Sierra Mountain Mills many years ago
Sawmill Workers Reunion
(Saturday April 26, 2014)
Isn't Facebook wonderful at bringing people
together! Saturday we did at the old Sierra Mountain Mills site
with a bunch of former loggers, sawmill workers, equipment operators, log
and lumber truckers we've known over the years. Thanks to Nick and Cathy Whittlesey
it may become something that'll happen from now on.
Fortunately, they had an old aerial photo (above) of SMM during better
Looking back, I found an article that
was written by Leon Lindsay July 15, 1982 describing "A hard-scrabble
struggle to get by; Western lumberman weathers tough times."... North
San Juan, Calif. John Casey Jr.'s sawmill sprawls over several relatively
flat acres in Tahoe National Forest near this tiny village some 3,000 feet
up in northern California's Sierra foothills. Towering pines dominate the
landscape; the scenic Yuba River slices through deep, rocky gorges. This
is still known as 'gold country.' But for most of this century timber, not
gold, has meant prosperity for the area. In the last three years, however,
the good life in this rustic setting has turned into a hard-scrabble
struggle just to get by. Fifteen months ago this mill and another nearby -
both operated by the Casey family firm, Sierra Mountain Mills - were
silenced by the onset of recession in the construction industry. But on
June 14 the North San Juan mill began sawing logs again. Casey, whose
father started the business, says he hopes it will not have to shut down
We all pretty well know the rest of the story, and as we
head down the road to the reunion at what remains of the Mill we're
looking forward to seeing familiar faces.
Above is where the log trucks reloaded their log
trailers onto the trucks to go home, or haul another load. The buildings
were for working on equipment. Below is where we'll see everyone, eat,
drink and share memories. We all brought a side dish and the Whittlesey's
are barbecuing Tri-tip steaks for the occasion.
We parked in the middle, but on this end there was a
table with the list of those who made reservations for themselves and
guests. There were also tags to write names on, but no one did it so even
though we introduced ourselves, who can remember names...unless the faces
match those you can remember. Yeah...I should have carried a note pad and
pen, but it's hard to take a picture with one hand, and hold a beer with
the other. Anyway, here's a list of those who said they wanted to come,
but not everybody showed up.
Dennis Akers and guest, Kate & Tom Alling, Cindy
Anderson, Randy Arrowood and guests, Bodie Hamlin Family, Jim Brock, Mike
Brown, James Buckbee, Andy Cassano, Barry Collins, John Cormichael, Carl
Crane, Chris Dabis, Jake Dabis, Dayana, Norm Ellis, Jerry Gallager, Art &
Bertie Gallez, Gay & Dave, Butch Gillis, Gene Gomes, Ed Gordon, Ian Haley,
Hank Hammack, Jack Hill, Ken Holbrook, Ron Jenkins, Gary Jones, Kent
Kilroy, Dave Kubich, Fred Langdon, Reggie McDaniel, Mel & Bonnie McGuire,
Mel and Pokey, Monty Milhous, Frank Peters, Dean Plunkett, Jennifer
Plunkett, Richard Potts, Buzz Presser, Larry Regnier, Glen Renfree, Lorena
Rose, Don Russell, Harold & Mike Selvester, Ted & Chris Shelton, Keith
Snodgrass, Jim Tavernetti, Billy Jo VanMeter, Ray & Nancy Walker, Dean
Walker, Jerry Walker, Marcena Welker, Scott Welker, Dean Whitaker, Charlie
Whittlesey, Walt Whittlesey, Willie Whittlesey, Cathy Wilcox-Barnes, Cliff
Young, and Nick and Cathy Whittlesey.
I'm going to post this on Facebook and name those I
remember. We'd all like to remember more, and if you have a story to share
it would be appreciated by everyone.
2. Man in grey vest is Arty Gallez.
5. Gene West at left, his son Buzz and Buzz Presser on the
Some old photos at the reunion.
I've included a couple of ours below.
Mel hauling logs 1956. Remember the water tank used to cool brakes at
that time? When we retired from our 43 years in the trucking business, and
decided to buy the sawmill in 1992, many people were skeptical. Our son
Kirk commented, "Dad's pushing 70, so he retires from driving truck and
goes in for manual labor." We quit sawing lumber January 1, 2011.
7. Cynthia (Cindy) Anderson, Gerry Anderson
and Bob Walker.
8. Buzz West talking with Buzz Presser.
11. George Bulkeley worked here for years until
the light shirt is one of the Cooper twins?
16. George Bulkeley again on the left.
18. Andy Cassano at right.
19. Ken Holbrook...
20. Mel McGuire and....Cindy.
22. Lois Butz and Andy Cassano
24. John Reader is center.
28. The guy to the left of Mel says he's Jerry Dodge,
but is he
31. And who could forget John Casey!
32. Kevin McCarthy and David Jeffrey.
33. Snow plower estraordinaire?
35. Yep..Mel and Unknown.
36. Jake Dabis.
38. Mel and Nick Whittlesey enjoying a few laughs.
It won't be long before we'll be enjoying this
39. Dale Presser and guest.
41. Doug King
46. My favorite gal at the Willo.
48. Cindy Anderson and Cheryl Rellstab with cup.
49. Okay that's Buzz Presser,
Anderson in the front and Fred Langdon behind them in the red plaid
58: Andy Cassano, Nick Whittlesey
60: Patty Langdon (Freddie
61. Nick Whittlesey and (strongly
suspect) Dean Walker
66. Marlys Brown-Bigley-Hess
68. Bev Gordon (was married to
Barry Collins back in the SMM days)
70. Checking out the Chefs and the Tri-tips.
71. See what I mean about it not being easy to carry a
pen, pad, camera and beer at the same time? We momentarily swapped for the
73. Dan Main
74. Unknown, Walt Whittlesey and
75. Bill Strohbin
83. Standing on some straw bales, Nick Whittlesey thanks
everybody, tells a couple of jokes and concludes by asking if we
would like to make the reunion a regular event. Sounds good to us! Then
John Casey gave a nice talk bringing things to a wonderful conclusion.
89. Gerry Gallagher on the left,
Charlie Whittlesey front and center.
90. Lois Butz and
at right is Candice Brown whose dad was
Brownie and he worked at the mills.
Marlys Bigley is her sister.
Lois has been around here a long
time. Four generations of the Butz family were all born within twenty
miles of Camptonville. When asked if she lived in Celestial Valley all her
life, Lois Butz replied, "No. They brought me here when I was two weeks
old!" Her great-grandparents moved from Brandy City to Oak Valley in the
early days and carried their twin daughters on horseback, one baby to a
saddlebag on either side of the horse." During 1973 the Fresno Bee
wrote a story about her that went something like this..."She wears a
hard hat and her tools are a pencil, tag book, tape measure and spray can.
Among the 100 employees of Sierra Mountain Mills, Lois Butz's
19 years as a log scaler rank her second in seniority. The
10-months-a-year outdoor job suits her just fine, since she comes from a
well-known local lumbering family and lives near the mill. 'My grandfather
hauled logs in this area with a bull team in 1880s...' A brother runs a
sawmill at Kartell, Amador County, and her sister is married to the
manager of the Yuba River Lumber Co. in Grass Valley. Her job as a log
scaler has not changed much over the years, but the workload has
increased. This year her firm added a second sealer to help handle
many truckloads a day. 'Some logs come from as far as 100 miles and some
from Pike, about 10 miles from here and from all different directions.'
Ms. Butz is noted for the accuracy of her log-scaling. According to John
T. Casey Jr. (Sierra Mountain Mills Manager), 'She doesn't get in
arguments with anybody. She's fair and consistent, and the loggers know
that.' And Ms. Butz, who said the loggers used to assume the logs were
larger than her scale indicated, concurred. 'It's been years since the
last one was going to whip me because the scale was wrong,' she declared!
Her job involves measuring the size of the small end of the log and
multiplying a factor of that times the length to determine the number of
board feet, which is marked on the log butt with a spray paint can. Ms. Butz,
who also has driven a front-end loader which removes logs from trucks, a
water truck and a small tractor, has seen the company grow from a 20-
employee mill in the 1950s to the present sprawling ISO-acre operation.
She could move to an indoor job but she prefers the
91. Candice Brown center of photo
with her back to us.
Time to head for home. It was great
to see so many people we've known and lost track
of during our busy lives. Thank you Nick and Cathy and everybody who made
everything happen. We hope it will become a regular event. Also a big
thanks to all who are helping with the names of those in the pictures.