Enumclaw Courier-Herald


Family memories of the White River Mill | Enumclaw Centennial

By SALLIE BOX Enumclaw Courier Herald Columnist
July 22, 2013 · 3:19 PM

My grandpa Chris Nelsen worked at the White River Lumber Company. I don’t know what his first job was but when he was older he developed a bad heart. They laid him off because of his health and he became very depressed. Our  grandma felt so bad seeing him feeling like he was worthless she went down to see his doctor and ask him if he could do light work. The doctor said he could, so the next stop for her was the mill to ask the boss if they would please find something for him to do. They gave him a clean-up job of sweeping the floors. He felt worthwhile again. I don’t think he ever found out what she did for him.

My dad, Bill Rogers, quit school in the eighth grade to help his mom and dad support the five sons and the eight daughters they had. Times were tough back then and with a large family on a coal miner’s wages several boys had to quit when they were in the eighth grade. One son, Enoch, worked in the coal mine and Lew worked making timbers for the mine. I don’t know what year Dad started working at the mill, but he worked for Weyerhaeuser for 42 years. I think one of his first jobs was working on log pond.  Dad’s job was to use a long pole to shove the logs toward the saw mill.  One day Dad fell or slipped off a log and went under. Another guy working there saw Dad fall and pulled him out. It might have been the end to that job because he couldn’t swim.

Dad loaded lumber into box cars for 16 years. After they stopped using the train to move the lumber, he put lumber onto trucks.  One trucker told Dad that one town he had to go through had a parade so he just got in line and drove through because his load looked good.  Dad was a brakeman on the train so he had to jump off the train while it was moving so he could switch the track so it would go to a different rail.  One time he jumped off and he fell on the coupler, breaking several ribs.  Sometimes he would take Mom, my brother Grant and I up to the mill after dinner so he could finish his boxcar. I remember the wonderful smell from all the lumber, and how huge the shipping shed was.

It was scary walking on a plank from the walkway to the box car. It was a ways down to the ground.

The mill was a place where pranks were played. One time my dad was going to eat his lunch and he grabbed his lunch bucket handle and was going to pick it up and someone nailed the bucket part to the  table.

The mill had strong men with big hearts. I remember in their lunchroom they would share their lunch with some tiny mice that would come and eat by the guys. The management heard about all the mice and said they had to put poison out to get rid of all the mice. The guys felt bad they had to do that to the little mice that were like pets.

My brother Grant worked as a filer in the saw mill for 35 years. He sharpened something called knives to make some of the wood chips and other saws, too. Our son Curt worked at Weyerhaeuser for 15 years as a millwright. The mill was a place where not only friends but families worked. It was a big shock when they closed the White River Mill after 150 years in Enumclaw. White River Lumber Company became a branch of Weyerhaeuser Timber Company in 1949.

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