Originally Cleone was called Laguna. Cleone came into existence before its neighbor, Inglenook. The first settlers were the MacKerrichers for whom the State Park is named. Little Valley (located between Inglenook and Cleone) and Inglenook used the wharf and chute at Cleone as did the Cleone mills – there were two. All the mills produced railroad ties, pilings and tanbark.
Our Train Society bard, Louis Hough’s article , “Where horses once walked the plank” describes the fate of the wharf and the railway that served the wharf and the chute:
Where horses once walked the plank by Louis Hough: (published in the Mendocino Beacon June 5, 2003)
At Mckerricher State Park we can walk out the wooden planked trail to see the seals splash in the waves, peer into tide pools, and look out to sea, watching the waves while feeling fresh sea air on the cheeks. We enjoy nature in this seemingly vibrant, unsullied environment completely unaware that 100 years ago it was a hive of activity. Long before the turn of the [20th] century, when it was called Cleone Point, Little Valley Lumber Company built a tramway which ran two and one half miles from their sawmills back in the hill south to the point. At the point was a chute from which lumber and forest products were loaded aboard ships bound for West Coast markets.
Loading chute at Cleone Point
The tramway was rather unusual because no steam locomotive ever ran on these rails. The rails were wood to which metal straps were spiked. Gravity-propelled cars loaded with lumber or tanbark scurried down on a ride I consider pretty exciting. Leaving the mill, a “train” comprised of two to four cars rumbled though downtown Cleone (known then as Laguna). Residents and shopkeepers could hear the trains coming and made way. Kids would wave and wish that some day they might be so lucky as the trainmen. The grade from the mill was sufficient to propel the lumber-laden cars out over the breakers to the ship loading chute.
Horsepower of the four-legged variety hauled the empty cars back up to the mill. Beginning on the wharf, teams of four or more horses clopped along the planks, then up the tramway to the mill. They earned their oats. Pictures [see below] reveal that no nose bags were provided for them. No eating on the job.
In 1888, the right to build the wharf and chute were granted. It was a pretty impressive construction job – even for those times when colossal timber structures were found all along the Mendocino Coast – the wharf stood about 35 feet above the breakers. According to Beacon stories, the wharf grew in length from 332 feet to about 500 feet. The loading wires extended well beyond that to steam schooners anchored about 200 feet off shore.
Beneath the waves, life forms more primitive than horses were doing their job. Their job was to eat. In November 1885, 300 feet of the wharf collapsed in a storm; terodo worms had weakened the redwood piles. The wormy piling was useless and the material loss was more than $10,000 according to the Beacon. The wharf was rebuilt to get the transportation system “back on track,” and trains again rumbled through Laguna, kids waved, and the horses tugged the empties up the hill. Horses were never replaced, even when C.R. Johnson’s Union Lumber Company acquired the whole spread in 1901 and replaced the strap rail with light steel track.
Three years later, In November 1904, the Laguna sawmill closed, no more trains rumbled through town and the horses were retired to go crop grass undisturbed.
Cleone was a busy village. In its heyday it supported several saloons and Vickery’s Hotel was reputed to be one of the most comfortable stopping places on the Coast.
The Little Valley Mill was located about a mile and a half east of Cleone. In early 1883 the Dwelly brothers obtained timber land on Laguna Creek which used to empty into the sea at McKerricher State Park. The mill they erected was powered by a towering water wheel. They built the original loading chute and wharf at Cleone. By July 1883 they had sent out their first load of lumber.
About this time Harrison Barto built a sawmill near Inglenook at Mill Creek, on the South Fork of Ten Mile River and in may 1885 two Mendocino merchants, Jarvis and Nichols, purchased a half interest.
The Little Valley Lumber Co. was incorporated on May 23, 1885 by Barto, Henry Jarvis, James Nichols and E.B. Salsig to operate the Mill Creek Mill and to purchase the Dwelly brothers mill.
The Laguna Creek mill was converted to steam power and was capable of cutting about 40,000 board feet a day. The Mill Creek mill was capable of half that capacity.
The Cleone Tramway was the subject of pages 6-8 in Issue 261 of the Western Railroader issued in September 1961. This magazine is reproduced in full here or by clicking thumbnail right. A pdf version can be downloaded here.