Finbar O’Riley and the story of “The Axe”

Wente Scout Reservation, 5401 Canyon Road, Willits, CA 95490 San Francisco Bay Area Council-BSA, 1001 Davis Street, San Leandro, CA 94577 | PH: 510.577.9000 email: |
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Back in early February 2019, our own camp forester & mountain man, Ben Chang, was thinning some trees up near the Tan Oak Cathedral (near the base of Eagle Summit) and in the vicinity of the old Camp C outhouse. As he was putting some of his equipment down he noticed what looked like a large piece of metal that was slightly buried next to an old tree stump. Ben indicated that the object was covered by a layer of leaves and other debris but was still somewhat visible. Ben said he kicked the object with his foot to reveal a slightly rusted double-bladed axe head and a small portion of the wooden handle stock that was very decayed. Nearby he said there were some old large rotten stumps that appeared to have been logged without any modern equipment. Ben picked up the axe head from the ground and the wood stock immediately disintegrated in his hands. The axe blade though was still in fairly good condition considering it had been in the ground for some time. Ben said he cleaned the rusty head of dirt with his gloves along with a little “spit shine” which still showed the manufacturers name of “Gransfor Bruk”. Ben brought the axe head down from the site and showed it to the Camp Ranger where they discussed how it possibly came to be. Ranger Mike mentioned the finding of the axe head to Council Camping Director Jason Lewis who it turns out was familiar with the “Gransfor Bruk” brand name. Ranger Mike brought the rusty axe head down from Wente to the Council office as Jason wanted to look at the head and do a little research. Jason indicated that Gransfor Bruk is located in Sweden and is a manufacturer of high-end logging axes and equipment. He contacted the manufacturer, which is still in business, and they were able to determine based on the style and markings that the axe head was forged sometime between 1900 and 1915. The company representative indicated that at the turn of the century, Gransfor Buk sold their logging axes and equipment through Stonhecker & Broesamle of San Francisco. The store sold high end axes and other logging materials and supplies to loggers in Northern California. The O’Riley family would have purchased the axe in San Francisco for their homesteading prior to 1915. Willits City records and topo maps show that a cabin once stood near the site of the outpost horse corral which is very close to the discovery site of the axe. Most likely the axe was used to fell some nearby Ponderosa Pine trees for the building of the O’Riley cabin and the axe was probably placed against a tree at some point and “lost” to the elements. Due to its confirmed historical aspect, the axe head was sent to be cleaned, reconditioned and a new wood stock installed. The O’Riley Axe is now a fixture at Wente Scout Reservation hanging in the Admin office as a reminder to the history of logging and homesteading in Finney Valley.

Recreation of the Axe head

as found by Camp Forester Ben Chang

Wente Scout Reservation San Francisco Bay Area Council, Boy Scouts of America