It is a miracle that no one died that day in a little-known incident that occurred in 1875 Nevada. All survived due to a hefty dose of dumb luck.

The incident in question was triggered by the curiosity of an East Coast journalist who decided to visit The Comstock and see what the mining boom was all about.

A chance invitation to see how the lumber that built the mines was being moved from Lake Tahoe was extended, and he ended up with a story he never could have imagined.
Harvesting the lumber was one thing, but getting it to the mines was something else. The terrain was steep and irregular, and footing was treacherous.
 
So lumberman J.W. Haines came up with a solution that turned out to be a pivotal point in the continuing development of The Comstock. Haines’ brainchild was a V-shaped flume - nothing more than a giant trough of 2-inch-thick planks, 2-feet wide and 16-feet long, nailed together into a V.

The slanting sides of the flume allowed the lumber to float freely on a rapid stream of water, as opposed to the conventional dry chutes and square-box flumes of the day.
Employing 200 men, the flume’s builders completed 15 miles of trough, from Hunter’s Creek on Mount Rose - between Lake Tahoe and Reno - to Huffaker’s Station and the Virginia and Truckee Railroad terminal in Washoe Valley.

Reportedly, the flume did the work of 2,000 horses, and quickly became a kind of “wooden wonder of the West.” It sparked some curiosity as far east as New York City; no small feat, since even then New Yorkers were not easily convinced anything noteworthy was to be found west of the Hudson.

Still, due to its riches, Virginia City in the 1870s was considered one of the most important cities between Chicago and San Francisco. In the summer of 1875, H.J. Ramsdell, a reporter for the New York Tribune, had heard tales of Nevada’s great flume and decided to see it for himself.

Ramsdell was hosted by James G. Fair and J.C. Flood, both principals in the company that built the flume and multimillionaires who had made their fortunes in the mines.
It’s hard to understand how otherwise intelligent, pragmatic businessmen would do what they decided to do. Some say Fair and Flood took the occasion to “baptize” their flume with a ceremonial ride.

More likely, the two men - showing off for the reporter - dared each other to ride the flume, and Ramsdell and John Hereford (the project’s construction manager) were sucked into the challenge.

Lumberjacks and mill-hands at the flume entrance hurriedly rigged together two V-shaped “boats,” which were no more than narrower versions of the flume itself.
As soon as the passengers hit their seats, they took off like human bullets in the furious flow of flume water.

The makeshift boats bumped and careened wildly down the irregular course, over deep rocky gullies and around curved sections built along the sides of sheer cliffs.

The occupants of the two boats, by this time hurtling down the flume at breakneck speed, would later admit they divided their time between cursing their stupidity and making peace with their maker.

The reporter described it later for his New York readers: “The terror of that ride,” Ramsdell wrote, “can never be blotted from my memory.”
With the end of the trip in sight, the second boat plowed into the first vessel with a jarring impact. The four were grateful that the collision occurred in a relatively slow and safe area of the flume.

Scant seconds before, they had been traveling over a particularly hazardous stretch, where the outcome could have been disastrous. As it was, the bruised and battered men eagerly jumped clear as the boats slowed down near the run’s terminal.

Ramsdell admitted he had had enough with flumes but when asked why he did it he said “Well, I figured if men worth $25 million apiece could risk their lives, I could too.”