Sunday, April 25, 2010

The ‘Sprucers’ in Lincoln County, 1918 - Part 1

Photo by John D. Cress, from the book, Pacific Spruce Corporation & Subsidiaries, reprinted from the 1924 edition by the Lincoln County Historical Society, available through their Museum Bookstore (click here for link).

This is a continuation of the previous post about the history of the Spruce Production Division during World War I.  Lincoln County had some of the best quality Sitka spruce available (preferred for airplane construction), so a large effort to harvest it was focused here.  
I find it so impressive that the Spruce Division soldiers arrived in the area in the early months of 1918 and managed to establish their camps, clear trees & brush for the railroad right-of-way, log hemlock and mill it for railroad ties and trestles, build the railroad from just north of Yachats to Agate Beach, AND build a world-class sawmill at Toledo--all in a matter of months.  And this was accomplished without chainsaws, log trucks, and much of the other logging equipment that was developed later.  (The war ended on November 11, 1918, so they were not able to complete the mill in Toledo.  This was done later by a private corporation.  I will tell that story in a later post).  The Warren Spruce Corporation contracted with the army to get the timber out in Lincoln County.  Spruce soldiers received their regular military pay, and were also paid by the Warren Spruce Corporation, who hired both the soldiers and civilian loggers.
The Lincoln County Historical Society Oral History Collection contains several references to the Spruce Division soldiers during that time.  One oral history interview was actually recorded over two occasions (at a LCHS meeting on April 18, 1974 and a follow up interview on August 8, 1974) with a man, Leonard Groth, who was in the 95th Spruce Squadron in Lincoln County in 1918.  (Mr. Groth arrived in July 1918 and stayed until January of 1919.  He was discharged from the military in February 1919 at Vancouver, WA, which was his place of enlistment and his home).  The following excerpt describes his experience of arriving in Lincoln County.   
“Originally, when I first came down, we were brought across from the turntable [railroad terminus at Yaquina City] over to Newport in a ferry, and then they ferried us over to South Beach.”
“We took the train from Corvallis, and come in on the only track there was...”
[Mr. Groth didn’t remember much about the train trip to the coast because], “I had just had my three shots for typhoid before we left...One each day for the last three days.  And I took my last one the night before we left.  And oh, brother!  Was I sick!  Oh!  I had a terrible headache coming down, and the first--when I began feeling a little better was when we got off the train at the [railroad] turntable, and got on the ferry.  And smelled the salt air.”

Photo of Spruce soldiers at Agate Beach, North of Newport, found here.

“We stayed there one night, and walked out to the beach [after we settled in to camp].  As I remember, there was a store over there, that I think we went right past where it is, and [the next day] they took us in a truck, and remember the old trucks with the hard rubber tires?  Well, that’s what we were in, and they drove on a plank road out to the beach, and then they dumped us off, and we hiked down to Seal Rock, as I remember.  I think it must have been right, because I don’t think you can get through beyond that on the beach, unless you come up on top [onto the rocky headland].  Well, there was a road anyway that turned off along in there somewhere, and we went back up on top of the ridge, and we had a camp there, and we started cutting brush for a right-of-way to go across the Alsea Bay, and over to Waldport, and Yachats, and in there.  I guess there was quite a bit of big timber down in that section [the Blodgett Tract at Camp 1].”
Mr. Groth describes the plank road made of fir that went through the sand dunes at South Beach.  He said the planks were placed in the direction of the line of travel (as opposed to corduroy roads, where the planks are laid horizontally), and they were just two boards wide spaced to go under the wheels of a vehicle.  (I’m not sure what they did if they met someone coming the other way!)  And this plank road just went through the dunes and then the beach was used for the road the rest of the way south.  

This photo (from the Florence Hollowell Collection) is of a Spruce Div. Camp on Beaver Creek and may have been the one that Mr. Groth describes coming to over the ridge at Seal Rock.  The exact location of this camp is not known--perhaps it is near Ona, or further south along South Beaver Creek.
Posted by jackie.

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