For over one hundred years, North Fork was known as a logging community. In 1941, the Associated Lumber and Box Company purchased one hundred and thirty five acres from the Thornburg family. The mill, which originated in Beiber, California near the Oregon border, was relocated here in North Fork in mid-1942. On April 1, 1943, the first log was sawed into lumber. During the first year of operation, the North Fork mill cut just a little over 9 million board feet of lumber. It was a good showing considering all construction work had not been completed and considerable logging roads had to be built.
With the mill’s opening in 1943 until 1951, the mill worked one shift on a five day week basis. There were men to fall the trees, drive the logging and lumber trucks, operate the mill pond, sawmill, planning mill and dry yards. There was a blacksmith shop, equipment service and overhaul, a cook as well as various other jobs. During this time, crew sizes varied around 135 people during the logging season.
The mill’s company housing—situated across the road from the mill—consisted of twenty two, two bedroom homes which rented to employees for $30/month including water and maintenance. In 1968, the mill had an annual payroll of $1,250,000, and logging was called the largest and most important single industry in the county.
Throughout the yeas, the mill’s name changed from Associated Lumber and Box Company to General Box Company to American Forest Products, Bendix Forest Products and Sequoia Products. In 1985, the mill was purchased by Ron Yanke and was renamed South Fork Timber Industries.
From 1985 to 1991 during the peak lumber harvest, loggers felled an average of 143 million board feet a year, enough to build approximately 12,000 single family homes.
In 1991, the mill provided 145 jobs in North Fork. Nothing was wasted. The mill utilized the good parts of the logs for lumber and the scrap material for chips for particle board. A cogeneration plant was brought on-line in 1986, which used the sawdust to fuel the boilers and generate electricity. Any surplus power not consumed by the mill was sold to the public utility companies. The mill also made humus from the bark and sold the ash as a complete fertilizer.
In 1992, the forest yielded 83.7 million board feet, and in 1993, its production dropped to 63.8 million board feet under the new governmental regulations for ecosystem management. The writing was on the wall. The cost and restrictions on local logging made lumber production unprofitable. The mill would be eventually shut down. Several layoffs began as early as 1991.
The last log at the South Fork Timber Industries was sawed on February 25, 1994. At noon, the mill siren wailed its farewell to a century-old logging era.
Even though employees knew in 1991 that time was running out, the mill’s closing was still devastating for the employees, including the logging truck drivers and forest workers. For many of these families, logging had been their life, their main source of income for generations. People had to be retrained in another skill. Some employees were able to establish small sawmills of their own providing lumber locally. Some workers just felt they were too old to start over and retired.
The history of the mill is all important to the community and the North Fork History Group. One of the Group’s goals is to preserve two of the main three mill saws on site as lasting reminders of the mill’s history. It has been proposed that the saws stay at their present location, thereby maintaining the historical authenticity. It was felt the saws’ area could be considered the hub of the site redevelopment with information and photograph kiosks to be used as a mini-museum location.
Data compiled by the North Fork History Group