Creekside Classics: Opal Creek Mining Camp Survivors – They Rust In Pieces

CC 199 045 900

(first posted 4/22/2013)    On Sundays, we usually head for the great outdoors, a break from cars and CC. But sometimes they’re hard to get away from, even in the deep woods. Especially so if one heads up the trail along the North Santiam River to Opal Falls. There was mining activity up there once, and the proof of that is encountered all along the way.

CC 199 105 900

The North Santiam is like so many rivers on the west side of the Cascades, gurgling down from the snowy peaks.

CC 199 107 900

The old road is closed to the public, and the three mile hike in to Opal Creek and the the town of Jawbone Flats follows the river, often quite high above it.

CC 199 108 900

There are numerous waterfalls along the way, and this time of year, the flow is still strong.

CC 199 109 900

There’s a slight drizzle, which accentuates the sense of being surrounded by water on all sides. Little gurgling creeks and rivulets tumble down the sides of the trail every few yards, practically. This is essentially a temperate rain forest.

CC 199 104 900

Soon, one starts to see signs of the abandoned mining. The area was first mined for gold starting in 1859. Later, lead, zinc, copper and lead were mined.


The area still has many large stands of old growth timber, and and active effort to preserve them was started in the 1980s and culminated in the 1996 federal designation of the Opal Creek Wilderness. One has to experience old growth forest to appreciate their majesty. Hugs are optional.

Opal creek

In the summer, the pools below the many falls are superb swimming holes.

opal creek1image:oregon

But kayakers prefer the higher water flows in the winter months.

CC 199 022 900

What was once Merten Mill is identified by remnants of stationary steam engines.

CC 199 024 900

This one has a tree growing right through it.

CC 199 027 900

The big boiler that once fed the engines.

CC 199 026 900

Fragments of the old mining railroad are to be found here and there.

CC 199 047 900

These trucks reside in Jawbone Flats, a former mining town that is now the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. Let’s poke around, and see what they are. First up is a Chevy, about 1936, I’d say.

CC 199 055 900

It gets the award for best patina ever. This is how I like to see that word be manifest.

CC 199 056 900

It’s taken on the appearance of some types of granite or other sedimentary rock, with a superb range of textures and colors. Perfect!

CC 199 052 900

The “stovebolt” six also looks like mottled stone. probably about as frozen up as one too.

CC 199 048 900

This is where gas tanks commonly were in the old days.

CC 199 049 900

The Bakelite wheel is starting to go.

CC 199 038 900

I didn’t recognize this one right off.

CC 199 039 900

The badge on the radiator is gone, although quite a bit of the chrome is still hanging on.

CC 199 042 900

The manufacturer’s plate under the hood identifies it as a Federal. My Truck Spotter’s Guide tells me it’s a ’35 or ’36.

CC 199 044 900

The engine is a Hercules. The Guide says that Federal used Continental and Waukesha engines. Is it wrong, or did someone swap this Hercules in at some point? Anybody care?

CC 199 053 900

It does have beautiful cast iron wheels.

CC 199 037 900

This appears to be an ambulance variant of the Dodge Powerwagon (CC here). Not surprising to see it up here, as it’s the only four wheel drive of the bunch. There’s a fair amount of snow up here in the winter, especially some years.

CC 199 075 900

And then there’s this International, listing gently to one side.

CC 199 031 900

It too is developing a fine patina.

CC 199 032 900

Looks like it started out as red.

CC 199 030 900

The ’56 Ford Ford is the baby of the bunch.

CC 199 028 900

Its tags were last renewed in 1992, which was the year mining operations ceased up here.

CC 199 072 900

An alder is growing through the rotted wood of its bed. Fitting.

CC 199 061 900

And a Douglas Fir is coming up through the Federal’s frame.

CC 199 062 900

Bonus points for anyone who guesses what this frame belongs to.

CC 199 063 900

There’s a big old four cylinder engine back here.

CC 199 065 900

Very old school construction: an aluminum crankcase, topped by cast-iron cylinders cast in pairs.

CC 199 067 900

A Waukesha, makers of very tough truck and industrial engines. The plate says it’s from 1920, has a 4½” bore and 6¼” stroke, and a governed speed of 1000 rpm. Bet it sounded nice at full chat.

CC 199 070 900

A Gabriel Snubber, a mechanical shock absorber. Nice name.

CC 199 079 900

A little way over is a collection of heating equipment, including this Ruud hot water heater. Ruud still makes hot water heaters, but they look a bit different now.

CC 199 082 900

Equipment is all around, being reclaimed by the trees.

CC 199 087 900

Jawbone Flat’s firetruck, still sporting chains on the front wheels.

CC 199 088 900

Obviously a former Navy truck.

CC 199 090 900

I’m a bit stumped by its engine, though. I assumed it would have a “Jimmy” GMC six, but this is not one. It’s getting a bit late for me to chase it down; one of you will recognize it.

CC 199 092 900

Can’t have mining without a big air compressor, like this Ingersoll Rand. Nice crank, and tasty wheels.

CC 199 097 900

Radiators, including this one still sporting some of its chrome or nickel.

CC 199 100 900

One more truck over here; another Federal. This one looks like its a ’29.

CC 199 102 900

Like the other Federal, this one doesn’t have its original engine either, as there’s an International OHV six from a later vintage hiding here.

CC 199 110 900

That’s it for the most compelling equipment. The drizzle turned to light rain, so we headed back to the car, where thermos of black tea and milk, and some goodies were awaiting us. Can’t leave all the comforts of home behind, especially at tea time.