By Kathy Brown
Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum/Southern Tuolumne County Historical Society
Did you know that Buck Meadows was the location of one of the earliest Civilian Conservation Corps Camps? Camp F-82 was located there from 1933 - 1941. It housed 200 young enrollees, mostly from the Bay Area, who previously had little to no employment experience or opportunity due to the Great Depression. The first arrivals were immediately put to work constructing the camp buildings - four barracks, each to house about 50 men. Later mess and recreation halls were added.
Men at Buck Meadows camp could choose to work in fire suppression, road and bridge building, range management, or work with the woods crews, who built campgrounds and picnic areas. A few worked at camp jobs - cooking, doing laundry or clerking. The presence of the CCC in the Stanislaus National Forest greatly reduced fire loss during those years. Miles of access roads and bridges were built by the men from Buck Meadows camp. Their work opened up entry to inaccessible areas. One example was access to the Tuolumne River and across to the north side via the Lumsden Bridge.
The job situation began to ease by 1936 and CCC work declined, but the Buck Meadows camp was occupied until early 1941. Most of the work projects completed by these men are still in use today. By working in the CCC most men learned new skills, such as fire fighting, operating heavy equipment, using explosives, and cooking. They made connections that helped them find employment when they left the CCC.
The most unique story of Buck Meadows was that of the engineering marvel, the Big Gap Flume. The miners who came to the foothills quickly learned that there was a chronic shortage of water necessary to wash their placer gold and process their hard rock ore. Claim holders solved this by forming the Golden Rock Water Company in 1855. Labor, mostly by Chinese, then began on the Golden Rock Ditch. It carried water 38 miles from the South Fork Tuolumne River to mines and water users all along its course to Big Oak Flat and beyond.
In 1859, the nearly half mile long Big Gap Flume, was built to span a deep gulch on the eastern edge of Buck Meadows. The suspended flume had 11 sugar pine towers, each on a 50 foot base, with wire cables supporting them. The wooden water box was six foot wide, four foot deep. The tallest tower spanning the gap was 265 feet high. Designer G.W. Holt, predicted it would last 7 - 8 years. Water began to flow in 1860 and over ensuing years of little upkeep the towers began to rot. The Union Democrat reported that the flume fell in a windstorm on July 9, 1868 “with a tremendous crash…leaving scarcely a beam erect - a vast heap of broken and rotted timbers. …stripping the large pine trees adjacent and crushing to atoms the smallest growth.”
After the flume fell, Andrew Rocca took controlling interest in the water company. He had 28 tons of sheet iron transported by wagon to the Gap. In just a year, with the help of 2000 miners, who were badly in need of that water the ditch and flume provided, he replaced the elevated flume with an inverted siphon pipe. Sections of 22 inch diameter pipe were formed from the sheet iron and welded on sight.
Remnants of the rusted pipe can be seen today, only a quarter of a mile east of the Lucky Buck Cafe, on the hillsides above and below the historical marker that commemorates the Flume. Stand by that marker and try to picture the enormity of 2,200 foot long Big Gap Flume spanning the gap between the hilltops on each side, carrying water 300 feet above your head.