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A parade, a pageant, and Paul Bunyan. These may not be the first three things that come to mind when you think about fire prevention, but residents of Mason County, Washington, back in 1945 had their own unique ideas. To help combat the destructive wildfires in the region — while also promoting the importance of forests to the local economy — Mason County hosted a forest festival in the spring of 1945. The festival featured a parade through downtown Shelton, a beauty pageant, a Paul Bunyan impersonator, and various other events and activities. The idea proved even more successful than imagined. This weekend Shelton hosts the 69th annual Mason County Forest Festival, which still prominently features a parade, pageant, and Paul Bunyan, just like back in 1945.

Paul Bunyan leads parade (FHS773)

Wayne Allen as Paul Bunyan leads the parade through Shelton, 1954.

The history of Shelton is closely tied with the history of logging operations in the area. In 1853, Michael T. Simmons built the first sawmill in Mason County on Mill Creek just south of present-day Shelton. Around this same time, David Shelton (the town’s namesake) staked a settlement claim on a nearby inlet off Puget Sound. As the town grew, its connections to the forest industry only strengthened. Sol G. Simpson came to the area and founded the Simpson Logging Company in the 1890s. The Simpson Company would eventually grow and expand throughout the country, but Shelton served as an important center of operations for much of the following century. The area was also notable for being the home of the Shelton Cooperative Sustained-Yield Unit, which became active in 1946 and ended in 2002.

The first Mason County Forest Festival in 1945 honored the area’s logging history by showcasing the value of timber to the community, while demonstrating the importance of safeguarding the forests against destructive fires. Fire prevention was a prominent theme, as the Mason County Forest Festival Association was at this time operated as an auxiliary of the local chapter of the Keep Washington Green Committee.

Following that first festival – in which Lois Gibler was crowned Festival Queen and Gus Anderson played the part of Paul Bunyan – the event only grew. People from the northwestern Washington region flocked to Shelton to see, in the words of an ad for the 12th annual Forest Festival, “the dramatic Forest Pageant, the thrilling parade and the exciting contests in which loggers demonstrate their skills at falling, bucking, tree topping and truck driving. For three memorable days, the communities participate in a program which you can’t afford to miss.” The idea of a forest festival quickly spread across the country along with the Keep Green program. “You have in Shelton, in my opinion, the best all-around forest festival in the United States,” read a quote from a mid-1950s article on the event. “It has been the inspiration of many forest communities throughout the U.S.”

Carving Shelton Log Sign 1953

Artist Clarence Beauchamp (right) carving Douglas fir log sign, 1953.

The ninth annual Forest Festival in 1953 was one for the ages. The monumental event celebrated the 100th anniversary of logging operations in Mason County, and a large sign carved into a piece of Douglas fir was permanently dedicated (the log sign still welcomes visitors to Shelton today). On the festival’s final day 30,000 people — about six times the regular population of the town — crowded into Shelton to watch the Paul Bunyan Parade through downtown.

The 1953 event was an early high point for the festival, but there have been many other great moments throughout the years. Continue below to see featured images from the FHS Archives documenting the long history of the Mason County Forest Festival. (more…)

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Small crowds gathered around the Bellingham, Washington, waterfront on a Tuesday afternoon this past February to watch a 93-foot red brick building crash to the ground. The planned demolition of the former bleach plant building was just the latest chapter in the ongoing transformation of the city’s waterfront landscape. Once the site of a sprawling, state-of-the-art pulp and paper mill complex, the area is now part of a massive redevelopment and environmental cleanup effort. Numerous buildings have already been demolished and cleared away, leaving behind a digester building and two large tanks in the middle of an open expanse of concrete. The industrial skyline has given way to the first stages of a commercial waterfront district, signaling the beginning of a new era in Bellingham. The city’s industrial age, though, lives on in the Forest History Society Archives.

Bellingham waterfront

Pulp mill facilities on the Bellingham waterfront, circa 1946 (FHS6413).

It wasn’t that long ago that the now-vacant site was a center of regional pulp production. With its proximity to both quality timber and the shipping channels of Puget Sound, Bellingham was a natural venue for the pulp and timber industry. Puget Sound Pulp & Timber would ultimately be the company to put the city on the map. Formed in 1929, the Puget Sound Pulp & Timber Company was a conglomerate of pulp, logging, lumber, and railroad companies in northwestern Washington. Bellingham soon became the center of the company’s operations, and the first unit of a new pulp mill was built on the city’s waterfront in 1938.

The mill continued to expand and modernize over the following decades. An alcohol plant (the first such facility in the U.S. to produce industrial alcohol from sulphite waste) was completed in 1945. A new hydraulic barking and log chipping plant was completed in 1946. In 1947 a paperboard mill was added, as well as a chemical laboratory to research uses for pulp byproducts. The bleaching plant was completed in 1951. Further expansion occurred in 1958 when Puget Sound Pulp & Timber acquired Pacific Coast Paper Mills, which operated on an adjacent waterfront property.

In the mid-20th century Puget Sound Pulp & Timber was one of the largest and most modern pulp-making facilities in the region, with operations running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. On July 2, 1963, Puget Sound Pulp & Timber Company was acquired by the Georgia-Pacific Corporation. Georgia-Pacific operated the mill for the next four decades, eventually shutting down the pulp mill in March 2001 and the adjoining tissue paper and converting facilities in December 2007. Reconstruction plans for the abandoned waterfront complex began soon after.

Bellingham pulp mill

Sulphur silos and acid towers, with chip conveyor leading to the digester building. Puget Sound Pulp facilities, circa 1946 (FHS6404).

Materials documenting the industrial history of the Bellingham waterfront can be found in the FHS Archives. We recently digitized two rare promotional photo albums distributed by Puget Sound Pulp & Timber in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The first album includes photos of the exterior and interior of the pulp mill facilities in Bellingham. The second album features photos of the company’s logging operations in the Clear Lake, Washington, area. View the photos from both volumes in the new online gallery: Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company Albums.

Also found in the FHS Archives is a copy of a 1953 promotional publication from the company: “Making Puget Pulp.” This large volume includes a visual documentation of the pulp manufacturing process. Photos follow logs as they are cleaned and barked, cut into chips, and then cooked in chemical solution until reduced to pulp. The pulp is then washed, screened, and bleached. The processed pulp is dried, cut into sheets for bailing, and then sold to mills where it is turned into various paper products. Take a visual tour of this pulp-making process via an excerpt from “Making Puget Pulp” (1953).

Continue below for a selection of Puget Sound Pulp & Timber Company advertisements from 1958-1963 (click images to enlarge).
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In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19, we here at Peeling Back the Barrrrk bring you the dramatic tale “Log Pirates of Puget Sound.” Although “Log Pirates” is an article by Stewart H. Holbrook that appeared in the January 1937 issue of American Forests, it reads like a pulp thriller/film noir from the 1940s, complete with a put-upon hero more married to his job than to his first wife, criminals with names like “High Pockets” and “Dark Moon,” cops on the take, stakeouts and undercover disguises, and keen detective work with a lot of gumshoeing. The film version would have starred Humphrey Bogart as William E. Craw, the battle-hardened former police captain-turned-log patrolman who suffered neither love nor corrupt loggers lightly.

Log Pirates of Puget Sound

This is how we envision the film having been cast if it were produced by Warner Bros. back in the late 1930s. If written as a swashbuckler, Robin Hood-type film, Errol Flynn would have made a great log pirate, stealing logs from villainous lumbermen along with the heart of a mill owner's daughter played by Olivia de Havilland.

What a great subject for a noir film this would be. Log theft was a major problem in the 1920s in the Tacoma, Washington, area. The high demand for lumber both in the U.S. and overseas had driven up prices, making piracy quite profitable and leading to the organization of gangs. The timber industry turned to the State of Washington for help. The legislature passed a law but did little else.  Desperate, seven timber companies came together to form the State Log Patrol in February 1928. They hired Craw, an ex-Marine with combat experience. He quickly assembled a crack squad of men and boats to start patrolling the waters and bust up the crime rings. Holbrook’s discussion of the use and abuse of log brands to identify ownership of logs is fascinating. The story of how Craw busted “High Pockets” Peterson because the ex-cop just happened to know about the properties of iron is straight out of Sherlock Holmes or, today, CSI. When the price of lumber dropped during the Great Depression, Craw had little crime solving to do and tried to start his own electronics shop to put food on the table for his second wife and children. Craw, his wife, and one of his two daughters were killed by a drunken reveler on July 4th, 1941, just a few months before lumber prices shot back up due to America’s entry into World War II and put the Log Patrol back in business.

Incidentally, Stewart Holbrook’s article was an excerpt from his book, “Holy Old Macinaw!”, which he brought up to date for the magazine. The article is a much better read. Once you’ve read “Log Pirates,” feel free to dig in a little deeper to the story over at the Washington State archives’ “History Link” website. Meanwhile, my piratical friend, hoist a tankard of grog to the memory of Cap’n Craw. Even a pirate must respect a lawman who can beat them at their own game.

Our thanks to American Forests for their permission to post this article!

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On this date in 1940, Washington Governor Clarence D. Martin issued an influential proclamation appealing for the positive action by all of Washington’s citizens in the prevention of wildfires.  This public proclamation would directly lead to the creation of the Keep Washington Green Association, an organization whose model was eventually copied by states throughout the country.

KWGlogo2_thMartin’s address came at a crucial time in the history of Washington and Oregon’s forests.  An increase in destructive forest fires in the Pacific Northwest during the early 20th century had culminated in the Tillamook Burns of the 1930s, a series of fires which destroyed massive amounts of the region’s timber.  These catastrophic fires led to great concern among foresters and forest industry leaders, including former U.S. Forest Service chief William B. Greeley, who at the time served as head of the West Coast Lumbermen’s Association.  Greeley publicly called for improved logging practices and more organized fire suppression.  His continued championing of these issues eventually led directly to Washington Governor Martin’s public proclamation of May 31, 1940.

KWGlogo3_thAlong with his address urging the public to embrace forest fire prevention, Governor Martin also called for a public meeting in Olympia five days later to further address the issues at hand.  At this meeting an organization was formed to create publicity campaigns promoting forest fire prevention.  Roderick Olzendam, public relations director for Weyerhaeuser Timber Company and originator of such slogans as “Timber is a Crop” and “Tree Farm,” proposed the new organization be named Keep Washington Green.  As the new organization began implementing forest fire prevention advertising campaigns and radio programs in Washington, the idea quickly began to spread.  In May 1941 Oregon Governor Charles Sprague called together 250 state leaders in Portland to replicate the program, forming a Keep Oregon Green Association.

Keep Oregon Green sticker

An early Keep Oregon Green promotional item.

Both state organizations undertook increasingly larger projects and campaigns to spread the word about forest fire prevention to the public.  Grassroots community-focused plans were established, as well as the production of dramatic radio presentations, newspaper features, and various promotional items.

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