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Goodyear-Nelson and Hardwood Products
mills in Sedro-Woolley: 1928-2006

      Founding partners Frank Goodyear and Victor Nelson in 1947. And a photo of mill workers in 1932 after the first round of mill construction.

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      Frank C. Goodyear and Victor L. Nelson organized the first "modern" mill in Sedro-Woolley after working for years for the Lewis brothers at the Clear Lake Lumber Co. The Lewises took over an exiting company, built their mill empire on the west side of the lake in the second decade of the 20th century and in 1911 they established a satellite lumber yard on in Sedro-Woolley where Marketplace Foods stands today.
      During World War I, their mill was heavily damaged by fire for the second time in 1919 and they quickly rebuilt and established the most modern and largest inland mill in Washington, according to author Dennis Thompson in Logging Railroads in Skagit County. The company peaked in 1925, with employment of 1,236 men, but by the end of the year, the company was in financial ruin. The May 13, 1926, issue of the Courier-Times reported that the Bank of California was foreclosing on the mortgage and by August 1927, the bank bought the assets in bankruptcy court.
      The Clearlake company was reorganized by the new Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Co. in 1929, but by then, Goodyear and Nelson had moved on. They bought a little mill owned by Ike Deeter on the north shore of Batey slough, south of State Street, which was then the main drag through Sedro-Woolley. Their new Goodyear-Nelson mill was on the original homestead of pioneer David Batey, one of the four British bachelors who settled the area in 1878. Batey's original 1880 home, which doubled as a hospital for his wife, Dr. Georgianna Batey, burned to the ground in 1923 out on what we now call Rhodes Road (still looking for the date) and they moved to a small house across Jameson Avenue from the mill. Jameson was the original county highway, actually just a crude wagon road, back when Sedro was boomed in 1889. The Valley Canning works was located just east of the mill, across the Northern Pacific railroad tracks and the Carnation Creamery was just beyond there. That area would partially become the site for the Willis Rogers & Pearson mill in the future.
      Various histories cite years from 1925 to 1930 as the year that the partners bought out Deeter, but most accounts time the sale as occurring in 1928. We find it odd that none of the regional history books profiled this mill, which differed from the dozens of mills in the area from the pioneer days.
      The mill was modern in both the equipment and structures, and especially in the marketing to buyers all over the West Coast and around the country. But we mainly base the modern adjective on the concerted plan by the partners to manufacture products from timber that in decades before was burned in huge slash piles when market prices were low or burned in fireplaces or pot-belly stoves. Like all good marketers, they saw a market and looked for a resource that they could use to manufacture new or better products. As you will infer from the 1939 report especially, the sales force was competing against Eastern firms that insisted the Western product was inferior. Two decades later, the mill had proven its products' quality.
      For more than five decades, the mill was a principal payroll for the Sedro-Woolley area and was a key independent dealer, especially for hardwoods and flooring. Below you will read three views of the company from 1939, 1953 and 1974. Then you will read our research into the myth that Goodyear-Nelson provided the spruce lumber for Howard Hughes's famous Spruce Goose airplane, plus a follow-up for the mill that still stands, albeit in a much smaller version, under different ownership.

1939 advertisement for Goodyear-Nelson

(Mill 1939)
Mill view sometime in the early 1930w

June 29, 1939, Statehood 50th Anniversary Issue, Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times
      Nine years ago, two employees of the Clear Lake Lumber company, Frank C. Goodyear and Victor L. Nelson, had the idea they might do something with a small sawmill that had been started on the outskirts of Sedro-Woolley by Ike Deeter. For a small sum, they bought an equity in this little sawmill which had a capacity of some 5,000 feet of lumber a day, and could employ eleven men.
      Today the Goodyear Nelson Harwood Lumber company is the largest plant of its kind on the Pacific Coast, with some one hundred and sixty-five men on its payroll, with a plant equipped with latest type machinery and plans for still greater expansion during the coming year. It represents the realization of an idea and a lot of hard work and struggle.
      The mill now has a sawing capacity of 24,000 feet a day and 44 men are employed at the plant. Several huge trucks haul the mill's products to customers in this district, and a whole fleet of logging trucks bring in the maple, alder and birch logs from Skagit and Whatcom counties. In 1936, this mill manufactured and sold more than three million feet of lumber and cut-up material for use in the furniture factories on the Pacific Coast.
      Eight years ago, Goodyear & Nelson added a cut-up plant to cut the alder and maple lumber into dimension stock for use in making furniture. They leased this cut-up plant to the F.S. Hamon Co. of Tacoma, and then later took over the running of the cut-up pant, with a contract for the entire output to the Harmon company. A dry kiln was installed at this time.
      Later, another dry kiln was installed and now the three dry kiln units have a capacity of 325,000 feet of lumber and it is planned to add another kiln in the near future. A new office was built a few years ago, and several new sheds were built in the yards.
      In 1934, a flooring plant with complete equipment was added to the mill. This plant has a capacity of 5,000 feet of flooring in eight hours, and the Goodyear Nelson company has built up a demand for more of this local hardwood flooring than they can fill, having proven by test that is is practically as good as eastern hardwood. They make maple and birch flooring of several widths. This is being used in homes, in stores, public buildings of all kinds and the Mt. Baker brand is becoming known throughout this part of the county.
      Last year, Good-year-Nelson Co. made and sold more than 600,000 feet of their Mt. Baker brand maple and birch flooring, enough to floor all the homes of Sedro-Woolley. This flooring is sold from Bellingham to Portland, and the market is growing each year as it proves satisfactory under all conditions.
      Many people do not realize the importance of having hardwood flooring in their homes. It is impossible to get a good polish on a fir floor because it does not have the hardness to take it. A small additional expense will put in a hardwood floor that will last more than a lifetime. For the average home in Sedro-Woolley, a thousand feet of flooring will be sufficient, and the cost of this will be approximately $30 more than the soft wood floor, which will not begin to last as long nor look so well as the local hardwood floor.
      This flooring has been tested by expert testers of the strength and lasting qualities of wood, and the local hardwood tests practically the same as the Eastern maple. It has been hard to overcome the idea that local maple is soft, but the official government tests and the fact that some of the floors have now been laid for several years and show no signs of wear, are proving the truth of the claims for the excellence of the flooring manufactured by the Goodyear-Nelson mill.
      In 1936, the plant was again enlarged with a new boiler and boiler house, and new drying sheds, and a new drying shed was recently constructed. The products of this mill, both hardwood dimension-lumber and various products fo the cut-up plant, find a market mostly in this state, Oregon and California, with about half of the whole output being shipped to California.
      Farmers of the district have received many thousands of dollars from the sale of logs to the mill. Some time ago, however, Goodyear and Nelson purchased a quantity of timber so that they now own enough to keep the mill running for several years. They still are buying logs from farmers and small logging outfits.
      They run three logging camps of their own, and counting their own loggers and others from whom they are buying logs, they have 120 men in the woods working for them.
      The mill is now working on an order for a large number of Birch bedroom suits. This is an unusual order, as birch is more expensive than alder or maple. The cut-up stock of furniture is used to make the finished product and takes a splendid stain and polish.
      George Lutterloh is secretary and office manager for the Goodyear-Nelson company. Victor L. Nelson is superintendent of the mill and Frank C. Goodyear is general manager, head salesman and outside man. The plant is one of Sedro-Woolley's most important industries and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the community in payroll and money to farmers for their alder and maple logs. Phone 6291, Sedro-Woolley, Washington.

1939 news story for Goodyear-Nelson
June 29, 1939, Statehood 50th Anniversary Issue, Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times
      Back in 1925, Frank Goodyear and Victor Nelson, employees of the the Clear Lake Lumber Col. decided that the alder and maple in this district offered and opportunity for a mill that could make lubmer out of these trees, instead of using them for firewood as many farmers had done. A small sawmill had been started south of Sedro-Woolley by Ike Deeter. they bought this for a small sum, and started Sedro-Woolley's first hardwood mill, which employed eleven men.
      In 1939, this mill has some one hundred and sixty-five men on the payroll at the mill and in the woods, and its hardwood products are sent to furniture factories all along the Pacific coast. Its famous Mt. Baker brand of maple and birch flooring has been declared by experts of the Univeristy of Washington foresty school to be superior to eastern maple. It has been used in schools, halls and public buildings and private homes.
      Victor Nelson is mill superintendent and Frank Goodyear is general manager, and head salesman, with George Lutterloh secretary and office manager. the fine modern plant, with latest type of equipment includign some automatic dry kilns, represents a huge investment, and is the largest hardwood mill on the coast.

The myth of the Spruce Goose
Skagit River Journal research
      If you have lived here for awhile, you may have heard people repeat the legend that the Goodyear-Nelson mill provided the spruce lumber materials that Howard Hughes used to build his famous Spruce Goose airplane. Some legends prove to be true. This one does not, although like many legends, there is a kernel of truth to it.
      The wood used in construction of the plane was birch, not spruce, and apparently the local mill did provide some of it, although we cannot find the exact records about the sale. Hughes decided in the early years of World War II to build the world's largest cargo plane. As in World War I, the U.S. government mandated that private manufacturers not use materials critical to the war effort, such as steel and aluminum. Early on, the famed shipbuilder Henry Kaiser signed on to the project and they both explored new methods of construction. You can read at this Journal site about Kaiser's connection with Sedro-Woolley and Skagit County.
      Although Kaiser dropped out of the project by 1944, Hughes perfected a process that he called "Duramold" to create practically all of his gigantic plane. We say perfected because the Duramold process was originally developed by Fairchild Aircraft Company, and Howard Hughes purchased the rights to use it for his own needs. Duramold employs series of thin wood laminations — much like plywood, with grains laid perpendicular to each other. Nowadays almost all airplanes are constructed using different forms of glue, but back then that process was futuristic, as workers permeated the laminations with plastic glue, and then they heated and shaped the pieces until the final structure cured. Engineers who study the construction note that the resulting material was both lighter and stronger than aluminum.
      After Kaiser dropped out of the program, Hughes renamed the planned seaplane, "H-4", for the company's fourth design. He sold the idea to the War Department as a plane that would be capable of carrying 750 fully-equipped troops or two Sherman tanks. The war ended and development of the project lagged months and then years behind. Reporters began referring to the planned plane as "the Flying Lumberyard" and headline writers picked up the "Spruce Goose" term from a creative reporter, even though no spruce was actually involved. Hughes hated the nickname, but it stuck.
      Hughes always had a flair for the dramatic and he scored again when he was called to testify before the Senate War Investigating Committee in 1947. Congress wanted to eliminate war-era spending to free up Federal funds for industries that would produce consumer goods that had been put on hold since 1941. During a break in the hearings, he flew back to California, saying he wanted to test the engine on the H-4. On Nov. 2, 1947, Hughes surprised reporters by deciding to personally pilot the plane in its maiden — and only flight. Betting pools formed as most people had concluded that the plane would never fly. Hughes proved them wrong, but just barely. On his third taxi, he took off from the Long Beach drydock and remained airborne just 70 feet off the ocean at a speed of 80 miles per hour for almost a mile. Experts realized that the plane was still in ground effect and they concluded that the H-4 lacked enough power to actually fly.
      But Hughes didn't take that chance and Congress cut the funding, which actually helped him save face and retire the plane after just the one flight. After his death in 1976, the plane was placed in storage and eventually began to deteriorate. In 1990, a group of flying enthusiasts in McMinnville, Oregon, — Evergreen International Aviation, won the right to transfer the plane to a new, special museum there. Read more about the Spruce Goose at this site.

Competition and fire leads to new mill
(Carl Allen)
Carl Allen

Skagit River Journal research
      As Goodyear-Nelson developed their new market, competitors decided to climb aboard the bandwagon. At the same time as Deeter started his small mill, the Cory Mill was fading on the location of P.A. Woolley's original sawmill in old Woolley, just north of the Great Northern tracks, and just west of the Northern Pacific route. In 1927 it was bought out by a local group of investors and Sig Broe took over management, changing the company name to Sedro Hardwoods.
(Mill fire 1947)
Mill fire 1947

      By 1932, that competing company had been felled by the nationwide Depression and it went into bankruptcy. Gus Gilbertson, who came to Sedro-Woolley in 1915 to open store number 83 in the J.C. Penney chain, bought the mill from the receiver for a song and formed Hardwood Products Inc. Through 1939, according to the Courier-Times, his company was doing well in competition with Goodyear-Nelson. But with the coming war, the company began having financial problems and Gilbertson, then 63, retired in 1941 and sold the business to Goodyear-Nelson, which transformed it into Unit Number 2. Carl Allen, the manager, stayed on for the transition.
      The most serious enemy of mills through the year has been fire and calamity struck both units in the '40s. Unit 2 burned to the ground sometime between 1945-46 (we have not yet discovered the date). Then the original mill burned to the ground on May 6, 1947. Such calamities scarcely fazed the partners, however. In the first instance, they decided to not rebuild and the Unit 2 site eventually became part of Skagit Steel & Iron Works, just north of Berglund/Sims Ford. In 1947, they quickly rebuilt from the ground up and their modernized plant with the latest machinery soon had product for their sales force to market all over the country as consumers clamored for their own homes after the austerity of the World War II years.

1953 profile about Goodyear-Nelson
Territorial Centennial Edition, August 1953, Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times
      Typical of the progress made by local industry during the past few years is that of the Goodyear-Nelson Hardwood Lumber Company, Inc. of Sedro-Woolley. The present mill, which daily employs more than forty men at the plant is the outgrowth of the small mill that was taken over in 1928 by Frank Goodyear and Victor Nelson. Employees prior to that time of the Clear Lake mill, Goodyear and Nelson saw the possibilities in the small mill they took over.
      Justifying their foresight, the Goodyear-Nelson mill today employs more than 30 men in addition to those working at the plant and equipped with the latest type machinery, and is capable of producing more than 24,000 board feet of lumber daily. The drying kiln handles 2000,000 to 300,000 board feet of lumber per month. Several large trucks haul the mill's products to customers in the district and a fleet of logging trucks supplies he mill withe maple, cottonwood, alder, birch, fir, spruce, cedar and hemlock logs.
      The new office was completed in August 1952 and offers an efficient as well as attractive headquarters for the management of the plant. Several large trucks haul the mill's products to customers in this district and a fleet of logging trucks brings in logs daily.

Three views of the mill from 1953
Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos

(1953 view-1)
(1953 view-2)
(1953 view-3)

Goodyear-Nelson 1974 report
Summer 1974 Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times "Progess" issue
      The Goodyear-Nelson Hardwood Lumber Co. marks its 46th year of operation in 1974, making it one of the oldest mills .in the northwest area.
      Started in 1928 by Frank Goodyear and Victor Nelson, t:he mill still produces fine quality hardwood products, mainly Alder, Maple and Birch, although almost every type of wood has been processed at one time or the other.
      The company's management retains its link to the original founders, with corporate President Pete Duncan being Goodyear's son-in-law. Other officers are: Chester Dewitt [also Goodyear's son-in-law] and John Shellhammer, vice presidents, and Fred Nelson, secretary [son of Victor Nelson].
      Goodyear-Nelson - purchases most of its logs in Skagit County, but also gets timber Whatcom and Snohomish counties and points as far as 100 miles away. At the mill the logs are processed into timber and other by-products, such as pulp.
      Just recently, the company finished the installation of its own chipping operation. With improvements in their operation Goodyear-Nelson can recover more wood from the logs
      Whereas the excess wood was previously discarded for use as fire-wood; it is now used for the production of paper. The annual production at the mill ranges between six and seven [million?] board-feet.
      According to Duncan, the Alder wood that the firm [specializes in] is a particularly versatile product. It is one of the only woods that will take any stain and can also be made to look like practically any other type of wood, he said. The plant is located south of town and employs 45 persons year-round work.

Update on the mill
Skagit River Journal research
(1996 loader)
A log loader in 1996

      Frank Goodyear was the first of the partners to pass away. He died on June 11, 1955 at age 69 and his wife, Clara, died on Aug. 27, 1972. As noted above, two of sons-in-law continued in management of the mill. Victor Leonard Nelson died on July 6, 1969, at age 79; he was a native of Sweden. We did not find burial information for his wife, Elsa. Their son, Frederick "Fred" Nelson, a World War II veteran, continued in management of the mill and was the public face of the company, as noted by Larry Spurling, a friend of the family. Fred died on Feb. 19, 1985, at age 66.
      Mills all over the Puget Sound began consolidating from the 1970s on or were bought out by larger concerns. That was no different for Goodyear-Nelson. By 1995 it was Hardwood Lumber Co. By that time, the site manager was Tom Murphy, with Jim Allen and Jim Armstrong as production supervisors and Paul McCausland as log buyer. The mill employed 70 people on two shifts, and six administrative people, with product split equally between domestic customers and other concerns all over the world. A key employee called the "barker man" worked in a tall tower with a computer, as he determined whether each log would be more suitable for furniture wood, pallets or chips. In that year, Weyerhauser bought the company, which designated it as a division called Northwest Hardwoods Inc.
      The mill still stands under that name in 2006, but most of the structures erected in the late 1940s and 1950s are now gone, as is the mill pond. If Frank Goodyear were to come back today, he would hardly recognize the place, especially since State Highway 9 was re-routed past the mill to the west in 1965 as a paved arterial highway, in place of what was once a dirt-and-wagon road for farmers in the flats above the Skagit River. We hope that descendants of the partners and of workers over the years will read this story and provide any corrections that are needed or copies of documents and photos that will help fill in the gaps.

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