Small steam-powered river boat

Maru No.1 on Big River, c. 1908. Note the smoke other than that coming from the main steam engine. This smoke is coming from a wood stove on which a member of the crew would prepare the workers’ meals. (Gift of Alice Earl Wilder)

May 15, 1900 – A steamer delivered the boiler and engine for the new river boat that was being built at the Mendocino Mill. John Peterson, younger brother of shipbuilder Thomas Peterson of Little River, was in charge of building the new flat-bottomed boat, which would be used to guide rafts of logs from the boom to the mill. The boom was a holding place for logs that had come down river from the logging operations.

Jerome C. Ford, who was superintendent of the Mendocino Lumber Company at the time, originally named the boat, the “Big River,” but company employees in the San Francisco office insisted on adding “Maru,” a word often used in naming Japanese ships, to the name.

The Big River Maru was 40 feet long, 16 feet wide, and driven by a stern paddle wheel. A licensed engineer was required to run the Maru.

In July, the Beacon reported on the first trial run which began well, but, “Then the wheel stopped. Pilot Daniels put the wheel hard-aport, Chief Engineer Jarvis reversed the engines and blew the signal of distress, First Officer Rush rushed for the life preservers, while a dozen Portuguese urchins who had gathered to witness the event all but fell from the boomsticks into the river, so great was the excitement. Such, in brief, was the result of the trial trip of the Big River Maru on the placid waters of Big river. The gallant crew immediately manned the pike-poles and without further mishap the vessel was soon back at the wharf, where a careful investigation revealed that the stoppage was caused by the breaking of a defective sprocket wheel.” The broken sprocket wheel was replaced, and the following week, the Beacon reported that she was “now propelled by her own steam.”

The first Big River Maru operated on Big River until 1918, when an improved Maru, also designed and built by John Peterson, took over the run to the boom.

Walking Tours of Historic Mendocino – Join our expert docents for a stroll and lively commentary. You’ll pass by early pioneer homes, historic meeting places, and buildings that make up the the Mendocino Historic District.