The year was 1938. The Mendocino Mill had been shut down due to the Depression, and nobody expected it to ever reopen its doors. Spring freshets no longer supplied the mill with logs. And suddenly – bingo! A huge windfall of logs headed UP the river from the open sea, and the ensuing weeks found the mill busier than ever.

“BIG RAFT BREAKS IN TWO OFF COAST” headlined the Mendocino Beacon on the 18th of August. “A monster cigar-shaped log raft broke in two off Needle Rock Monday, and since that time Mendocino Bay has been very much on the map… The big raft encountered rough going near Cape Mendocino… The tug in tow immediately wirelessed to San Francisco (and) continued south with half its tow.”

Benson Lumber Company log raft in Mendocino Bay, 1938
Benson Lumber Company log raft in Mendocino Bay, 1938

The fir, red cedar, and spruce logs valued at $100,000 were en route from the Columbia River to San Diego for delivery to Benson Lumber Company. The company dispatched a second tug from San Francisco, skippered by Captain Bostrom, and he succeeded in tying up what was left of the raft near the river mouth with an eight-inch manila rope.

On the 24th of September, the Beacon reported that the biggest section of the raft anchored in the harbor “began to break up about Tuesday. A big storm at sea started the big waves rolling in and the pounding of these soon began breaking logs out of the raft and piling them up on the sand spit at the mouth of the harbor.

By 6:30 in the evening, it was estimated that 1,200 logs had broken loose and deposited at least 1,250,000 board feet of lumber on the beaches flanking the river mouth. On the 5th of October, the Beacon brought its readers up to date on this unexpected turn of events:

“The Mendocino mill started sawing on the logs from the big raft Wednesday noon, sawed some seventy thousand feet that afternoon, and the next day ran through 157,000 feet; today the cut was 152,000 feet. Much of the cut is in two inch plank.

“Logs are now being run into the river and to the mill every day, with one or more fishing boats picking up these logs as they float from the beaches at high water. The beaches on the north side of the bay contain several hundred of these logs; the sand spit at the mouth of the river is well covered with them and there are three to four hundred on Mason’s beach on the south side of the bay.

“The last section of the raft was broken up the past couple of days and most of these logs were guided up the river on the incoming tides. A tractor is being used to pull logs off the sandspit into the river with a wire rope and drum. The Maru has also been in operation pulling logs into the river.”

Within a few weeks, all of the logs had been reduced to boards at the Big River sawmill – which then shut down for good. —written by Wally Smith, 1995.

Mendocino from the Beginning: Twenty Billion Years of History of a Small Town by Don and Wilma Tucker – A Kelley House Museum publication. Geology, climate, redwoods, natives, explorers, logging, settlers, transportation, immigrants and architecture are all covered with more than 40 black and white photographs. $15.