Thursday, August 13, 2015

Logging and Lumber Industry

This is a long overdue blog, the PowerPoint presentation given by Elizabeth Frisiano, at the Harbor History Museum in early 2014.  

Green Gold in The Beginning

My name is Elizabeth Frisian.  You may be wondering what connection a woman born and raised in New York may have to do with logging and lumbering in the Northwest.  I am told my grandfather came to this country in 1914 from a little town close to Bari, Italy.  His first job in this country was as a lumberman in Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York.
The logging and lumber industry was for many in the Northwest - Green Gold and were major players in the birth of our little Harbor just right for a Gig.

We will go on a journey back in time when forests of giant cedar and fir trees dominated our landscape which gave rise to the lumber mills and big and small logging companies to feed the mills and the world demand for lumber.

As Commander of the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842, Charles Wilkes visited the Northwest, and as he traveled through a “gigantic fine cedar forest” near the Nisqually River, he encountered trees that “as saplings, were 6 feet in diameter and upwards of 200 feet in height.”  He stated, “I could not control my astonishment” at the size of the trees.

Rosedale-Sehmel Donkey Engine-1916 (Karl & Adolf Sehmel-From Mrs Don Sehmel
  • Such accounts attracted white entrepreneurs and settlers bent on using the forests for profit.  The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was the first significant developer of the region’s timber resources
  • 1828 First lumber mill at Ft. Vancouver 
  • 1848 the California Gold Rush created a huge surge in lumber production on Puget Sound.  Puget Sound sawmills provided building material for San Francisco and other boomtowns
  • By the mid 1850s there were over two dozen mills in Puget Sound.  Many of these investors had roots in older lumbering regions, such as Maine.  Pope and Talbot built the Puget Mill Company at Port Gamble in 1853.
  • Although there were many logging operations, their impact was initially limited because of the cost of transporting logs.
  • Logging was limited to ares near water’s edge.
  • 1862 Homestead Act giving 160 acres if they live or work the land
  • 1878 Congress passes the Timber and Stone Act.  This legislature allows residents of West Coast states to purchase 160 acres of forestland for $2.50 per acre.  Mill companies abuse the law and use it to acquire millions of acres of timberland.
  • 1880 About 160 million board feet of timber are harvested in Washington Territory.
  • 1881 John Doubler patents the donkey engine, a small steam engine used to power a winch.  The donkey winch revolutionizes logging by replacing animal power and allowing companies to reach stands of trees that were previously inaccessible
  • As forest right next to the water become relatively scarce and logging moved inland, it became apparent that bull team logging had to be replaced by a more efficient method
  • The engine consisted of a steam engine set on skids and attached to a winch.  The donkey engine pulled logs from the woods with cables.
  • The development of narrow gauge logging railroads was another important milestone
  • Though the donkey engine enabled loggers to haul logs considerable distances, there was no efficient way to move logs from the deep woods
  • In the 1880s a few mills began to build logging railroads opening up new stands of timber that were previously inaccessible because of the rugged terrain and the distance from the water
  • 1876 Ephraim Shay of Harbor Springs, Michigan, is credited with the invention of the logging locomotives that changed logging and milling
  • Prior to the logging railroads it was estimated that as little as 17% of the actual cost, represented the lumber, while as much as 73% was for transportation of the lumber.
  • In 1910 the West Coast Lumberman included the Gig Harbor Lumber Company and Story Timber Company as operators of Shay Locomotives
  • 1883 The Northern Pacific completes a transcontinental line to its terminus in Tacoma.  The railroad owned 7.7 million acres in Washington Territory.
  • Timber supply in Midwest was dwindling and loggers moved west in search of Green Gold
  • 1890 1 billion board feet of lumber harvested annually
  • 1905 Washington becomes the leading lumber producing state in the nation
  • 1910 Washington companies harvest 4.1 billion board feet of timber
  • 1920 Washington companies harvest 5.5 billion board feet of timber
  • 1926 The state’s timber harvest reaches its all time peak, 7.6 billion board feet versus 4.1 billion in 2002
  • With the passage of the Homestead and Timbers and Stone Acts settlers from the Midwest and New England began moving to the Northwest and Gig Harbor with lumbering and logging background
  • Land had to be cleared for homes and farms
  • Virtually every parcel of 160 acres became a logging location and camp to feed the mills and meet the world wide demand for lumber
  • The early logging was limited to areas close to the mills and harbor
  • The classic scene of two men standing springboards with axes, another lying in cut with his saw leaning against tree demonstrates the size of trees and the new norma; for Gig Harbor
  • The primary tools of the pre chain saw loggers were the cross cut saw, ax and springboards
The primary tools of the preteen saws of loggers were the cross-cut saw, ax and spring boards
  • To digress a moment some familiar phrases such as Skid Row and Grease Monkey can be credited to logging
    • Skid Road or Skid Row
    • The term skid road dates back to the 17th century, when it referred to a log road used to skid or drag logs through woods and bog
    • The term came to refer not just to the Corduroy Roads themselves, but to logging camps and mills all along the Pacific Coast
    • The source of the term as an urban-landscape reference is heavily debated, and is generally identified as originating in either Vancouver or Seattle.
    • On job on the skid road was lubricating it to make the logs slide more easily.  The person with that job was called the “grease monkey”, predating and probably giving rise to the modern usage of grease monkey as a mechanic
    • Seattle’s historic Skid Road district (now better known as Pioneer Square) centers on Yeller Way.  This road is often said to have been the original “Skid Road” in the literal sense serving a saw mill owned by Henry Yeller.
    • The Skid Road became the demarcation line between the affluent members of Seattle and the mill workers and more rowdy portion of the population
    • The following picture is an example of a Skid Road or Drag Road in Gig Harbor.  The fact that some of our roads such as Peacock Hill, Rosedale, Stinson, are straight downhill can be attributed to the need for straight skid road to the harbor.
The classic scene of two men standing on springboards with axes, another lying in cut with his saw leaning against tree demonstrates the size of trees and the new normal for Gig Harbor
Logging on top of Stinson Hill.  John Wilkenson with crew, friends and horses.  He also logged Raft Island
  • Prior to the logging locomotive, logs were pulled out of the forest by ox teams and horse drawn to the harbor or other loading points
  • Logging was also a family enterprise that was carried on by many of the first settlers such as the Wilkinson, Kimball and Sehmel families
  • They took contracts to cut timber in harbor communities such as Rosedale, Arletta, Artondale, Raft Island, Purdy and in the case of the Kimball brothers, as far south as Shelton
  • Logging on top of Stinson Hill, John Wilkinson with white bread.  Roy Cruver sitting on log on left.  Three men around stump on right.
  • Logging crew and friends with horses on Stinson Hill.  John Wilkinson and crew.  He also logged Raft Island 
  • From present day North Gig Harbor, Turnham Drive and Crescent Valley no area was without the quest for Green Gold.  Kimball family logging operation above.  Burnham property in north Gig Harbor about 1908
  • In 1885 the Skid road which transported logs down the hill near present day Burnham Drive was very close to a school that was originally an Indian cedar plank longhouse and stood in what is today Donkey Creek Park.
  • Logs thundered past the school twice a day on their way to the bay.  At least one log jumped its skid road track and smashed into a corner of the school
  • In 1886 a new school out of harm’s way was built higher up the hill and the first teacher was Lucy Goodman
  • In the 42-page manuscript named The Pioneer Family of Gig Harbor, Pauline Castelan Stanch is quoted as saying “I remember the donkey engine that stayed in the middle of it (present day Donkey Creek) pulling logs out of the woods, under the bridge and into the bay.”
  • With the dawn of the 20th Century logging in Gig Harbor saw the introduction of the logging locomotive or LOCI as it was affectionally called and the logging railroad
  • Most of my best information and research material centered on the Story, Wilson, and Calavero Timber Companies
  • In addition to the Story and Wilson Timber companies, the Gig Harbor Timber, Cavalera, and Spadoni Timber companies also operated until around 1934
  • As late as 1928 Spadoni felled a fir tree with a circumference of 29ft in Crescent Valley and the last giant spar tree of 229ft was felled at Point Fosdick in 1934
  • Story Timber Company 1905-1912
    • In 1910 the West Coast Lumberman included the Gig Harbor Company and Story Timber Company as operators of Shay Locomotives
    • The company using the Shay locomotive much like the one one the next slide (picture) built a short steep line to carry its logs from the hilly forest between Arletta and South Rosedale to dump the logs at the slough along Ray Nash Drive (present site of the Kopachuck bridge) and Island View store
    • The company was founded by Chester Thorn of Lakewood and Frank Fuhman of Arletta
    • The railroad went from the flats near Rosedale Slough south through the Brown Homestead turning east after crossing Whitmore Creek up the steep hill ending at the Schindler’s 160 acre homestead where most of the timber was harvested
    • As late as 1985 the RR grade was still visible
    • The logging railroads were not without dangers.  In 1908 the train, or Loci as the engine was called, loaded with logs, was traveling too fast and left the tracks and logs flew everywhere; the engineer and fireman were sent to Tacoma hospital
    • After the Story Timber, the Kangly Timber Company leased logging rights in the Rosedale Slough area and went on for a few more years
  • Unlike conventional railroads the logging companies that had logging locomotives and rail lines would move their locomotives, rail cars, tracks and crews to the next pot of Green Gold when the land they were harvesting ran out of trees.  The Wilson Logging Company is a good example of this.
  • Wilson Logging Co.
    • The railroad ran from the mouth of Minter Creek up into the Minterbrook Farm area
    • From MInter-Elgin, the Wilson Logging Co. later moved to Burley Valley where they logged and dumped into Burley Lagoon.  Old piling for trestles may still be seen at Minter and Burley
    • From Burley, they moved beyond Port Orchard and later Crescent Valley.  The railroad ran from Crescent Lake and emptied into Gig Harbor Bay
    • Burley Lagoon and Minter Creek Railroad trestles were built to dump the logs in Henderson Bay for transporting as shown by the next slide (picture)
  • Calavera Logging Company
    • Began business between 1909-1910 at the head of the bay.  It is said that Lucy Goodman used to ride in the cab of the engine when she lived up the valley and taught school at the head of the bay.
  • Shay Locomotive built 1909, Lima Locomotive Works, Lima, OH
    • 1909 shipped around Cape Horn to Seattle
    • 1909-1912 Owned by Gig Harbor Timber/Cavalera
    • 1913 Owned by Stimson Lumber #1, Belfair, WA
    • Owned by Stimson #1 Peggy, Gaston, OR
    • Retired from logging 1950
    • 1950 Donated to City of Portland, OR
    • 1972 to present: World Forestry Center, Portland, OR
    • Weight 42 tons, 67,100 lbs empty
    • Warer Capacity 1500 gallons
    • Fuel 1.5 Cords
    • Hauled 1 Billion feet of Logs
  • Timber Mills
    • 1886 (Alfred) Mark Burnham immigrated to G.H. from Albert Lea, Minnesota
    • He encouraged fellow Minnesotans to follow and in 1888 the Gig Harbor Saw Mill Company, as joint venture with Tacoma’s and Minnesotans was founded
    • Frank Hall, O. B. Forbes and Ira A. Town, Edward S. Prentice and James H. Parker were owners of the mill.  George Atkinson was manager
    • In addition to saw milling the company had ambitious plans to get involved in all aspects of lumber manufacturing and wood work on buildings, vessels, furniture and wharves.
    • At it height it was turning out 100,000 board feet a day
    • The wharf of the mill was 450 ft long and 80 ft wide
    • 15 sailing ships and steamers were coming to Gig Harbor for lumber
    • They built two tall ships, the Republic and Nineva to deliver lumber around the world
    • The Republic alone transported 1 million board feet to Chile.
    • By 1890 there were 191 sawmills and 82 shingle mills in Washington.  The 1893 depression created havoc in the lumber and milling industries
    • In 1891 the mill was sold under a foreclosure sale with hopes of revitalizing it but it never happened and in 1899 it was moved to Clear Lake on the north end of Puget Sound near the Skagit River where it operated for a few years until it burned down
    • In 1892 E. S. Prentice one of the founders of the Gig Harbor Mill started a shingle mill which turned out 20.4 million shingles in 1892 but the depression hit them hard with only 1 million.  It was located at head of Harbor by Peacock and Harborview.
    • Sawmilling did not return to the Harbor until 1909 with the start of a newcomer named Charles Osgood Austin who came to Gig Harbor from New Hampshire
    • The Mill turned out everything from moldings, fruit boxes, dock timbers, shingles.  It continued in operation until his tragic death at the mill in December 1946.The mill lay idle a few months until John H. Galbraith purchased the mill
    • Galbraith had been mayor of Eatonville for 27 years, but moved to Rosedale and became our biggest employer owning the Peninsula Cafe, Galbraith Motors, Gig Harbor Hardware and Grocery
    • In the early 1950’s the mill closed.  The Peninsula Light Co. purchased the entire site.  It left in the mid-1980s
  • Charles Osgood Austin and his wife Mabel had three children, Howard, Bessie and Nellie.  Howard Austin and his wife Ruth had a daughter named Nancy who married Sandy Elken.
    • On June 11, 2007, Sandy Elken, in honor of his late wife and the Austin family requested the City of Gig Harbor name the park on the site of Austin Mill “Austin Estuary Park”
    • The proposal was accepted and to my right is Austin Estuary Park (remember this was a Tea & Tour Presentation held in the Harbor History Museum Research Room)
  • Austin Mill land is now the site of Harbor History Museum
  • Old  Le Bistro was purchased in 1909 as a home for the grandparent of Ruth Austin (now Gourmet Burgers)
  • The Thai Restaurant is the house that her grandparents also built for $2,000.00
  • The Christmas Shop was the home of Howard and Ruth Austin
  • The Beach Basket was Howard Austin’s log house sawmill
  • Austin Estuary Park is part of the site of C. O. Austin’s large sawmill
As a friend of Nancy Austin, daughter of Howard and Ruth Austin, once said as they passed Finholm Market and rounded the bend ‘WE ARE NOW ENTERING AUSTINVILLE’


 Note:  Not all Elizabeth's pictures are inserted due to space limitations.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.


  1. Because it doesn't share the romanticized image of the old Gig Harbor fishing fleet, the timber industry isn't as well remembered today. The only logging railroad that dumped saw logs into Gig Harbor bay had harvested all the old growth timber in Crescent Valley and sold its lone locomotive by 1913. The following year a Mr. Reeves, the owner of the Reeves Logging Company of Gig Harbor, was among the first of the many smaller loggers in the area to abandon livestock logging when he bought a brand new GMC truck. Two years later the truck, and Reeves, were featured in an advertisement for GMC motor trucks by the Northwest Buick Co. of Seattle, the regional GMC dealer. William H. Barnes, the Northwest Buick Company's truck sales manager, took a prospective buyer to visit Mr. Reeves to witness how the chain drive, solid rubber-tired truck performed in the woods. "The prospective buyer was astonished to learn that the truck had been successfully operated over roads he considered impassible to a loaded truck," wrote The Seattle Sunday Times in 1916. "In speaking of the results obtained from this truck, Mr. Reeves, head of the Reeves Logging Company, stated that in the two years his total expense, other than operation expenses, such as fuel, oil and tires, had included the purchase of but one spark plug and a new fan belt.
    "He declared that he had become thoroughly convinced that the most economical method of logging was by motor truck, and declared that there is no substitute for such mode of conveyance at this time."

  2. What an excellent collection of Gig Harbor logging history. An enormous amount of information. I do have a few clarifications, should anyone be concerned with details.

    It says, "the Gig Harbor Timber, Cavalera, and Spadoni Timber companies also operated until around 1934." The Spadonis were barely getting started in logging by 1934, not ending. Their logging operations would not peak until several years after WWII, when they diversified into land clearing and road construction.

    Also this: "As late as 1928 Spadoni felled a fir tree with a circumference of 29ft in Crescent Valley." I've seen that statement before. It was not a tree, it was a snag, and it was not in 1928, as the peeler logs Julius Spadoni and Marvin Natucci (and maybe Roy Spadoni) cut from the felled trunk were hauled to Tacoma on a 1936 Ford truck.

    And: (The Gig Harbor Saw Mill Company, also known as the Gig harbor Mill Company, but most commonly as the Gig Harbor Lumber Company) "built two tall ships, the Republic and Nineva to deliver lumber around the world." The Gig Harbor Lumber Company did not build either of those ships, though both did haul lumber from the mill in Gig Harbor. The company built the steamer Albert Lea and the sailing ship Vine.

    George Atkinson, the manager of the Gig Harbor mill, was also one of the owners.

    "In 1892 E. S. Prentice one of the founders of the Gig Harbor Mill started a shingle mill." That shingle mill was built by the Gig Harbor Lumber Co. in 1888 or 1889. Prentice came to own it in 1890 when he traded his stock in the Gig Harbor Lumber Company for it. It was idled at some point, perhaps during the nation-wide financial panic of 1893, and restarted in June of 1895 by S. A. Gibbs & Co., under lease. It burned to the ground in 1896 and was never rebuilt.

  3. The 229 foot spar tree at Pt. Fosdick refers to its height, not its diameter. The height sounds right for a spar tree, as loggers would use the tallest tree in an area for a spar. The Cavalero (misspelled "Cavalera" in the piece) logging company was the same as the Gig Harbor Timber Co. Dominick Cavalero formed the company with two partners and ran the company himself.

    Did you notice that the bit I sent you yesterday about Gig Harbor's first logging truck had an attachment of a photo of Reeves sitting in the open-cab truck with a single log load? (Unfortunately the picture cannot be attached)

  4. I just located a photograph identified as Stimpson's Camp Belfair that shows a 3 truck Shay by timber Views Co, Seattle, their negative 4114 and no date or other markings on picture or locomotive. Interestingly to train people, this Shay has definitely been converted to oil fired, probably with homemade equipment on the peninsula. It is not a stock Lima oil tank. Does anyone have any additional info posted on their rail operations in the area?

  5. Warren, I've not seen any information on Stimson's Belfair camp, but your note is interesting because the Gig Harbor Timber Company's two-truck Shay went to that camp, and at some point was converted to oil. Perhaps they converted the Gig Harbor two-truck in Belfair as well.