It Goes Henry Ford One Better Or So, Does McKenna
By Francis Stone Burns
Tacoma Daily Ledger November 17, 1918

McKenna, Nov. 16.–(Special)–the blue and white old mountain, seamed and scarred, majestic, her throat wrapped in a scarf of mist, turned her face through the late autumn sunshine yesterday to a half hundred towns in Western Washington.

Her serene countenance was kindest to McKenna.

For she looked down–and seemed to know it–on a town with an idea behind it.

McKenna is a mill town. Not only that but it’s the McKenna Lumber Company’s mill town. Its men and women work in the mill; live in the mill houses or a mill hotel or a mill boarding

The boarding house later became the McKenna Home. (From the 1955 Y.H.S. Tornado Annual)

house; farm mill farms with mill capital; buy from a mill store; congregate in a mill club. The church and school and pool hall are the only institutions that the mill doesn’t own, and it’s mostly mill money that goes to support them.

Beats Ford Idea

But the idea is there.

It goes Henry Ford just one better or so; it keeps the company a bit ahead of what the workman wants-or it aims to; it is socialism financed by capital; it’s two men’s hobby with a cost system a-rising it; and it is so far a successful experiment in keeping a Northwest mill running without labor troubles.

That idea is a community owned by and for a permanent body of workmen whose labor shall pay fair returned on the capital invested in the mill, but still give to labor a just reward.

And so it is planned to sell the houses that the company has built to the men at cost plus 6 per cent, with each month’s rent turned into payment for permanent ownership; to make the company store a co-operative workmen’s store. The clubhouse is being paid for by the workingmen through entertainments and the farms-but more of that later.

One of the Largest on the Coast

Plumped down in the center of a prairie close to the banks of the Nisqually river, the mill is one of the 10 largest on the pacific coast, representing an investment of almost $1,000,000. With a capacity of 200,000 feet a day, it averages at the present time about 150,000 feet and keeps 300 hundred men and women busy in the camps and mill, although everything that be lifted and moved and operated by machinery has it.

The logs, cut in the company’s camps are pulled down to the mill on a mile railroad owned and operated by the company, floated in an artificial mill pond into which water is pumped from the Nisqually river, and carried from there up the chute where they are jerked under the hungry teeth of the great band saws by the uncanny, long fingered “nigger bar” operated by levers from above. One of the bandsaws has teeth on both sides and catches the logs “going and coming.” Machinery may be installed until there is little left for one human mind to do, but there are one or two things that machinery can never do; it cannot exercise judgment in grading lumber in the various stages through which the raw log passes and it can’t boss men.

Stacked lumber from the. Located on the east side of the state highway. (Courtesy of Earl "Babe" Herness)

Log Sense Needed

So Roscoe Grant, heads sawyer with his hand at the levers of the great carriage under the band saw, must use the judgment accumulated by years of experience in selecting the logs which go under him. And Theodore Herness with great blue pencil tallies all the output of the mill and grades it as the cut finally passes under his eagle eyes in one of the big wings of the mill.

Over them all, the men and women is D. B. Berry, the foreman, watching with keen eye every detail in the mill to be sure that nothing goes wrong and a whole sawing is lost or spoiled, perhaps, and above W. N. Goodwin, a mill man to his marrow, and loyal to the company and men with whom he works.

The McKenna Mill was one of the first in the Northwest to resort to women employees and has been one of the most successful. There have been from six to eight women employed in the planing mill section for several months. One of them, Mrs. Nellie Query, who feeds a planer, is one of the most efficient workwomen they have.

Last summer the girls in the office spent an hour or two or three each afternoon when work was over in the years, wheeling and loading the light trucks with lumber , and earning their expenses after hours; so that their office pat was clear. It was clean, healthful, out of door work, and a most excellent substitute for tennis they found.

One of Early Times

This is an old community. It was at the shaving stage when Tacoma was born. And the men and women there have been there for a long time-many of them, and more of the itinerant mill population than you would think.

It is because the community is a good one in which to live. The air is fine and keen; the school boasts manual arts and domestic science departments that would create envy in some of the city’s schools; its people are social by instinct and training.

And through its system of farms the company is developing a real rural community for the backgrounds of the town, as every town that is substantially builded must have such background.

Two years ago 1,000 acres of prairie land-that land that Tacoma is ceasing to despise-was purchased by the McKenna Lumber Company. It has been divided into tracts from 7-12 acres in size. The comp[any sells it for nothing down; with water rights from the Yelm irrigation project; it provides lumber for a house and barn and other buildings; provides a cow and pigs or chickens; supplies from its great barns horses and plows or any other modern agricultural implement to cultivate the land; stocks the larder from its store.

Makes Term Easy

It asks nothing for two years except that the tenant improve the land enough to make the additions equal to the materials and money advanced, first payments begin when the second year is up, and the land, therefore, yielding.

That particular part of the company’s affairs is the particular hobby of Valentine May of Seattle, voce-president. L. M. Goldsmith is in charge of the land at the site and for him the little pack in the center has been named Goldsmith Park.

“We have found that the men so far have been pretty well satisfied,” Mr. Goldsmith said yesterday. “We have been fortunate in getting an especially fine class of men on the land. Out of the 70 who have taken up tracts, but four have failed to make good and have left. The crops this year have been surprisingly good. Red clover, berries, cucumbers and vegetables of all sorts grow well on this land. Some of the men have fine crops of sweet corn and they have found that fruit trees grow well.”

New Crop of Homes

All over the prairie new homes-and pretty ones-are springing up like mushrooms, their newness a jarring note in the harmony of gray ad brown and blues, with a dash of yellow cottonwood here and there, but a promise of a rich harvest in sturdy Americanhood in the years to come.

On one of the new houses J. R. Covert, one of the first settlers on the new land, was working to help a neighbor out and add a little to his farm.

“Like this country? Well, yes,” he said. “We are perfectly happy here. This is our first year and on a half acre I raised green onions alone which sold for $126 besides all the dry onions I have. We have six children and they keep well out in the clear air here and we are getting ahead splendidly. It’s close to market here and the land is hard to beat for berries and vegetables.”

A rank outspoken enthusiast for the whole plan is R. L. McKinney, who is assistant secretary and treasurer. A. G. Cook is secretary and treasurer and general manager of the company.

Efficient Accounting System

Mr. McKinney, who left Tacoma to join the company just a year ago, has charge of the office management, but he is interested in the 500 kilowatt steam turbine-there’s only one other in the Northwest- and in the farm as in the system of expert accounting which he has introduced in the office, and through which every mouthful of cud that one of the 20 cows in the company barn chews is accounted for-if you follow me.

R. B. Tweedy of Wisconsin is president of the company. He has large interests in the East and only finds a little of his time each year to spend at McKenna, but his hobby is this company. He likes it because it is an intricate business proposition to be studied and worked out; because the human element enters so strongly into every move on the chessboard of social and economic and financial game which they are working out; and because as head of such a company you have all the fun of being logging camp, mill, railroad, store, land owner, dairyman, real estate dealer and a sort of fairy godfather, capitalist.

Keeps Tab on Labor’s Needs

“It has been our aim to beat the laboring man to it,” Mr. McKinney grinned. “Give him what he wants before he wants it. Every workingman has a pretty definite idea of the pay he wants now, but we do want to have the men who are with us contented and happy and willing to stay on here. We were one of the first companies in the West to grant the eight-hour day; and now we are going Henry Ford’s plan one better because we are already getting our men on the land and providing for them-work in the mills if they want it and the rest of the time on their farms.”

And so it is that W. E. Kelsey, who has gone for 31 years-since he was 5 years old-with his right arm off at the elbow, is a satisfied, expert workman and has been with the company for nine years. While he is certain that there is nothing a man with two whole arms can do that he can’t, it is still rather remarkable that in addition to his work at the mill he has cultivated and developed a five-acre tract outside the town in the evening after work and on Sundays.

“Finest thing you know, this life,” he averred today.

And the company will make a success of it because it has stopped the leaks, Mr. McKinney pointed out. It has just constructed a new wood conveyor over which the scarps for wood will be carried and dropped, to be used for firewood instead of burned in the incinerator.

Women Brighten Town

A story of McKenna would be incomplete without a mention of some of the women in it. There is Mrs. Murphy, who runs the Red Cross and minute women and has had a big helping hand in every woman’s activity thereabouts; and Mrs. Mary Coffman, who since her widowhood has made a real home of the attractive cream and white interior boarding house which the company maintains for its office force and in which a great yellow kitten indiscriminately plays with the bright chintz curtains and the young people ho have come to grow up with McKenna.

The club house is a real social center-or was until influenza made its use as an emergency hospital necessary. Really it has been since then, for everybody in town has had it-the “flu”-some time recently. But in other times there are having picture shows twice weekly; plays on the stage there; club meetings before the bog fire and dances in the ballroom, with a service flag of 20 stars as the honored center of that social household whose every member wears the button of the Loyal Legion of Lumber Workers.

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