Fellow Book Benders
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    This is the 21st edition of Fellow Book Benders, a free monthly online newsletter about the ridiculous truth and historical tidbits of San Francisco, the Russian River and beyond.  To start the new year, let's visit Guerneville and its roots.
         January, 2018                                               Vol. 3, No. 1
Guerneville, the Early Days
      The fort of Tahuiyumi is shown on Mark West Creek (map in upper left photo). It was built by colonists from Mission Sonoma in 1830.  The amalgamation of sword and crucifix was crucial to "civilization" at the time. The first logging industry was built at El Molino in 1835 by Juan Bautista Cooper, brother-in-law of General Vallejo.  The mill cost $10,000 to build, but was destroyed by a flood in 1840.
          When Alta California became American territory, the logging business in Stumptown was revived by such families as Guerne, Heald, Murphy, Burke, French and Lunsford.  The town was isolated from Santa Rosa especially during the winter months when tracks were often washed away and the summer bridge was taken down.  You were left up to your own devices, constructing laws and vigilante committees to bring a modicum of order to this part of the wild west.
          The Guerne and Heald Mill (lower left photo) was located near Fife Creek.  It would cut 17,000-22,000 board feet/day, sending an average of twenty-eight train cars of lumber each week to Santa Rosa.  It was a tough business with many travails.  The flooding of the Russian River would back up the creek into the mill.  This would not only result in the destruction of the nearby railroad trestle but would also fracture the pond dam, sending valuable logs downstream.  In addition, the ensuing mud would halt the ox teams (lower right photo) and slow progress to a crawl. 
        Another constant threat was fire.  More than once the mill was reduced to ashes as a combustible brew would simmer under sawdust piles, eventually igniting a conflagration that could not be contained.  Adding further injury to insult, the company had no insurance.
        During the 1870's there was plenty of resentment against the onslaught of Chinese (lower right photo).  The state legislature passed laws prohibiting them from owning property, running certain businesses as well as working on public projects.  In Forestville, the Chamber of Commerce boasted that Chinese were not allowed to build homes there.  The Murphy brothers of Guerneville placed an ad in the Sonoma Democrat, saying that the public should buy their lumber as it was cut "without the
employment of Chinamen."
         But other mills did hire the Celestials.  At the Guerne and Heald site, sixty Chinese manufactured ties, posts,  and pickets on the right-of-way.  The tracks along the "Big Cut" between Korbel and Rio Nido were in constant need of repair, requiring the assistance of  the Chinese who kept shoveling the slides over the bank.
          El Molino means "The Mill".
         Guerneville burned to the ground every other year during the 1880's. 
        The line at the "Big Cut" was unusable so often that ferry service was instituted along the river to transport both lumber and later tourists from Korbel to Rio Nido and Guerneville.
        Stumptown became Guerneville in 1877 to honor the Swiss immigrant George Guerne.

   On the heels of the logging industry was tourism.  After paying your round-trip fare of $1.25, you would board a ferry at the foot of Market St. and set sail across the bay to Sausalito to catch your train..  The San Francisco & North Pacific R.R. would take you to the end of the line at River Road and Fulton where you would make a transfer.  From there it might be Engine No.11 (upper left photo) that would transport you across the Hacienda Bridge.  First class accommodations would include a "smokers car", a baggage and mail car, a picnic car, a hunters' car and a caboose. You might elect to disembark and stay at the Hacienda Lodge (lower left photo) or continue to Korbel (photo upper right) and Rio Nido (photo lower right).
       Engine No. 11 was an old wood burner that was scrapped in 1907.
      The Czech Korbel brothers were instrumental in bringing the railroad from Santa Rosa to the River.  However, when the Northwestern Pacific R.R. insisted on a 10% share of the Korbel lumber business to continue the line to Guerneville, the brothers told them no deal.  With the help of the Guerne family, they later constructed the Korbel & Guerneville Line for the last two miles. 
      The Korbel family owned and operated Eagle Nest Lumber Company, which was in the heart of Rio Nido.  Today, Korbel is the world's largest supplier of sparkling wine.
           Five hours after leaving the City, you would arrive in Guerneville. The route began in 1876 and reached its peak in 1926 with an average of 14,000 passengers.
                The main attraction was the sun and an escape from the biting fog of San Francisco. After a lazy day on the beach, you could venture to one of six dance halls along the River to swing to the Big Band sound of the thirties.  The jewel of these honky-tonks was The Grove along Main Street in Guerneville.
           There were plenty of railroad misadventures along the banks of the Russian River.  The first wreck of the Fulton and Guerneville Line (an offshoot of the SF & NP R.R.) was in 1898.  While a locomotive was switching over to the turntable in Guerneville, it gave a nudge to a string of flats.  The brakes bled and the cars started off on the downgrade to Guernewood Park.  At the same moment, the Bully Boy was coming from Mission Gulch (near Old Cazadero Road).  On the curve, a head-on crash sent Bully Boy airborne.
            For a bit of variety, you may have returned on the North Pacific Coast R.R. via Monte Rio, Occidental, Freestone, and along the coast to return to the terminus at Sausalito (see photos below).
           There were as many as 30,000 passengers aboard the trains for the Fourth of July weekend.
          The Brown Trestle was located between Occidental and Freestone.  At 550' long and 250' high, it was the largest man-made structure west of the Mississippi in 1876.
           The last train left Guerneville in 1935.
           It was Mark Twain (once a writer for the S.F. Chronicle) who wrote: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."
        Those that have lived along the Russian River have been accustomed to flooding since the early days.  Streets were turned into canals as whole neighborhoods became islands, isolated from stores and basic needs.  It doesn't matter if you were discussing the 1879 flood (upper left photo) or the deluge last year (bottom right photo), the scene was eerily the same. 
The worst inundation was in 1862 when the entire West Coast was hit by what was called the 200-year storm. Weather record keeping had not started yet, but it was reported that Santa Rosa received 58 inches in just a few weeks. There has been no storm of that magnitude in the USA since.
Stories: Rosemarie Moscarelli recalled people in rowboats and skiffs cruising the aisles of the flooded market.  While standing on the bridge with her groceries, a displaced building slammed into the span, nearly tumbling her into the water.  When she returned home in her boat, it was one small step from the water to her second floor quarters.
         Fred MacDonald recalls seeking high ground at the local cemetery behind St. Elizabeth's Church.  People sat on tombstones with ghost-like expressions while dogs ran loose as all waited for help to arrive.
         A local bartender called to mind the time when people sat on stools with their feet dangling in the river.  Others cozied up to the bar in canoes to order a drink.  Unfortunately, on the way home our intrepid saloon keeper lost his footing and drowned.
        The entire inventory of a lumberyard on the edge of town was swept away while its office was pulled off its foundation and sent downstream as well. A member of the Guerne family was seen rescuing timber from the raging waters and hauling it up to his house near the bridge.
        Lorin Doeleman paddled in her kayak and went directly to her kitchen to rescue the brandy while Dustin Coupe rowed to a phone booth, perhaps to order take-out (lower right photos).
        It isn't necessary to attach dates to these tales as they have repeated themselves over the centuries.  It's amusing to hear out-of-towners marvel at the resiliency of the river people.  But for old timers, floods will continue to come and they will continue to go.  No reason to get your skirt all twisted in knots.


              If you have enjoyed reading one of my novels, a short review with Amazon would be appreciated. 

Next Time:
     In February, we will visit Guerneville during the twentieth century.  If you have a story pertaining to your adventures of yesteryear, I would love to publish it in next month's newsletter.  You can reach me through my website or email me directly at  Thanks and stay tuned. 

Where to purchase my latest novel:
        Don't Stop the Music is an action/adventure story that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love.  It is a wild ride through the streets of the Haight and Fillmore Districts of San Francisco culminating in the historic Grateful Dead concert in Rio Nido along the Russian River in 1967.
          The paperback as well as the kindle version are available on Amazon.  If you want to save on shipping and handling charges, you can purchase a signed copy through my website at
Reviews are trickling in for Don't Stop the Music:
        “For those who remember the era (Summer of Love), Don't Stop the Music is a delicious summary of memory.”
         San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
        "John McCarty has put together a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love (1967) that is cheerful and entertaining and even pays tribute to the beauty of west Sonoma County..."
          Sonoma County Historical Society

        "Somehow McCarty manages to build sympathy for his motley crew as they embark on a classic road trip from San Francisco to rural northern California."
          Northern California Fulbright Association

       "Familiar folks, home-grown scenery, and candid attitudes will put you happily in the middle of all the action."
          Stephen Gross, The Press Democrat

       "All along there is danger, excitement, budding love and a number of unrighteous brawls.  The author knows what he writes about.”

          Bob Jones, Sonoma West Times & News

Attributions & Asides:
       A special thank you is due to anonymous subscribers for sharing their memories of the early days of Guerneville.   Also, a note of appreciation goes to the following individuals and organizations: Lorin Doelman, Dustin Coupe, Fred MacDonald, Rosemarie Moscarelli, Guerne and Heald families, Friends of Rio Nido, The Press Democrat, Card Cow Vintage Postcards, Sonoma County Historical Society, Russian River Historical Society, San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and Wikipedia.
                To subscribe a friend to this newsletter (Fellow Book Benders) or to discover more information regarding John McCarty's novels, go to
                 Your privacy is important to me.  Be assured that I am not sharing your email or any other personal information. As Red Skelton used to say, "Good night and may God bless."   JMc
Copyright © 2018 John McCarty, All rights reserved.

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