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Piece of history cut at lumber mill
It is not every day Sierra Forest Products sees logs like it saw Wednesday — logs that had been preserved under water for the past 100 years.
Cut up Wednesday were two truck loads of sinker logs, logs that sink to the bottom of timber ponds, that have sat at the bottom of Shaver Lake since the late 1890s. The logs, not only in excellent condition but extra valued because of their age, grain and color, will be used at the Central Sierra Historical Society Museum in Shaver and for things like picture frames, paneling and furniture.
Jeff Young, a logger in the Sierra, has made recovering the logs at the bottom of the Sierra lake a hobby. His uncle, his father and now him have pulled logs out of the lake for decades, logs that sunk there when the spot was a timber pond and a lumber mill. The old mill still stands and was exposed last year when Shaver Lake was drained for repairs to the cement dam.
Shaver Lake, at 5,500 feet elevation and about an hour’s drive from Fresno, was formed when the dam was built by Southern California Edison in 1927. However, prior to that, the spot was a logging site and the original dam was built in the 1890s to form a log pond. The lumber mill included two railroad tracks where steam-powered engines would bring logs to the site from as far away as 12 miles into the woods.
“1893 was the earliest any logs were put into the pond,” said Young.
Most logs float, but Young explained that about “4 or 5 percent of the logs will sink.” Those logs are what are now being pulled out and cut for lumber, including the 20 or so logs cut up Wednesday.
The logger explained that his uncle and dad began getting some of the logs in 1959 that were milled at the Tollhouse Mill operated by Bud Yancy. At that time, he said, the logs did not have the historical value they carry today.
“It didn’t pencil out. Yancy died and it was pretty much forgotten,” said Young of the unique timber operation.
He said it kind of resurfaced in 1988 when the lake level was drawn down and he was able to get “a couple of truck loads out.”
“After we realized they were good logs, we had to figure out how to get them,” he said.
“Eventually, we were able to snag them from 100-foot down and we’ve been able to snag a few every year.”
This year, with the lake drained, the opportunity was too good to pass up, especially when some of the logs floated to the surface when Edison began to refill the lake in March. The logs dried enough to where they would float.
Young said the smaller volume of logs he could handle at his small lumber mill, but with the two truck loads, he needed a larger mill and that is where Sierra Forest Products in Terra Bella came in.
“We donated the milling,” said Kent Duysen, general manager at the mill. The donation was partly to the Shaver Lake museum.
Young said the logs are true old-growth timber, with wider rings. The years in the water has given the wood a distinctive color and the grain is impressive. He estimated the logs were approximately 150 years old when they were cut down.
“There’s an allure that it’s historic wood,” said Patrick Emmert, a forester with Edison who has assisted in the project.
Young explained the logs sat on the bottom of the lake where water temperatures did not top 40 degrees and there was no oxygen.
“It’s basically a refrigerator down there. There’s no bacteria at that temperature,” said Young. However, the logs will deteriorate quicker now that they are out of the water than freshly cut trees, so milling them quickly was a necessity.
There may be more logs in the future. Young said there is approximately 2-3 million board feet of timber still in the lake, about enough to run the Terra Bella mill for three weeks.
However, unless they float to the surface, they are below 135 feet of water.