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Newcomers fill void left by C&O closure

The Seventh Day Adventist settlers built this redwood sawmill on Gardner Ridge.  ().
The Seventh Day Adventist settlers built this redwood sawmill on Gardner Ridge. ().

Cecil Watt recounted the next era in area history in a speech to the Curry County Historical Society in 1978:

After the California & Oregon Lumber Co. closed down its operations in 1925, a period of economic doldrums set in and lasted until a surge of saw milling by a number of newcomers revived and expanded the industry.

Among the first was a group of six men, Seventh Day Adventists who, like millions of other Americans, found themselves hard pressed economically during the great Depression of the early 1930s. Living in Southern California, they investigated possibilities of developing some kind of self-help working project in several of the western states. They had known about the C&O Lumber Co. and its closing, and wondered if perhaps renewed lumbering on a modest scale might be feasible here.

After contacting W.J. Ward, the Company?s custodian, a committee investigated and reported that prospects looked promising. An agreement was drawn up, and the six men with their families came in 1933 to see what they could develop. Soon other Adventists joined them.

At first they lived in some of the old company houses, and also fixed up apartments in the closed St. George Hotel. They rented the Beresa Tract of land as individual garden plots and found they could grow more produce than immediately required for themselves, so they sought a way to preserve the surplus. In Salem they found some old canning equipment, brought it here, and set up a small canning plant.

All the old houses as well as the hotel had leaking roofs. To solve that problem, they repaired an old shingle saw and built a shingle mill to manufacture shingles. This was their first source of cash income in Brookings. They also cut cascara bark, tan oak bark, and sold Christmas trees in the California market.

From Elmer Bankus they bought 580 acres on Gardner Ridge, some eight miles east of Brookings. That acreage included 100 acres of good timber ? fir and redwood. The group moved to that location, divided the land into parcels, cleared some of it, and built dwellings roofed with shake shingles. To secure doors, windows, flooring and the like, they bought the St George Hotel for $800 and dismantled it. They also built a church of redwood logs, and a one-room school attached to the church building.

To assemble a sawmill they used parts from the old mill in Brookings, taking several years to complete it. "Brookings Industries Timber Products" was their industrial name. From Klamath County they secured an order to provide timber material for flume construction; this, with some financing secured from the Oregon Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, enabled them to rebuild their mill to make it more efficient and provide better economic security for the workers. From then on the group was called "Brookings Industries Trust."

The summer of 1940 was very dry. They decided to close the mill until the first of the following year. Meanwhile, they maintained a 24-hour fire guard, and hosed down the mill regularly. Nevertheless, it mysteriously burned.

Fire Destroys

Adventist Mill

A sawmill operated by the Brookings Industries up the Chetco river, commonly known as the Adventist mill, was burned to the ground last Thursday night. It is believed that the fire started from sparks from a burning sawdust pile carried to the mill by a strong east wind. All the building around the mill except one small shack were also burned, but the fire did not spread into the surrounding timber.

The mill has been in operation about 5 years, cutting redwood lumber. When running at full capacity the mill furnished employment for about 30 men. It was the only payroll in the upper Chetco district. The mill had been recently shut down. ? Curry County Reporter, July 4, 1940

After that destruction many of the people moved, some back to Brookings, though some stayed. During the next several years some of their homes burned also; but a few determined folks remained. Among them were Cecil and Marguerite Watt, whose account of their struggles you have just read.

During the mid-1930s, the Thompson Logging Co. logged a lot of the immediate area north of Brookings and shipped peeler logs to Japan. These logs were hauled to and dumped into the Chetco River, made into rafts, and towed by a small tugboat to large ocean-going Japanese ships that anchored in deep water about a mile out from the mouth of the river. There the logs were loaded aboard the ships for the long trip to Japan.

Log Shipping to Start Soon for Orient from Brookings

A new idea for getting logs on ships for shipment to the Orient is being tried out at Brookings this year. Last year logs were hauled to the old mill pond for storage until ships arrived. Then they were lifted from the pond, loaded on cars, hauled out on the old dock and dumped into the Chetco cove where they were put in booms and towed out to the ships waiting in deep water. The process involved extra handling as well as considerable difficulty in taking care of the booms, and it was difficult to keep enough logs on the way to the ship to keep loading operations going.

This year the logs are being put in booms inside the Chetco river. A logging block has been anchored about one quarter of a mile outside the mouth of the river, and a donkey engine has been placed on one of the old bridge piers just inside the river mouth with an endless cable running between them.

The log booms will be made up in the still water inside the river, hooked to the cable and towed outside where they will be picked up by a tug and towed to the ship. ? Gold Beach Reporter, May 28, 1936

As Walt Thompson tells it: ?When this operation closed down about 1938, millions of feet of prime logs were left fallen and bucked in the woods. Some of those logs are still visible on the right hand side of the road in the Mill Creek area. During the mid-1950s, I attempted to recover lumber from those early cutting but found that these prime old-growth logs were too far deteriorated to be economically salvaged.?

That, of course, was many years ago. Today the old logs are being salvaged and made into wood chips.

During the mid-1940s two enterprising sawmill and logging operators from Washington State came to this area. One of them was Henry Kerr, who had been in the timber and sawmill business since 1912. In 1945 he and his family moved from Washington State to Brookings ? as the result of a rocking chair. That is a story!

Harry Swofford, a retired Washington senator, told Kerr about a man from Curry County who had passed his house one day, stopped, and asked if he would sell an old rocking chair which was on the front porch. Swofford told him, ?it ain?t worth selling," but the fellow persisted. He said he would give 80 acres of timber in Curry County for that old chair. Sounded incredible, but the deal was made. Afterward, Swofford was really curious and wanted to go south to see what he had got for his old rocking chair. He couldn?t drive himself, so Kerr offered to drive him there.

When they arrived, Kerr thought Curry County was "pretty desolate,? but his timberman?s eye noted that a good deal of the timber was being sold just for the delinquent taxes against it. So he soon purchased some timber land near the present Brookings airport from Elmer Bankus, who had bought the Brookings townsite in 1937, after W.J. Ward died.

Kerr went back to Washington State to look for sawmill equipment. Sawmill parts were not being made during World War II, then raging. By "scrounging around" he was able to find what he needed, and by March, 1946, has moved his crew to Brookings and had a mill in operation. It was situated at the end of what is now Parkview Drive. At that time there were only an estimated 300 to 400 people in Brookings. Most folks here were farming or raising lily bulbs for the market.

After the Kerr mill began working, the Kessler Lumber Company came to Brookings. With jobs available and lumber and hardware at hand for construction, people began moving in. The demand for lumber increased. In 1947 Kerr built a sawmill for the Brimm brothers, beside the old pond on the C & O mill site. In 1946, when Kerr had built his own mill, he had not been allowed to put it in the town because of plans to make Brookings a retirement center. A noisy mill was not wanted nearby. By the following year, however, the lumber industry looked so promising that the noise problem was ignored and the Brimms were permitted to build inside the town.

Brimm Bros. Mill

Now Sawing Logs

After delays, forced by failure of equipment to arrive, Brimm Bros. Sawmill, located on the old mill pond, began sawing last Friday, when three logs were run through on test.

After all "bugs" were worked out over the weekend, sawing began in earnest Monday when a partial crew kept the mill going most of the day.

Logging crews, at work up the Chetco, have been bringing in timber for the pond, where already quite a reserve has been built up.

The Pilot, Sept. 25, 1947

(Six years later Brimm Bros. Sold this mill to the Brookings Plywood Corporation.)

The other major newcomer in the timber and lumber business was Sam Agnew. He bought a great deal of County-owned timberland for two dollars an acre, thus acquiring a billion or more feet of timber. For a very small investment he became the largest timber owner, except for the federal government, in Curry County. His company soon built a large veneer plant just north of Brookings. This plant, was later called Four-Ply, Inc.

Soon other lumber companies, most of them small enterprises, built their mills in Harbor, Brookings, and vicinity. Among them were these:

In Harbor

The Harbor Lumber Company, a stud mill, stood on the site of the present Chetco Marine building. It was owned by Fred Hedberg and Al Lousenberry.

The Chetco Veneer Corporation, same owners, was located on a pond adjacent to the Harbor Lumber Company ? separated by a narrow channel through which logs could be passed.

The Landauer Lumber Company operated where the commercial boat basin is now located.

The Thompson Lumber Company?s plant stood on the lower Harbor Road, on the site now used by the Driftwood Travel Trailer Retreat.

In Brookings

Gadbury and Campbell ran a sawmill near the present Brookings City Hall. The George Chesser custom planing operation is where the Kalmiopsis Elementary School now stands.

Where the Square Deal store is now, the Kessler Lumber Company operated a planer mill, and also a building supply store.

The Carson and Moore Planing mill was constructed just off Pacific Avenue, on Easy Street, near where the Elks Lodge now stands.

Elmer and Gunnar Hedberg built a veneer plant just north of the present South Coast plant. In conjunction with it was a stud mill to saw peeled logs. This plant was later bought by Sam Agnew, and is now operated as Four-Ply, Inc.

Up the Chetco River

Up the north bank of the Chetco River stood the Thomas Mill Company plant. The L & P Lumber Company was located on the Hamilton place, on the North Fork of the Chetco.

Other Locations

Arthur Brown and his son, Bob, had a sawmill at the mouth of the Winchuck River. In 1967 that mill accidentally burned.

The Swan Lumber Company ran a mill on the old Colegrove Ranch, below Carpenterville.

These varied lumbering operations were highly competitive and sometimes hardly efficient. Recognizing the economic and social importance of this lumber industry renewal, Henry Kerr strove to direct the growing industry along new and more productive lines.

First, he convinced the state to allow log trucks to be driven over the old coast highway. State officials had contended that long logging trucks could not negotiate the sharp curves. Kerr had had experience driving such trucks over similar roads in Washington State, and believed that he could do the same here. He invited the Highway Department representative to follow him, driving a long truck, to Gold Beach and back. The demonstration was a success. The lumber export business via truck from Brookings could now become a reality. Attempts at water shipping had failed, but the trucking of lumber was here to stay.

During the same year, Kerr talked to the County Assessor in Gold Beach who told him that "the timber here is no good ? it is rotten." In 1947, about 50% of Curry County timber was left in the woods due to conk, over-ripeness, and compression wood. Conk occurs when water seeps into an unsealed knot and causes decay. Over-ripeness is due to rot from age or wind scars. Black knots, created when a dead limb stays on the tree and the tree grows around it, were also a problem. When the timber is dried, the knots fall out. Kerr once shipped a load of Curry timber back east but never received payment. When he asked about it, the company replied, "we got the knotholes. Would you please ship the knots?"

Compression wood is formed when a tree is thrown out of balance and it tries to correct itself by growing hard grain on the leaning side. Because of the Curry County sliding coastline, a great deal of the local timber is compression wood. It is unusable for lumber because it is hard to saw, and a board made from it will curl. But Kerr saw compression wood in a different light. As early as 1921 he sold compression wood to plywood plants in Washington, and he knew that it made good plywood. He decided that a plywood plant was feasible in the Brookings area.

PLYWOOD PLANTS

In 1948, Henry Kerr and Warren Smith, a partner in the Brim Brothers Company, went to Washington State to confer with lumbering interests there, with a view to getting a plywood mill constructed in Brookings. Shortly afterward, Kerr met with Ed Sund and Carl Mason from Myrtle Creek, Oregon, lumber men also interested in prospects here. They were ready to build a plant, provided they could be assured of an adequate timber supply. Kerr teamed up with Jack Kronenberg from Bandon, who also held timber lands in this area, and together they agreed to supply the timber needed by the proposed plywood plant. Elmer Bankus had the land for a suitable plant site; the Brim Brothers sawmill already stood on it.

After many meetings it was decided that a plywood plant would be built, with timber provided by Kerr and Kronenberg, and with Sund as organizer. Sund later became president and general manager of the company. Kerr was vice president and remained on the board of directors for many years. Kerr and Kronenberg signed a contract which guaranteed the mill 410,000,000 feet of timber. The Brimm Brothers mill was later included in the total transaction. Bankus agreed to rent space in the Central Building for the office.

The new mill was to be cooperatively owned. 250 working shares were sold at $5,000 each. (At a later date, 50 additional shares were sold). Production began on a small scale on January 7, 1952, when the first sheet of plywood was run off the assembly line. That sheet was cut into small pieces and given to the workers and others as souvenirs. Before the mill was fired up, however, Henry Kerr, an ardent photographer, had climbed up inside the smokestack to take motion pictures of the surrounding area. The mill was officially opened in May, q952, and monthly production was soon 3,000,000 board feet of plywood (3/8 inch thick).

Trucks were used to transport the product to California markets and tot he Arcata railhead, where it was loaded in cars for Texas and Arizona. Several years later shipments by barge from Brookings began going to Hawaiian ports.

Today, the Brookings Plywood Corporation employs about 265 worker-owners and over 100 employees who are not shareholders. Working on a 3-shift basis, the company produces between 9 and 10 million feet of plywood per month. Its payroll exceeds $7 million a year.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

South Coast Milling Initiates New Plant

The newly-formed South Coast Milling Company opened its new plant at Brookings this week, and at the same time inaugurated water shipment for their finished products?

As important as the mill itself are the methods by which the company plans to market its products. Finished lumber from the mill will be transported by barge from Crescent City to Los Angeles.

Eight local sawmills are included in the group which will feed rough lumber to South Coast.

The Pilot, Sept. 24, 1953

First officials of South Coast were C. L. (Bill) Fallert, president; Charles Ames, vice president Warren T. Smith, secretary; Estes Morton, treasurer.

During the 1960?s the "wigwam" sawdust burners that used to serve as beacons for travelers were outlawed in Oregon by legislative action. The lumber companies were given 10 years in which to comply with the order.

First Wood Chips

Delivered to Port

The Brookings Plywood Corporation topped off more than ten years of planning Tuesday when the first load of 10,000 cubic feet of wood chips were hauled to the Port of Brookings.

?Plywood officials have worked for more than ten years in an effort to utilize wood waste materials in the form of chips.

The Pilot, Sept. 3, 1964

Thompsons? Mill to Close

After 14 Years in Harbor

One of Harbor?s better known landmarks, Thompson Bros. Lumber Co., goes on the auction block?

The company, owned by Iva and Walter Thompson, shipped more than ten million board feet of lumber during its peak operating years, and employed more than 20 men at peak run.

Thompson said a combination of the shortage of available logs, a poor California market for lumber for housing, and a scarcity of good labor forced the sale?

The shut down?leaves only Agnew Timber Products, South Coast Lumber Co. and Brookings Plywood Corporation as operating mills in the area.

The Pilot, Dec. 2, 1965

In 1968, the South Coast Lumber officials embarked on a million dollar expansion project, including equipment for a new stud mill and a new chipping facility, which accommodated whole logs. The following year the Brookings Plywood Corporation announced its half million dollar modernization plan for a large addition to the main building and installation of improved machinery. In 1972, Agnew Timber Products Company installed air cleaner equipment at a cost of $30,000. Every year the Company burned in its "wigwams" over six million tons of bark and other wood refuse, and this cleaner was designed to prevent any cinders from pouring out at the top.

In the Brookings-Harbor area, the years since 1912 have brought a boom, a bust, a fresh start in the lumbering industry, and finally a considerable degree of stabilization. Plentiful timber resources together with the foresight, determination and competence of a new breed of lumbering leaders have built and sustained our community. They continue to do so.

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