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The mills were located across the Willamette River from one another, in sight of Willamette Falls. The Oregon City mill closed in 2011, while the West Linn mill is still in operation.

In “The Papermakers: More Than Run of the Mill,” author Robert Bresky reveals the untold stories and previously unpublished photographs of the “heroes, villains and jesters who managed and operated the Oregon City and West Linn mills over nearly 150 years.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO - This photo, taken in 1929, shows both the West Linn mill, background, far left, and Oregon City's Hawley Mill, black building foreground. Note the huge pile of pulp to the right of the OC mill. The mills were located across the Willamette River from one another, in sight of Willamette Falls. The Oregon City mill closed in 2011, while the West Linn mill is still in operation.

“Willamette Falls was chosen for Oregon’s first two paper mills: water power and access to an abundance of trees were the two main reasons,” Bresky said.

“Oregon City and West Linn powered their early industrial base with mechanical and then hydro-electrical water power. Wooden flumes spun waterwheels for the first paper machines and hydro-electrical power from power stations in Oregon City and West Linn allowed the mills access to cheap electricity,” he added.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Author Robert Bresky holds a copy of his newly published book, 'The Papermakers: More Than Run of the Mill,' which details the history of both the West Linn and Oregon City paper mills.Bresky will discuss his new book in a talk for the Seasoned Adults program at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16. See below for details.

Inspiration

Over the five years he needed to complete the book, Bresky interviewed 32 former millworkers in person, and incorporated other quotes from previously published material, he said.

“It was hard to track down people. Many have died and many [Oregon City mill] workers didn’t want to talk because of sad memories” of the Blue Heron Paper Co. mill’s declaration of bankruptcy in 2011.

The mill’s closure left 175 people without jobs and marked the first time since 1829 that the site was lost to industrial use.

But it was that very event that inspired Bresky, an Oregon City resident, artist and photographer, to write his book.

“When the mill declared bankruptcy, the site was open to the public for an auction of equipment, and my wife and I thought it would be a good idea to take photographs,” he said.

Later, “when I started to look at the photos, I got so inspired about what went on here. It piqued my desire to learn more about the paper mill,” Bresky said.

He also realized it would make a “good contrast to compare both [the Oregon City and West Linn] mills,” especially since the West Linn site is still operating.

While Bresky was researching the history of both cities and their mills, he said he used “$1.09 an Hour and Glad to Have It: Conversations with 17 Mid-20th Century Crown Zellerbach Millworkers,” by Sandy Carter.

Carter, a board member of the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition and coordinator of One Willamette River Coalition, videotaped those interviews, then published them in book form in 2011.

“The result was a reference book for future writers to use,” Bresky said.

Automation

As Bresky began his research, he realized that when the mills were founded and for decades afterward, making paper was a complicated process requiring a large number of people.

“There were 2,000 people working at the West Linn mill in the late 1930s and ‘40s, while at the same time the Oregon City mill had 1,000 employees,” he said.

“There were so many jobs at the paper mill, and they were so very specialized. Within each physical plant, there were dozens of mills operating, including mills for the boiler, for water treatment, for turning wood chips for pulp,” among others.

But things changed in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Lee Martinot, an Oregon City millworker, told Bresky that the mills “were hiring for brawn early on, but for brains” when automation started to take over.

When everything started to be controlled by computers, mill administrators were looking for college graduates to run those computers, Bresky said.

As for significant differences between the mills, he said producing newsprint “was so important for the Oregon City mill, whereas the West Linn mill chose to go toward specialty papers, so they didn’t have to worry about the decline in newsprint.

“At the end, the Oregon City mill was only providing newsprint, and that, along with competition from the Chinese, is one of several reasons why the Oregon City mill folded, and the West Linn mill is still in business.”

Fish stories

While interviewing former employees of both mills, Bresky uncovered something from the past that surprised him — a thriving and illegal fishing industry.

In the late 1920s to the early 1950s, before automation, one of the toughest jobs in the mill was the grinding of 100-pound logs into woodchips. Men had to unload the logs from carts and feed them into a machine that had “massive stone wheels with diamonds, that churned these big logs,” Bresky said.

Workers had to monitor the process closely, because if the machines were allowed to go empty that would wreck the grinding stones.

“But these guys [at the West Linn mill] had ways to slow down the grinding machine, so they could sneak out and fish. They had a trapdoor under the machines, and they went down to the river with treble hooks and snagged lots of salmon that schooled up next to the mill.”

The fishermen would distribute the salmon to needy mill families, and even sent them to the sawmill workers on conveyor belts.

“Firemen at the mill would hang 50-to-60-pound chinook on ropes over their shoulders and put their raincoats over the fish, putting the fins down into their boots,” Bresky said.

Nothing quite so picturesque occurred at the Oregon City mill. There, workers might stay late after their shifts and snag fish schooling in the log basin below the mill.

Future plans

“The Papermakers: More Than Run of the Mill” is available on Amazon.com and will be sold at the Museum of the Oregon Territory in early December.

For now, Bresky plans to stay busy marketing his book, which was partly funded by a grant from the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition.

He is looking forward to giving a copy of the book to Art Dorrance, who at 89 is one of the oldest men he interviewed.

Bresky added, “[Art] worked at the West Linn mill for 43 years and still has his sense of humor. This book is very special to him.”

Book talks

Bresky will present a book talk for the Seasoned Adults program at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 16 at CCC’s Harmony Community Campus, 7738 S.E. Harmony Road, room H320, just off Sunnyside Road, near Clackamas Town Center. There is $3 fee at the door. Call 503-594-0620 for more information.

Bresky will sell and sign copies of his book from noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 4 as part of the Oregon Historical Society’s 49-year-old annual Holiday Cheer Event at the OHS museum, 1200 S.W. Park Ave., in Portland.

He will speak at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 7 at MOOT and will also present a book talk at 2 p.m. on Jan. 24, 2017, at the West Linn Library, 1595 Burns St.

Contact Bresky via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. See links to his work at bobthenatureguy.wordpress.com.

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