While small gravity and mule-powered rails popped up here and there in the eastern United States, it was the coming of the steam locomotive that truly allowed railroads to prosper.
In August 1829, Horatio Allen tested an English-built steamer named the Stourbridge Lion in Pennsylvania; by the time of the Civil War there were more than 60,000 miles of railroad in the country, by the 1870s, the Transcontinental Railroad stretched all the way to California and there were more than 190,000 –miles of rail at the beginning of the 20th century.
During the height of the industry, commonly referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ from the late 19th century through the 1920s there were more than 254,000 miles of railroad in service.
The expanding rail system needed material to tie the rails – then, in 1907, the ‘Santa Fe’ came to the Islands.
“Among the passengers for Hawaii on the Kīnaʻu yesterday were EO Faulkner (head of the tie and lumber department of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad) has come to this Territory to investigate the ʻōhiʻa ties”. (Pacific Commercial Advertising, September 25, 1907)
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company (distinctively known as the Santa Fe) was founded by Cyrus K Holiday in Kansas in 1859. A line that reached from Kansas to California and from Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico was the vision of Holiday.
The desire to tap into the cotton and cattle markets in Texas combined with the promise of Texas as a market for Kansas wheat led the Santa Fe to seek an entry into markets in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. (American Rails)
Before he left the Islands, Faulkner “signed a contract with the Hawaiian Mahogany Lumber Company which will mean the exportation of 90,000,000-board feet of ʻōhiʻa to the mainland within the next five years.”
“While the representatives of their lumber company are unwilling to state the exact price obtained for their lumber under the contract, the fact was obtained that it was between $2,500,000 and $3,000,000.” (Hawaiian Gazette, October 11, 1907)
To fulfill the agreement, “The ties will all be handled by the Hilo railroad. The next work to be done will be making a start on the new mill in Puna and we will also build a railroad, connecting with the main line at Pahoa, and running some four miles into the forest eventually.”
“It will run through the ʻōhiʻa forests which skirt the koa, and thus enable us to reach the koa property easily.” (AN Campbell, Henry Waterhouse Co; Pacific Commercial Advertiser, September 25, 1907)
“The development of the Hawaiian lumber industry stands out preeminent, through the signing in October 1907 of a contract between the Hawaiian Mahogany Lumber Company and the Santa Fe Railway System to supply during the next five years …” (Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Annual Report, 1908)
“According to the terms of the contract the local company is to furnish 500,000 ties six by eight inches and eight feet in length, each year for five years, the same to be delivered at such Coast ports as shall be designated by the railroad company.”
“In addition to this they shall deliver each year 500 sets of switch ties, which are heavier than the regular tie and vary in length from 10 to 22 feet.” (Hawaiian Gazette, October 11, 1907)
“Prior to this contract – in June 1907 – one schooner load of 13,000 ʻōhiʻa ties was sent to San Francisco. Several good-sized orders for ʻōhiʻa ties and ʻōhiʻa piling for use in the Territory have also been filled by the Hawaiian Mahogany Lumber Company.” (Hawaii Department of Agriculture, Annual Report, 1908)
Hawaiian Mahogany Lumber Company (also called Pāhoa Lumber Mill) began in 1907 (owned by James B Castle.) By September 1908, the company was operating a lumber mill in Pāhoa.
A narrow gauge railroad was built from Glenwood to the saw-mill in the woods back of the Volcano House, the mill itself has been erected and some of the machinery installed. Trees were felled in the forest, cut into logs and hauled in to the mill yard.
Most of the ties were to be cut in the Puna District on the homestead lots above Olaʻa, on lands of the Puna Plantation that were being cleared for cane, and on other lands in Puna on which rubber will be planted. The ties will be shipped from Hilo by steamers and sailing vessels, the first shipment being sometime in the spring of 1908.
Between 1909 and 1910, Pāhoa Lumber Mill have lumbered something over 1000 acres. In 1911, the Pāhoa Lumber Mill sought more land for logging. However, by 1914, the Division of Forestry notes that the Pahoa Lumber Mill “has barely reached the section set apart as the Puna Forest Reserve…” (Division of Forestry Annual Report, 1914)
In January 5, 1910 Lorrin A Thruston and Frank B. McStocker of the Hawaiian Development Co. Ltd. appeared before Marston Campbell, Commissioner of Public Lands in Honolulu, to secure rights to log a tract of government lands in Puna.
In January 1913, a fire devastated the Pāhoa Lumber Company mill, and that same year the mill changed its name to Hawaiʻi Hardwood Company. According to government records, the Hawaiian Development Company Ltd. was a successor to the Hawaiian Mahogany Lumber Company (Hawaiian Forester and Agriculturalist)
The contract with the Santa Fe Railway System was never fulfilled. The Division of Forestry noted that by 1914, few ‘ʻōhiʻa was being sold for railroad ties after it was realized that the ‘ʻōhiʻa wood ties did not last in the extreme conditions of the southwest.
Likewise, “increasing attention is being paid to finding a market for ʻōhiʻa for uses of higher tirade. Especially is an effort being made to introduce ʻōhiʻa as flooring …”
“… a use to which the firm, close texture of the wood and its handsome color lend themselves admirably. The waste from the ʻōhiʻa mills (slabs, etc.) is sold for firewood, not a little of it being shipped to Honolulu.” (Report of the Board of Commissioners of Agriculture and Forestry, 1911) (Lots of information here is from Uyeoka.)