America’s Last Log Flume

Jun 23, 2018 1 comments

Log flume rides are staple for any amusement park, but before they became thrilling fun rides, log flumes were used in the lumber industry to transport logs.

Since the early days of logging in America, which stretches back to the 1600s when the first settlers arrived in Jamestown, loggers primarily worked near water and only moved further away when wood supplies on that land was depleted. The water made it easy to move timbers from forest to mills and overseas. All you needed to do was tie the logs together in rafts and push them into the stream. But as loggers were forced more inland, they were needed to come up with new ways of transporting their products. The log flume was the result of this necessity.


Rochat Creek Five Mile Log Flume, Idaho.

A log flume is a shallow trough-like channel that carried lumber down from the mountains where they were felled to sawmills by using flowing water. These flumes often spanned several kilometers crossing deep chasms and steep mountain slopes. Transporting lumber through such a terrain using horse or oxen-drawn carriages would have otherwise involved building treacherous long winding roads. Log flumes facilitated a quick and cheap alternative.

Early flumes were square chutes that were prone to jams and required constant maintenance. Then in 1868, James W. Haines popularized the "V" shaped log flumes that allowed a jammed log to free itself as the rising water level in the flume pushed it up. These long, winding flumes consisted of two planks about two feet wide and sixteen feet long joined perpendicularly and supported by high, elaborately built trestles.

Pretty much every lumber company across western United States had their own own flumes to transport water and lumber to the mills below. This inexpensive alternative to the traditional method of constructing roads for horse-drawn wagons, revolutionized the transportation of lumber, but at a devastating cost.


Crow's Nest Pass Lumber Co.'s log flume at Bull River.

High in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California, two lumber barons, Hiram T. Smith and Austin D. Moore, purchased 30,000 acres in an area known as Millwood. Originally, Hiram Smith planned to build a railroad to carry the lumber from the mill to the lumberyard, but the impossibly uncompromising terrain of the Kings Canyon forced them to abandon the idea. Eventually, they built a flume to float the lumber down. Known as the Kings River Flume, it was longest log flume ever built. Running from the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range down through the rocky canyons to the lumber yard and railroad depot in Sanger, the Kings River Flume extended over 62 miles (100 km). Built in just over a year, this flume was a tremendous undertaking and an astounding feat of engineering.

The flume opened up a new area of the forest for clearcutting, an area we now know as the Sequoia National Forest filled with giant Redwoods. A period of destructive deforestation followed. Trees that stood for over 2,000 years were suddenly at the mercy of the lumbermen. The sheer weight of the trees caused them to shatter into a million unusable pieces when they fell, while portions that were too large were blasted with black powder causing further waste. Only about one-fourth to one-fifth of all wood actually made it to the mill. Even then, the Kings River Lumber Company was processing over 3 million feet of lumber per month.


A flume and “high ball” landing operation. Photo credit:


The Kings River Flume. Photo credit: Sanger Depot Musem

The last operating flume in the United States was the Broughton Flume, built between 1913 and 1923. It connected the towns of Willard and Hood in the State of Washington—a distance of 9 miles or about 14 km. The original flume was 4.5 miles long and stretched from Willard to Drano lake, and was constructed by the Drano Flume Company around 1913. In 1923, the Broughton Lumber Company purchased the Drano Flume Company and doubled the length of the flume to a new mill near Hood. Pieces of lumber loaded into the flume at the lumber mill in Willard arrived at the finishing mill in Hood in less than an hour. The flume system worked so well that if the upper mill at Willard started work at seven in the morning, the lower mill at Hood would start work exactly an hour later, at eight, so that when the men arrived there would be lumber waiting for them there.

In its heydays, the flume carried up to 150,000 board feet of timber per day, and between 40 to 50 million board feet of lumber per year. It continued operating until 1986, although by then the lumber company had a railroad built for transporting log to the primary mill. Being the only functioning log flume, Broughton Flume had become a popular tourist attraction and even appeared in a couple of television shows such as “Lassie” and in a Walt Disney film, “Charlie the Lonesome Cougar.” Sections of the old flume can still be seen today.

Industries: Lumbering, Processing

Broughton Flume. Photo credit:


Broughton Flume, Hood River Junction on Columbia River at Washington/Oregon border, Hood. Photo credit: Library of Congress


The end of the Oregon Lumber Company flume at Drano Lake. This was the end of the original Broughton Flume before it was extended to Hood. Photo credit:


Part of the Broughton Flume today. Photo credit: kepPNW/Flickr


The Kings River Flume. Photo credit: Sanger Depot Musem


The Kings River Flume. Photo credit: Sanger Depot Musem


  1. Not much is left now of the beautiful Broughton Flume as it is an hour away from me - most of it is in pieces high on the hillside but you have to know where it was and where to look - and some people in Willard have re-appropriated parts of it as planters in their backyards as well. Broughton Mill is shut down, but still there, popular for windsurfing. All in all, I only know one place where it remains now. I sure do miss it.


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