Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Joshua Tree/Yucca Paper Mill
Description of Manufacturing Process & Costs.

Webmaster's note.

We don't know exactly when Joshua trees were first harvested and processed at Ravenna (between present-day Canyon Country and Acton) for use as paper. As reported here, in 1879, there was a yucca paper mill next to the SPRR Ravenna depot where, apparently, both Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) and our common yucca (Yucca whipplei) were "halfway" processed and then shipped to the northern Santa Clara for pulping. Pulping eventually was done at Ravenna, probably starting in 1884 when a British company set up shop.

Mild paragraphing has been done to make the text more readable.

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Paper-Making Materials.

In addition to the utilisation of the Blue Moor grass (Molinia caerulea) for the manufacture of paper, referred to in an extract from the Times in the Journal for January 31st, many other plants common in India and the British colonies might also be mentioned, which, for the most part, have been experimented upon, and the results proved satisfactory, so far as the actual manufacture is concerned. In considering the adaptability of many of the colonial grasses for paper-making, a contemporary, The Colonies, recently showed that the great obstacle to the more general application of these new substances is the greater cost as compared to any of the paper-producing materials now in general use. It is suggested that in all probability many of the coarse grasses and other plants, that are now pests and hindrances to agricultural progress in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, or other colonies, might be turned to good account for paper-making, such, for instance, as the Ruapo of New Zealand (Typha augustifolia), a kind of bulrush or reed mace, having a wide distribution, and alike common in wet places in this country. Both in New Zealand and in Australia there are numerous plants of the grass, gedge, or rush kind that would, no doubt if properly tested, be found valuable.

Referring to South Africa as another country from whence fibrous grasses might be obtained, The Colonies says: — "In the great Karroo district, thousands of square miles are covered by the characteristic [tawa?] grass, the sour veldt, and the sweet veldt, the importance of which as fodder may possibly be found equaled by their value as a paper material; still more likely to prove valuable in this respect is the Stipa capensis, a member of the family to which the esparto belongs." It has been truly said that paper can be made out of almost anything, which is, to a certain extent, illustrated by the following list of materials used for paper-making, exhibited at the Amsterdam Exhibition in 1877:—

Arundo phragmites (reed).

Secale cereal (rye).

Hordeum vulgare (barley).

Avena sativa (oat).

Triticum vulgare (wheat).

Scirpus lacustris (bulrush).

Molinea caerulea (blue moor grass).

Humulus lupulus (hop).

Asparagus officinalis (asparagus).

Brassica campestris (cabbage).

Sarothamnius scoparius (broom).

Bambusa officinalis.

Zea mays (Indian corn).

Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag).

Musa sapientum (banana).

Triticum repens (couch grass).

Calamogrostis arenaria.

Urtica dioca (nettle).

Phalaris canariensis (canary grass).

Saccharum officinarum (sugar cane).

Chamaerops humilis (European fan palm).


Alnus glutinosa (alder).

Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut).

Salix alba (white willow).

Betula alba (white birch).

Tilia europea (common lime).

Pinus sylvestris (Scotch fir).

Populus alba (white poplar).

Populus canadensis.

The question, however, is not what will actually make paper, but what will prove remunerative in a commercial point of view. Perhaps, after all, one of the most interesting of modern paper materials is that procured from the Yucca brevifolia [Joshua tree], which grows abundantly in the Mojave desert, between the 34th and 35th parallels of latitude, and between the stations of Niojave [sic; Mojave] and Ravena [sic; Ravenna]. It grows to a height of from 10 to 20 feet, and the trunk attains a diameter of from 18 to 30 inches. It is described as being composed of short and closely woven fibres, forming a natural textile, very elastic, and growing in layers, one over the other. These yuccas vary much in habit; some of the trees are perfectly straight, unbranched, with a cluster of long narrow leaves at the summit [Yucca whipplei? — Ed.]; others again are very much branched, the branches forming irregular and fantastic curves [this would be Yucca brevifolia — Ed.]. The leaves, like the stems, are extremely fibrous. The trees are generally known in the country as the cactus.

The growth and manipulation of the fibre into paper stock has been described somewhat as follows in the Journal of Applied Science. Although they are in great numbers, these so-called cactus trees do not grow near one another, like forest trees; a space of from 7 to 8 and even 15 feet divides them. The soil is fine, warm sand, resembling that on a sea shore, and, for a depth of two feet, is very dry, but on digging deeper, water is found.

The Southern Pacific Railway traverses this hot and arid region from north to south, and as the plants lie mostly in the country to the east and west, it would be necessary to construct a branch line in case the material becomes an article of commerce, so as to penetrate into the interior of the country. The railway has stations in this desert which are solely for supplying the locomotives with water. A pump, with a windmill as motor, performs this work.

The wind in this part of California is very strong and hot. To the southward of the desert, but still on the railway line from Los Angeles, and at 60 miles from that city, is an oasis, and in its centre the station of Ravena, near the Solidad [sic; Soledad] Pass. Here a small paper mill has been built, for working the "cactus" into pulp. The mill has the very best position for this purpose, as it is only about a hundred yards from the station, and two miles further on, the desert begins again with a different vegetation, which extends as far as Los Angelos [sic].

The yuccas are cut in the desert and brought to the station of Lancaster and loaded on waggons at a cost of two dollars per cord. From Lancaster to Ravena, the distance is thirty miles, and the railroad charges one dollar par cord for the freight. The lands surrounding the railway are divided into sections, and belong to the Government and the Company. The Government collects and annual tax of 25 per cent. per acre, and at the end of three years, by paying one dollar per acre, the ownership may be acquired. The price of the plant delivered at the station is calculated at four dollars per cord.

The plant being a strong (resisting) and clean textile, is an excellent material for the manufacture of book and wrapping papers, but the elasticity of the fibre is so great, that particular care must be taken in the boiling.

The following is the method employed in the Solidad mill, which is not provided with proper machinery for this kind of work. The yuccas are put into heaps and burned so as to strip them off the bark; this operation is performed in the desert. They are then placed on waggons and carried to the mills, where two men are set to scrape off the burned part, but as the flame has penetrated and blackened the fibre, this cannot be fully attained. The trees are sawn into strips three inches thick, and placed on a decorticator, then three wooden vats are filled, a solution of lime is added, in no fixed proportion, however, and the exhaust of the steam-engine performs the boiling for twenty-four hours. The fibres are taken out of the vats, and two rag engines, each of a capacity of 650 lbs., are filled for the washing, which is done in two or three hours.

The result is not a half-stuff which can be immediately transformed into paper, the boiling having had no effect on the fibres; the washing is not completed, and the stuff is greyish and hard to the touch. This half-stuff is spread out in the sun, and with a humidity of twenty-five per cent. is put on the wagons; it is neither pressed nor covered, and is thus brought to the mills at Lict, near Santa Clara [in northern California]. This journey costs six and a quarter dollars per ton. The stuff is here boiled again in a rotary boiler, with caustic soda, then washed and beaten, and finally made into wrapping paper upon a cylinder machine 48 inches side. The average price of labour is two and a half dollars per day; the freight of the chemicals from San Francisco to Ravena is 14 dollars per ton; and wood costs at the mill of Santa Clara five dollars per cord; and Californian coal six dollars per ton.

The daily consumption of paper in California is estimated at from 15 to 20 tons. A mill at Ravena capable of turning out five tons could hardly fail of being a complete success, but it would be necessary to have the pulp and the paper manufactured at the same place, and not, as at present, one half at Ravena and the other at Santa Clara, places 400 miles from each other.

The foregoing remarks will have proved the suitability of these yuccas for paper-making; and the energy shown by the Americans in adapting it.

News story courtesy of Stan Walker.


1879 Story, Description

Active Mill

Sawing Yucca

Loading Pulp at Ravenna Depot

Desert Mag. 1952

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