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Posted: Oct 15, 2009, 21:01

Museum Musings - Timber: A Way Of Life


In keeping with the focus on the timber industry in this week's Digest, today's article is snatched once again from History of Boundary County, Volume 1. Who could tell the story of the Bonners Ferry Lumber Company better than those who remember, including Renne Wickstrom and Ted Lozier. Their conversation begins on page 50, if you wish to read more than the excerpts printed here:

RENNE: "According to everything I had on the mill, it was 1904 when the first one came in and the old one burned. This next one was rebuilt in about 1910 by Weyerhaeuser.
"Why did they come here? Because they had all these big standing virgin timbers of yellow pine close to the river.

"They took everything that was close and accessible and easy. Then they moved to Lewiston where they had the same set up - where everything could come down the Clearwater River.

"Here everything came down the Kootenai River. It didn't cost a thing to float a log down a river. Water power brought it down. Big companies make dollars when somebody like nature makes it for you!

"When the Northern Pacific Railway came through they gave them every other section, I think it was, 40 miles on either side of the track. They came through Montana and North Dakota. That's all sagebrush and sand and stuff. They said "We won't take timber here. We'll take it out in Western Montana, Idaho and Washington." That's the reason that the railroads owned the timber around here - every other section. The other sections were used for homesteads and some were given as school sections. The railroads owned the bulk of it. The same way now. It was to help pay for that railroad- built that railroad in. That was the deal.

"The last year Bonners Ferry Lumber Company (BFLC) ran was in 1926. It started up and cleaned up the logs it had around here for six weeks or two months. They left the mill there and sold it off a piece at a time. They took what they wanted.

"In 1925, the last year I worked for BFLC, I learned to set and saw. Tom Ruckey was a very good friend of mine then. We knew this thing was going to come. He said, "Okay, now you're going to be out of a job. This thing is going to close up. You can have your pick of a job in Lewiston. Whichever side you want to set on that electric mill, we'll guarantee you a job." I said, "No, I'm going to throw my dirty old gloves away and I'm going to finish my school."

TED: "I had the same opportunity. Some of the employees went to Lewiston and some went to Newport. "Some of the people on Swede Island did go. There were nice homes out there. They had one grocery store down there. It seemed like they didn't make a success of merchandising down there.

RENNE: "(looking at a photo of BFLC) -There's your slab wood pile right there.

TED: "The first cut on the log is to take the slab off. Then they cut it in to slab wood and they'd use it for wood heat.

RENNE: "They sold it around town for $2.50 a load and if you were lucky you could get a load of what we called blocks for $3.00.

TED: "This is all lumber. That's all they had in the piles out there drying. The piles were about 32 feet high. It was all done by hand.

RENNE: "They'd just put one man on top and one man on the bottom and load it off the carrier and chucked it down going down here. He had a pedestal with a spike in the middle like this to go up and the board would hit there and it would hold it up and the fellow on top would take it and run it on his leather apron and pile it.

TED: "The pedestal was level. I got a kick out of the chariot he was talking about. They used one single horse to pull them and of course they had shafts, you know, and they had two wheels. They'd back up to the load and then they'd tip the load down on top of it and put the chain over it and take it out. They said they were riding on that chariot. I hadn't heard that expression for a long time.

Renne Wickstrom returned to school and graduated with a pharmacy degree in June, 1926. He returned to Bonners Ferry and worked for Hawks Drug Store, continuing until August 1,1937, when he purchased the store from Byron Hawks.

RENNE:?"In 1937, 1938 and 1939, I bought wood for my drugstore for $2.50 a cord delivered-four foot long tamarack."

The trunk Renne took to college with his belongings and other Wickstrom Drug Store memorabilia on are on display at the Boundary County Museum 7229 Main.

Winter hours: Friday and Saturday from 10am to 4pm


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