Logging History Revealed: Track-Laid Log Arch Discovered in the Santa Cruz Mountains

By Julie Horner

“The glory days of the lumber mills are history,” Santa Cruz Mountains tree expert Bruce Baker said. “What the forest chooses to reveal to the random explorer is nobody’s business. It happens when it happens. Our role is to observe and protect.” When Bruce’s name appears in the caller ID, you pick up. There is always an adventure involved and a rusty remnant of olden days to stumble upon. The last time it was a turn-of-the-century steam donkey, used in the logging industry to winch cut logs to a loading area where they were hoisted onto a train car or dragged down a logging road to the mill. Bruce and a team of moving experts extracted the steam donkey from the Gazos Creek Watershed in June, 2023 and delivered it to the San Lorenzo Valley Museum in Boulder Creek where it rests on permanent display. 

The object of interest this time is a 1930-1940s era track-laid log arch, which would have been pulled by a dozer to skid logs to a landing area for loading onto rail cars or log trucks. A winch line was threaded through the arch to pull ‘up’ on the logs to free them from stumps and other obstacles to make dragging easier and faster. The continuous track wheels made of steel plates makes this artifact an especially interesting find. This piece of logging history will someday soon join the steam donkey at the museum.

The reconnaissance team consisted of Bruce, Jason Vincent, Charlie Brown and his son Hunter, Jordan Booth, and Joshua Geist. Setting out on ATVs from a sunny ridge on China Grade we dove into the forest. This is extreme terrain. According to The Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council (SCMBC), The Santa Cruz Mountains sprawl across 1,900 square miles, encompassing four counties, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz, and the western half of Santa Clara County. Protected lands include Butano State Park, Año Nuevo State Park, Gazos Creek Redwoods, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Castle Rock State Park, San Vicente Redwoods, lands overseen by the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), and private logging and forest management interests, often in collaboration with conservation groups and state parks. 

Rough dirt roads wend through lush overgrowth drenched variably in tendrils of fog or relentless sunshine, especially since the fire. Steep, fern-lined watersheds, most accessible only by all-terrain vehicle and protected by locked gates, are pristine yet chilly. Wildflowers on newly exposed hillsides after the CZU fire proliferate: Pacific Coast iris, white and blue Ceanothus, Orobanche fasciculata or clustered broomrape, and many others. The mountains in May and June are heady with the scent. Considering this vast wildland, the history of human endeavoring here is profoundly fascinating. 

Stay tuned for the progress on preserving the log arch. In the meantime, visitors can view the historic steam donkey at the San Lorenzo Valley Museum, 12547 CA-9, Boulder Creek. 


Photos by Julie Horner

Cover Photo in the June Print Edition

This 1930s-era track-laid logging arch has long been known to locals in the Santa Cruz Mountains and is one of a handful of historic treasures that have been discovered in remote, rugged terrain. Tree professional Bruce Baker and his team, Jason Vincent, Charlie Brown and his son Hunter, Jordan Booth, and Joshua Geist, explored the site to assess logistics for moving the artifact to the San Lorenzo Valley Museum. Jordan Booth said, “I’ve seen ones that some logger just stick-welded and forge-cut but this one is an actual production model, and it’s huge!” The team will use narrow coastal access roads to move the logging arch out of the forest. 

Julie Horner writes about the people and cultures of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email: julie@slvpost.com


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