Working on the Railroad

Railroad Logging Camps Moved with Timber Supply

By Steve Lent, Museum Historian

The arrival of huge lumber mills into Central Oregon began shortly after the railroad reached south to Bend in 1911. The Shevlin-Hixson Lumber Company and the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company had acquired large tracts of forested land and once an efficient method of shipping out lumber came to Central Oregon they began building high capacity lumber mills.

Logging began near Bend but soon expanded out as the closer timber was cut out. In 1916 both lumber companies began building rail lines into the timberlands to transport logs back to the mills. Both established portable logging camps to be near timber sources and to keep workers close to the work site. The Shevlin-Hixson Company developed camps on wheels that began as bunkhouses on flat cars and grew into a moving town with up to 300 people. “Shevlin Houses” were homes for families and the house was the width of a flatcar and its weight was light enough to be lifted by heavy cranes onto flatcars when it was time to move. The house had two rooms that included a kitchen and a living room that also served as a bedroom. Some families linked two houses together with a small hallway for expanded facilities. Camps were usually separated into two sections which included the family residential area and the business section.

The camps were portable and could be easily moved once the timber was cut. Several different camps were temporarily established along the timber rails. Typical camps included a post office, cookhouse, and a commissary or store. Camps that remained in place for longer periods such as the Rim Rock Camp or LaPine Camp also had a school, running water, shower buildings and a railroad repair shop. Post office officials had a difficult time keeping track of the moving post offices.

During the first decade of operation the company generally operated one or more large camps at lower elevations during the winter months but as weather improved smaller camps were moved to higher elevations. The Shevlin-Hixson Company took a paternalistic approach to camp employees and although camp conditions were relatively austere the company did provide social activities that were wide ranging in opportunity. There were dances, church services, parties, dinners and other activities that were scheduled at the camp recreational hall. The company also expected hard work from workers to earn their keep.

The Great Depression altered timber harvesting as there was no longer a large demand for lumber and timber cutting was reduced. Most of the smaller logging camps were consolidated into larger camps beginning in the 1930's. The larger camps remained until the Shevlin-Hixson Company sold its operations to the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company in 1950. The great railroad logging camps began to cease operation after 1950 and a once glorious operation began to fade.