Friday, May 21, 2010

The Aftermath Of War

Last Sunday’s Oregonian (16 May 2010) had an obituary of C. Dean Johnson III (born 27 March 1924, died 24 April 2010 at age 86).  He was the oldest son of Ruth and C. Dean Johnson II, of the family that owned and operated the C. D. Johnson Lumber Co. in Toledo, Oregon in the 1920’s, ’30’s and ‘40’s.
In several previous posts, I told the story of the Spruce Production Division in Lincoln County during World War I.  Seeing Mr. Johnson’s obituary reminded me that I should tell the rest of the story, about what happened after the war abruptly ended and the 30,000 soldiers of the Spruce Division in camps around the Northwest were discharged home.  In the Yaquina Bay District alone, there were 3,298 soldiers and 72 officers.  

(Photo from here).

The Lincoln County Leader newspaper announced on 24 Jan 1919, “All soldiers have left,” just two months after World War I ended on 11 November 1918.  The swift dismantling of the Spruce Division logging camps left Northwest logging communities in the lurch, and many civilian loggers who worked alongside the soldiers were left unemployed.  Times were also tough for General Disque (he was promoted to Brigadier General by the end of the war), as waste and fraud charges were brought against him. A Congressional investigation found the allegations were mostly a sham based on personal vendettas, and he was cleared of charges.
Ironically, workers celebrated the completion of the Alsea Southern end of the railroad to one of the prime spruce stands (in the Blodgett Tract, between Waldport and Yachats) on 8 November 1918, three days before the war ended and spruce demand plumeted.  The large mill being built at Toledo was about two-thirds complete.
The Army now needed to dispose of properties acquired during the war, and hoped to recoup the $4.5 million spent on operations as well.  A pamphlet was prepared describing the properties for prospective private bidders in the U.S. and abroad.  The properties included three railroads, a partially completed mill, and a large tract of spruce timber.  The railroads included the service buildings, sidings & spurs, and water tanks.  A number of bids were rejected as too low to consider, and finally a deal was struck with C. D. Johnson of California.  Johnson had left his home in Kansas at the age of 19 and set out to make his fortune in New Orleans.  From there over the next 30 years, he worked his way up through the ranks, learning all aspects of the logging industry.  
The purchase of the Army’s Lincoln County properties was finalized on 17 Dec 1920, for a purchase price of $2 million, to be paid in installments over ten years.  Part of the deal was that Johnson’s company would invest $300,000 to complete the mill at Toledo and the railroads within one year.  Large tracts of timber were also acquired in the Siletz area.  Three subsidiary companies were combined under the umbrella of the Pacific Spruce Corporation:  C. D. Johnson Lumber Co. handled the mill operations and getting its products to market, Manary Logging Co. was in charge of the logging operations, and Pacific Spruce Northern Railway Co. extended and operated the railroad north from Toledo into the Siletz tracts.  
In 1922 Manary Logging worked to refurbish the railroad lines that already existed.  In just a couple of years, alders and shrubs had taken over the rail beds, and some areas had settled.  The following oral history excerpt describes how Beaver Creek logger, Frank Gatens, came to supervise some of that work on the Alsea Southern line.      
“...and he said that was about the finest piece of [logging] work he’d ever saw done in his life!  So he used to compliment me on it down there, and I come down here to Waldport, and who in the hell got charge of this railroad, to fix it up...but him!  He was a Burpee, you know.”
“And I run into him there in Newport, and he says, ‘What are you doing down here?’
And I told him I had been working there in some of them camps up there, up the river there, at Lawson’s, at the bridge up there.
‘Well,’ he says, ‘I got charge of this road here, and,’ he says, ‘I’ve been looking for a man to take charge of the job.’  And he says, ‘By God,’ he says, ‘you suit me good enough,’ he says.  ‘Will you take it?’
And I said, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I don’t know too much about that kind of work.’
‘Well,’ he says, ‘you know when the trestles is rotten, and where a grade needs dirt to fill it up, and make it level?’
And I says, ‘Yeah.’
‘Well,’ he says, ‘I know you can do it, if you’ll just do it.’
So I said, ‘Alright.’ “  
Eventually, Pacific Spruce Corp. was taken over by C. D. Johnson Lumber Co., which was in turn bought out by Georgia-Pacific Corp. in December 1951.  C. D. Johnson passed away on 2 May 1940, and his son Dean (C.D. Johnson II) took over the family’s business.  By the end of the 1940’s, timber tracts were becoming depleted and access was more difficult, including right-of-way issues over private lands.  Johnson decided to sell out, but it took time to find a buyer.  On one of the trips to Chicago to work out the negotiations for the deal, a plane crash on 24 August 1951 tragically took the lives of four principles of the company, including Dean Johnson and his brother Ernest.

(Photo from here).

So, back to the Spruce Division and its aftermath.  This summary is from the 1999 article by Gerald W. Williams, “The Spruce Production Division” (click here for a copy).  
“Though its life span was brief, there were many positive contributions made by the Spruce Production Division...The operation took place at a time of great national duress, when the labor force was stretched thin due to heightened war activity at home and abroad, and the lumber industry was struggling to recover from one of the most unsettling labor-management conflicts in U.S. history.  Confronted with some of the most rugged country in the Pacific Northwest, trees of immense proportions, choking vegetation, relentless rains, and a time schedule that few believed could be met, the Spruce Production Division succeeded in providing millions of board feet of needed wood for the war effort.”
The western states of Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and California provided a total of 143,008,961 board feet of spruce lumber, 53,718,591 board feet from Oregon.  This short period of history changed the way logging was done in the Pacific Northwest.  Railroads, roads and bridges were established, new methods, machinery and equipment were introduced, and improved labor practices and conditions were continued.
“It is a war story without the horror of devastated cities and of torn and bloodied men, and without the glamour that goes with victorious achievement upon the field of honor...They fought, these lumberjacks in khaki.”  [Williams article cited above].   
[Oral History excerpt from the Lincoln County Historical Society Collections].

Posted by jackie.

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