'Nature Singer' Drove a Camper Made From a Redwood

Charles 'The Nature Singer' Kellogg and his Travel Log on the road, educating America about the giant redwoods. (Photo: Humboldt Redwoods State Park Museum).

Charles “The Nature Singer” Kellogg’s Travel Log stands as one of the oddest vehicles ever put on four wheels. Built in 1917, it’s a motor home fashioned from a single, hollowed-out redwood log. It toured the country with its conservationist owner at the wheel, calling attention not only to the size of these majestic trees, but to their rapid destruction at the hands of man.

Charles Kellogg
Kellogg talking to the birds in his beloved northern California woods. (Photo: Humboldt Redwoods State Park Museum)

Kellogg was ahead of his time as a forest preservationist. He warned, “ .... At the present rate of destruction there will not be a single stand of redwood in the whole state [of California] within 100 years.” Teddy Roosevelt was similarly concerned about deforestation; that’s why our network of national forests were created.

Kellogg, the kind of passionate Renaissance man they bred back then — vegetarian, hiker, artist, lecturer — was best known for his ability to sing like a bird. In this period before television, he gave 3,000 live performances and recorded widely for Victor Records (classical pieces as well as bird songs). Born with an “unusual larynx,” Kellogg had a 12-octave vocal range, and could sing so high it was inaudible to human ears. Birds perked up, though. And he claimed he could put out fires with his voice alone.

Listen to Kellogg imitating our feathered friends here.

The Travel Log at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Museum
The Travel Log, come to rest at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Museum. (Photo: www.rvtravel.com)

The Travel Log was born of Kellogg’s desire to incorporate a “save the trees” message into his vaudeville act. The donor tree, an estimated 4,800 years old, was a fallen specimen from a northern California stand owned by a friend. Hollowing out the log, which was 11 feet in diameter, was an adventure in itself. The hard wood was practically impervious to ordinary saws.

The Travel Log from behind
The Travel Log from behind. The first step was a doozy. (Photo: www.rvtravel.com)

A Nash Quad, a tough truck made famous by its duty in World War I, was donated by fellow conservationist Charles Nash. Even hollowed out and leached of sap, the log weighed something like eight tons. A team of woodsmen couldn’t lift it, so Kellogg came up with the ingenious idea of digging a trench under it, driving the truck in, and then lowering the body down on the chassis.

The interior of the Travel Log

Carpentry was also one of Kellogg’s skills, and he built a cozy motor home interior, complete with windows, a double bed, kitchen with built-in cabinets, dining room and guest room. The walls were four inches thick.

It’s a wonder that the truck, which had four-wheel drive and a four-speed transmission (featuring an ultra-low gear), could move at all, but it toured the country until 1926, visiting New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Kenosha, Wisconsin (albeit at speeds not topping 15 miles per hour). By all accounts the Travel Log served its mission because redwood trees are protected national treasures today.

the Travel Log in the woods, surrounded by trees
The Travel Log in its element. (Photo: Humboldt Redwoods State Park Museum)

Kellogg, a life member of the Save the Redwoods League, eventually took the Travel Log’s body off the truck base and put it under an oak tree in his backyard. After he died in 1948, supporters reunited the motor home with a Nash Quad and put it on display. Today, it can be seen at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Museum in Weott, California.

Charles Kellogg driving the Travel Log
The Travel Log could reach 15 mpg, but probably only downhill. (Photo: Humboldt Redwoods State Park Museum)

I learned about Charles “The Nature Singer” Kellogg while researching my book "Naked in the Woods," a story about another nature man of the period, Joseph Knowles.