After the search for silver ended in Martis Valley, a new “gold rush” began…Timber! To feed the endless need for wood to support mine shafts in the Comstock, firewood to fuel stamp mills throughout the area and even more wood upon which to lay the hundreds of miles of Central Pacific railroad track, the forests of Martis Valley were harvested. An estimated seven billion feet of saw timber and ten million cords of firewood were cut.
By the late 1860’s, the demand for timber for Nevada mines had slowed but the clamor for wood to supply the building of the Central Pacific Rail Road continued. The demand continued to increase and by the 1870’s, every major tributary of the Truckee River had a thriving mill on it.
George Shaffer first entered the Truckee area in 1864 and by 1867 he and Joseph Gray built one of the first mills in Truckee. Shaffer operated two sawmills in Martis Valley, both on the west branch of Martis Creek from 1871 to 1905. Shaffer’s name survives today as a Martis Valley golf resort community, Schaffer’s Mill, and as Tahoe Mountain Club’s private on-mountain restaurant at Northstar, Schaffer’s Camp (how the change in spelling occurred is not known). On the same note, the Gray’s Crossing community was named in recognition of Joseph Gray.
Other notable operators of Martis Valley sawmills were Warren and George Richardson. Their first mill site was located on the middle fork of Martis Creek and operated from 1874 to 1883. A second mill site operated from 1883 to 1906. The Richardson Brothers were the first to introduce a steam locomotive that ran on flanged wheels. The flanged wheels permitted the locomotive to use timber as rails on which to run! While the rails did not last as long as steel, there was plenty of material to replace them! A log rail trestle survives today (although collapsed) in the canyon that runs from Dry Lake to Martis Valley (Waddle Ranch Preserve).
By the early 1900’s the stands of virgin timber were dwindling and the industry was dying. Remnants of old mills and skid trails are all that remain. Today vigorous stands of second growth pine and fir grow in Martis Valley.
*Photo credit: Truckee Donner Historical Society