My First Bicycle Ride
by Rick Price
I grew up in a company-owned logging and lumber town at the crest of the Coast Range Mountains in Oregon. The most notable thing about Valsetz (the name derives from a combination of the name of the logging railroad, the “Valley and Siletz”) was that it enjoyed an average of 120 inches of rainfall each year and grew the best Douglas Fir trees within a five hundred-mile radius.
When I lived in Valsetz in the mid-1950s the town had about 1200 inhabitants. Everyone worked logging the woods or at the company mill, the company store, the recreation ("rec") hall, movie theatre or at the public school. Our town actually had its own little school district as the next closest public school was sixteen miles away over a gravel road. My dad was School Superintendent, taught most high school subjects and coached most sports. Mom was the music teacher. She also taught drama and all levels of high school English. The school was just across the street from our house, which was provided by the company (as were all the houses in town). The street was made of heavy wooden planks hewn from the finest old-growth Douglas fir trees in the world. The planks covered what would otherwise have been an impossibly muddy road. In the fall, before the rains started, the company dump truck drove down the alleys in town dumping freshly cut Doug fir firewood, rich with fir resin and free for the taking.
Many of the kids rode their bikes to school, weather permitting. Those who lived in the old logging camps on the edge of town had a couple of miles to ride. Nobody locked their bikes since there was no one to steal them. Or so they thought.
We had no kindergarten in Valsetz. Those not old enough to go to school stayed home with their moms. Since my mom worked I stayed with Anna Kolen, our neighbor across the wooden alley. She had seven kids, most in school, so she took in a few children to baby sit. We liked that because her husband, Oscar, was one of the main sawyers in the woods. He was a big man and wore heavy caulked boots. His overalls were so big that when Anna shorted them for him the cuttings made great sailor caps which she sewed for us. The Kolens also were one of the first families in town to get a television set. As I recall we enjoyed Captain Kangaroo first at their house.
It must have been the spring of 1955, when my buddy Bill Miller and I were nearly six (and headed for school in the fall). The great innovation that spring was the paving of the parking lot at the company store and rec hall as well as the school playground which my dad had convinced the company to do. It was a beautifully paved surface, sloping just enough for the heavy winter rains to run off into the open ditches along the plank road. Sunny spring weather had driven us outside and Bill and I found our way to the collection of bikes in the school yard.
If you’ve taught anyone to ride a bike you know that a smooth, slightly inclined surface is a perfect place to learn to ride without training wheels. If you get on the bike so that both feet touch the ground, and you start to coast, you’ll be riding that bike in no time. Well, indeed, I don’t know who started it but Bill and I picked out a couple of bikes that fit us just about perfectly and we started to coast down that new asphalt and in no time we were pedaling, turning, and headed down the plank-covered sidewalks along main street. It wasn’t long before we had covered every wooden sidewalk in the south end of town. I can still remember the exhilaration I felt as I sailed through that little company logging town, free as a bird - until it came time to go home.
Our lark didn’t go undiscovered for long. Anna was standing in the schoolyard, hands on her hips, as we pedaled back to deliver those bikes. I can't remember the exact consequences but I expect it had to do with "business end" of an 18-inch long piece of Douglas fir kindling.
I still don’t know whose bike I "borrowed" on that wonderful spring day in 1955 but it sure was a good fit. I do know, though, that about a month later, my sixth birthday present was one of the best ever. It was my sister Sue's old pink girl's bike painted blue. What a surprise that was. And what a great summer I had with that bike.
.You'll all be pleased to know that the Valsetz hill dust is as abundant and dirty as ever.
Yesterday, Kent Penter and I made an over-the-hill trek to our beloved former
Valsetz site. Neither of us had been there for a few years and our curiosity finally motivated us to endure the dust and the washboard-like road for a "look-see".
Encountering a few logging trucks along the way, as well as some road hunters and other questionable vehicles, we were amazed at the new vistas that have opened up
as a result of recent logging operations. The day was cool and clear and with
little or no breeze, the dust from passing vehicles hung in the air like an early morning
fog, covering the leaves of the roadside vine maples and muting their brilliant fall colors.
As we came down off the hill and onto "the flats" we looked for the road to the
former county farm. The road is there but is blocked by a gate. Continuing on
we looked for the little creek that marked the boundary of the former townsite but
the creek appears to have vanished.
Looking for other landmarks or points with which to establish some reference
also proved futile. The vegetation and trees have grown to the extent that other
than one building and crumbled asphalt there is little to indicate people ever
Continuing on down the road past the old "Upper Western" site we were surprised
to find a new road and bridge crossing the river approximately 200 yards down river from the old dam site. The current road to the new bridge is very narrow but work
is being done to blast away rock to make the road wider and usable by log trucks
that will save several miles of driving around the old pond.
Down river, we stopped to share memories of bright steelhead and salmon caught at the big hole just below where the north fork joins the main river. Fortunately, the
logging or road building hasn't affected this prized river hole and it looks the same
as it did 50-60 years ago. We didn't see any fish but with "no fishing allowed above
the falls" we knew they were lurking there, resting before continuing the journey
to the spawing beds of the North Fork.
Back across the flats, wondering to ourselves about the "Legend of Cougar Jim"
we looked but could not find the trail to his former shack.
Up and over the hill, we stopped at "Cold Springs" to wash the dust from our
throats. Happily, this landmark and spring flows eternal and serves as a welcome reminder of our past.
My Valsetz story
Nita Mcdonald from Waldport, Oregon
I lived in Valsetz many years ago. Married to Jerry Mason (wonderful piano player)Jerry grew up there, his folks were Wilma and Curly. I loved Valsetz. I remember when I moved there after marrying Jerry, one of the ladies said, It's a great place for kids...just turn them loose, the neighbors will watch them. That was true too. Jerry worked in the mill, besides playing music in nightclubs around Oregon. A lot of things have changed since then. Jerry and I divorced but remained friends. He has since passed on. About three years ago, I wanted to retire and move to the coast....I happen to see an ad in the Nickle Ad
in Redmond Oregon about a piece of property in Waldport Or. for sale. I called, talked to the lady about the property...came to Waldport and looked at it. Oh my...it had been sitting idle for about 10 years so you can imagine the overgrowth. But...I saw potential. So, I bought the property. We started falling trees, pulling up berry vines, clearing the property. There was one beautiful tall tree standing there, and I said...Leave that tree!!!! Do not cut it! Under all the overgrown brush and berryvines was a large stack of old lumber that had been used at one time but was still in good shape. I talked some more to the wonderful woman that I bought the property from and this is what I heard... Her husband was teaching at Valsetz when they shut the school down. His name was Robert Hansen. The tree growing here on my property was a baby when he brought it from Valsetz and planted it.It is now a very nice tall tree and every one that comes to visit comments on the beautiful tree. And...my 40 ft. deck is built from lumber from the Valsetz mill in which I am sure that my Father in law handled when he worked in the sawmill, and the other lumber is from the tore down school that Mr Hansen loaded up and brought here.Mr hansen and his family owned property here and planned to build but saddly, he passed away before he was able to.I was meant to have this property because of the memories. I will pass it on to my kids who as young as they were, still remember the wonderful place called Valsetz, oregon.
As I've mentioned several times in my blog that I am a product of smalltown America. I come from a town a lot like the one Thorton Wilder writes in his play, "Our Town". Un like his town we never had a local cemetary. Most of those who died in Valsetz were buried in either Falls City or Dallas. But like Thorton Wilders play we had the usual drama and personal experiences that people live through in their daily lives.
I never grew up in a jungle of tall buildings and concrete. The jungle or forest if you will where I grew up is located in the Coast Range Mountains approxmiately 50 miles west of the state Capital, Salem.
It is this time of year that I remembr Valsetz the most. The changing color of the trees and the ever present rain. In fact, it is said that Valsetz was the rain capital of the United States except for some exotic place in Hawaii, but who actual counts Hawaii. You just know if there is a place in Hawaii that gets more rain the Valsetz area it was created to impress the tourists. I can't imagine anyone actually living in a rainy part of Hawaii. I would have to say it rained in Valsetz from Halloween until Memorial Day in May. If it wasn't raining it was snowing. There were parts of the town that was nothing but a large mud puddle three fourths of the year.
The combination of the rain and the type of soil found in the Laurel Mountain area where Valsetz was located is considered the best place in the world for fir trees to grow. We had several variety of firs, Douglas fir, hemlock, cedar, spruce, white pine, and others that slip my mind. Our hillsides were also covered with viny-maples, alder, chitum (cascara), various wild fruit trees (crabapple, prune), huckleberries, skunk cabbage, Oregon grape and sallal.
I suspect the bounty that God blessed on the area is why Valsetz ever came to be. Men and women brought their families from various places around the world in the early 1900s to places like Valsetz. They brought their families to the region in search for jobs and some amount of prosperity and a small chunck of the American dream. These people were hard working people. People that had never heard of ergonomics, SAIF, or sick leave. These were people that endured the environment and the elements that nature provided or put up as obsticles. These people came to the area as loggers, camp cooks, millworkers, train engineers, road builders and carpenters. They came in the early 1900s and carved out small logging camps all along the Siletz river and its tributaries.
Eventually these small logging camps evolved into one town, Valsetz. Until the day the town's last standing homes were razed by Boise Cascade, the town was often referred to as, "Camp" by the older residents. I do not ever remember my dad or any of his peers referring to Valsetz as anything other then "Camp". "Better call in the dogs and wrap it up, its time to head back to camp".
This picture of the men sitting in front of the sawmill were of the original settlers in Valsetz. My dad's grandfather, father and uncles are seated in the front row. Eventually the timber industry would take my dad's father and one of my dad's uncle's lives. My dad lost his dad when he was nine years old from an industrial accident and a few years later one of his uncles would be killed in the woods as well. In Falls City our family has at least five men that lost their lives in the woods.
In the mid-1980s Boise Cascade Corporation had determined that the plywood plant and the residence of Valsetz were no longer vital to their bottom line and to Boise Cascade's shareholders. The fact that those from Valsetz had built the company to the success it had become meant nothing to the corporate heads. Everything that had come before Boise Cascade meant nothing as well.
The decision was made to fire, layoff and downsize to a small crew to raze the mill and the town. As people found new towns and homes to move their families to outside of Valsetz, the town crew was ordered to put a red "X" on the side of their home and within days bulldoze and burn the home. Very few were offered jobs in other Boise Cascade mills and many found it difficult to adopt to the "civilized" world. Within a few years many of those men that my dad had grew up with and worked with in the mill for twenty plus years had passed on. Old age, too much alcohol, cancer or heart attacks I do not really know. I suspect broken hearts.
In the summer of 1985 the town was to be finally "closed". There were to be no more families to raise, no more ball games to attend, no more school days, no more life in Valsetz. On that last day the largest Mountain Days-wake ever was thrown. There was enough bar-be-ques, beer kegs and live music for a large city to be had. People met at the school grounds and brought their grills, favorite adult beverage, musical instruments and memories. The day was filled with hugs, tears, laughs and more tears This picture is the last picture of the folks from my hometown. It was taken by a Statesman Journal reporter. I look through it ever so often and note those who have passed and those I can't remember their names. I also notice those I grew up with and the parents of the kids I knew.
I can't boast that any of these people were the greatest at anything. They probably weren't necessarily the best looking people in the world nor were they the smartest that I ever met. I don't know if any of them ever created anything great or solved any world problems, but they were my people and in my eyes, the best.
I'm sure you have a story you would like to share with other Valsetzers
E-mail me your story
I have become a crazy man since I have figured out how to post pictures. You can only imagine what kind of crazy I was when I figured out how the boy/girl thing worked when I was in the fifth grade getting the snot beat out of me in the ceramic room on a regular basis. The ceramic room is the three windows above the main entrance in the middle of the building.
This is the grade school junior high high school rolled up in one that I attended when I was growing up in Valsetz. This building was built early in the 20th century and torn down in the early 1980s.
Valsetz originally began as a small logging camp in the Coast Range Mountains in Oregon approximately 50 miles west of the state Capital in Salem. The town grew from several logging camps in the immediate area of the Siletz River, which meets the Pacific in Lincoln City. Valsetz was always owned by one timber company or another throughout its existance. At its largest Valsetz was inhibited with a little under 1,000 residence. The normal population would have remained around 600.
Valsetz had a plywood mill and a studmill, a company store, medical clinic, dance hall, library, post office, two churches, a pool hall, a two lane bowling alley, a firehouse, a VFW hall and a school. No bars, the adults drank where ever they damn well pleased. The residence lived in several hundred row houses that were rough at best but homey to all of us that grew up in them.
Since the town was owned by Boise Cascade since 1960 and they considered the families there as chattel Boise Cascade one day made a business decision to kick the people to curb, take their profits and leave. In 1985 the town was closed and then burned to the grown and the residence were dispursed throughout on their own.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Salem, Oregon, United States .
ANOTHER VALSETZ STORY BY FRANK
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Rick Price, Ph.D.
President and Founder
Experience Plus! Specialty Tours, Inc.
Bicycling and Walking tours Since 1972
970-484-8489 or 1-800-685-4565
Track me on my mobile photo blog: http://www.flickr.com/photos/expeditionplus.
Click OK to visit Rick's web site
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.... Some of the sweet memories of life in Valsetz...
Dale Jayne who now lives in Germany
How sweet it is!
I remember when nobody had a TV and rabbit ears were those long fuzzy things on rabbits.
All we had was either Purdys pirate station or Lucky Lager Dance Time on the car radio.
We didn't get food poisoning because it didn't come packaged with the product. We could eat raw hamburger because it didn't have cow shit in it already.
Spam was pretty good then and hadn't yet become a joke . We didn't even know that we were eating a Hawaiian Cuisine. Arthur Godfry never talked about it and I never heard it mentioned on "Hawaii Calls".
Depending on the season, milk left on the porch would either freeze or spoil in the bottles so if you weren't home, the delivery man, Tom from Kreider's, would come in your house and put it in the fridge for you. I never heard of anyone having a problem with that or with locking the doors.
We used to dry out after swimming in the Valsetz pond and then have to peel the dried slime off our skin. It's funny but I don't remember getting sick from it.
There were only 3 kinds of shoes to choose from. Boots, dress shoes, and tennis shoes. Things were much easier then because we generally all wore the same kind at the same time for the same reasons. Nobody ever got mugged for expensive basketball/running/tennis/ or whatever shoes.
What "school nurse"? We only had the "Doc" down at the post office who wasn't really a doctor but helped a lot of people. The "Emergency Room" was a ride into town in somebody's car or on the "Speeder". People just hoped that that Doc could keep them alive long enough to get there.
Anger Management was getting your ass kicked by a bigger kid. That worked nearly 100% ... and it usually took just one session. And the funny thing is that I grew up still loving those bigger kids that kicked mine.
God how I sometimes miss it all
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OVER THE HILL DRIVE
Hometown, Ghost Town
By Paul Lawry 09/15/09
I had the privilege of growing up in Valsetz Oregon from 1949 until 1960, because my father got a new job in Salem Oregon. Valsetz got its name from “Valley” and “Siletz”, as it was the headwaters of the Siletz River, which was named after the Siletz Indians.
The town began in 1912 when a lumber mill was built which became well known for its supreme quality of old growth Douglas Fir lumber. Cobbs & Mitchell formed a new lumber company and operated the mill until 1945. It was then sold to Herbert Templeton in 1945; Boise Cascade purchased the mill from him in 1959.
My Father worked at the mill from 1947 until 1960 as a timekeeper; he was responsible for keeping track of the payroll for the employees. While working there he decided to take an accounting course through the mail from La Salle University. Upon completion he applied for a job in Salem, Oregon at an accounting firm and was subsequently hired. We then moved to Woodburn, Oregon for a few months until suitable housing was found in Salem. We were able to rent a house in Woodburn from the pastor of Valsetz Community Church. I attended a one room school house for the remainder of my fifth grade.
My Mother was a homemaker during this time, cooking on a wood stove for five years. We moved to a different house next door that had a propane tank for heat and cooking. At least now she didn’t have to carry in wood to cook with. Both of my parents were very active in the church, as it was the only one there. My Dad helped build the church in 1948.
The community was very isolated; it was approximately 30 miles from the closest town. It had a two lane bowling alley (manual pin setter) with a restaurant, one grocery store and a church. The school consisted of grades K-12, with a graduating class of around 20 each year.
It wasn’t until later in life that I realized how fortunate I was to have grown up in such a small, unique community. We could go out and play without any worry of being kidnapped or any other crime committed. There was not even a Police Officer in the town; we didn’t need one. I remember how many times my friends and I would go down to the log pond and look for the goldfish, some were very large. Whenever my Grandma and Grandpa would come up for a visit we would take the boat out and go fishing for trout. I’ll never forget a picture my Mom took of myself, my brother and Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table displaying our catch.
A few facts about Valsetz: Annual rainfall was around 12’. A nearby piece of land was set aside by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) called “The Valley of The Giants”. This was a stand of old growth Douglas Fir that was saved from the chainsaw.
At its heyday, the mill had over 200 employees. The lumber economy was suffering in the late 70’s and early 80’s in this region. Due to the cost of manufacturing and shipping the mill was shut down in early 1984.
Boise Cascade made that decision to close the mill, which meant the town would also close as there were no other means of employment. The town folk were given the notice that they would have to be out of their homes by June 1, 1984 as the next phase was to burn and destroy what remained. They were able to move the lumber mill machinery, new High School and the Valsetz Community Church. Everything else was destroyed by bulldozers and fire.
As I look back now after having been gone for many years, I can only think and feel tremendous sadness. I cannot go visit my hometown as it doesn’t exist. The Valsetz pond where I spent so many happy hours at is gone, the only thing remaining is a dried up lake full of brush and trees. Valsetz was once a thriving community full of life, now it’s considered a Ghost Town.
If you are interested in learning more about Valsetz, go the following link, www.valsetzoregon.com. A picture of me in the third grade is in the School Photo Section.
My parents were living in Valsetz when I was born January 1928. My Dad was a Millwright in the Mill from 1924 to 1931 and then again 1935 -1938. Nearly all of my mother's family, Lefevers, lived in Valsetz from when Mill began in 1922 and untill it shut down in 1931. My Uncle Richard Lefever worked there first in 1919 at Camp one. A limb fell on him and paralyzed one of his arms. Because of this Cobbs and Mitchell sent him to business school in Portland after accident to be able to make a living(this was before SAIF) I started First Grade there in 1934-35. All 12 grades were in the school as shown with a Gymn located behind school. All sidewalks were planks as well as Roads were Plank roads except for wide street going down to Company Owned Store,it ran beside Baseball field where Company team played semipro games. The Company owned Pool Hall was across street from Storeand Post Office. non of the streets had regular names .FDR's Public works program built government designed 2 holer for each house and they backed up against each other for every two Houses. they were located on old Plank roads. Some really funny stories were created by that arrangement. Some Street were Tin Can alley ,Snooze ville etc. some of my Classmates are in your Memorial pages as well as family members; Dorothy Ann Hobson(Valsetz Star) was in my class starting in the second ,third and fourth grades. We moved out of Valsetz in August 1938 to Dallas and then to Salem when WW2 Started in 1942 and all saw mills began working two shifts. My Dad ended up as Millwright Foreman at the old Spaulding Mill beside Oregon Pulp and Paper. My Mother, Anna Davis (1901-2000) told me why we always moved in or out in August. It was only Dry month of year and you could get to Fall City with your Furniture. Otherwise we always had a rented Garage at Pedee or Hoskins and would ride the Diesal Single Car. WE all called it the Skunk because the exhaust smelled so bad. I remeber Feb 1937 ; the year of the big snow in my early life. 37 inches. A friendly Farm family took us , Arthur (Knute) Davis family and Roy Gausso(sp) family in for about 3 days before we could get going again. The reason I remember this so well is Mrs' Murphy's third grade Class was having our Valentines party and I missed it. Laurel Busbee (sp) was my 1st and 2nd grade Teacher. When I think of Valsetz and my years there ; it always brings back fond memories of growing up in a truly egalitarian enviroment. I am sure Valsetz shaped my life and grounded me in judging people by their actions and not who their father may be or how they dressed.
I had no problem by starting school in our small town or having teachers right out of Normal school in Monmouth. School was always fun for me and I eventually became a Civil Engineer , class of 1952 OSU. Actually finished in December 1951 by having military credits and good old G.I. bill paid the Bills. I live in Newport ,Oregon now and been retired for 18 years.I served them as their City Manager/City engineer for 29 years. The council treated me very nice at retirement and named a Park for me overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I do have 1920'sand 1930 pictures of the people and area.
I had not been back there since 1948 and this last March 2009 ,I had a nice trip back over the Logsden Road up the Canyon and back down through old railroad grade through sunshine and rock creek to Logsden. Of course only Memories there ;but I could find where our home which was locared by hill I played on with my dog Sandy and picked real blackberries for berry pie made by my mother in 1930's.
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WAY BACK WHEN
By Mr. Donald A. Davis (now 82 years of age)