Locomotive Falls Into Big River

Mendocino Lumber Company engine, Climax, pulling loaded cars at Big River. Woods boss, Ed Boyle, standing on the engine at the far left. (The William Ferrill Collection, Kelley House Photographs)

March 30, 1921 – The Mendocino Lumber Company’s locomotive “Climax” fell into Big River, landing in 6 feet of water. The engine had been in the machine shop at the mill for weeks undergoing repairs. The overhaul had been completed, and the engine was being loaded on a lighter for shipment to the Boom when the accident occurred.

The Beacon reported, “The water was low at the slip and one corner of the lighter was aground when the engine was transferred. That portion of the lighter afloat gradually sank as it received the weight of the locomotive while the grounded side did not, so the big boat gradually listed until the engine slid overboard.”

Woods Superintendent Ed Boyle and his crew began work immediately. “He assembled a quantity of rigging from the woods, including a pair of huge gin poles, which he set up and after setting his rigging which included the placing of some sixteen blocks through which the wire rope was weaved the steam wench at the slip brought up the locomotive without difficulty.” Climax returned to the machine shop for a few days, then was successfully transported to the Boom.

The sons of Mill Superintendent James Rice also helped in the recovery effort. Alden, 14, and Arthur, 12, “proved an indispensable aid. Both boys are expert swimmers and divers, and from 10 a. m. until 2 or 3 o’clock that afternoon they were busy diving, locating, and sending up lines, jackscrews, and various other paraphernalia which had slipped from the locomotive when she went into the water. In addition to this salvaging work they placed the lines used to draw the machine to the surface. They kept steadily at work except for brief excursions to the fire room to thaw out, until the work was completed.”

How Mendocino Evolved by Chuck Bush – A Kelley House Museum publication covering the history of Mendocino and coastal growth during the logging years. $15.