Log Hauling in California in the 1880s – Part II

Searching for clues to log hauling English engines in the woods of California.

| Spring 2006

Editor’s note: Derek Rayner’s first article on log hauling in California ran in the May/June 2003 issue of Steam Traction. We continue this issue with his fascinating account of tracking down Aveling & Porter steam engines in the U.S. 

Readers of my article on “Log Hauling in California” (Steam Traction, May/June 2003) may recall its origins lay in the discovery of two photos of Aveling & Porter road locomotives in Butte County, northern California, not far from the town of Oroville. This community is located about 150 miles to the northeast of San Francisco. These two photos had been used by author Jack Alexander of Gilroy in his book Steam Power on California Roads and Farms (1858-1911) published in 1998.

My subsequent research in the Aveling records at Lincoln had revealed the identities of the two road engines in question as Aveling works no. 2146 of 1886, which had been delivered to the order of George Gable at an unspecified destination. The other was Aveling no. 2259 (with under-belly tank), which had been supplied by W.C. Oastler of New York to the Merrimac Mill Co. and it was pictured at the Lumpkin Mill in the same area.

Further research had led me to a book on lumbering, Endless Tracks in the Woods by James A. Young and Jerry D. Budy. The book referred to an article by Philip Macdonald and Lona LaHore on the commercial activities of one Andrew Martin Leach, which was said to include a photo of the Leach residence at Challenge, Calif., outside of which was another image of a four-wheeled traction engine that could possibly have been an Aveling. I followed up with the book’s authors in 1999 but they unfortunately drew a blank as to where a copy of this article might be located, so the trail went cold. Or so I thought at the time.

Avelings in California

I had long held an ambition to visit California in order to see one of the earliest known Aveling & Porter engines – works no. 916 which dates from 1873 – located near the community of Le Grand, Calif. This engine was pictured by Peter Love in Steaming, Vol. 46 No. 3. It is in Arthur Bright’s museum collection, not far from Merced, Calif., some 65 miles to the southeast of San Francisco. Other personal and holiday commitments prevented this visit until the summer of 2004, and during the planning of this trip I decided to include Oroville on the itinerary in the vain hope of turning up something more on the wonderful pair of 1880s 10 HP Aveling engines in Butte County.

A chance discussion with another English road steam enthusiast during a visit to Europe in late 2003 revealed a major coincidence, in that he had a friend who actually lived in Oroville. This friend was asked to help. He did so by supplying two very large scale and detailed maps of the area, as well as some extracts from the local newspapers of 1886-1887 from the Oroville Public Library. His message included with these was that all traces of the 1880s buildings at Merrimac were gone; there was nothing left, only a sign by the side of the road in the Plumas National Forest!