate Bomber’ (that’s what we called them back then) that was making drops on the ridge below us. As he would approach the drop he was flying eye level with us near the top of the ridge, not more than 500 yards away. I’ll never forget the sight, or the sound of those four big engines reverberating as they did their work.

      Thanks for listening.

      • Sierra Nevada Logging Museum Says: August 11, 2015 at 1:50 pm

        Thanks Kevin for the information about your fire fighting career. Terms like borate bomber brought back memories of that time. Interesting comment.

        • Kevin Collins Says: August 11, 2015 at 4:09 pm

          Thanks for the website, John. I happened across it when I was researching the name Pickering. I heard an interview with a former ambassador by that name and was trying to find out if he was related to the lumber family. I still don’t know the answer to that question.

          I’ll be back to explore the website. I love history, and happened to have worked in the woods my entire career (12 seasons in a log truck, the rest running equipment and doing road maintenance). I look forward to learning what I don’t know about logging!


  2. Interesting, Lesley. Thanks for the history.

  3. Lesley Cadwgan.(nee Pickering.) Says: January 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    thank you for interesting information have you any names or contact details of pickering family who i may contact

  4. No, I have no contacts for you. Sorry.

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