Center for Columbia River History

WOMEN AND TIMBER

The Pacific Northwest Logging Community, 1920 - 1998

Introduction

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Women and Timber

Oral History narrator: Sharon Lahti, Jane Storm, Linda Storm

Date of interview: Dec. 17, 1998

Indexed/partial transcription by D. Sutphen, 12-19-98

Notes: Interviewer Debra Sutphen. Indicated quotes are not precisely quoted here.

004--Jane: My dad was a sawmiller, not so much doing the logging, but did logging along with the sawmill. Bought a lot of the logs, but ever so often had to bring in the logs themselves. Lived in Battleground about 40 years. Lived in Orchards a while, Amboy.

Jane is 78.

Sharon: I am affiliated with logging through her grandfather and her dad. She remembered being out at the sawmill a lot that her grandfather ran, and then around the sawmill that her dad ran. Sharon is 52.

Linda Storm is also here. She is Jane's daughter and Sharon's sister. She is 49.

024--What did you remember about growing up with dad as a logger? Jane: Grew up in Wyoming, sawmilled and logged both. Met her husband at softball games that her brothers participated in. Been around logging all her life. "That's all my dad knew, actually."

Sharon: "I was twelve when my dad passed away, but I remember being around the sawmill that my grandfather ran and that my dad had in Amboy. I remember him loading logs onto the truck--he'd take a truckload to Longview every now and then, and he'd load those logs by himself onto the truck."

051--What was a typical day with both dad and husband?

Jane: "They usually get started pretty early in the morning, they'd try, especially in the summertime, to get started before it got horribly light, just light enough so they could see and then they could quit early because it got really hot in the afternoon. They always had extra work to do--had to consider the heat because it's hard on everyone." Did your mom get up and make breakfast and lunch? "Oh yes, oh yes, we had breakfast every morning, and I mean BREAKFAST. We always had--my dad loved--boiled potatoes warmed over--my dad loved those--so for breakfast we had fried potatoes, eggs, usually bacon, or ham or something on that order. We had big breakfasts. And then we had a big dinner in the middle of the day, and then we had a big meal at suppertime but it was more leftovers from dinner. We always had plenty of food around the house." Did you get in on the fixing of the food? "Oh yes, oh yes, us girls helped." She and her older sister helped, the younger ones didn't so much because they were quite a bit younger. She also had five brothers who helped her father in the mill. They also logged. "Everyone in the family was involved" (Sharon: "EVERYONE . . . that's the way it always was. Grandpa just pulled them right along. As they married into the family they were involved. It was a family operation." Jane: "But a lot of the girls that married into the family were already involved in the logging business with their families." Jane: "The men that married into the family got involved right away."

083--Sharon: Doesn't remember getting up early, but "I do remember being around . . . where they had the sawmill set up. One of the mills was on the main road going into Battleground. We would go in there and watch them when they pulled the logs out of the pond . . . and run the sawmill. We'd play around the sawdust piles all the time."

110--Sharon talks a bit about the old Coke machines and Hershey bars. The others join in.

115--Sharon: "I also remember that we had hard times and we had good times, because I think when we were living in Orchards there and my grandpa would move from one place to another (describes moving from property to property) (e.g. Cascade Park, La Center)."

128--So then you all lived in one place? yes. They would stay in one house and he would move his saw. Jane: Talked about every place that they set up a sawmill her dad would build a house (cabin) for them (in WY).

140--What about the erratic nature of the logging business? How was living like that?

Jane: "Winter was bad because they couldn't work all the time. It was pretty much that way, all right. In the summertime they considered it was going to get hot, so they didn't work too much after 2 o'clock or so, because it was too hot. They had other things to do, but they didn't bring in the logs or work the mill. After we came to Washington it didn't seem like we had such horrible bad times because it seemed like there was lots of logging and it seemed like everything was going pretty good--'course that was wartime, and the lumber was going out so we got it . . .in WY and North Dakota it was some pretty rough times. But out here it was better, and it was wartime and production was up." How about after that, when her husband was logging? Still up and down? "Oh yes, it pretty much ran that way all the time, but sometimes it was worse than others, you know, because there'd be a time that they'd be buying the lumber that we cut and there'd be times when they weren't buying it so much. My husband was cutting ties, at Amboy when we was there, and he'd haul them to Longview." How long did you husband log? He wasn't in it very long, not as long as was her dad.

174--Do you remember the unstable times? Sharon: "Not really a lot. I remember that we had some hard times, because I do remember, especially in the wintertime when we were living in Orchards, I remember you guys having an account at the grocery store so that you could . . . " Jane: "but everyone had accounts at the grocery store . . ." Sharon: "where now you don't do that, where you charged food and then paid it off when the money came in." Jane: "That was the way that we ate in those years, and people just did it. And the storekeepers would carry you for a few months because you didn't have it and when you got it you went and paid them. We had one at Amboy, too."

Sharon: "I don't really remember it being . . . .we were well cared for, we always had food on the table, we always had Christmas presents at Christmas time, so I don't remember really being REAL bad--we were comfortable." Jane: "That's one thing about my dad, too, at least we had food." And you were taken care of--didn't have to worry about being out of a place to live.

196--Sharon said that when they were in Amboy her dad worked for Pacific Power and Light and logged, so they didn't have those really down times in winter.

205--Jane: "We did all the housework, taking care of the chickens . . . the type of houses we had things just went along, because we didn't have inside plumbing or anything like that to worry about, and so we just went along with them (the houses)." RE: washing: her brother rigged up a motorized washing machines, and they thought that was really neat.

223--Sharon: "I remember the ringer type (washer), we had one of those in Orchards, and we also had a wood stove that we cooked on. My older brother and myself helped dad bring in the wood, and then Mom cooked on this wood stove, and I remember my first time I made a cake I did it in that wood stove." Jane: "That stove was a good one--some of 'em didn't have a good oven but that one did." Sharon: "We didn't have a refrigerator for a while, so we had this deal on the wall where you put ice on the top and it had a deal in it where the air from the ice would come down and keep things cool." Jane: "We didn't keep a lot of fresh meat or anything like that on hand because you couldn't keep it around for very long." Sharon: "And then the house was updated with a furnace and a refrigerator and an electric stove--that came later."

238--Jane: "My mother always had a garden, and we had chickens . . . and I think that's why we always had something to eat. She did a lot of canning." Sharon: "And she did her own plucking of chickens too, 'cause I remember that . . .I remember that smell. (a collective group "eeewwww") . . .it's a very interesting smell."

249--Sharon: "Grandma did all her own canning . . . " Did you help with that (to Jane)? Jane: "Oh yeah, I did a lot myself at first, before we got the freezer we did a lot of canning. My mom used to can meat--my dad and brothers would go out and get venison and she'd can that, and it was really, really good."

259: Linda: "I'm just younger enough that I missed all that . . . " Sharon goes on to talk about how her Grandma did the plucking, scalding the chicken, etc. In WA they had fruit and nut trees in back, and a grape arbor, and Grandpa made his own wine. They had to be self-sufficient because they lived far from the store usually and they didn't have lots of what they wanted in the stores.

276--To Jane, did your family have friends that you visited with? Yes, neighbor kids and school friends. Most of the kids in WY weren't kids of loggers, that was moreso in WA. "I think there was more loggers out here, accordingly." Didn't remember being especially friendly with many people. Sharon: "I remember (when living in Amboy) some of the kids that I went to school with were children of loggers because that was that community in Amboy. In Orchards, no, it was a big variety, but in Amboy yes, because that was that community--a logging community."

300--Linda: "Almost all the kids I went to school with up in Amboy first and second grade their folks were connected with the logging industry or the mill."

Sharon: "I remember one time, this one girlfriend of mine, he dad was killed by a log rolling off of . . . I think they were loading it onto a truck, and something slipped, and the log rolled off and rolled on top of him. I can't remember the name but I can remember it happening. Because that was one thing, you know, my dad being doing his own logging up there, that was one thing that kind of hit me a little hard, I think, because it was like a reality check all of a sudden, you know, whoa, this can happen, because up to then you didn't hear too much of anything drastic happening so you just lived with it . . .didn't think about the danger because we weren't old enough, we were in that area where you know, you live forever kind of mode, you know, nine, ten, years old, you don't think about it. But I still remember that to this day because of the fact that it kind of hit me a little hard, because I thought my dad is in this and anything can happen."

326--Jane, what about the danger? Jane: "You always knew that it could happen, but I guess you just kind of went with the theory that well, we made it though today, you know, because you always knew it could happen, because I had a cousin that was killed in Wyoming, he was killed in the woods, so we knew that it was dangerous." Did your dad ever get hurt in the woods? "Not horribly, anyway, they'd get a skinned leg or something but nothing that pertained to logging that was very serious. . . . " "That was just something you just sort of lived with, you knew it could happen." Said that her family was very careful.

356--Interviewer relates stories of other women who talked about their men being hurt. Jane: "You know it can happen anytime, and you just live with it."

369--How would you have known if something happened? Jane: "There was nothin'." "There was nothing there they could call. I think they had CB's, but most of the loggers didn't bother--it would have mattered if they had it at that time, because it would have been too far out for anyone . . . it would have been silly for anyone to come out there."

386--Did you ever go out and watch you father or husband work in the woods? Jane: "Oh yes, I did with my husband but not so much with my dad because he didn't think women should be out in the woods. (Linda, I think, chimed in that he was "very strict.") But I would go out and watch my husband. Mostly I think a lot of it was so I'd know that everything was going along all right, because I'd go out and watch him a lot." Was it scary? "Yeah, because when you see those trees begin to fall you hope that everyone is out of the way and all the animals and everything like that. They (the trees) were pretty good size in those days, and the limbs would spread out for miles. And even if a limb had hit a person . . . . " Sharon would go watch once in a while from a distance, but her dad wouldn't let them get close.

411--Linda: "One thing I definitely do remember is Daddy putting on those chaps, or whatever those things are where you climb the tree, and he topped off a tree, and took an antenna up to the top of the tree, so we'd have TV reception. I remember watching him do that."

423--Do you remember anything about the clothes? (All): Steel-toed boots, heavy leather and heavy khaki or canvas pants that went over his pants. Steel hat, and then he (Sharon's dad) always had goggles.

445--Their dad ran his sawmill alone, and I commented that he must have been very strong. Sharon and Linda: "He wasn't really tall, 'course he seemed tall to us, about 5'10 or 5'11, so he wasn't a GREAT big guy, but he did that--he ran that sawmill by himself up there."

458--(microwave running in the background). Interviewer talks about other interviews and women talking about the different dangers.

466--What about the laundry? Jane: "Dirty clothes. Greasy, grimy--we didn't have so much pitch out here but in WY we had a lot of pitch in the trees, and the clothes--their pants and things would just about stand up by themselves." When they came out here did they wear special clothes? Jane: "They just wore overalls."

485--How much has logging shaped you life? Jane: "Probably quite a bit because I've lived it all my life." Did it make you more independent? "Probably, because a lot of it was our own business. I didn't realize it so much at the time but I do now. I imagine it created a little more independence. However . . . I don't know, can't say one way or the other." Sharon: "But you have to admit, Mom, that you're a very independent woman." Jane: "Well, I guess I am considering what a lot of people do." Sharon: "I can't remember how independent she was before my dad passed away but when my dad passed away she was very independent. My grandfather was . . .uh . . can I say controlling? (laughter)." Jane: "He was the boss." Sharon: "A little controlling, probably a lot controlling. And my mom refused to move in next door to them, which is what my grandfather wanted us to do when my dad passed away. And she got us through. She went out and she got a job and she raised four kids on her own. If that doesn't speak independence I don't know what does." Jane: "I guess that does. And I guess for as old as I am now I'm still independent." Sharon: "Yes, a lot more than some women her age." And she's still working--volunteering in the Foster Grandparents Program every day. She's in great health. Sharon: "And I think she's instilled that independence in us kids, to a large degree." Jane: "Purely out of necessity." Linda and Sharon: "Maybe so, but that's fine."

540: Linda: "I know the thing that . . . and I don't know that this really has to do with logging, but I know that our family, if they moved, and it was probably grandpa more than anything else and just how strong he was, but they moved together, the in-laws that moved in became part of the group, and the group moved from here to there to there.

and still, most of the family is right in this area. And very family oriented. Very close. We have to rent a Grange hall to have a family (meeting). It was Grandpa that got the family involved." And he pulled the men into logging, right? "So then all the married-in wives ended up part of logging, if they weren't already--some already were connected. I work over in Portland with people that are from all over the country, and are just thoroughly amazed that 'you've got family next door?" Sharon: "You hear people that are young people with young kids and have absolutely no family at all to back them up in this area. And it's just inconceivable to me because we're all very close-knit and we all have so much family close by." Linda: "Like CLOSE BY--like next door in many circumstances (laughs)." Do you think that has anything to do with logging? Linda: "I think it's connected to the independence of that." Sharon: "It's very definitely connected to ours." Linda: "I don't know if it's logging or what, because I see that with other families like ours, kids we grew up with . . . " Sharon: "Probably logging as well as farming, because that kept them together too. And actually to a degree that intertwined back and forth--a long time ago they were hooked together, and I think out of that you get that closeness from both industries. I think that's just the way the families grew up them. They were very dependent on each other and they were very dependent on large families--they had to have large families to continue to run their business, continue to survive."

Side B

612--Sharon continues to speculate on why families aren't so dependent on each other anymore. She believes that most of the families in farming and in logging are still very close. Linda agrees.

621--Did you all feel that being part of logging was a special thing? Sharon: "I did. Yeah." Linda: "I had difficulty with it, because I went to the outside world and went to college and did some things, although Sharon's been to college too, but moved away from the house and moved up to Seattle, and different places, and the people that I worked with--I feel like I'm from two worlds, this outside world where everybody's from New York or New Jersey or Newark or California and they don't understand any of it and they're totally amazed by it and I still run up against this with the kids nowadays and their friends parents, because this area has changed so much just in the past fifteen years. It's just amazing. There's three different communities: there's the Finnish community, which will always be tied together because of their religion and their life and lifestyle, and there's the community that was here originally, that was here with the Finnish community, and then there's everybody else from New York and California and all over the world. Big differences--huge differences across the spectrum." Linda feels that she straddles these three communities in terms of understanding how each feels. "When they find out I'm a local they automatically think I think different." She talks about the closeness of their family, and Sharon joins in to talk about how full and busy Christmases were with all of them. Both Sharon and Linda talk about how they are still close at Christmas and at Thanksgiving.

660--But Sharon said it was neat having a logger for a dad and Linda said it was hard. Linda: "I said it was hard for me because when I went to the outside world I'd say my father was a logger and they'd say, 'oh.' They didn't have a concept of what it took to do that job and I couldn't explain it to them because they didn't have the initial inkling, concept so it was just a conversation that we couldn't have."

668--What about the derogatory images of the loggers that prevail today as compared to the (heroic) image of the logger that prevailed in Northwest lore for many years? Linda: "I'm just enough younger from Sharon that I just hit the beginning of that." Jane: "'Course Sharon went to college locally and you went away, so that makes a difference." Linda: "And I was going to school with everybody that lived in Seattle and Tacoma they were urban people, they didn't understand it, they'd always been urban people, they'd grown up as urban people." Sharon: "And a lot of it with me was because I was older, when we were in the logging industry, and I remember it a bit more and I remember more of it so it made me prouder because I lived in an area where everybody was doing it and the kids I grew up with their parents were involved in it so it was just something natural." Linda: "And see, I didn't get that until I went away to school, because when we were living here, when I was growing up, nobody was rich, everybody was poor, and everybody was just making living, there weren't any houses that were 3000 square feet, they didn't exist, everybody, whether they were a logger or a farmer or they worked locally they were all just regular people. That's just what this area was. Nobody was rich. There was no gap, and now this area has this gap occurring plus these three communities." Sharon: "I probably never really experienced that big gap, because even after I got married we still got along as best we could for a while because my husband was going to school, until we hit Washington, D.C. and then there was the gap. But still, we had the income to meet what was required of us when we were there. So there was still no big gap. So I never experienced the 'difference.'" Linda: "It was just such a huge difference for me--when we were growing up we made our trips to Vancouver once a month--downtown Vancouver, not the mall." (A big deal). Going to town.

710--Sharon and Linda both talk about how important it was to go to Montgomery Wards, but never went into Portland. Wouldn't cross the bridge. Linda: "Until I was a senior in high school it was all very very community oriented, very tied in, and it was the logging industry and farming. We were really kind of intertwined, didn't seem to matter, they were all tied."

728--If you got put into a big room full of women who were somehow affiliated through kinship or marriage to loggers would you feel connected to them? Linda: "Yeah." Sharon: "I would." Jane: "Probably would." All agreed that they would feel connected even if they did not know any of those people. Linda: "I feel like I have two sets of language on a daily basis--my community at home, which is different than my community at work and how I am at work. I still do--its weird." (Linda works for Consolidated Freightways in the admin. offices. She is manager of their fuel procurement program. Sharon talks about not feeling that way where she works because she works with people of low incomes (she teaches) and can understand where they're coming from. Linda: "I'm dealing with the outside world--with these outside people that she doesn't know what their backgrounds are. She feels like she's this regular person, and then she's this other person who cuts deals. Makes you feel divided." Sharon feels comfortable in her job, it doesn't divide her. "I can talk to the families as they come in and the parents and it's a comfortable feeling because I've been there."

 

761--What's the best and worst things about being connected to the logging industry?

Jane: "The fact that it made our family closer is one thing that I enjoyed about it because we were always together pretty much and still are. And I guess that the worst thing about it was realizing in the back of your mind that something could happen at any time, you know. I don't know of anything else that really hit me, except we did have rough times but they weren't anything that really, really makes me feel down about it because w always managed to come out of it and have our good times too." What about your independence? Both Linda and Sharon agree that there is a difference in their mother from other elderly people who are younger but seem older and need more help. Sharon: "I agree with mom that the best thing is the closeness of the family. I think that's one thing that I do have that's different from anybody that I work with or that I'm around, we do have that." Both Jane and Sharon wonder if that's from logging or just a product of that era. Then Sharon says "and they are big families, they felt that they had to have these kids in order to keep logging, farming, fishing going. Maybe that's part of it too--they felt that they had to have these big families. As far as the worst thing, I don't know. We were comfortable the whole time we were growing up, we didn't lack for much . . . Probably the worst part of it was when Daddy passed away. (He did not die logging). That was so devastating to all of us. It was one of those things where you set down and you think what's going to happen to us now, because he was the mainstay--he was the backbone in our family." She was 12 when he died. She goes on to tell of his death, and how she was told. She worried what would happen to them then. "Even though he wasn't logging he was clearing trees and brush, out in the woods.

831--Linda: "I agree with these guys that the best part is the family connection. I have two children that were born in India--here they are these two little kids with no family to take care of them, and they are coming into this family, huge group of people, and they've all accepted them." She goes on to talk about the very extended family relationships. "I don't know if it was logging or if that's just the way we were brought up, but everybody was included. I don't see that with many of the people that I work with." Jane says that when she goes out to dinner with one of her brothers or sisters they don't dare make a reservation for a certain number of people because by the time they get there maybe there will be ten or twenty. Linda: "The uncertainty (was the worst). I've moved a lot, I've moved a lot. It may be because of logging, because they moved all the time. That was the one thing that was difficult for me as a kid." Sharon agrees that that was difficult for her as a kid.

886: Linda: "When the family hits the stability hits, for us all." Linda and Sharon both talk about how when they moved it was all within this area, so their cosmos was relatively small.

906--Jane talks about the many homes her father built, and how their families were located all together.

914--In the long run, was logging sort of the glue that held you all together? All agreed that yes, it was. Jane: "That was what kind of held us all together, because it was one living that everyone sort of understood." Linda: "I guess I've never even thought about that, that--you know, you think about family business now adays . . .I never thought about logging as a family business." Jane: "I guess I never had either but at that time it was, at that time, it was." Sharon: "I think I did, because you see lots of construction around, and you see lots of Finnish people in it, it's a family business . . . and logging was too." Sharon goes on to discuss the construction business.

945--I talk about why I'm doing this project, and my feelings about how important women were to the logging industry. Do you all feel that women deserve recognition for their contributions to the logging industry? Jane: "Oh I'm sure that they do, because they were the backbones of the family, they had to keep the family going while dad was working. 'Course that was true in those days anyway, but I really think that was definitely the women's job." Sharon: "And even though they didn't get a lot of credit for what they were doing because you hear a lot about what the men were doing and not the women they still had to be there to keep the family going so the men could be out there doing their jobs." Jane: "That's right." Women's days started earlier than the guys. Jane and Sharon: "Oh yeah, earlier than the guys." Jane: "Because they had to have breakfast ready and on the table for the guys before they went to work." Also supper and dishes and etc. They comment how this hasn't changed.

980--Linda leaves. What would you want people to know was important about being married to a logger and about being the daughter of a logger. Jane: "I think people were kind of proud of the industry." Sharon: "I think they were more proud then than now because there's so much controversy about the industry now." Sharon remembers how her grandfather would take her and her siblings on drives up around Mt. St. Helens and point out the trees that he thought were good for cutting and ones he would leave, etc. Also, she makes the point that back then they didn't do much stripping, they selectively cut. Jane remembers how a certain amount of the big trees were left for seed trees.

1029--What about environmental issues connected to logging? Jane: "I think that the spotted owl can live within the new growth too. I'm not too sure that there's too much truth that they have to have strictly old growth . . . . " Do you feel that people who are loggers have been caught in the middle of the environmental controversies? Sharon: "I think that the true loggers are caught in the middle. Because a lot of the logging industry now some of it is big, big, Weyerhaeuser and that, so you have these people that probably aren't even in, down in there cutting out the trees, telling the loggers what to do. So the loggers are caught in the middle. It's not really their fault, they want to keep their jobs . . . so they are caught in the middle between the logging giants and the environmentalists." Jane: "The true loggers, when they were starting out, they didn't think of stripping the ground." Sharon: "That was their livelihood, and if they stripped it there was nothing left. So they wouldn't. Didn't make sense to do it."

1084--Any last words? Both Sharon and Jane talk about how selective cutting would make everyone happy--loggers and environmentalists--and keep everybody in jobs.

1117--END OF TAPE

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