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Ed English and the details of
his famous logging camps

(Camp 5)
Loggers with steam donkey at English Camp 5 on Little Mountain.

Journal introduction . . . Norman Spragg profile of Ed English

JournalIntroduction to Norm Spragg research
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      Journal ed. note: We mark an exception to our rule with this transcription. In nearly 100 transcriptions we have posted so far, we have tried as much as possible to post the original article or book excerpt, sometimes with parenthetical explanations or, more often, annotations and endnotes.
      We found this Norman Spragg term paper at a recent Skagit City School meeting and were amazed because it answered chronological questions about Edward G. English's many logging camps, and explained the natural progression from one to the other. We have looked for such an overview for a long time but have been frustrated because no one we have found has provided such.
      The problem was that the paper was in really rough form and had no identification notes for the author or his interview subjects. All we know is that he wrote the paper for a class at an unknown college, maybe Skagit Valley Junior College, as it was known in the 1960s decade. It was in really rough form and his professor had done some cursory editing to urge continuity and syntax and structure. But what was posted at the school decades ago was not the final paper, but the rough draft, so he may not have finished editing.
      So we used Spragg's paper as a base, especially his detailed explanations of the camps, and then tried to make it flow better with corrections and punctuation, as the professor first suggested. We also did not want to embarrass him with the raw project, as we found it; we have some first-draft humdingers that we hope no one publishes. We also tightened up the redundant parts, especially his praise for English, for good reason. He shows much better in his narrative why English is important and worthy of praise and those descriptions stand by themselves. Parentheses ( ) indicate his original footnotes and sources and brackets [ ] indicate Journal research.
      Finally, we were also surprised that Spragg did not write about the bizarre kidnapping of English in October 1908 — surprised that none of his sources brought it up with him. Also surprised that his research did not uncover it; we infer he did not grow up here. You will in the links below the Journal feature on the kidnapping, with transcribed news stories about what would today would qualify for a "Dumbest Criminal of the Week" feature.
      Instead of criticizing his style, however, we all owe Norman Spragg a debt of gratitude by doing what all good researcher/writers do: he went to the source as close to the subject as possible and shared facts that cannot be found in that depth anywhere else. So we feel this is an important historical record to share. We hope someone who knows him will put us in touch. And we hope that descendants of his interview subjects contact us too: Bill Mason, Mike Rindal and Clarence Auberg.

Norman Spragg profile of Ed English
By Norm Spragg, undated circa 1960s, Transcribed and edited by Noel V. Bourasaw
      Through the Pacific Northwest there was no man whose name was more associated with logs and logging than Edward English. So many logs came from the English Logging Company that no builder anywhere could be sure that the lumber they were using wasn't from the English Logging Company.
      Jasper Gates and Joseph Dwelley were the first to start homes in the present town of Mount Vernon in 1870. Two years later a sufficient number of people had arrived to start a school [on Kimble's farm], but it was not until 1877 that the town of Mount Vernon really started. Harrison Clothier and Edward G. English, two young men from the East, purchased ten acres of land from the Jasper Gates homestead and laid out the townsite of Mount Vernon. They were both extremely patriotic and thought that in as much as the territory was given the name, for the Father of Our County, that this new outpost should be given the name, Mount Vernon. Clothier and English operated a store in Mount Vernon as well as investing in timber acreage.
      English had much to do with the incorporation of the town in 1890. He continuously pushed the growth of the town and before his death in 1930 he deeded to the town of Mount Vernon 240 acres of land on the eastern slope of Little Mountain to be used as a park and scenic area. The town later acquired another 240 acres from the company.

English steps out on his own
— English & Dempsey brothers Puget Sound & Baker River Railroad
      In 1891 English bought out the Clothier timber interests and from that time on devoted himself completely to the timber industry, becoming one of the leading men in the industry. His interests in the Northwest included the English Logging Company, Tyee Logging Company, Burns Mill Company, Skagit Mill, Lyman Timber Company, the Puget Sound & Baker River Railroad [Dempsey brothers], as well as many interests in British Columbia.
      In 1902 he started the English Logging Company. Before I list the different camps, I will write about their railroad, which was the heart of the operation. They started with a meager three miles of track, one small Shay wood-burning rod engine and one maintenance man to take care of the railway (Bill Mason interview). By 1930 they had amassed more than 100 miles of track, 15 engines had run on their tracks and their maintenance crew had increased to 20, 14 on the section and six on the bridge gang (Mike Rindal interview).
      The line was constructed up the narrow upper-Skagit River valley with the help of dynamite, horses and back-breaking work. Rather than fill in small gullies they had to build bridges. They had to go around large objects, rather than go through, because they didn't have some of the required equipment. That accounted for the many treacherous curves. The steepest grade on the 26-mile mainline, camp One to Camp Seven, was 2.6 per 100 feet, but on spurs the grade reached ten percent. In 1926 one very serious train accident occurred as the train dropped through a high trestle, injuring two men and practically destroying the locomotive, but it was brought up piece by piece and later reassembled by the shop crew (Clarence Augberg interview).
      Of the 15 locomotives, ten were Shay engines that ranged in weight from 40 to 90 tons, according to Bill Mason. Mason also recalled that there were two climax engines that weighted 70 and 80 tons, a Heisler weighing 60 tons and a 130-ton Baldwin Locomotive. The trains usually hauled 30 cars of logs that totaled 150,000 board feet of lumber, valued on the average of $30 per thousand feet. Many times there was over a million (? illegible) board feet of lumber dumped into Tom Moore Slough [south fork] during a day.
      In the late 1920s they dumped more than 120 million board feet into the slough yearly. These trains during the years of the English Logging Co. were economical to run as well as very dependable, Mason noted in an interview. During the 42-year span of the English Logging Co. they hauled 2 1/2 billion board feet of timber and were responsible for making the company the success it was.

English logging camps
      English's first camp began two miles east of Conway as Camp 1 or Headquarters. There is still a community at HQ. That was to remain the center of operations for everything that went on in the other 11 camps. It had a blacksmith shop, office buildings, cookhouse and bunkhouses for 100 men, a large water tank for the locomotives and a modern machine shop to take care of the locomotives and the company's other machinery. A railroad spur was built ot the Tom Moore Slough near Milltown.
      English served as manager of all the operations for the first five years. In 1902 a young schoolteacher arrived from Missouri, James O'Herne [actually spelled O'Hearne]. He taught school for a short time in Concrete before he started working for English. O'Hearne started as a flunky (working in the cookhouse), but soon advanced to the skid road (moving logs from the forest to the railroad), and from there to scaler (measured board feet in a log). In 1907 English promoted him to camp superintendent and he stayed in that position until English died in 1930.
      Construction for Camp 2 — Tyee Camp, started in 1905 and was completed in 1909. It was located ten miles southeast of Camp 1 or right on top of McMurray Hill. They logged all that time west of McMurray and south to the Snohomish County line. they always took their railroad with them and each camp they got more and better equipment. At Camp 2 they had two yarders and haul-back (pulls line back into woods).
      The hundred men at the camp were employed as fallers, buckers (sawed logs into certain lengths); choker setters (fastened cable around log that was to be yarded); whistle punk (signaled by whistle to donkey when it was safe to yard a log out); high rigger; donkey operators, cooks, blacksmith, saw filers and loader men.
      Sometimes logs were pushed down the railroad by the locomotives because of their large size. The men used a broad-ax to hew out the 4-feet six-inch square logs by 74 feet long. They shipped those logs to Seattle on the Great Northern Railroad.
      The year 1909 marked the beginning of Camp 3 at the Victoria Millsite five miles east of Stanwood. English built another railroad spur from Camp 3 and Florence Logging Co. and Sunday Lake, the area that English was logging. English hauled logs for Florence as well as his own. He bought his first coal-burning locomotive for that spur.
      They then extended north to Camp 4 on the east shore of Lake Sixteen [four miles due east of Conway]. They placed the camp at the present site of the YMCA Camp. The men logged the hill to the Peter Johnson Road and up Johnson Creek. They worked that location for two years and then moved to the new Camp 5, south of Little Mountain, on Carpenter Creek between Devil's Mountain and Little Mountain. Over the next six years the men logged south to the peter Johnson Road and north to the Big Lake Road.
      During those years English expanded his payroll to 150 and added much new machinery. In 1916 he bought the first duplex loader in the region. It had two motors, and could give out cable on one drum and bring it in on the other, all in one motion, which sped up loading greatly.
      At that camp they also started used a skidder, a skyline that dragged the logs with one end in the air, and in 1920 they bought an 80-ton Ohio Crane, which was self-propelled so they could move it anywhere on their railroad. They used the crane mainly for loading, yarding and picking up odds and ends that couldn't be reached or were unhandy for the yarder to get at. While building the railroad to Camp 5 they constructed a bridge 120 feet high over Johnson Creek.
      In 1920 English his camp south to Bryant to form Camp 6, in the midst of one of finest forests in the state, with some trees more than 200 feet high. They extended the railroad from Camp 3, at Victoria, to the new camp where they logged for the next four years.

His last decade
      By the late 1920s, the market was hungry and English was running out of trees in the foothills, so he moved the operation further into the hills. The new Camp 7 was three miles east of Finn Settlement. In 1922 English built a completely new railroad spur through McMurray and then wound up through the hills to the Pillchuck Creek area. The new railroad had 39 bridges, the longest being 1,500 feet, at Day's Spur, 2 1/2 miles south of McMurray.
      The company logged that area for six years and English also purchased Camp 8, or Finn Settlement, on Pillchuck Creek from the Parker Bell Lumber Co. in 1922. Camp 7 continued to 1930 and Camp 8 until 1924, which was also the same year that English bought the first gasoline-powered donkey in the region.
      Camps 9 and 10 were started in 1924 at the west and east ends of Lake Cavanaugh, respectively. Camp 10 played out sooner, in 1929, and Camp 9 continued until 1937. The skidders for these camps were switched from wooden sleds to steel cars so that they could be moved more easily. In 1925 English formed Camp 11 as the base for logging on Frailey and Stimson mountains, west of Bryant, and it continued until 1935, according to Bill Mason.
      The reason English operated so many camps at once was that logging had advanced so fast that a camp could handle only two sides, each composed of one loader and one yarder. The last camp English started during his life was Camp 12, on Deer Creek, in 1930. The company logged there until 1944 when they sold the operation to the Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Co. When they sold out 250 men were on the payroll and the combined camps had taken out about 2 1/2 billion board feet of lumber from the hills.
      English's successors sold for two reasons. For one, climbing further up the hills by railroad in search of new timber was becoming less economically feasible. Mason noted that the principals were getting older and they decided to retire while they were ahead. [Journal endnote: we recalled that we first heard about Mason via Dennis Thompson, in his seminal logging book, Logging Railroads in Skagit County. See the endnote about Mason and the post-English management.]
      The English camps generated their own electricity for both lighting the camp and running small engines. Every camp had a library and a baseball field, to keep the men occupied as well as happy. That resulted in generally very good relations between employer and employee. Many of those employees were new immigrants, predominantly from Scandinavian and Slavic countries. And many of those employees stayed on in the valley and farmed, with the English Company's help, on cleared-off land near the camps. Conway was a town that was able to prosper through thick and thin because of its market proximity and a good share now living there either worked for English or their parents did. Summing up, English helped get the economy of the county going again in the 1930s and, he attracted solid newcomers who wound up farming and logging all over the county.

(Camp 5)
Track-laying crew with ties and falls at English Camp 5. Photos by Clark Kinsey, courtesy of Kinsey family collection


1. Jasper Gates and Joseph F. Dwelley
      Journal endnote: Dwelley actually moved to LaConner in 1875 and opened a furniture store there. Gates was the principal settler, along with David E. Kimble, who seldom gets as much credit. Click on the links for our exclusive profiles of both men, which will soon be extensively updated with help of descendants. In an upcoming issue, we will share an exclusive series of transcripts of Kimble's extraordinary autobiography. [Return]

2. Harrison Clothier and Edward G. English
      Journal endnote: This story adds to our collection of profiles on Ed English. We have launched a new portal section with all the links for him and Clothier. The main stories with their profiles can be found at Part One, mainly about Clothier's early leadership, and Part Two, about Clothier's decline and English's ascendancy. In Part Two, you can compare back and forth the information we found in records and Spragg's research.
      The main correction here is that Clothier was not a young man from the East in the sense that English was. Clothier was nearly a generation older and was English's teacher in high school in Wisconsin. Clothier was also the teacher in the early Kimble schoolhouse. [Return]

3. 240 acres
      Journal endnote: This is the first mention of this gift that we have found. We hope a reader will have more information and/or confirmation for the two bequests. [Return]

4. Puget Sound & Baker River Railroad & Dempsey brothers
      Journal endnote: Spraggs did not note that English had a group of well-heeled investors in his interests at that time, including the Dempsey brothers. On Feb. 10, 1906: J.T. Hightower, C.R. Wilcox, Ed English, Wyman Kirby and Elmer C. Million incorporate Skagit Mill just north of Lyman. That was a considerable expansion of original firm, Lyman Sawmill Co., incorporated April 15, 1888, by Otto Klement, Henry Quinn, Birdsey Minkler, John M. Roach and Frank Ries. In 1906, the partners set up Highland Timber Co. as a holding company and future platform for English companies. Later that year, English and the brothers James, John J. and Lawrence T. Dempsey were based in Manistee, Michigan, launched Puget Sound & Baker River Railroad, which finally closed in 1957. Although the brothers did not spend time on site, they were very active investors and supplemented nicely the local capital. [Return]

5. Bill Mason, Spragg personal interview, Dec. 27, 1964

6. Mike Rindal, Spragg personal interview, Jan. 4, 1965

7. Clarence Auberg, Spragg personal interview, Jan. 4, 1965

8. James O'Hearne
      Spragg source: Mount Vernon Argus Feb. 20, 1941 [Return]

9. Management, post-Death of English
      In Dennis Blake Thompson's book, Logging Railroads in Skagit County, he reviewed the management following Ed English's death: "Following the death of Ed English, the company retained much of its old flavor and feeling for operation. Certainly the results of the management of Jim O'Hearne. Closely allied with Jim were two other fine men, John O'Leary of Mount Vernon, a graduate of the University of Washington civil engineering department, and Bill Mason, also of Mount Vernon, who was trainmaster and bookkeeper." Although O'Hearne headed many sideline businesses, including the Tom Moore Booming Co., from the late Teen years through the 1920s, after English's death he had his hands full with the far-flung English interests, all over Puget Sound and in British Columbia. He also quoted the Mount Vernon Herald of Dec. 6, 1944 that after O'Hearne's death (unknown date, early 1940s), imminent change was in the air over the company.
English Sale is Milestone
      Sale of the 50-year-old pioneer English Logging Company, famous throughout the state for half a century, to the Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company, of Bellingham, is an open secret, according to persistent rumor in northwest Washington. In talking with a representative of the Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company by telephone today, the sale was said to be still pending and the Bellingham office would not verify the matter. Since the death of its founder, Ed English, and the subsequent death of his manager and long-time associate, Jim O'Hearne, sale of the logging firm located at Lake Cavanaugh has been pending. No official announcement has yet been made from the Bellingham office of the Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company regarding the sale although they have been issuing checks for operation of the English concern, it said. Change in ownership of the logging property marks a milestone in timber operations which have contributed greatly to the growth of Skagit county.
      The sale was completed in the summer of 1945. Neither Spragg nor Mike Rindal nor Clarence Auberg are mentioned in Thompson's book.[Return]

Additional Spragg footnoted source:
      Mount Vernon Herald, article: "Skagit County, Washington," Sept. 1, 1921

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Story posted on May 25, 2011
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