Dr. Newt T. Enloe and his “Pig Trough” of an Ambulance

By Beth Krah

I had seen this photo of my great-grandmother and her brother on a log flume boat growing up but hadn’t realized the significance of this photo until the National EMS History Museum told me he was the inventor of the first lumber flume ambulance. I guess it was time to go digging around in that steamer trunk they used in 1901 to retrieve the rest of the story. Fortunately, Grammy Knorr kept journals during this time and although there was plenty to go through, the stories were fascinating.

From Jefferson City to Chico

In 1901, my great uncle, Dr. Newton Thomas Enloe, left his practice in Jefferson City, MO and took his infant son and 16-yr. old sister (my Grammy Knorr) to northern California to serve as the Sierra Lumber Company’s Chief Surgeon outside of Chico. With the $15.00 he made from pawning off his watch, he started his practice in this logging community, an industry known for horrific accidents and serious injury. It wasn’t uncommon for loggers to be struck by donkey engine cables or get crushed between massive logs as they dealt with derailed log cars.

Dr. Newton T. Enloe (on right)
Dr. Newton T. Enloe (on right)

Lumber Flume Ambulance

Dr. Enloe utilized the flume boat to rush between injured parties as well as transport patients from the West Branch camp to Chico for further treatment, a 25 mi. trip that often rose upwards of 100’ across the trestle bridge. Ensuring his patient was as comfortable as possible, he would either choose someone to ride along on this dangerous journey or accompany the patient himself. Yet sometimes, the patient had to go alone.

The flume also came in handy while fighting fires. In 1904, a crippling fire overtook one of the mill warehouses that contained two thousand pounds of dynamite used to split logs while everyone waited for the explosion. Fortunately, it didn’t. But the flume was put to good use. A sump hole was dug and filled with water from the waterway, which was able to supply three streams of water for dousing the lumber piles.1

Loggers with donkey engine (family photo)
Loggers with donkey engine (family photo)

Twenty-Penny Nail Fixes Fractured Hip

Within the first year, Dr. Enloe built a small six bed hospital from scrap mill lumber and worked with a local blacksmith to create essential surgical tools that were needed. During his first emergency surgery, he used a twenty-penny nail from a Chico hardware store to set a fractured hip, which was later judged to be a complete success. He also implemented California’s first medical plan for the lumber jacks and their families to the tune of $1/mo. per family (incl. childbirths). 

Ride of their Lives

One story I found in that old trunk talked about two millionaire adventurers in the 1870’s who embarked on the ride of their lives. Reporter H.J. Ramsdell, millionaires James Flood and James Fair, construction boss Mr. Hereford and an unidentified carpenter. A narrow, water-filled flume built on trestlework would carry them 15 miles down in a “pig trough with one end knocked out”. The flume boats were 16’ long and open at the bow. The New Golden Argosy magazine tells of their ride:

Occupants were to sit in the stern – their weight would lift the bow clear of the water. The stern of each boat was enclosed and decked over for thirty inches to prevent the wake spilling in over the rear. In cross section, the boats were V-shaped like the flume, the downward flow of water, pushing against the flat transom, would propel the craft.

At the launching point near the sawmill, the downgrade of the trestlework was relatively steep and the two boats, Ramsdell reported, were off like the wind. Ramsdell rode with Fair and the carpenter in the lead boat, with Flood and Hereford following closely. No one stopped to think that the second boat, not so heavy-laden, would tend to overtake the first.

As soon as the two boats began their hurtling journey, the flume sailors had misgivings, but the point of no return had been passed when they first shoved off. Picking up speed to match the rapid flow of water through the flume, the boats rocked and pitched, bumped, and careened as they flew high over rock-strewn gullies and whirled madly around sections where the curving trestle hugged a sheer cliff. Ramsdell later reported the experience to the Tribune: “I cannot give a better idea of the ride than to compare it with riding down an old-fashioned eave trough at an angle of forty-five degrees, hanging in mid-air without support of roof or house and thus shooting a distance of fifteen miles. You cannot stop and you cannot lesson your speed; you have nothing to hold on to; you have only to sit still, take all the water that comes – drenching you like a plunge through the surf – and wait for eternity.”

Dr. Newton Thomas Enloe with son and sister Emma towards the back of the lumber flume ambulance
Dr. Newton Thomas Enloe with son and sister Emma towards the back of the lumber flume ambulance

The three riders in the front boat shipped water through the front whenever the craft swept down a grade, while on the relatively level stretches, sheets of water came in at the rear. Too heavily loaded, the boat rode low in the flume and at one point, hit a submersed object that hurled the carpenter completely out of the boat, but fortunately inside the flume ahead of it. The boat momentarily crashed to a stop, and Ramsdell landed on top of Fair. The second boat meanwhile was bearing down and a collision that would spill all five men off the flume to the rocks at the base of the trestle seemed likely. 

Relieved of the carpenter’s weight, however, the craft broke free. At the same instant, Fair shrugged off Ramsdell and, reaching far forward, seized the carpenter by the collar and yanked him back into the boat. The rescue cost Fair a handful of crushed fingers.

The two boats raced on, the distance between them narrowing rapidly. No mishap had yet marred the journey of Flood and Hereford, but they huddled, soaked, miserable and wishing to Heaven that they had never started the insane ride. Their boat was better balanced and rode the stream at terrific speed. The trees whizzed by and the canyons loomed, but eventually the end of the trip was near. With safety in sight, the second boat suddenly crashed into the lead craft with a force that flattened the occupants of both craft. Riders in the first boat evidently were better braced than when they had hit the underwater object, but Flood and Hereford were hurling headlong. Fortunately, they remained inside the boat, but water rushed in at both bow and stern. In a slack water section of the flume, near the bottom, all the men jumped clear.

Enloe Hospital Tent or Booth
Enloe Hospital Tent or Booth

“Fair said that he would never again place himself on an equality with timber and wood,” Ramsdell wrote, “and Hereford said he was sorry he had ever built the flume. Fair said we had traveled down the flume at a mile a minute… My belief is that we annihilated both time and space.”2

My great-grandfather, Daniel Knorr (Grammy Knorr’s husband), had a few brushes with death as well.

The accident occurred while a car of logs was being unloaded at the mill pond. The logs were above the average in size. Knorr was working about the logs when one of the hooks, attached to a cable and set into the log, became loose. In some manner, Knorr got between the two logs which were about four feet apart and they started rolling down the log-way to the pond. He could not get out and could only run with them. Those who witnessed the accident expected momentarily that the second log would overtake him and crush him to a pulp. Just before the first log rolled over the log-way into the pond, Knorr caught onto it and it threw him ahead of it into the water. The second log had gained a greater speed and struck the water beyond him.3

Enloe Medical Center

Dr. Enloe opened what is now known as the Enloe Medical Center in Chico in 1913 and prior to the Paradise Camp Fire in 2018, I was able to visit the hospital and spend time with Nancy Hodges, Dr. Enloe’s daughter. The two of us drove up to the old camp, looked around Paradise and Sterling City and I was finally able to put pictures to the stories I had heard growing up. As a non-profit hospital, the Enloe Medical Center now has a Level II Trauma Center and the region’s only Level II neonatal intensive care unit.

A big thank you goes to Nancy Hodges, Andy Mark and Christina Chavira for filling in the gaps of a history I was unfamiliar with. What an honor to dive deep into family history and learn how closely tied to EMS I really was.

BethKrah2Beth Krah is founder and CEO of The Krah Corporation (dba Krah Health Solutions). She has served the healthcare community for over a decade providing non-toxic infection prevention measures with a special focus on EMS, Disaster Preparedness/Response, Medical Care Facilities and the Military. Previously employed by Solvay Pharmaceuticals in their Quality Assurance/Quality Control group, her passion to serve is of utmost importance for her and her team’s role in serving their customers and keeping them healthy so they can focus on the pressing needs of saving the lives of others. She can be reached at beth@krahcorp.com.


1. Mark, Andy. (2012). The West Branch Mill of the Sierra Lumber Company. The History Press, p.55

2. Goldrath, Bert. “River In A Box.” The New Golden Argosy, Mar. 1961, pp. 35-39, 104-105.

3. Chico Daily Record (1904, October 17); Chico Daily Enterprise, (1904, October 17).

4. Mark, Andy. (2012). The West Branch Mill of the Sierra Lumber Company. The History Press, p.69

Contact Us

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.