LIFE IN A BOOTH-KELLY LOGGING CAMP
From an interview with Thelma Coe
July 27, 2023 | View PDF
When we first went to a camp above Wendling we lived in a tent house. My dad built a floor and sideboards about four feet high and then put this big tent on top of it. We lived in that for the first year. Dad worked for the section gang. They built the railroads, and then when the camp was moved they tore them up. We moved to Camp 29, which was on the east side of Mt. Nebo. They were almost through with that logging site, so then we moved clear around to the northwest side of the mountain. We sort of went back down the hill as the railroad was torn up.
I lived in different logging camps until I was about 12. I went to school in a box car. It was a one-room, eight-grade school, and whenever they moved camp, why they just hooked on to it and moved it. My teacher from the second grade until I came to town was a Mrs. Allen. Floy, her name was. The school had a cloakroom at one end, desks and windows all along one side, and a big furnace in the back, a wood circulator. In the winter when it was really cold sometimes she let us sit right around the stove, and I ruined a good pair of shoes one time. Went out and played in the snow, come back in, and my feet were cold. There was an inner firebox, and then an outer shell, and I put my feet against that and cooked the soles of my shoes.
When I was about five, we moved to Camp 34 and Dad started firing one of the steam donkeys. We lived in a house then. It was right by an old landing where they had loaded the logs on the flat cars and the bark would peel off. It was quite deep there - maybe a couple of feet. And that caught on fire, and for two days and nights, all night long, we could have read a newspaper by this light, except that it was red. They kept a tank of water right by our house, shooting water on our house. The camp water tank was about a block and a half away, and when the railroad tank would run dry, they’d race up to the big tank and fill it up, and the house would be so hot by the time they’d get back that when the water hit it, it just sizzled. I was too little to be afraid, you know. It was just interesting.
We only lived in that house maybe a year and a half, ‘cause when they moved it to the next camp, they broke one of the skids when they unloaded it. That was a one-room company house with just a curtain across to separate the bedroom.
A man was killed in the logging woods, and my folks bought the house from his widow. It was a two-room house. The kitchen was separate. Then the living room bedroom was all one. And we had a porch clear across the back, and my dad boxed in one end of that with a curtain, and that was my bedroom year ‘round. No heat. I undressed in the house by the big wood stove and tore out there and jumped into bed. We used to heat a rock and I’d wrap it in newspaper and use it to help warm the bed.
They piped water into the camp. Everybody had a faucet in the yard - the schoolhouse too. They made a little siding for the schoolhouse. The cookhouse and the bunkhouse were close to the main line. The houses would be scattered up and down along the main line.
When I was seven we moved to Camp 37, right at the head of Camp Creek. Then we lived at Camp 40. That’s sort of at the head of Camp Creek too. They were burning slash and it got away from ‘em. They evacuated the whole camp, ‘cause they weren’t sure they could get it stopped. They loaded the women and children into the box car and took ‘em out. It was really kind of funny what different ones would take with them. The only thing Mother could think of was that if our house caught on fire, the rifle shells might go off and damage somebody. She took Dad’s rifle and the shells and went out into the backyard and buried them in a trench. She was bakin’ bread, and when my dad came to the house she said, “If you get a chance, come look at my bread?” The lady across the street insisted that they save her washing machine - that they load it. The fire went out in our stove at the right time, so the bread was baked “to perfection.”
That camp was right up the hill north of Deerhorn. One woman had her clothes all dampened in one of those big old laundry baskets to iron. She put that on her hip and started down over the hill. She didn’t go very far ‘til she set it on a stump and went on.
They stopped the fire within a hundred feet of the houses. The lady next door to us wanted to save her silverware. She buried it, and when they dug a fire trail they went right through where she had buried it. I don’t know if she ever found it all or not. But I can remember every night for weeks her and her husband were out there siftin’ soil, trying to find that silverware.
One box car had seats along the side, and on Saturday night anybody that wanted to go out, the train took the box car to Wendling. Anybody that owned a car had it parked in Wendling. You’d go from Wendling to town for groceries. We never went more than every two weeks, and usually, my folks only went once a month. Mom would buy sugar by the fifty or hundred pounds, and flour the same way. She’d buy milk by the case, and she used to buy eggs for several different women, from a farm right across from where the Springfield Golf Course is now, twelve dozen at a time.
I used to tell people I had ridden in the box car, on the flat cars, in the engine, on the front we called the cowcatcher, in the caboose, but I was eighteen before I ever rode a passenger train, and they’d look at me as if they wondered what kind of a tramp I was.
They usually brought two train loads of logs out a day from the camps down to Wendling. Any of the women that needed to go to town could always ride down in the caboose. One time when we were coming down, one of the wheels on one of the loads locked. That train just came to a dead stop. Everybody in the caboose was thrown to the floor. The main brakie (brakeman) went down forward to see what had happened. The second brakie had been riding on the logs, and it threw and injured him. They put him on a stretcher up in the engine. My mother, another lady and I had to ride on the cowcatcher on down to Wendling.
There were probably a couple of dozen houses in a typical camp. Then there’d be a lot of single men at the bunkhouse. The loggers had lunches packed for them. The cookhouse was pretty large.
Mother and I would go out to pick hops in the fall. Maybe hop-picking wouldn’t be done when I had to start school. Mother would stay and pick, and I usually would stay with my dad in camp. Then I’d have to go and stay at the cookhouse from the time he went to work until school started. At that particular camp, all I had to do was go out of the cookhouse, cross a spur track and walk maybe a hundred feet to the schoolhouse. I remember at Camp 37 we’d get enough snow that walking to school the snow on both sides of the path would be higher than my head.
When we moved camp the houses were moved. They were built on skids, and they’d be pulled up onto a flat car and taken to the new camp, where they were unloaded. The porch roofs were hinged, so they’d just go down during the move. I think the back porch floor was hinged too, and they’d put that up and then put the roof down over it.
After Camp 40 we moved to Camp 3, north of Mill Creek.
The social life happened in the 4L Hall. Every camp had one of these. Those buildings weren’t moved. They had to be rebuilt. Once a week they showed movies, and the kids all got in for free. We’d pull chairs up so we could put our feet on the stage. They were silent movies. We school kids could read the wording. The boys thought they were dating. They only had a nickel to spend, so they’d buy a box of Smith Brothers cough drops. That was the treat. Tasted like licorice.
Usually one night a week a minister came from somewhere and we had Sunday School and church in the evening. Never on Sunday. For a while, it was the Methodist minister from Marcola. In Camp 35 we had another minister, a doctor who was a Seventh Day Adventist. They asked him to explain why they were Adventists. He had charts and stuff, but I don’t remember much. I was too little. The Methodist man was quite old. The kids would go to sleep and he would wham the pulpit and wake everybody up.
Sometimes there were dances. The 4L stood for Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen.
[After our interview Thelma wrote a letter with more details.]
Groceries could be ordered from the Wendling store and were brought up once a week. So fresh fruits and vegetables were available, but prices were higher than in town and mother seldom used the service.
We sometimes had a small garden with things like onions, radishes, and lettuce. We took advantage of the wild weed called miner’s lettuce for salads.
Some of the houses were owned by the logging company. They were painted white, while the privately owned ones were lumber colored.
When I was six my father made me a figure 4 trap and I trapped a couple of chipmunks. One of the older boys had no luck and wanted the chipmunks, so talked me into trading for a pair of banty chickens.