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The Mill

I really need to get better at blogging. That’s a good New Year’s resolution, but I’ve never done New Year’s resolutions.

Longview Fibre, 1927 Courtesy Cowlitz County Historical Society

My newest project is a history of Longview Fibre, a pulp, paper and containerboard mill in Longview, Washington. The mill was built in 1927 in the planned community of Longview by industrialists from Wisconsin who managed to recruit a brilliant engineer and businessman named Harry Wollenberg.

In the interest of full disclosure, my paternal grandfather helped build the mill in 1926 and my uncle, is eldest son, worked there as a papermaker for 42 years. Another uncle and four cousins worked there summers. But that is not how I got the gig.

Harry Wollenberg, 1923 Courtesy Wollenberg Family

In 2012, I got a gig to write a bio of Harry Wollenberg from the German Historical Institute an agency of the German Government in Washington, DC. The gig paid a small honorarium, but a gig is a gig. They surfed the web and saw that I was an historian in the Pacific Northwest and figured I could do it. I accepted and then discovered that my subject did not live in Longview, he worked in San Francisco. But being a good investigator I made contact with his grandchildren and put together a satisfactory article. I made about a dollar an hour.

The grandchildren were impressed enough with my work to suggest that I take over a project documenting the history of the company that the family ran for 70 years. The Cowlitz County Historical Museum superintended the project and had collected quite a bit of research including some priceless interviews of former mill workers and managers. I say priceless because some of the narrators have passed on since the interviews. (One thing you learn about the history biz is that if you get the name of an eyewitness, you get a hold of them immediately.)

I jumped into four or five boxes of transcripts and photos and books and annual reports. Word got around and I got some invitations to speak at the union hall and at the museum. Each presentation results in more contacts and more wonderful information and quotes. And I enjoy talking about my projects.

I even got a tour of the mill which was reminiscent of visits to my maternal grandfather’s pulp mill, also in Longview, when I was four and five years old. It was dark and wet and noisy and terrifying.

With any luck the story will be a book in 2014 published by the Cowlitz County Historical Society and I will do more slideshows.

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