Monday, May 5, 2014

The Mill at Orofino, ID

Office at Orofino Mill
My family is a timber family.  We have been involved in the industry in one capacity or another for the last 90 years.  Primarily it was my step grandfather but my father and brother have also been involved in the industry as well as several uncles, cousins, etc.  I think that the first time that my Grandpa Gwen had a mill of some sort was probably in the early 1930’s when he had what was called a one-horse mill near Culdesac, ID.  I really don’t much more about it than just that.  I know that during the 1940’s he owned a mill up on McCormick Ridge in the present day Waha area.  His best friend trucked the lumber down (he was my natural grandfather, Richard Tannahill) and much of the lumber was sold at my grandmother’s lumber lot.  Grandpa Gwen gave up that mill in 1949 and began a mill in Orofino, ID in the Black Pine area. 
Mill at Orofino, ID

Some of my mother’s favorite child hood memories were involved with spending a few weeks in the summer up at McCormick Ridge helping Granny Shearer with the cooking for the men.  When Grandpa Gwen bought the mill in Orofino – much of his time was spent during the week working at the mill and he was successful.  My grandmother notes in her diary near the end of 1954:

“1954 has been a very fine and prosperous year for us.  At the beginning of 1954 we owed around $ 85,000 as a result of our 1954 remodeling of the mill – converting to band and all electric power. 

We have been able to pay off all indebtedness incurred as a result of this change over everything except our Mortgage at the bank on the real estate.

We set up a bookkeeping system with a fine and adequate set of books – but the office and got into around the first of April with Linda as a bookkeeper.

We incorporated July 1st to help reduce our income tax.

We ran two shifts at the mill from July 6th until fall. “

Taken sometime during the 1950's  Orofino, ID
Grandpa Gwen spent a lot of time going back and forth between Orofino and Lewiston and it seemed that 1954 was a year that they spent modernizing the mill and making it more profitable…which has to be the primary goal for a business man.

Then on November 23, 1955…tragedy struck…my grandmother noted in her diary:

“Mill Fire we had a rude awakening at 6:00 AM when Marian called that the mill had burned down.  We got there at 8:15 – the fire department still pouring water on the remains. 
It was discovered around 5:30 just before it exploded throwing fire in every direction.
The office has been a mad house with people coming and going all day and the telephone busy.  

There’s certainly a lot of sad men.

The green chain and the new fuel bin which was to have gone into operation on Monday are left intact."

This happened the day before Thanksgiving and Grandma notes on 25 Nov 1955 - the day after Thanksgiving:

We went up today – Mom the girls and I to let them see the mill or what remains of it…We will get about $ 88,000 out of the Insurance.  Then the next day:  Father is downtown checking on possibilities of future mill site to build again.  Everyone asks us what our plans to build are…Gwen doesn't know himself as yet.

What followed over the next few years were probably the hardest points in my grandparent’s lives.  With the loss of the mill and the building of the new one in Elk City, ID – money was tight.  My grandmother went back to school to get re-certified as a teacher and worked immediately as a substitute teacher.  They faced bankruptcy and spent the next 10 years rebuilding their business and life.  It is a tribute to their hard work and smart business acumen that the new mill that they built in Elk City was a modern and technologically advanced mill for the time.  I know that Grandpa Gwen was looking into the possibilities of the mill before his Orofino mill burned down – but I have to wonder…would the outcome of been different if that mill hadn't burned down in Orofino!
Little is left of my Grandpa's mill at Orofino - Dad and I drove by the site this
past weekend - and this is all that remains of that mill.