History of Wendling Oregon
Original document is here: http://ths.sps.lane.edu/english/Period3/Nick/ Copied to this site for preservation in case the original disappears.
Springfield has been influenced by many people, but nobody has created more culture for a town than the Booth-Kelly Lumber Company and the early logging of the Mohawk Valley. Booth-Kelly operated one of the first major lumber mills in this area. This mill was located at the junction of Mill and Wolf Creeks and was originally owned by a man named Holcomb. Who in 1885, sold toWhitbeck and Sterns who operated the mill a short time and then sold it toJohnson and Wendling (Polley 14). In 1898, Robert Booth and the brothers George and Tom Kelly, all native Oregonians, bought the mill and it became part of the Booth-Kelly Lumber Company (Velasco – Lane 66). They flipped a coin and decided to name the mill town Wendling honoring George Wendling and in 1899 a post office was established.
The mill town of Wendling seemed to grow overnight. It first consisted of a bunk-house with forty-six rooms. Each room was furnished with electric lights and shared by two men. There were two reading rooms, bath-room, commissary, and a large, well-stocked store operated by the company. There were also a number of cottages for the use of the married men, a church, a school, and even a resident doctor. In 1900 the entire valley was booming with logging activity. A stagecoach line was established between Wendling and Springfield that ran three times a week, and with the addition of the telephone and telegraph lines, the town took its place among the mill towns of Lane County. In October of 1900, the Springfield-Wendling branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad was built which gave an outlet for the timber cut by the Booth-Kelly Lumber Company. With the help of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the milltown started to expand even more. Lumber was shipped by railroad instead of having to haul it by wagon. You could also travel to Eugene and back in one day on the Southern Pacific freight and passenger train, called the “Wendling Bullet” (Polley 73). Before the lumber could be shipped by rail, however, they had to get the timber to the mill.
Because the first logging was done with oxen and horses, the mill was located close to the timber. They would build a logging road out of small logs split and laid crossways. They would sometimes peel the logs and would bevel the end so that they would drag easier. The oxen were eventually replaced with a steam, diesel, or gas powered machine called a donkey. This was mounted on a large sled and was used for pulling logs. It consisted of a single engine driving a vertical winch drum. They would use a horse to pull the line out, sometimes as far as 1,000 feet or more to the logs. When they started pulling the log in, they would put a few wraps around the vertical drum and then coil the cable as the log was drug in to the landing. Another way that was used to transport the logs from the landing to the mill was with a pole chute or flume. The pole chute was a long wooden chute that ran from the top of the mountain down to the bottom. They used two and three log wide pole chutes. They would put the logs in the chute with the aid of the donkey and the logs would slide down the chute to the mill or to the water. The log would pick up speed and be traveling so fast that it would nearly catch on fire and would become airborne as it left the chute. Booth-Kelly operated a 2-mile long chute that ran into Mill Creek.
Another way to transport timber to the mill was via the Mohawk River and what was known as log drives. Three dams were built on Mill Creek and usedto drive logs to the Wendling Mill. The first dam was located about one-half mile above the picnic area and was built around 1901. The principal behind the dams was to fill the reservoir up with timber and then to release the spill gate. This rushed the trees downstream toward the mill. The splash dam, as they were called, allowed loggers to control the flow of water when floating down the river. When the logs would get hung up in the shallow water, they would have to drag them to deeper water. To do this they would use horse teams hitched to one end of the log and a tool called a peavey to push the log along. When they would get the log to deeper water, the dogger as he was called, would release the horses. If this was not done at the right time, the horse would get carried into the deeper water with the log and drown. The horses were shod with river-calk shoes. This consisted of sharp metal points on front and back of the shoes to give them better footing in the muddy water. Many of the horses would get what they called “mud fever” as a result of being in the water for long periods of time (Polley29).
The first mill on Mill Creek was a water power mill and had a vertical saw. Using the vertical saw was a very slow process. According to Joed Albro, one of the Wendling mill workers, “the old saw was so slow that they had time to go kill a deer and get back in time to set the saw to a new cant” (Polley 15). They soon upgraded to a circular saw.
With Booth-Kelly’s purchase of the Wendling mill site, more modern logging techniques, and rail logging, Wendling was transformed into a true mill town and the lumber output increased dramatically. The timber tributary to the Wendling mill on Mill Creek cut on an average of 40,000 to 50,000 feet to the acre. The timber was almost entirely yellow fir and averaged from three to seven feet in diameter and 100 to 150 feet in length. The mill could cut on an average 100,000 feet in ten hours with twenty-three men (Polley 49). These huge trees came in handy when it came to building Fall Creek’s Pengra covered bridge. Booth-Kelly supplied the 16” x 18” x 126 foot beams under the bridge to span the river. The bridge still remains with these boards that are some of the largest of any of Oregon’s covered bridges (Pengra).
In 1903 after realizing the future potential of timber land, the Southern Pacific Railroad announced that they would no longer sell land grants to individuals. This was in conflict with the terms of the 1869 Congressional Agreement. The Federal Government filed suit against the Southern Pacific Railroad and because of this Booth-Kelly was shut down in 1904 (Polley 3). This hurt Booth-Kelly because many people had to move to find other work. Two years later the mill re-opened, and by 1908 the town of Wendling had grown even larger with a locomotive barn, machine shop, blacksmith shop, train depot, bowling alley, barber shop, and even a skating rink. In August of 1910, fire, a timber company’s worst enemy, struck Wendling. The population of Wendling at the time was 700 people (Polley 102). Hard work by the mill’s employees controlled the fire and saved the mill but not until it had burned homes, shops and the school. Months later everything had been rebuilt and Booth-Kelly was back to full operation.
In 1913, Booth-Kelly converted their locomotive engines from wood to oil and steam generators replaced the old carbide lights. By 1921, Booth-Kelly employed over 250 men working in the field and mills, had 26 miles of rail track, and had 20 flat rail cars. It was reported that in one day they filled 32 cars with an average of 7,500 board feet to the car (Polley 116). The main line of the yarder was clocked at 30 miles per hour dragging a log and the haul back was even faster. In 1922, part of the mill burned down again but was rebuilt by 1924. In the spring of 1946, Booth-Kelly closed the mill during a labor dispute and a fire destroyed the mill later that year (Springfield News). In 1952, the Wendling post office closed and in 1959 after most of the timber had been depleted, the Booth-Kelly Lumber Company sold its land to the Georgia Pacific Corporation (Polley 124).
Today, the only landmarks left from the once lively mill town of Wendling is a covered bridge, a few roads, and a few homes of the remaining few that couldn’t bare to leave the peace and tranquillity of the surrounding hills. It is rumored that parts of a wooden flume remain in the hills above the Wendling site and that at the top a child’s cemetery can be found. A few of the people that used to call Wendling their home still get together periodically to have lunch and to reminisce. These “Wendlingites”, as they call themselves, have a history they can be proud of.
More information about Wendling can be found at The Wendling Project