Sherwood Public Library to feature displays put together by Don and Yvonne Scheller, paying homage to the old cannery in Old Town

GAZETTE PHOTO: RAY PITZ - Don and Yvonne Scheller stand in front of several displays commemorating the glory days of Portland Canning Company, which once was Sherwood's largest employer before shutting down in 1972.Although nothing is left of the Portland Canning Co, which once dominated seven acres of buildings east of the railroad tracks in Old Town Sherwood, Don and Yvonne Scheller want to remind the residents of a facility that was once the lifeblood of the community.

The history of the cannery began at its 1918 opening (permits were obtained a year earlier) and a cannery of some sort or another dominated the landscape of Sherwood's Old Town for almost 55 years.

In its heyday, the sprawling structure spanned a large piece of property east of the railroad tracks, stretching from Washington Street to what's now Cannery Row Apartments. It was at one time the city's largest employer.

Recently, the Schellers, who both grew up in Sherwood and worked at the cannery, put up displays commemorating the glory days of a company that once canned berries, pole beans, onions, brined cherries, sauerkraut and countless other fruits and vegetables until it shut down in late 1971, the doors locked for good the following year. In addition, frozen berries were packaged at the cannery as was fermented cabbage in oak barrels that would soon become sauerkraut.

Both Don and Yvonne Scheller are two of only a handful of administrative types from the cannery still alive. And those numbers are rapidly dwindling.

"I loved it," Don Scheller said of his days at the cannery. "Just good people to work with. It was hard work, and you were always busy."

Don Scheller would spend 22 years working at the sprawling plant as an assistant warehouse manager and would sometimes drive a truck to pick up raw materials. Eventually the cannery would be comprosed of four large buildings that were all connected and included a warehouse and labeling building.

Yvonne Scheller, Don's wife, worked at the cannery during high school and one summer. She later would come back to work seasonally for three years and then spend six years working at the company year-round. She said fresh produce proved to be the downfall of the cannery.

GAZETTE PHOTO: RAY PITZ - Yvonne Scheller shows several packages (and cans) containing the Sherwood label, which were packaged during the heydey of the Portland Canning Company. Throughout the years, the cannery would operate under a variety of names. Originally opening as the Graves Canning Co., the business was shut down for a brief period of time by 1928. A short time later, Sanford Lasselle purchased the operation from R.D. Bodle, and renamed it the Lasselle Canning Co. The first order of business was to can 25,000 cases of plums.

The company would change names in 1930, becoming Portland Canning Co., incorporating the same year and signing a contract to produce 50,000 cases of plums a short time later.

According to a written history put together some years ago by Courtney Lasselle, the company grew relatively rapidly.

"At the start, less than 100 people were employed for a short time, a month or so," he wrote. "During the packing season the plant ran three shifts per day and at (seasonal packing) times had as many as 300 employees."

Sanford Lasselle managed the company until his death in 1955, when his son, Courtney, took over.

Don Scheller praised the Lassalle family as being great people to work for.

In addition to packing under private labels, Sherwood Canning Co. would pack under the Lasselle, Tempting, Real, Robin Hood, Sherwood and Forest Grove (there was a plant operated by the company in Forest Grove) labels, according to the Schellers, news reports and written histories.

The products would be placed in everything from 8-ounce cans to 1 gallon cans. There were larger cans of berries as well that weighed from 10 to 30 pounds, all sold to a variety of fruit product companies including Smuckers, said Yvonne Scheller.

Like all of the Portland area, the infamous 1962 Columbus Day Storm hit the cannery hard as well.

"They lost thousands of dollars worth of property and machinery," Yvonne Scheller recalled.

But changes in culture and technology all but doomed the iconic facility.

"By the early 1970s, food shipments by airplane had become so common that fresh produce was readily available in grocery stores during off-season and winter months," Yvonne Scheller wrote in a history of Portland Canning Co. "As a result, demand for canned goods dramatically decreased, and in 1972, the cannery was forced to close its doors forever."

COURTESY OF YVONNE SCHELLER - A worker weighs a one-gallon can of green beans coming across an assembly line at the now-defunct Portland Canning Company.According to a newspaper clipping the Schellers saved, the actual demise of the cannery was announced Nov. 22, 1971, when employees were told not to report back to the job the next day. Some, however, were told they would be called back to work later if they were needed.

Don Scheller said there was a final auction of cannery equipment, the money was used to pay off creditors just before locking the doors for the last time.

"I locked it up in '72," said Don Scheller, 84, who said he immediately walked across the street to the bank and delivered the key to the place to a bank executive. "That was a sad day because I liked working there better than any place I've ever worked."

After locking up, he packed up his wife and children and took a 10,000-mile road trip in the family's camper. Don Scheller would go on and work for Blue Mountain Pet Food in Tualatin for the next 16 years.

Yvonne Scheller wrote in her historical account of the cannery that it was more than simply a place to work.

"Its memory will be held fondly in the hearts of the residents of Sherwood," she wrote.COURTESY OF YVONNE SCHELLER - Workers at the Portland Canning Company sort green beans, which was a very labor-intensive procedure.

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