Oregon Trails: Pokegama Log Chute

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NEAR COPCO LAKE, Ore. – 120 years ago, lumbermen from the East coast and mid-west were discovering what a green gold-mine the forests of the Northwest were. Some of the biggest timber reserves were in the mountains between what is now Ashland and Klamath Falls.

On the rugged hillside between the Upper Klamath River and the Oregon border is a scar running down the hill that marks site of one of the most unusual logging operations on the West coast. It’s where, more than a hundred years ago, loggers used a plank-lined chute to send logs from the plateau above to the Klamath river below. Those logs were then floated downriver several miles to a large mill called Klamathon, just upriver from Hornbrook.

A signal shack near the bottom of chute let those at the top know when it was safe to send the next log down. But judging from some photos and the number of logs scattered around at the base of the hill, the shack must have been a ways away, out of the danger zone. One photo shows a boy holding what looks like a crutch and the man next to him with what looks like a big sling on his arm.

The logs were brought to a landing on top of the plateau by steam train, then peeled of their bark to make them more slippery, and sometimes greased with tallow so they would slide all the way to the bottom of the hill. A ride that took about 15 seconds for half a mile!

The Yreka Journal in February 1893 reported that $1.7 million board feet of logs were sent down the chute to the Klamath River that year. Workers earned two-and-a-half to four-and-a-half dollars a day. As hard as the work was, so was the play. The nearby resort community of Beswick had a saloon that was apparently quite popular. Another building decaying on the hill above was where female companionship was for rent.

The Klamath Hot Springs Hotel was also nearby. A fence surrounds the nearby hot springs that made this a popular tourist stop on the road to Klamath Falls. It wasn’t until 1909 that the railroad finally reached Klamath Falls, but not by way of Pokegama. The Pokegama log chute probably operated about ten years or so, until shortly after the turn of the century. But the reason that they probably discontinued it was the mill at Klamathon, for which the logs were destined, burned down, taking the whole town with it.