Mason County #7: Historic Conversation

On August 4th of 1991 Chris Baldo and Rogan Coombs met with Harlan Smith and Bruce Edgbert.

Bruce Edgbert was foreman at the Port of Olympia at the time and showed the group around the docks where No. 7 had worked.

Harlan Smith was an engineer and brakeman on No. 7 when working for Mason County Logging Company, and later at the Port of Olympia.

The narrative below is from cassette tape recordings made by Chris Baldo during the day, starting off at breakfast, then moving to the Port (where Edgbert dropped off), then into the hills of the Capitol Forest.

Considerable background noise from clanking china and Rogan’s beat-up old pickup make it impossible to translate the entire context of the recordings, so not all of the conversations are included below.


. . . need work on front tube sheet . . . (didn’t happen) not while working; stack leaked; water got that high in the smokebox and ran through the tubes into the firebox; for 30 years; just can’t store something like that outdoors.

Had set tanks just to get them out of the way.

[Snoqualmie]  . . . sit on lowboy deck with 6 inches (height) to spare. . . . Didn’t need a pilot until Williams.

My partner Bruce [Burton] and I went to forestry school 1968-73 at Cal Berkeley. Got the forestry bug. We started actually doing logging more than milling, and gradually ended up sawmilling and not doing any logging.

May need to put a front tube sheet in there.


Fella in the car shop said he was going to Vernonia—Clark and Wilson at that time—and he says ya’ better come down there, and I says no. What I was trying to do during the war was get away from that Alaska Railroad. They was gonna send us to Alaska. Well, I had no service record and I knew they’d be short like me, so that’s when I went to the Port of Olympia. Stayed on. That’s the best move I ever made . . . 24 years. Still beatin’ the racket.

Chris:  Oil tank seems to be in good shape. It still has this great wooden plug in the top.

Other:  No, that wasn’t standard equipment.

Chris:  National Railroad Museum wanted to buy the locomotivew in ’82 in Green Bay, Wisconsin . . . . Decided not to purchase the locomotive.


Grandmother—she was queen of the southwest pioneers—she come out here in 1847, across the plains, and my grandmother happened to be . . . . in Bordeaux . . .

He says ‘what the hell’s the matter with that man.’ He says ‘I’ve been . . . . cargo in ports from San Francisco to Anchorage, Alaska,’ and, he says, ‘I’ve never been in a port yet they got any better service than they got here.’” [referring to Port of Olympia]

They had that little engine, who’s tending—keeping cargo under the hook here—there was two cranes out there in the yard unloading, all kinds of equipment, and they was working fast. And you can imagine keeping cargo under the hook and keepin’ empties and cargo under the hook under two cranes out here. And I was runnin’ back and forth like a [Gillard?/dillard] hitting the walking bosses as to what they’d want, and there was two of ‘em Olie Garman and Rosendahl—walking bosses from Aberdeen—an’ ol’ Rosie was a wino but he’d stay . . . on the thing until 2 o’clock. And at like 2 o’clock someone’d go out there: ‘Rosie’; ‘yeah’; I want someone . . . all Russian cargo. That was during the war. He could tell me almost to the minute when he’d want service. So I’d be out here with the engine, servicing those damn cranes and both cranes unload’n, uh, Jeeps, uh, weapon carriers, flatcars, you name it—everything from needle ‘n thread to oil refineries.

There were crossovers so that you could get in to four and five and not disturb number one, two and three hatch. And I’d go out and put up the flag for the bridge—I had it all marked out, so you could still sneak by number three into four and five on those Liberty ships. It was all Liberty ships during the war.

The busiest time we had was, well, during and right at the end of World War II. And then of course rail traffic. We had phosphate going over to Japan to rehabilitate that country. Thousands of cars of phosphate went through here. Nine hundred and fifty thousand tons of phosphate, and they shipped it over to Japan.

That was a fast operation. I was there from seven o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock at night.

[regarding labor negotiations in 1944]  He says ‘don’t go for wages, go for conditions. Mechanization is coming.’

Chris:  This is Whittleknock. We’re getting close to Bordeaux Junction, aren’t we?


Right ahead of us here a little ways. The railroad, I used to come down through here, and here is the yard where it met the NP. Right here. There’s three tracks. The lead goes off right here. The Milwaukee and the NP both came in here.

They logged all this, even over to the foot of that highest point over there, Capitol Peak. Mud Bay logged the top, and Mason County logged all of this—the whole way. And the railroad used to wind up around …. Peak and come in further at Capitol Peak. Then they went across the prairie here, went right across here, and worked their way back up over all of these hills and into the head of Porter Crick and down into Malone with the railroad.

This is the mill site. And right here, was the McLaren Lumber Company’s office. Right about in here was the headrig. In my picture, that wood bunk is off over here. There was a sidewalk that went right down along here. And there was a shingle mill. And I lived right up there. Right up on top here. There’s the shingle mill. And there was a pond; this was the log dump along here. There was a sidewalk right down through here, and houses down here. And, uh, there was a store, got its footprint in there was a rip plank[?] and the whole business off over in here; drop pit and the roundhouse, machine shop, car shop, and, uh, locomotive machine shop was just about, well, right about here . . . and here’s a line that went in here.

Chris:  We’re right here at this junction where the D6000 takes off; and where did this line go?


That goes up to Old Camp 2. That was the first, that was the second place they started to log. They first started to loggin’ down on the prairie, to the right as we come in, then they started up here, and they had a little Climax, a locomotive. And a little fella name of Titus was runnin’ it.

This was at Old Camp 2. And that’s where we used to go up in here, uh, outa season an’ get them bucks. We’d go up there an’ shoot a deer, an’ we’d lay in here ‘til it’s about dark along in July and August when they was nice and fat and go into town—sneak into town with ‘em. They we’d—about three or four families of us—the women ud all get together and we’d have a venison feed and shoestring potatoes. And drink a lot of moonshine whiskey and homemade brew.

Chris:  What year would that have been.


That was along in, uh, right after World War I—1919, 20, 21, 22—right along in there.

Well, Geezy[?] an’ I was settin down for Christmas one time, and we had a lot of empties. Shoved ‘em back in there an’ I said . . . . better ride that front end in. ‘Ah, the hell with it!’ he says. ‘It’s Christmas—it’s shut down.’ And then, I heard a helluva racket in there . . . an’ I was about half way in the middle of the empties, and I wanted t’ ride th’ front end and spring the air in case we run into sumthin. Well, there was a big bull gear out of a donkey that was laying in the middle of the track. That [expletive] flat car run up on top of that bull wheel—ol’ bull wheel—an’ landed off down in the crick that’s runnin’ along. There’s a big bridge right here. Not only that, we shoved a car of sand and a car of oil out on the ol’ bridge—broke the bridge. The car of sand and car of oil landed in the crick bottom here, see. Well, they had to bore a hole in the oil tank and pump it into another tank, see. An’ then they finally went in there with a crane and pick up the other mess. And the car of sand, it went off the track, but they finally got it back up on the rails, and unloaded the sand to sand the flues. Well, that’s what it was for. They had the dry sand for about four or five locomotives, and they was usin’ lots of sand.

Now there’s a sign here says 1902. I’s born in 1897 an’ my dad hauled the lumber in there for the old man Basil an’ he started this outfit before I was born. In 1897. The forestry’s got 19-two.

Chris:  How’d ya’ get the logs from Camp One which is back on Waddle Creek, into the mill?

Harlan:  That line went across the prairie, then there was the junction up there. The railroad, they built the railroad around to, connected up with the Mud Bay line, uh, and way over in Delphi.

Chris:  So it went out on the flat of the prairie out there.

Harlon:  Yeah. That’s, uh, just about, uh—oh—in the Black Lake area.

Chris: [pointing to map]  Here’s Black Lake right here.


Yeah. Well, Mud Bay comes in about right in here somewhere. Let’s see. Where am I? Yeah, come in right about here. An’ this line—this new line—from Waddle Creek—Camp One, Waddle Creek—went around to Delphi where it joined Mud Bay.

Chris:  So can we go up this road and see if you can find—tell me where Camp Two was? How far—ya think it’s a mile up there?


Camp Two, it’s about eight or nine miles. This went up the valley here and ended. This was the main drag. There’s that note that says 19-two. They’re off their rocker. This is the old railroad grade. Comin’ down here one time, an’ I was in the middle of the train, and a wide load of logs hit the ground an’ landed off down in the crick bottom there. ‘Bout the middle of the train. ‘Course we broke in two. . . . They sent the locomotive crane up there with the engine—cleaned up the mess. Brought the rest of the train down.

Chris:  So you used—when you hauled logs into Bordeaux from here were you using skeleton cars or flat cars or disconnects?


We used NP cars and, uh, flat cars. And Mason County Log Company had a lot of flat cars, and also skeletons. When I first went to work here, they had five skeletons and they wouldn’t use ‘em. They had a side track off up here before the top of the peak. An’ they’s all flat cars. Well, pretty soon, they had bunks[?] on the ends.

Finally the NP started using skeletons, then they run the company skeletons right into Olympia, til they did go over to Mud Bay, and that eliminated the haul over the Northern Pacific.

This is the original old railroad grade. And we used to double to here with empties and go back and get another cut. And we’d go from here over the summit with about 30 empties. But, uh, 15 was the best could get up to this lovely—we used to call it Camp One. Double to Camp One. I’d ask the master mechanic ‘we gonna get a boost over the hill?’ an’ he says ‘no, you’ll have to double it.’ Another 11 or 12 hour day, huh? ‘What the hell do you care—you’re gettin’ paid for it.’ I says ‘yeah, and I’m getting damn tired of it.’ Long hours. And then Saturday, we’d always have to spot wood cars for the camps, ya know, wood cars; movin’ wood cars to the camps, to keep the camp supplied with wood from the mill and Saturday was always a big long day.

Right here, here is a prison. Just pull off here and stop a minute. Here is a prison camp. What does it say there?

Chris:  Correction center—Cedar Crick.


Yeah. Cedar Crick. And this is the summit. And we always had to stop and double to here from down on Cedar Crick. We’d always double the hill to here. And then always had to get clearance from here in, because, sometimes, we’d hit it bad and we’d take a ride down thru town there. And there’s nothing . . . enough, unless it’s way down below, they wouldn’t let us go down the hill.

Chris:  When you mean double, you mean pull half the cars up the hill.

Harlan:  Yeah, we’d double up to here.


Then you’d go down and get the other half, bring them all up, then you’d go down. Those tracks would have been almost right in the middle there.


Years ago, the Swiss Colony—Swiss people—they couldn’t get a clear title to it, but anyway, they started a colony here. An’ they cleared this up an’ they was raisin’, right off over in here, fields of Timothy an’ Alsac clover. An’ there was a barn—they had a dairy barn over here, an’ they sold milk to the Oakville Creamery, an’ he was a Swiss that owned this creamery down in Oakville. . . . They couldn’t get a clear title . . . They finally give up.

Chris:  These old wooden buildings; how old—are those from back in that era?


No. These were all identified the CCC during the Depression. However they was a couple a houses here, an’ there was a nice house back over here. A Swiss. They burned ‘em. They accidentally got a fire, and, uh, they had a double track here, and, uh, a phone booth, and always had to stop here for clearance, unless everything was in an’ I’d get clearance from the wye an’ come straight thru to Bordeaux. I’d always have to get clearance at the wye, an’ clearance here, unless they gave us clear sailing.

Chris:  So we may be even off of this map now. I don’t see, uh, the prison camp on the map. Here’s the D-line.

Harlan:  This is the E-line now.

Chris:  This is the E-line? Well the E-line is right . . . well we must have taken this left turn here then. Instead of going to the right—remember, that was the wye I guess—instead of going to the right we turned left.

Harlan:  We go down here. So where’s Cedar Crick?

Chris:  There’s Porter Creek. Here’s Cedar Creek.

Harlan:  Well, that’s just South Fork of Cedar—main Cedar Creek. Uh, they call it Sherman Crick. Forestry . . . changed the name an’ called it Sherman Creek.

Chris:  OK. That’s here then. We must be over on this road. We’re out here on the E-line somewhere.

Harlan:  Well now wait a minute. Where’s the wye. This is Cedar Crick goin’ down . . . yeah, we’re on this line here. The railroad from Bordeaux went down here to the wye. Uh, . . . comes out on the highway between Oakville and Malone.

Chris:  The D-line does.

Harlan:  Yeah. . . . We’re on this line, an’ then we go down here, an’ we hit this, no, we hit this. It doesn’t show Fuzzy Top. Doesn’t show Fuzzy Top.

Chris:  Here’s Fuzzy Top right here.


Yeah. Yeah. We go up here. That’s where we lost the donkey. Road crews putting a donkey up there, they say that, the forestry department said that how they left it they lost that donkey. Put it on a new sled . . . an’ we took it up on the big pull car, an’ they slid it off, an’ the next day they was takin’ it up to Fuzzy Top. They had a fore n’ aft road—you know what a fore n’ aft road is, you know, made outa logs, this way.

Rogan:  Like a shoe.


Yeah, a shoe. So they logged up as far as they could, then they gotta move this yarder on the new sled up to the top an’ log the top. Well, we’s goin’ across the flat up there, an’ there was Fuzzy Top right off over here, an’ I heard a racket an’ there’s that donkey comin’ down th’ side uh that hill. An’ I kept pointin’ at the engineer an’ the fireman an’ th’ second brakeman and we all watched that donkey roll down off’n that damn hill; steam was a-shootin’, and the . . . within about a hundred an’ fifty feet uh the track—complete wreck.

Chris:  Blow er’ up?


No. No. The steam pipes an’ everything still all broken. So they took the crane, the locomotive crane and the locomotive an a car of empty gon; outfit from Seattle come out with cutting torches an’ they cut it up. That’s one job I refused to do. I said ‘Thompson’ the Master Mechanic, I said [expletive] Henry, I’m not, I don’ wanna go up there an’ take that outfit.’ Well he said, we’ll send a fella up. I wasn’t gonna go up there. I was so [expletive] anxious t’ go to town an’ see some uh the girls, the hell with those . . .  Well, they cut that donkey up an drove that gon that day. I’s tellin’ the forestry about it, an’ they kinda—I says ‘I can take ya an’ show ya th’ sled.’ I says ‘brand new sap sled—big one’. I said, uh, ‘It uz made right here at the shops where they had air and power, an’ this Claude Sap made a boring machine to bore those holes thru the runners for lugs, ya know. They bore a hole that big. Well they used to bore those holes by hand. Well, this boring machine had the electric power down there, 220, an’ that boring machine an’ it ud bore a hole thru one o’ them logs in just a little while. Bore a lot uh holes, for anchor holes, hand holes an’ all uh that. An they kinda doubted my word as to why that timber was left on Fuzzy Top. I says ‘I can take ya in there an’ show ya th’ sled.’ I says ‘its probably half rotten by this time.’ But I says ‘it was all big logs, big, big sled.’ An I sez ‘four of us watched it roll down the side of that mountain besides the crew that was workin’ on it.

Then they lost the two-spot on the top of the incline—it run away. Shay, that was out first Shay. An’ that was a little steamer that I fired with briquettes. An the Missourian engineer says ‘ya gonna burn ‘er up, yer gonna burn th’ [expletive] engine up, yer gonna burn ‘er up, yes, yer gonna burn ‘er up.’ An’ I was about ready t’ go back in th’ tank. I had both injectors on an’ [spits]. Well, steam was shootin’ out th’ pot an’ she’s still climbin. I was about ready t’ unload, ‘fraid th’ [expletive] was gonna blow up. But that was about the easiest steamer of any engine I ever saw. They put—th’ flag was pulled—an’ then when they put oil on it an’ it was just the same.

Rogan:  Musta had a big firebox.


Yeah. An it was a nice little engine. There was a fella name uh Roy Warrnock, he traveled for Heisler people settin’ up Heislers, from Erie, Pennsylvania, uh he run the six, Baldwin, and he’d rather run that little Shay than any of them. An’ they’d get that Shay out—we’d have t’ use it once in a while—‘cause they’d be workin’ on one of the Baldwins. We couldn’t get anything done the first day. He’d be out workin’, but when he got ready t’ go t’ work, that thing ud just run like a sewin’ machine. An’ it’s an old engine. But the boiler was a hundred percent. So it’s wrecked on the top uh th’ incline, they had th’ same thing at Hama Hama, same engine, an’ th’ boiler was no good, so they come up after, take th’ boiler of th’ wreck on top uh th’ incline, an’ put it on that Shay at Hama Hama. And, uh, there was quite a mix up. ‘Well, that Shay went to Hama Hama.’ I says ‘no, th’ Shay didn’t, just the boiler.’ An’ I explained to ‘em. Well, it was in th’ writeup that that two-spot from Bordeaux went to Hama Hama. So jus’ th’ boiler went.

Chris:  Well, let’s continue on down the mainline here.


An I’ll show ya where we were facin’ about four or five empties with the nine-spot it’s six is behind us, comin’ ‘long with a freight car—just an empty flat car, with groceries for the families. Blew off the hose next to the engine, right around th’ . . . An’ I was right in the middle of this long string uh empties . . . Th’ engineer an’ th’ fireman both jumped out an’ run up there an’ start changin’, puttin’ a new hose on th’ engine. Here come th’ six around that corner, put that flatcar right up on th’ tender. Bottles an’ groceries an’ milk goin’ in all directions. The two fellas on the flatcar, the two brakemen, they both joined th’ birds when they see that nine-spot around the corner there. Well, there it was. Broke the brackets on the pump, an, uh, smashed in the tender, oil uz runnin’ all over. So then, they put the six up on this job, an, uh, we helped out with the two-spot, that little Shay. They got relief. We’d help out as much as we could with that two-spot. Then they got the little 80-ton superheater . . . So we pulled slack with that smaller Baldwin an’, uh, the two-spot Shay.