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.
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. Rainier from here nearly every day and a river runs right by our window in our room from the Nisqually Glacier on Mt. Rainier. 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
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Tell Roy to write me and Denzil, he thinks Roy is sore at him
Sep. 27, <no year>
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)