Arthur Ray Sheckler Letters From McKenna

Introduction: The following are excerpts from letters written by Arthur Sheckler while he worked at the McKenna Mill during the 1920s.

Will send cards and books of Yellowstone soon by parcel post. Must draw some money first.

McKenna Wash
Sept 3.23

Dear Mother:
Well I am sleeping on a bed again after 20 days on the hard ground altho I could sleep there and feel fine in the morning. I am also eating good grub again.

I am straightening the boards after they come from the saws that is, after the boards and timbers are sawed they fall on a slow moving table and if they don’t fall straight I straighten them up.

I don’t have to touch very many of them and half the time I sit around doing nothing. We work eight hours and get four dollars. Chuck is piling lumber in the yard and works hard and is sort of pieved over my good luck.

We have a room with two single beds and have electric lights and there is toilets, wash room with hot and cold water, shower baths and free laundry. We have a Japanese lady that makes the beds and sweeps every day and talk about grub. They feed the very best of grub. Several different kinds of meat, potatoes, cookies, cakes, pie, several kind of fruit, lots of milk, different kinds of sauce, soup, and lots of other things. They don’t come out and say “what will you have for supper” like in a resturant but set out big dishes full of every thing and as soon as a dish is empty they fill it up again and when you start to get up they tell you to set down and finish your meal.

Their idea is to eat all you want of everything there is to eat. Don’t let any body tell you that life in a lumber camp is hard, dirty, roughneck life. We have iron beds with white sheets and pillow cases and everything is as clean as can be and every day is quiet and orderly and friendly except the Wobblies go bugs every once in a while.

They gamble all their wages night after pay day and as soon as they are broke they spend their evenings sitting on the porch kicking about the poor grub, poor beds and knocking everything in general but the one great union (I.W.W.)

They called a strike yesterday and then kept on working as if nothing had happened. They didn’t even strike a minute, they are all bluff and talk and don’t do anything else. They are nothing but a disgusting joke.

We have a big city here, a company store, a movie house, a mess hall, a bunk house, a big mill and a few shacks. Our board costs us $1.20 a day and I don’t see how they do it for that with some of those big Swede lumber jacks that eat enough for a family of six.

The way I happened to get this job was that Denzil was working on the night shift from six to three at night and getting up before daylight and then sleeping days as he only has to appear once a day at sunset.

He lost his job because they couldn’t get enough men to run nights even though they had the entire 6th engineers band except their leader, even the corporal and sergeant worked.

Denzil is the same as ever and hasn’t grown a bit. He has taken up an I.C.S. Mechanical Drawing course now and bought a good set of tools.

I can see Mt. Ranier from here nearly every day and a river runs right by our window in our room from the Nisqually Glacier on Mt. Ranier. The water is a milky color from the mud in the glacier.

Washington is not a built up country. Some of it is clear and fruit and garden stuff are raised by irrigation altho the eastern edge raises nice wheat, the best wheat we saw on our trip, without irrigation but all the rest is irrigation or forest, and it is real forest, no few stick of sapling pine like Michigan but real pine from six to twenty ft across the stumps. There is one tree north of us that you can drive a load of hay through and it isn’t redwood either.

Machine shops are scarce and dry gardening and farming don’t pay. Saw mills and lumbering is begging for men and the mines are asking for men but are having labor troubles.

The apples out here are big and pretty but the eastern apples have got them beat for flavor as these are flat or sour. I raided a nice tree of bright blue plums and tied my face in a knot as those ripe plums were green prunes. The darn things look like ripe plums before they ever begin to get ripe and are darn good after they ripen.

There are lots of bear and deer out here and the other day a couple of kids chased one of those so called dangerous mountain lions off the road and run it way back into the woods before they lost it.

They have a funny way of paying the men here. You get a slip from your foreman and that lets you into the boarding house and pay day they take it out of your pay and if you ask for it you can have a one two or five dollar check book for the store that they also collect from your pay. They pay once a month on the tenth and then the 25th is draw day when you can draw all but three dollars and you can draw less than five dollars any time between until you overdraw your wages.

The store and post office are in the same building and you can get anything from a stamp to a suit of clothes or a Ford.

I don’t think I will get over to Camp Lewis soon but tell Aunt Hattie I have talked Denzil out of the Alaska idea this winter and he has half promised to start home for Christmas and I will have his promise the next time I see him. He says there is only one thing he has got against this country and this is, it isn’t home and the only thing he cares about the east is his home.

I haven’t seen much of the coast yet and I have only tasted salt water a couple of times but I like the east best so far. Well write and let me know how everything is and tell Roy to write and you tell me how his kids are.

General delivery. McKenna. Wash

* * * *

Tell Roy to write me and Denzil, he thinks Roy is sore at him

McKenna, Wn
Sep. 27, <no year>

Dear Mother:
I just got a letter from Grandpa today.

I didn’t get to see Denzil but sent your letter over. The fellow he was going to come to work with got fired and so he lost out of his night job.

Today was clear and Mt. Ranier looked to be only four or five miles away and like a big dish of ice cream.

You can’t see the foothills on account of the big forest here but could only see the peak over the tree tops and it is a pretty sight, all covered with snow except in a few spots and the sun was shining bright on it today.

We had a small island appear in a lake here right after the Jap earthquake altho we didn’t feel anything and scientists say it is not of volcanic origin but can’t explain it.

Caught a big three foot salmon last night but it was so bruised from the rocks that it was no good. The salmon here are just the carp at home, just stick their backs and tails out of the water, only they are in the swift shallow water.

We put out from 17,500 to 20,000 ft of finished lumber a day here and this is only a small mill compared to some of them. We turn out everything from lath to 4 ft square timbers.

You ought to see the dahlias that they raise out here. As big as those small pie plates of yours and are the prettiest things you every saw. They have big farms and dahlia gardens here

(Source: Washington State Historical Society)

Yelm Board to Ponder Fate of Mckenna School August 6, 1974

Yelm Board to Ponder Fate of Mckenna School

The Daily Olympian, Tuesday, August 6, 1974

The Yelm School District Board this Thursday night will discuss the threatened condemnation of the Mckenna Elementary School building by Pierce County Fire Marshal Fred Smith, according to Dr. Glen Nutter, superintendent. The board will hold its regular meeting in the administrative offices, starting at 8 p.m.

Dr. Nutter said that the fire marshal examined the 54- year-old, two-story frame building towards the end of May (it is located just within Pierce County). Smith suggested three alternatives: replace the building (at about $400,000 said Dr. Nutter); remodel to provide fire walls throughout ($40,000); install a sprinkler system ($30,00).

Dr. Nutter said the board and members of a citizens’ advisory committee have expressed reluctance to spend any considerable sum on the old building and would rather erect a new one if the voters approve.

However, Nutter continued, the task of the board at the moment is to try to reach an agreement with the fire marshal on some kind of satisfactory, low-priced safety measure to take so that the district may continue to use McKenna School while seeking voter approval on building construction funds and then, if successful, erecting the new building – all of which takes time.

The existing structure houses eight classrooms and an office. Dr. Nutter said the enrollment for this fall has been estimated at 180 students.

(Prepared by Brendan Young)

Roy to Mckenna to Yelm – A Guide to the Evergreen State


A Guide to the Evergreen State

Compiled by workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Washington



At 10.6 m. is a junction with 5-H, a concrete-paved road.

Right her through pastures and prosperous farmlands, the fields bright in spring and summer, with camas flowers and lupine, to ROY, 7.9 m. (315 alt., 261 pop.), a bustling market center near the convergence of the Muck and Nisqually valleys.  Three nurseries ship quantities of pine, spruce, and fir seed; a large bulb farm and a dairy farm, with herds of prize-winning cattle, lie adjacent to the town.  Mink are bred successfully at two fur farms, and a hop ranch, located three miles east of the town, is noted for its long rows of hops.  Another asset for the community is a lumber mill.  Comfortable homes cluster around a large red-brick school.  A branch line of the Northern Pacific bisects the business district, and the buildings are built about an open area surrounding the depot.  Roy was named for the son of James McNaught, who platted the town site in 1884.

South of Roy, State 5-H passes stump lands converted into farms and pastures.  On the banks of the Nisqually River is McKENNA, 12.6 m. (285 alt., 200 pop.), started as a lumber company town about 1908.  An irrigation project on the adjacent prairie was started by the company, and preference was given to laborers who purchased land.  A school, a church, and a pool hall were the only institutions not controlled directly by the company.  When the timber supply thinned out, and the lumber market sagged, the mill was dismantled, and even the land office was moved away.  Only a quiet little village remains today where once a busy industrial town flourished.

Passing a small co-operative creamery, the road swings through irrigated orchard lands.  The name of YELM, 14.7 m. (350 alt., 378 pop.), in the midst of the prairie, preserves in modified form the Indian word for heat waves such as rise from sun-baked earth; the Indians reverenced Chelm, as they called the waves, believing that the Unseen Power radiated them to render the earth fruitful.

Among the earliest settlers on Yelm Prairie was the family of James Longmire, who crossed the Naches Pass with the first immigrant train in October 1853.  Longmire, who took up cattle raising, was one of the earliest explorers of the Mount Rainier region.  Until the recent introduction of irrigation, the prairies served as grazing land for beef cattle and sheep; and in early days the Hudson’s Bay Company, which maintained a herdsmen’s station and a farm here, established Yelm Ferry across the Nisqually River on the road to Fort Vancouver.  Today young cowhands in sombreros and high-heeled boots to drive to McKenna in modern automobiles, and truckloads of stock pass through the streets on their way to Puget Sound cattle markets.  Irrigation has made possible the cherry orchards, prosperous farms, filbert groves, and berry patches that sprinkle the prairies near the town.

The highway passes an abandoned sawmill and, paralleling the railroad, sweeps past prairies covered in summer with a mass of bloom.  Camas flowers, ranging in color from white to a brilliant sky-blue, blend with yellow buttercups.  RAINIER, 20.7 m. (430 alt., 500 pop.), served by the Northern Pacific and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific railroads, is the social center for farmers and loggers of the vicinity, although its closed mills and vacant houses mark it as a ghost lumber town.

Town in Grip of Flu Has Been Isolated by Flood Physicians Unable to Reach Yelm

Town in Grip of Flu Has Been Isolated by Flood Physicians Unable to Reach Yelm

Bellingham Herald January 24, 1919

Physicians Unable to Reach Yelm

SEATTLE. Jan. 24.—Flood waters have prevented physicians from reaching the town of Yelm, Wash., where, it is reported about 100 cases of influenza have appeared, it became known here today Army doctors from Camp Lewis yesterday made unsuccessful attempts to reach the town.

Yelm is between Tacoma and Tenino.  High waters in the Nisqually river have cut the town from Olympia, Tacoma and Tenino.

Trains Are Running

Seattle railroad officials today believed the recent storm troubles were over, the heavy rains of the last few days having stopped.

The Northern Pacific today sent out trains to Portland and Tacoma. Yesterday the road to Portland was blocked by floods at Tacoma and slides north of Centralia. The Great Northern reported slides on its tracks north of Seattle have been removed. No reports were received early today from McKenna, a Pierce county mill town under several feet of water.

Untitled Washington Standard June 21, 1907

Untitled  Washington Standard June 21, 1907

Poor Yelm!  The reason given for the refusal of the Northern Pacific to afford a passenger depot at that point is that the company is interested in booming a rival town instituted by the Salsich Lumber Co., only a mile and a half from Yelm.

Yelm January 31, 1913


Washington Standard January 31, 1913

Mr. Fred Lotz and family have arrived from Olympia and will live near the mill located in Mr. Arch Price’s neighborhood.  The mill is one of the oldest in this section, but has changed hands and will begin work son.  Mr. Lotz will be employed in the mill.

The mill at McKenna has been shut down two days this week on account of the “burner” being out of commission