My Story – Life in Blue Hole

Blue Hole

JB Sander's Haypress

JB Sanders Haypress

by

Thom Cantrall


Boonville is small town with a history... and my family is a major part of that history.  It lies in a valley along Anderson Creek about a hundred miles north of San Francisco in the coastal range.


My Great-Great Grandfather, J.B. Sanders owned a hotel there in it’s earliest days

JB Haying crew

JB Haying crew

and later operated the stage line.  He had come west from a farm in Kansas, near the town of Coffeyville where it is reputed that Jesse James once used his barn for a hideout to get some much needed rest.


J.B. brought his family to the little valley in the 1870's after having sold a hotel at Spenceville in the California Gold Fields and they set up an operation that stripped the bark from the tan oaks that grew in great profusion there.  The bark was dried and taken to market in the San Francisco area where it was rendered down for

Jayhawking... skinning tanoak

Jayhawking… skinning tanoak

the tannic acid in it which was used in processing leather.  The men would work about six months of the year to amass sufficient bark for a load and to load a train of mules with it.  They then set out on the trail, sometimes taking several months to make the trip, sell their product, buy what was needed in the way of supplies and goods for the next year and return to the valley.  During the time of their absence, the

Skinning Tanoak

Skinning Tanoak

women and children were left on the homestead and they made do as best they could.  They hunted and they fished.  They grew plentiful gardens in the rich, dark soil.  And they were a family.  And they lived as families of the day lived.

In 1947, right after the end of the Second World War, the national economy was in transition from a wartime economy to peacetime.  At this juncture, jobs were scarce for qualified men and with all the returning veterans, it was even harder, so, when my father heard of a

Typical period sawmill

Typical period sawmill

new sawmill that was being set up near Boonville, we made our way there.  In those days, sawmills were small affairs, constructed on the spot in the middle of a stand of timber, in this case the coastal Redwoods, Sequoia Sempervirons, and the timber was logged and skidded directly into the mill yard.  There was no trucking of logs at this mill, no railroads and it was an efficient way to make lumber. This mill, it turned out was sixteen miles west of Boonville, exactly half way between the town and the Pacific Ocean.  The road to the coast was not paved and in some places not even graveled.  From the Coast Road, at the sixteen mile mark, a dirt cat road (a trail cut in by a bulldozer) ran two miles down to the bottom of the

Skidding logs to mill pond

Skidding logs to mill pond

canyon where the creek had been dammed to form a log pond from which the mill was fed.  The timber being harvested was magnificent… Redwood logs that, split in half, were further through than my dad was tall and he was about six ft. There were only cabins available for housing at the mill and these had no running water and no electricity.  Our cabin had three rooms as I remember, and water was hauled by the bucket load from a spring at the bottom of the hill except when it rained.  It was then caught as

Into the mill pond

Into the mill pond

it ran off the roof of the cabin, except for that portion that was caught inside after it ran through the roof of the cabin!

Since school was in session and there were no facilities for getting children to school from Blue Hole, my sisters remained at home and my brother, two years my junior and I went with my parents.  My uncle, just recently returned from service in Italy during the war was there too.

Often, on weekends my aunt would drive up with their four children and my three sisters to visit.  We had wonderful times there.  The mill pond was full of trout, eager to bite about anything we put in front of them, the hills were full of deer we were not

Log Truck

Log Truck

supposed to hunt, but did anyway... I often accompanied my dad on these ventures, even at four years old.

One of my earliest memories, and a vivid one at that, was at Blue Hole.  The Garcia River ran through the area and it held a huge run of salmon and steelhead (sea going rainbow trout).  There were also some marvelous native trout in the stream.  One day, my father and I went fishing… Well, he was the one fishing; I was along for the “ride”.  In one pool shaded by the huge Redwood trees that grew on the bank, there was a large rainbow trout cruising for dinner.  My father placed me on a large rock beside the stream where I could see and said, “Wait here

Faller resting on huge Redwood

Faller resting on huge Redwood

and watch what happens!”  He then caught a grasshopper from the bank back from the stream a ways, threaded it on the hook and flipped it out into that pool... The large trout was attracted to the splash of the bug as it hit the water and turned to it immediately.  Like a miniature shark with a nice, fat, delicious swimmer in its sight, the fish closed in.  The grasshopper kicked once, twice and, after a moment or two, again.  On the third kick, the great fish struck like a Polaris Missile from the depths.

Choppers cutting undercut

Choppers cutting undercut

My father set the hook and the battle was joined.  For several minutes, it seemed like hours to a four year old sitting on that rock watching, they battled, but slowly, the trout began to succumb.  Dad eased him toward the bank and moved down himself to the edge of the river.

Another dilemma arose as the fish tired and was beaten.  Dad could get him to the bank, but could not lift him the two or three feet vertical necessary to get him ashore. And he could not jump in with the rod in his hands because he could not do so and keep the line tight.  Any slack in the line and the fish would be gone in a flash.

Dad called to me, asking me to come to him, around the rock from behind and away from the river.  When I got there, he asked me if I thought I could to a chore for him.  Not knowing what it was, I eagerly agreed and he showed me how he wanted me to hold HIS rod and apply a steady pressure to the fish while he went into the water to get it.  I was so very careful to do it just right, backing up a step or two when I felt the line begin to slacken.

I watched as he entered the water, which was up to just above his knees right here, and get behind the fish which was lying on its side in the water, spent.  Slowly, so as not to spook it, he eased his hands up until he could scoop it out on the bank and just as he did this, he yelled to me to pull with all my might… And I did! So much so that I went right over backwards and the fish landed on top of me!  It was

Dad, Me (on right) and Art in 1947

Dad, Me (on right) and Art in 1947

flopping and wriggling and I could not grab it and was so afraid it would get back in the water, but there was Dad... grasping the fish and then dispatching it quickly with a rock.

We returned home that day a very proud pair; we had conquered the great fish.  Oh, there were others in the creel; I have a picture even today of that catch.  It showed a board with twelve trout on it, the smallest over eight inches and the largest, not counting this one large fish over fourteen inches. There were many other fishing expeditions, but this was the most memorable.

The summer was idyllic, but the coming of winter brought the deluge of rain that country is so noted for.  The dirt road out to the main road was impassable for three solid months, so there was no way to get out to town for anything but the direst of essentials in groceries, etc.  To get out, a cat had to be driven the two miles from the mill to the main road, then the drive to town of a twisting, rain sodden partially graveled road... it was not a trip for the weak at heart.

Because there was no way to get lumber trucks into the mill, the lumber piled up, unsold and it was not long before the paychecks began to bounce, which spelled the death knell for the Rocket Lumber Company of Blue Hole.

When the winter rains slacked a bit, the cats dozed a bit of a road, then pulled each car out, one by one, from the camp and we left Blue Hole.  But, it has always been a part of my history, and, as you can tell, not a bad part either.

We spent the summer of 1948 at a mill on Anderson Creek just outside of Boonville.  It was the Jones Mill and there we lived in a surplus US Army mess

Truckload of Redwood Logs

Truckload of Redwood Logs

tent.  It was divided off into four rooms, three for sleeping and the fourth for general living area.  My sisters were with us for this period.  I don’t recall why we left there, but I believe Dad got work as a carpenter in Santa Rosa, our regular home and his regular trade and we returned home.  We never again lived in the valley, but visited there often and hunted near there for many, many years.  I even took my first deer there when I was fourteen years old, but that is another story...