Pacific Northwest Lumber Traffic

Greg Martin

Dave Nelson writes in part:

"Don't overlook the fact that substantial amounts of lumber moved south by ship, at least before WWII. Labor costs after the war increased sharply and hurt break-bulk shipping all over North America."
Dave is correct, lots of lumber and panel products moved into California via barge from as far away as Vancouver Island, BC to Santa Cruz, CA and all points in between and still does for that matter.
Water traffic for the most part is slightly cheaper than rail and the end users wanted to keep it that way so much so that they often kept their own berths in the L. A. Harbor districts as well as San Diego.
But moving such huge amounts of lumber via barge could be a blessing as well as a curse. There was always the "Blue Moon" barges that would come back to bite your position in the hind quarters. Just as with rail you had union contracts to contend with and having a barge full of several million board feet of lumber products and no means to unload it in the middle of your busy shipping season was a huge issue compared to several carloads of lumber on cars that couldn't get switched in. The end user berths were all most always rail served as well. Many companies would have cars diverted to the berths to consolidate inventories or in some cases if the end user was SP served they would take UP/GN/NP/MILW wood into the berths as many times this wood was cheaper FOB LA than wood from the mid Willamette Valley or Northern California. One more way to keep the saw mills in check.
SP ruled the lumber markets in California and Arizona for many years, often the lumber rolled right on through the LA Basin to points like Phoenix. The UP for some many years was the minority player in the lumber baron southern California market with less receivers than even the Santa Fe who actually did have a strong second place in the grand scheme. Even as I was growing up in the lumber business in the 1970's I got tired of all the SP flats and boxes and enjoyed seeing a Great Northern 40-foot double door boxcar spotted at the team track at the Fullerton, CA station with a load of Inland Red Cedar hand loaded on spot, I can still smell the aroma to this day...
Jeff, remember that wood coming south out of Seattle/Tacoma area headed south and turned left at Vancouver, WA headed to the more numerous eastern markets. This included SPF from the coastal areas of BC. Chicago was and still is the biggest lumber gateway.
Yes, Mike I am back feeling much better and stronger everyday but sore as hell!
Greg Martin  
Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it.
Norman Maclean

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