Until the recent mild rains of November the Albion River had been dry for months. Of course, in the few miles of tidewater one could see the usual waterway. However, starting slightly east of Duck Pond Gulch, the fresh water of the river's main branches has diminished to occasional deeply cut pools followed by long stretches of dry mud or rock. Because of that dry turn of events, the cows here at the Macdonald ranch have avoided fencing that normally keeps them confined to the home property. Instead they have periodically been able to hoof it up the dry and extremely shallow sections of river bed, making their way to another part of the ranch about a half-mile to the east. In the early 1920s, when one of my great uncles, John Finley Robertson, owned that eastern acreage, this area experienced such a prolonged drought of multiple years length that his milk cow eventually strolled across what had been a deep part of the stream, barely dampening her hooves.
I haven't checked with anyone in the town of Albion about well depths yet, but I have heard that some of Mendocino's wells were greatly depleted as of early November, 2020. Historically speaking, many of the wells on the north side of Albion were dug about seventy years ago when Masonite Corporation bought the timber lands along the Albion River. At that time, Masonite also retained ownership of two dozen houses on the north side of the river that for many years had been rented to employees of the mill, dating back to the days when Miles Standish and Henry Hickey ran the Albion Lumber Company before the turn of the twentieth century. The north side of Albion was a dry community long before Prohibition became law in 1919. Standish and Hickey’s ownership of the north side of town prevented saloons from opening there. Presumably, the tactic had practical reasoning behind it. The north side renters all worked in the mill, on the railroad, or in the woods for the Albion Lumber Company; such work required sober, intense concentration. In their day, the Albion Lumber Company offered their north side Albion renters the newest of utilities, electricity from the Mendocino Light Company. Water was also provided, but until the mid 1920s the mill on the Albion Flats received its water from a pumping system that stemmed from Salmon Creek. That system required more than 2,400 feet of six inch galvanized pipe as well as 3,300 feet of six inch wooden pipe to reach the mill site.
In 1922 and 1923, Frank Lermond, the Albion Lumber Company’s surveyor, searched for another water source for the north side of Albion and the mill. He found it more than three miles upstream, near the headwaters of Deadman’s Gulch, where a direct downhill flume already supplied a railroad water tank at Brett Siding near the mouth of the gulch. Lermond estimated a daily flow from Deadman’s Gulch through a gravity fed flume to the north side of Albion would bring over a hundred thousand gallons per day. A three mile long redwood flume was constructed soon thereafter. Largely open on the top, it was made of three 2 X 8 boards nailed together. Each board measured eighteen feet in length, supported by six foot posts and cross pieces. The side boards were nailed to the bottom piece of the flume at six inch intervals. Portions of this ninety-seven-year-old construction marvel still exist, but it remained in use for only a few years. When the mill shut down at the end of the 1920s the Deadman’s flume was deemed too difficult to maintain. The new owner, Southern Pacific Land Co., continued to provide water for the renters of north Albion from an existing flume in Dark Gulch, only a mile or so away.
When Masonite bought the land after WWII, the company did not want to have anything to do with houses or water supplies. Unoccupied houses were torn down; a few were offered for sale to the renters. An acre of Albion property, with a home on it, went for $900. Residents who bought and stayed were given about a year to dig their own wells then the Dark Gulch flume was also abandoned. $900 today will buy you somewhere around 2,000 gallons of water to supplement a depleted or dry well.
(Wet or dry, drunk or sober, history stories at malcolmmacdonaldoutlawford.com.)