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Blue Ox Millworks

Blue Ox Millworks
Tour an inspiring compound dedicated to an almost-lost art

Eric Hollenbeck didn’t plan to be a time traveler, or a museum curator, or a model of how to take care of troubled youth or returning war vets. But on the rambling compound of his Eureka-based company, Blue Ox Millworks, anyone can see how Eric is quietly and humbly creating something far greater than a place to cut wood.

On a tour of the compound you can see artisans at work, using period tools to cut elaborate wood decorations, moldings, and embellishments. Most pieces are custom ordered to restore or re-create parts of classic Victorian edifices—including some private homes and grand public buildings like the Governor’s Mansion and the nearby Leland Stanford Mansion in Downtown Sacramento.

“What’s so cool is that we aren’t just making the same architectural pieces; we’re making them on the same equipment that was used back then,” explains Eric, who grew up in Eureka, a coastal city with a long history of logging and mills. “You come here and you get to see the largest working collection of human-powered equipment left in the U.S., from a scroll saw built in 1868 to a cut-off saw built in 1902.”

Eric didn’t set out to create a museum-worthy collection of machinery; he just didn’t have the money to buy anything new. When he opened the business in 1973, he was a returning Vietnam vet with a $300 bank loan. “I started a logging company, milling dead and diseased trees for the Forest Service,” Eric recalls. Seeing the need for custom architectural pieces for the region’s rich collection of Victorian-era buildings, Eric set out to start Blue Ox (named after the famous companion of folkloric logger Paul Bunyan). But with only the $300 loan, “I had to go out and find the old junk nobody wanted. I didn’t have the time or the money to buy new stuff—or even newish stuff,” he laughs.

His pre-Internet company needed a sales catalog, so rather than pay someone to print one, Eric got his hands on a turn-of-the-century printing press and made the catalog himself. Some clients wanted period tiles, so a ceramics shop was added to the mix, as well as a plaster shop for more Victorian-era details.

Today, you can take a tour to learn about the crafts as they’re being created. Walking around the site, you’ll see something else that stands out: young people handling the woodworking tools and creating custom pieces. In addition to its regular business, Blue Ox Millworks now serves as a school for at-risk youth who produce their own creations that are then sold in an on-site store. “They make it, and they get to keep the money,” explains Eric, whose desire to give back is palpable. In fact, he has recently established a nonprofit to help returning combat veterans. And there are plans to grow Blue Ox into a multi-acre crafts village.

His veterans have already begun to produce remarkable works, including a precise replica of the horse-drawn hearse that carried the coffin of President Abraham Lincoln. “He was the first U.S. president who said that America had to take care of its veterans,” says Eric, who adds that he has been told that the hearse will be used in funeral processions for all future presidents. “It’s from Podunk, Eureka, built by a bunch of combat vets,” says the incredulous Eric. “Isn’t that something?”

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Tai Power Seeff

Discover the North Coast

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55
October
Average (°F)
Sept - Nov
63°
High
45°
Low
Dec - Feb
55°
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41°
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Mar - May
58°
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43°
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June - Aug
62°
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51°
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Romance finds a home in this idyllic coastal region, where ocean fog rolls in from the ocean to blanket hushed redwood forests, and whales spout offshore. Along the coast, artists set up their easels to paint scenes of crashing surf and whitewashed cottages wrapped in rose-filled gardens.

Each year, December through May, look to the sea to witness roughly 15,000 gray whales swimming south for the summer.

It’s also a place where a new generation of farmers and winemakers focus on preserving the land as well as producing amazing food and wine. Favorite escapes include the romantic hamlet of Mendocino, roughly a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco, and Eureka, a former logging town 2 hours further north, and the gateway to breathtaking Redwoods National and State Parks.

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Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake within California, is the oldest lake in North America and possibly the world.
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Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
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Spotlight: Mendocino

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Discover a coastal paradise with ridiculously fresh seafood, amazing wine, and craft beer

With its dramatic ocean-bluff setting overlooking a steel-blue sea, this coastal hamlet is an obvious magnet for artists, romantics, and lovers of...

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Trip 8-10 days 10 stops

Ultimate Northern California

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It may measure less than 50 square miles/130 square kilometers, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the  “City by the Bay” is the...

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Tucked into an ocean-facing fold of Mount Tamalpais, the signature peak just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Muir Woods National Monument protects the last stand of uncut old-growth coast redwoods in the Bay Area, where loggers had all but denuded the region by the late 1800s....

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North Coast Wine Country

Slip away to some of the state’s most peaceful vineyards

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Courtesy of County of Lake

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Explore a burgeoning wine scene and cool off with a summery splash in the lake

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Sample hyper-local foods from land and sea, plus amazing beers and wines

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Celebrate the seasonal bounty and quirky art-fueled character of the North Coast

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The Humboldt County Fair began in 1896 and is the oldest running county fair in California.
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Courtesy of Humboldt County CVB

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Ride a historic train through soaring coast redwoods

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Trip 4 days 10 stops

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The last stop on this spectacular road trip ends at the very last city in California. Only 20 miles south of Oregon, sea-faring Crescent City is home to the northernmost of California’s lighthouse stations. Overlooking the town’s harbor, the 1856 Battery Point Lighthouse, built with 22-inch/56-...