The Samoa Shops

By October 25, 2020Features

The Timber Heritage Association of Eureka, California is closing in on a longtime goal, to assume ownership of the former Hammond Lumber Company’s Samoa Shop complex. The logging railroad it supported is gone, but the shop buildings are intact. This edited excerpt from the THA website describes them.

The John Vance Mill and Lumber Company decided to purchase 270 acres in West Eureka or Samoa. In December, 1893, it incorporated the Eureka & Klamath River Railroad Co. to run from Eureka (by ferry) to Samoa, then by rail to Arcata, cross the Mad River and continue upstream to Vance’s timber.

The new Samoa mill produced its first lumber in 1894. The modern sawmill produced 60,000 to 70,000 board feet a day. The railroad was extended from the north Humboldt Bay terminus to Samoa in 1896. Between 1893 and 1896 the company built the sawmill, the railroad, depots at Eureka, Samoa and Arcata, a car shop, a roundhouse and a cookhouse. A.B. Hammond purchased the John Vance Mill and Lumber Co. and the Eureka & Klamath River Railroad for $1,000,000 on September 1, 1900. He continued buying timber land, expanding the production facilities and size of the operation for 56 years. Hammond Lumber Company became the largest redwood lumber mill anywhere.

Samoa Shops in the 1950s.

1948 map of the site.

The 6-stall roundhouse and shop complex (including a machine shop, blacksmith shop, boiler shop, tin shop and car shop), not only maintained and repaired railroad equipment, they repaired and built equipment for the woods operations, the sawmill, the planing mill and even made major repairs on company-owned steamships. In the 1940s it was as large or larger than any other California lumber company shop complex. The Samoa Shops facility was large enough and well equipped enough to build an entire 112-ton 2-8-0 in 1910. It was too large for the roundhouse entrance, so one of the center bays had to be heightened to accommodate the locomotive. The addition is still obvious today.

Google Earth view of the site today.

Although the tracks are gone, the roundhouse is little changed from its original configuration. The exterior was board and batten which remains in one small section though most has been covered up with particle board siding. The upper clerestory windows have been boarded over, other windows have been replaced with modern versions but in the same openings; doors, which were unnecessary in steam days since someone had to be around to keep the locomotives warm all night, have been added. The other buildings are also intact with similar modifications.

The Samoa Shops complex and roundhouse sits just below the Samoa Cookhouse. Workers ate here every morning and then walked down a wooden stairway to their shop and mill jobs. Now a restaurant, the cookhouse has been in continuous operation since 1893. Its appearance and food are much the same as it has always been. Historic photos and antique equipment surround those who eat there to emphasize the experience.

Adjacent to the Cookhouse is a company town with original houses and a mercantile, business and office building called the “Samoa Block.” The town is owned by a developer today but for over one hundred years it was a lumber company town. Next door to the cookhouse is the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum.

During the years THA has leased the shops from the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, it has paid the annual rent by rehabbing the buildings. All have been reroofed, painted and otherwise stabilized and partially rehabbed.

The most recent issue of the THA WhistlePunk newsletter included a nice series of then-and-now photos of the Shops. With permission, they are reproduced here.

The roundhouse then and now.

Alongside the roundhouse. Locomotive #15 is part of the THA collection and resides inside today.

Between the roundhouse and the machine Shop is the Boiler Shop, visible to the right of the locomotive.

The Boiler Shop is visible over the caboose.

Beyond locomotive #7 is the Machine Shop.

The Blacksmith Shop abuts the rear of the Machine Shop.

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