Local Stories

Growing Up in Railroad Logging Camps

December 16, 2016

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by Dixie Caverhill Weberg

* Editor’s Note: On our Fall field trip to the High Desert one of our stops was at the Brooks-Scanlon railroad logging camp site southeast of Bend known as BS Tanks. Dixie Caverhill Weberg was on the tour and mentioned that she was born when her father was working at the camp and she had lived at Brooks-Scanlon camps with her parents. Dixie provided very interesting information and other tour members requested that she write about her experiences for our current newsletter.

Brooks-Scanlon railroad logging camp at site known as BS Tanks 1940 This is the site our tour group visited on our field trip and the only visible sign of the camp is a wooden sign describing the camp.

Dixie has graciously written a reminiscence of her growing up in logging camps and provided fascinating photos.
In 1944 I was only three years old, but I can still hear the” foosh” of the steam coming from the black monster as it came to a stop at the water tower beside my parents’ logging camp shack. I loved that sound and would sit on our  porch step every day to greet the smelly locomotive and wave at the engineers. Years later, I learned that they looked forward to waving at me as I looked forward to waving back at them.

My Dad, Grandad and Great Uncles were all timber fallers for Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company in the mid 20s until the mid 50s and we lived in camp shacks that could be moved by rail from camp to camp. You could have called them early day mobile homes! That same rail train took the fallen logs to the mill in Bend. Now, it is the site of the Old Mill District.

When I was about six or seven our camp was moved from south of Bend to about a mile west of Sisters and all of our approximately thirty shacks were hoisted up by crane and loaded on a train carriage and the whole community was railroaded closer to the trees that the Company wanted to harvest. Moving was an exciting adventure; it was a game to try and pick out our own personal home from all the others as the train rumbled over the trestle above the highway. Our stovepipe was rolling from side to side and we were so afraid it would fall off, but it must have been wired to the roof because it came into the new camp all intact. The shacks were extremely primitive, basically just a wooden oblong box with two or three windows, a wood cook stove and a door. Before my Dad could weatherproof the shack, I woke up one morning to white lines across the heavy quiltmy grandmother had made for me, lines made from snow blowing through the cracks in the wall.

The camps before Sisters had school in a boxcar with a wood stove for heat and one teacher for all grades. There was also a bath house where everyone went for bathing. At the Sisters camp a school bus carried the children to Sisters, only a couple miles away.

Most of the sites at Sisters were set up with two units with one or two runways between. Most of the units had hip roofs added, unlike the flat roofs of the previous camps and the settingwasmore permanent, laid out in an H configuration with wider streets and alleyways. Dad added a kitchen and a bathroom and a covered front and back porch. Others in the community called our home the “doll house” because of Dad’s carpentry skills and Mother’s prowess in decorating on a Crook budget. It was quite comfortable, especially after we got running water and a bathroom. Before that, Mother would heat up water on the wood range and fill a round galvanized tub for bathing.

The outhouse was pretty unpleasant in the cold of winter and it was no fun “running” for water every day. Carrying the water from the standpipe in the alley and wood for the cook stove was my job and my mind would wander as I did these chores . One day, after carrying in the wood I absentmindedly threw the bucket of water over the wood pile. My mother’s reaction to my actions taught me topay attention!

There was a grocery store on site run by Scotty and Peggy Low who had immigrated from Scotland. Their home as right next to the grocery that consisted of two shacks, end to end. One was for canned goods, mercantile and the other was refrigerated for meats, dairy, etc. I always looked for the big yellow cat who patrolled the store for mice when she was not curled up between the goods. The floor had been heavily oiled and there were thousands of tiny holes in it from the cork boots the loggers wore. The combination of odors from the produce, the oiled floors, the scrubbed pine counter and the sweet smell coming from the candy case was enough for any kid to want to run an errand to the store. Scotty and Peggy were so kind to everyone and carried over the grocery tab for some of the customers when things got tight.

Scotty had a wooden leg as the result of a logging accident, so he became the camp grocer and his jovial attitude and prankster ways endeared him to everyone. Our home was directly across from the office and the lawn became a gathering spot for all the kids where we played until almost dark. Hide and Seek and Ollie Ollie Vver were just a couple of games we enjoyed. Parents would call from their porches when it was time for each of us to go home.

Early each work day the men would grab their metal lunch buckets, hard hats, and metal coffee thermoses, step up into the crew bus , or crummy as it was called, and head to the woods. Logging is a dangerous occupation and it was even moreso in those early days. My Grandad lost his leg when awidowmaker fell on himand my Great Uncle wasmaimed for life when a tree rolled over on him. All these woodsmen were very hard working and cautious, but so many unpredictables were lurking in the shadows. Growing up in that simple environment was truly a blessing. All the families looked out for each other. All of our needs were met. If there were fears from outside worldly sources, we kids didn’t know much about it. We felt safe and secure.

 

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