Recently I read an article that placed four of Simpson Timber Co.’s mills on the sale block, and the Shelton mill in my hometown was among those listed, triggering memories from my childhood.
On my next visit to Shelton, I pulled off the road near the familiar log memorial that welcomes visitors. Slowly I scanned the historic events marked by the growth rings on the butt end of this ancient Douglas fir skimming across the centuries with names like Marco Polo and Galileo.
The memory with the greatest impact that I associate with this monument took me back to 1951, the year my family moved to Simpson’s logging camp, Camp Grisdale, which is the year this tree was harvested.
My older brother recollects this event with more clarity than I. “We were told one day in our schoolroom,” he recalls, “that one of the biggest fir trees ever felled in the Olympic Mountain watershed was going to be on one of the morning logging trains leaving Camp Grisdale for Shelton, and that we would be allowed to watch it go by.
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As I remember, it took up to four to five railroad cars with the butt end the only piece on the first car. Everyone associated with the school and community who were not working attended …lots of oohs, aahs and clapping.” A spectacular introduction to Camp Grisdale.
When I look back now, I am amazed of all this forested community had to offer – five rows of one, two, and three bedroom houses with garages, a two-room schoolhouse for eight grades (older students were bused to Montesano), a local store, post office, movie theater, a bowling alley, barber chair, billiards and card tables, a bunk and mess house for single men and an auditorium for concerts and school plays.
Our family was there because our Grandfather’s small gypo logging company, Circle S Construction and Logging, of which my father was the road construction foreman, had a contract with Simpson to log certain settings of timber they didn’t want to do themselves. My grandfather (Ralph E. Stevens) became a specialist at logging hard-to-get-at timber stands and became known as the “odd-corner” man. High-lead spar trees, donkeys, guy wires, main line, whistle punks, landing areas, arch, yarders, loaders, etc. were common place terms of the day to fell trees and yard them to the landing area. They they were loaded on trucks and taken to the Simpson reload facilities at Camp Grisdale/Canyon River/Camp Govey for transport to the Shelton mills via steam engine trains that were soon replaced by diesel/electric power.
Camp Grisdale shut down in 1986, following the major recession of the 1970’s, but the pull of the forest still tugged at my brother. He helped pay for his education at the University of Washington by working summers and sometimes Christmas and spring break holidays on the Simpson survey crew that took him to all sorts of future logging sites including Camp Grisdale where all this started.
The imagery from my brother’s memories of his time on the survey crew sum up so appropriately the reverence for nature passed down to us during our years growing up as part of a logging family. “For a summer job it doesn’t get any better. We many times found ourselves in mountain meadows where I doubt very few if any humans were there before us. Mother nature was in full force with cow elk chasing us up on big stumps, bears poking their heads out of scrub trees, deer everywhere, yellow jackets waiting in lurk and beautiful views of mountains and river valleys below.”
My younger brother, who was born during the year we lived at Camp Grisdale, also briefly followed the family’s footsteps into the forest, working a couple of summers on Simpson’s fire prevention crew.
Quite an adventure for our family with amazing ties to Simpson Timber Co., the biggest employer at that time in Mason County. None of this history would have mattered, however, if it wasn’t for our grandfather who loved trees, the woods and the logging industry.
And what of the monument carved from the giant Douglas fir that started this story? To date, this memorial, which is cared for by the Shelton Kiwanis Club, has existed in commemoration of the forest for 63 years.