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On wrapping up a trilogy

Molino Timber Company workers on a bridge above Hinckley Gulch
Molino Timber Company workers on a bridge above Hinckley Gulch, 1910s. [Aptos Museum]

My journey from being introduced to Ronald G. Powell’s forgotten magnum opus on the history of Rancho Soquel Augmentation in May 2019 and publishing the final book derived from it—The Shadow of Loma Prieta—this autumn has been long with many unexpected turns. When Stan Stevens sent me scans of the first-draft manuscript that Powell had donated to the UC Santa Cruz McHenry Library in the late 1990s, I almost immediately set aside the work I had been doing on Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast to edit and publish Powell’s work. I saw its value and the amount of research he had done. And the work languished in storage for decades, untouched and largely forgotten. I knew that I had to publish the book, but I had no idea what I was in for those long three years ago.

When I first began reading through the manuscript, I thought it would be a relatively simple clean-up job. The maps were intact, Powell had mostly cited his sources, and the writing quality was passible, if not spectacular. Initially I thought the whole manuscript could be encapsulated in one book, but quickly I realized it would need to be two. Yet after finishing the first book, I came to the realization that it would need to be three. In fact, the third book will probably sit somewhere right between The Tragedy of Martina Castro and The Reign of the Lumber Barons in length. My working draft, which is not fully-formatted, is 476 pages currently, and that’s not counting around 70 maps and figures, most full-page. Thus, The Shadow of Loma Prieta will be another large entry in the series, which is appropriate since it covers over a century of history.

Now, time to give away some spoilers for this new book. It has three distinct sections:

  1. The last 25 years of timber-cutting operations of the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, the Molino Timber Company, and Hihn-Valencia (formerly F. A. Hihn) Company within the Augmentation (ca 1902–ca 1925)
  2. The decades-long search to decide what to use the Augmentation for once the trees were (mostly) gone (ca 1925–ca 1960)
  3. The long campaign to protect the forests of the Augmentation for future generations (ca 1960–present)

Over half the book is taken up with the first item, mostly because it is more interesting and has left a major impact on the Augmentation through many of its trails and roads. The last years of the railroads in the Augmentation are included in this section and several storylines left over from The Reign of the Lumber Barons are wrapped up here, especially in Chapter 1. It includes four of the seven chapters:

Chapter 1: Into The Dark Hinckley – The Loma Prieta Lumber Company in Hinckley Gulch
Chapter 2: A Great Calamity – The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and its aftermath
Chapter 3: Along the Ridgetop Rails – The Molino Timber Company’s operations on China Ridge
Chapter 4: The Giants of Bridge Creek – Final clean-up operations along Bridge Creek

The remaining three chapters, covering about 200 pages in total, are more scattered in focus as rival interests compete to put the Augmentation to use. Everything from housing subdivisions and resorts, to a quarrying and oil prospecting, to more timber harvesting, to a state park were proposed in this time to varying amounts of success. Like the rest of the series, these chapters are broken up chronologically with convenient dividing points, but the subjects below are only the most prominent of those within the chapters:

Chapter 5: The Feller’s Last Felling – The Monterey Bay Redwood Company’s operations at Olive Springs
Chapter 6: From Exploitation to Preservation – Early attempts to create a state park in the Augmentation
Chapter 7: Marked for Posterity – The creations of The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park and the Soquel Demonstration State Forest
Afterword – An assessment of events in Nisene Marks since ca 1970

One unanticipated obstacle that this final book has made apparent is the issue of copyright. The earlier two books took place before 1902, so the only things in copyright were modern sources that Powell drew on to support his primary sources. In most cases, those were easy to either remove or downplay sufficiently to cause no problem. In this third book, Powell has included long quotes from things written in the last fifty years, which means they still sit in copyright. Even some primary sources are copyrighted, which means they can’t be quoted except in small, reasonable bits. As a result, I have had to paraphrase, cross-reference, and sometimes substantially reduce sections to avoid the issue. Each quote is considered separately and nothing essential has been taken out, but it has made the process of editing more difficult at times.

Many of the issues from the previous two books also continue. The most notable of these in relation to the third book are:

  • giving repetitive information, sometimes in the same section
  • poor source choices or lack of awareness of better sources
  • little to no citation of sources for much of the book
  • a sudden shift to citing the Surf and ignoring the Sentinel
  • jumps to conclusions based on insufficient data
  • misleading paraphrasing or rewording quotes without informing the reader
  • overlooking other concurrent events happening elsewhere in the Augmentation, or the region, that left an impact

Some of these are relatively easy to resolve, primarily by tracking down the original source and comparing what Powell says versus what is written. However, this is made more difficult when the original source either can’t be identified or is not easy to obtain. Something that is not Powell’s fault but still a problem are new or recently-uncovered sources that clarify things that Powell could only speculate about. In some cases, I correct these to reflect the new research; in others, I allow them to stand with some form of disclaimer. The reality is that Powell did most of his research in a time before the Internet and this sometimes shows, but it is also something that can be used to improve and updateface the work.

At present, The Shadow of Loma Prieta is still on track for an October release, but I may be scrambling a little more at the end since I have less free time to edit than the past two years. Stay tuned for another update in mid-August.

The Shadow of Loma Prieta: Part Three of the History of Rancho Soquel Augmentation will be available for $24.99, initially from and Bookshop Santa Cruz. All book links above are sponsored Amazon Affiliates links.