One hundred seven years ago this spring, my oldest uncle, Jack Macdonald (then eighteen), woke in the house he’d grown up in here at the family ranch. He ate his breakfast hours before dawn, packed lunch in a gunny sack, and set off afoot on the railroad tracks with a kerosene lantern. He walked west past the family dog cemetery then beyond the Albion Lumber Company’s Guest House where sea captains spent the night waiting for their schooners to be loaded with lumber in the treacherous Albion harbor. Another quarter mile along the tracks, he turned south, paralleling the river, headed toward Duck Pond Gulch. There a wooden flume carried water from that gulch above the railroad to the lumber company’s slaughterhouse. Jack’s sixteen year-old brother, Charlie, would be rousing himself shortly, first to milk the cows at home then for his job at the slaughterhouse where he assisted Matt Piper.
The crooked Albion River bent due south beyond the mouth of Slaughterhouse Gulch. As he walked on Jack could just make out the cattle in the field on the opposite side of the stream. Dozens of the beeves belonged to his father, John Macdonald, who cruised timber for the Albion Lumber Company’s primary owners, Miles Standish and Henry Hickey. Most of the herd was owned by the lumber company, along with the slaughterhouse, and the house Matt Piper and his family lived in. The steers ended up as meat on the plates of woodsmen who worked in the Albion Lumber Company’s logging camps; camps with cabins and cookhouses that could be loaded onto trains and moved to the next job upstream.
Jack strode another half mile to the trestle, crossing over the Albion. He could have walked the rest of the route in the dark from memory, but here the lantern made the difference between a sure step and a fall into tidewater. Beyond the trestle, the rail line led east for a couple hundred feet then crossed the mouth of Pleasant Valley Gulch, heading south into Railroad Gulch, an opening so vast it had several sub gulches and tributaries of its own.
On that April, 1906 morn, Jack followed the rails until a jolting, dizzying sensation stopped him. The earth shook and steel tracks buckled in front of him.
On the hillside above, the earthquake dislodged a twelve foot long, five ft. diameter, redwood log, sending it spinning down the hillside. At full speed it crushed one of the wooden cabins in camp, stopping only when it slammed into a tree trunk and flipped into the Railroad Gulch creek bed.
These detailed specifics of the 1906 earthquake remain lost to the so-called “Friends of Enchanted Meadow,” a group whose sense of Albion River history is limited to the events of a logging protest two decades ago. This tunnel vision, self-absorbed, self-righteousness is a problem symptomatic of too many phony progressives on the Mendocino Coast. The FOEM group seeks $15,000 in donations to conserve ten acres of Deadman’s Gulch, a creek side area that is subject to the most limited of logging, even by the weak forest practice standards of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The FOEM group continues, at least in my post office, to put up posters asking for money, posters dominated by photos that represent other areas of the Albion River than the proposed conservancy. Their website quotes at length from a past “River Views” without written permission, their fundraising quiz identifies the Albion Boom as “MacDonald’s Landing,” not only misspelling the family name but making up a thoroughly bogus place name.