Categories
Musings

Strawberry Fields Remembered

We’d gone to a movie that Monday night – Scott Mitchell and I were at the Chalet Theater in Enumclaw.  The Chalet has long been the ‘We-try-harder’ champion of small-town theaters.  I hadn’t remembered what we saw until searching an archived copy of the Courier-Herald.  “My Brilliant Career” was an early-century period piece detailing the life of a spirited Australian woman.  Australian New Wave films were all the rage and the Chalet advertised Monday and Tuesday as Foreign Film Festival nights.  Watching foreign films in Enumclaw on Monday night was the height of sophistication for those of us stuck in the sticks.  I was living in Black Diamond and Enumclaw was the hometown I loved, and still do.

“My Brilliant Career, the Australian film we saw that fateful Monday,was playing at the Chalet Theater (advertisement from the Dec. 5, 1980 Courier-Herald).

We arrived cheerfully back at Lake Sawyer about 9:30, stepping inside the Mitchell home.  Scott’s sister, Nina excitedly broke the news – John Lennon was shot and pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby hospital.  Howard Cosell was first to announce the tragedy, on ABC’s Monday Night Football around 8:15 pm.  It was December 8, 1980.

The smile fell slowly from my face.  I was shocked, but the intensity of my anguish went unreciprocated.  Lennon was one of my heroes growing up.  Each new song implanted a fresh childhood image, all tucked tightly as memories of things past.  By college, I owned every one of their albums, most bought second-hand from record stores which populated the U-District’s Ave.  I couldn’t yet stomach the news.  How?  Where?  But most pressing, why?

The morning newspapers provided snippets of the sordid story.  A crackpot, with the now-familiar first-middle-last name, assassinated Lennon outside his Dakota apartment on Central Park West.  Why do assassins always have three-part names?  John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Mark David Chapman.

The next day at work took my mind off the morning headlines. Yet, thoughts drifted in – there would never be a Beatles reunion.  That hope died the previous evening.  The following night, I watched TV news broadcasts and listened to my records.  Over the weekend, I purchased the just released, “Double Fantasy” and savored his homey tunes.  “Beautiful Boys Watching the Wheels and Starting Over.”  But John wasn’t starting over.  His dream was over, and so was ours.  The dream weaver left, never to return.  He told us in a song, “And so dear friends, you have to carry on.  The Dream is Over.”

One year for my birthday, Mom bought this framed portrait of John, by the acclaimed photographer, Richard Avedon.   It still hangs in our home.

I carried on.  Time marched along.  Just after Christmas, while in San Francisco I purchased the first book released following his death.  In January, I enrolled in a night class, “History of the Fifties and Sixties” at Green River Community College.  It was taught by Nigel Adams.  He was a passionate teacher, but he too died far before his time, ten years after Lennon.   For his class, I wrote a review of the first new Lennon book.  That’s what I always seem to do – write reviews of things I’ve seen or read.

It felt fitting to share it on the anniversary of the day that dream died.

Strawberry Fields Forever: John Lennon Remembered:                by: Vic Garbarini and Brian Cullman with Barbara Graustark, Introduction by Dave Marsh.  Deliah Books $2.95

Most events, at least most public events, are folded into time – the world stops for a moment, and then, a moment later, the world continues.  This event refused to fold.

With the death of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, two facts became perfectly clear.  First, the world was deeply shocked by the loss of Lennon.  Second, the public obsession’s with his life and death.  If newspaper headlines, record sales, radio play, and book publications are any indication of importance, Lennon’s assassination was an event of stunning magnitude for our collective consciousness.  And though the public tried hard not to believe, it actually happened.  It was almost as though we needed four or five days of newspaper front pages dominated by Lennon headlines, just to accept the fact, that yes, maybe it really happened. Yes, John Lennon, cultural hero was dead.

The review I wrote for History 150U, taught by Nigel Adams at GRCC, Winter Quarter, 1981.  A received an ‘A’, together with Prof. Adam’s handwritten note which read, “Excellent review of several facets of the condition of pop culture, heroes, etc. by mass media.”

When the fact had finally settled in, writers and publishers took up the challenge – let’s see who can publish the first biography and how quickly get it out.  In time for Christmas perhaps?  I don’t know if this book’s publishers made their Christmas deadline, but my paperback copy was purchased on December 29th, a mere three weeks after Lennon’s tragic death.  If there was ever a marvel of the modern world this was it.  A book is written, edited, printed, published, bound, marketed, distributed, and in the reader’s hand in three short weeks.

In addition, two other exploitative paperbacks, which don’t even merit review, were in book stores a week after the initial effort.  Timothy Green Beckley’s “Lennon Up Close and Personal” and “Lennon – What Happened?” by Sunshine Publications are trashy magazines of mere hype in paperback bindings.  If nothing else, they are perfect examples of the mentality, mildly chastised by Yoko in her published message that said she didn’t mind people making a little money off of John’s death.  She understood human nature.

“Strawberry Fields Forever: John Lennon Remembered” is perhaps as good of a book as one could expect given the time frame surrounding its publication.  Parts might very well have been written before his death, with loose ends and a unifying theme added later.  More likely though, the authors simply copped relevant facts from the libraries of Beatles books already in existence.

The book’s best chapters are those reviewing Lennon’s musical canon with special emphasis on his solo output.  From well before the announced break-up of the Beatles until his voluntary retirement from popular culture in 1975, Lennon created the lifestyle that made him a cultural hero.  Whether posing nude with Yoko for an album cover or bed-ins for peace in posh hotels, Lennon acutely recognized the power of the media.  He was one of that tiny number of the truly famous who’ve effectively mastered how to manipulate the public’s thirst for the extraordinary.  Yet, he never lost sight of the message he tried to communicate.

Lennon emerged as poet-philosopher to armies of fans dedicated to peace and love.  Marshall McLuhan notwithstanding, Lennon justly transcended the famous dictum, “The medium is the message,” and perhaps even served up his fair share of peace, love, and understanding. If there were occasional lapses (being tossed from an L.A. nightclub for crude, drunken behavior), the incidents were quickly forgiven, if not forgotten with the release of his next visionary song.  Lennon thrust himself headlong into life, and for this, he was idolized.  Upon withdrawing to raise a family (he wrote, sang, and partied through the first try), he was missed but admired for being his own man.

Over the years, I’ve read and collected a small library of books about the Beatles.  Here are the hardbacks.  Most of my paperbacks editions are stored in the basement.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” captures Lennon’s qualities as well as any of the post-Beatles, Beatles books.  Included is an explanation of almost every important mid and late Beatles song chiefly attributed to John.  “All You Need Is Love” is labeled one of Lennon’s “best Utopian fantasies, a national mantra.”  The author’s finest prose is saved for Lennon’s inimitable solo work.  “Instant Karma” both satirized and summarized Lennon’s search for higher awareness with its hit-bound hook, anticipating an entire generation standing on the threshold of Tom Wolfe’s Me Decade.  “Plastic One Band” is described as a “raw and self-indicting confession, harrowing in its stark minimalism.”

Alas, the final third of the book is little more than filler.  A 37-page interview with Barbara Graustark of Newsweek lacks the warmth and incisiveness of Lennon’s superior January 1981 Playboy interview.  The concluding chronological biography is no different than a dozen other Beatles / Lennon chronicles.

After finishing the book, I was most struck by its speed of publication.  It broke no new real ground but serves as a simple compendium of the many post-Beatles history books of the past decade.  If for nothing else, the effort will be remembered as the first well-written book that long-time Beatles-freaks or newly converted Lennon-lover could enjoy, in a melancholy sort of way.

But, perhaps it’s little more than sweet-tasting medicine to help his fans swallow one seemingly irrefutable fact: Lennon is as large in death, as he was in life.

Me and my sister, Danica Kombol, in a picture taken by Mom along the Oregon Coast.  It was the day before we stopped in S.F. where I purchased the book, “Strawberry Fields Forever.”  We were driving to L.A. with Mom to see the Huskies play Michigan in the Rose Bowl.  The Huskies lost 23-6.
Categories
History

Working at a Coal Mine

My senior year of college was as different as night and day.  It wasn’t my original plan. By day, I inhabited the rarified air of life at a university where young men and women, often preening boys and girls, proffered great thoughts fueled by a steady diet of pot and booze.  At night, I worked in a coal mine with gray-haired men at jobs they’d performed their entire lives.

I was bemused by the attitudes and mindsets of the two cultures.  For me, it was the best and worst of times – the most wonderful and dreadful of any span of my then young life.  I was fully exhilarated and completely exhausted – a caterpillar in search of a butterfly to escape from a cocoon of his own making.  For years I’ve struggled to reconcile the feelings and emotions within those discordant worlds I simultaneously ingested.

I’d grown increasingly bored with college phonies fretting over which grad school to attend.  I was steadily drawn to the stoic lives of coal miners.  My fellow undergrads bemoaned petty stresses of their own making.  Each day the miners completed the tasks set before them.  The grad school gang imagined chic careers with grand salaries.  The coal miners were content with life and their position in it.

In early September 1974, I prepared to return for my last year of college.  Over three summers past, I worked for Palmer Coking Coal, a family-owned company.  My jobs were common laboring at the Black Diamond yard and Rogers #3 mine.  That mine was a succession of Rogers #1 and #2, started in 1958 and 1959 respectively.  Located in Ravensdale, Rogers #3 was slated to close in less than a year.  It would be the last underground coal mine in the State of Washington.

End of the shift
That’s me at shift’s end I was covered with coal dust on one of my rare day shifts. The Rogers #3 hoist room and mine tipple are up the hill behind me.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1975

My uncle, Jack Morris was President of Palmer.  He was navigating the company’s exit from the coal business, as gracefully as possible.  It was a tough time for the firm.  Jack was drinking heavily, and Palmer’s fortunes were not promising.  There were sharp disagreements between three uncles, Jack, Evan Morris, and Charlie Falk, who collectively led the firm.  I was thankfully unaware of building tensions and unresolved rivalries. I just turned 21.  Little did I know that leadership of this company would one day fall to me.

Evan Morris, Sr. on the platform beside the portal into the Rogers #3 mine.  The sloped tunnel descender 800 feet underground.  December 1974.

Federal coal inspectors were bearing down on small mines like Palmer’s.  Our operation didn’t fit the template for a subsurface coal mine.  The Rogers coal seam stood nearly vertical, while most coal mines operate on horizontal planes, the way sedimentary formations containing coal seams are naturally deposited.  The plate tectonic which uplifted the Cascade Mountains altered the local Ravensdale geology to a rare condition – a vein of coal tilted to more than 80º.  Underground mine regulations hadn’t been written for that kind of operation.

Coal seams in this area of Ravensdale stood nearly vertical as seen in this geologic cross section. – Golder Associates.

Most men who worked at Rogers #3 were lifelong coal miners.  All were in their late 50s and early 60s, except for a cousin, Bob Morris; my brother, Barry Kombol, and me.  Two dozen miners had retired over the previous eight years, but enough experienced men remained allowing Palmer to finish its underground mine while honoring contracts supplying coal to State prisons.  Palmer’s management was mindful of the decades those miners had worked in the industry and sensitive to union pensions that hung in the balance.  A few more years would strengthen each miner’s retirement payout.

One day in early September, Jack pulled me aside and asked if I’d work the afternoon shift while attending college.  It was my senior year where an easy slide towards graduation was a natural expectation.  Jack explained I’d earn the wage rate under the United Mine Workers contract to which Palmer was bound.  A Grade 2, Tipple Attendant made $45.93 per day.  That UMW day rate was the equivalent of $32 per hour in today’s currency.  To a money-hungry lad like me, that sounded awfully enticing.  I talked it over with my folks and a decision was made.

Surface facilities at Rogers #3. The tipple to the left and load out bunkers to the right.  Photo by Don Mason, early 1970s.

The afternoon shift was from 3 – 11 pm, so it made sense to live at home.  My first three years of college were spent at Pi Kappa Phi, where I enjoyed the camaraderie of fraternity brothers plus the assorted characters who boarded in spare rooms.  Ours was a frat house with a classical facade, good cooks, and two hot meals a day.  Staying at home would make me a “townie,” so I’d only pay fraternity dues plus the meal rate for lunch, a significant saving over full room and board.  I drove my parent’s 1968 Renault, an unusual car in those days – basically a Volkswagen Bug for cheapskates.  The no-frills Renault got good mileage, had a stick shift on the floor, with an A.M. radio.  What else could I possibly need?

My schedule was grueling.  Monday through Friday, I was up at 6 am, fixing breakfast while Mom packed my evening dinner in a metal lunch bucket.  I loved yogurt and back then little was sold in stores, so Mom cultured her own which I ate from a squat thermos.  She, Pauline (Morris) Kombol was herself, a coal miner’s daughter.

I left Enumclaw every morning at 7 am.  Traffic was light with far less congestion than today’s clogged freeways.  Interstate 5 was a breeze with only occasionally slowdowns.  I arrived at the University of Washington campus about 8 am, parked at the fraternity, then walked to my 8:30 class.  My first break came at 9:30, so for an hour I studied at the Husky Union Building, and then sped off to my 10:30 and 11:30 classes.  By 12:30 pm, I rambled back to the fraternity for lunch, studied for an hour, and left Seattle at 1:45 arriving at the Ravensdale mine by 2:45 pm.

Joe Ozbolt, left and James ‘Bo’ Williams, right inside the Rogers #3 washhouse. Photo by Charlie Falk, February 1975.

In the washhouse, I joined other miners where we changed from street clothes to working gear.  There were only six miners per shift, but I was exclusively night shift so worked with alternating crews each week.  We walked up a slight hill to the hoist room and met the day crew coming from the mine.  Our counterparts were greeted and a light banter exchanged.  The afternoon shift started at 3 pm, lasting eight hours including a dinner break.  My job involved standing at a waist-high metal platform, where coal was separated from rock.  It was called the picking table and I was its operator.  The picking table was located in the belly of a triangular wooden structure called the tipple.

A loaded coal car is being dumped from the top of tipple into the chute below. The picking table was behind the silver-colored sheet metal above the dumptruck where waste material was collected before being hauled to the rock dump.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.

The job was simple – push coal to the right and rock to the left.  There was one primary goal: don’t let rocks smash your fingers, lest you wind up with a throbbing fingernail rapidly turning purple.  Still, it happened, and no matter how long you sucked that pulsing finger, the pain lingered.  Sometimes it hurt so much, you had to heat a sewing needle red hot then drill down through the nail to release the pounding pressure caused when blood rushed to repair the wound.

The picking table was six feet wide and about two feet deep.  The left third featured a hinged trap-door balanced by a pulley and weight.  When 100 pounds or more of rock accumulated on that side, a trap door released the waste material that fell into a dump truck below.  The large chunks of coal which landed on the table were pushed right into a crusher and broken into small pieces.

Barry Kombol, ready at the picking table – notice how clean he is at the start of a shift.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.  
A Moulden & Sons dumptruck filling up with coal to be hauled to Palmer’s Mine #11 yard in Black Diamond for further processing.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.

Above me was a chute regularly filled with coal and rock brought from the mine and dumped from the tipple above.  A slanted door of thick steel, opened and closed by an electric motor, regulated how much coal came through that chute.  After falling down, the coal mix vibrated over a sloped screen with square openings.  The smaller-sized pieces (less than 4” in diameter) dropped onto a conveyor belt and were carried to the loadout bunker.

The slanted door on the chute had to be set to just the right level.  Opened too much and excessive coal crashed down, blinding the screen, and left the picking table a cluttered mess.  If the avalanche was too large you couldn’t separate the rock from coal fast enough and both ended up discarded.  But when not opened enough, the screening process slowed, and the next coal car to dump was stalled, disrupting the entire operation.  Getting it right was fairly easy when coal was uniform, and rocks were small.  But sometimes large chunks of sharp-angled sandstone and sedimentary rock jammed between the chute door and vibrating screen.  The rocks wedged together at such awkward angles that none could break through the hatchway.  The bind got so nasty that rocks were stuck even with a fully opened door.

When that happened, I rushed to the hoist room and told the operator to stop pulling cars from the mine.  The hoist-man operated a large spool, six feet across upon which was wound 1,000 feet of 1” thick steel cable.  It resembled a gigantic fishing reel.  The cable spun through a bull-wheel atop the tipple providing leverage needed for pulling five-ton coal cars up from the bottom of the mine.  After the car was dumped, the hoist operator braked against gravity, allowing the car to free-wheel down rails tracks along the 48º slope, through a mine opening called the portal.

A closeup of Bill McLoughry operating the hoist. The drum and steel cable are in the background.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

With coal cars stopped, I ran back to the picking table and turned off the vibrating screen.  I climbed up and with a long metal pry bar tried dislodging rocks to coax them through the door.  If that didn’t work, I’d pound repeatedly with a sledgehammer to break the burly rocks into smaller pieces that could fit through.  Sometimes the clog was so bad, the hoist man joined me as we tried to get things moving.  Some nights the work was so grueling my body was drained in sweat.

Hoist operators: Roy Darby, top left; Frank Manowski, top right; and Bob Morris, below.

Other nights the coal was so perfectly sized that 95% of the mix cruised through the screen.  The few melon-sized chunks which dropped to the picking table were easy to handle and my job was a breeze.  After screening five tons, I had plenty of idle time awaiting the next coal car’s arrival at the top of the tipple.

A bucket seat salvaged from an old sports car had been set up in the picking table chamber.  Trips arrived every six to eight minutes, and I usually screened a carload in two to three minutes giving me several minutes between loads.  In between, I read my textbooks perhaps a page or two, until the next car arrived.  Its approach was signaled by the pitch of the whirring cable and sway of the tipple.  When coal and rock crashed into the hopper above, that meant another five tons to screen.

The rail tracks lead to the portal opening, seen mid-photo as a darkened area. This photo of the portal opening into the mine was taken from atop the tipple looking down.  Photo by Bill Kombol, April 1975.

From time to time, I emptied the dump truck parked below.  After 10 to 12 tons of rock dropped through the trap door to the waiting dump box, I scurried down, jumped in the truck, drove to the rock dump, and emptied the load.  The truck was dumped five or six times a night depending on the percentage of rock to coal.  I needed to be fast, as coal cars kept emerging from the mine.

On nights when coal wasn’t hoisted, I rode a coal car 800 feet underground to work with the miners.  There I performed laboring tasks – sometimes drilling coal and loading dynamite.  Other nights I helped set timber props that held up the roof of the mine.  Or cleaned coal spilled on rail tracks.

Bill Kombol handing John Costanich a stick of dynamite ready for loading into a drill hole.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.
With a long plastic pole Bill Kombol helps John Costanich (on platform above) push the dynamite to the top of the drill hole.  Dummy bags were put in last to plug the hole and ensure a successful blast.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

The most mindless job was filling dummy bags with loose clay used for stemming plugs.  After loading a drill hole with a dozen sticks of dynamite, the sausage-sized, clay-filled, paper bags were punched into the end of the hole.  This focused the energy of the explosive force to blast intact coal into thousands of smaller pieces.   Otherwise, the explosion would blow out the bottom of the drill hole, like a firecracker dud.  Dummy bags were in constant use during mining, so I spent hours bagging up a week’s supply or more.

Bill Kombol filling dummy bags and placing the finished sausage-sized bags into an empty dynamite box.  A “dummy bag” was a paper sack filled with clay or shale and used to stem drill holes. The dummy bag was about the same size as a dynamite stick.  After the drill hole was filled with dynamite, several dummy bags were tamped tightly as stemming, so that the dynamite blast would break and loosen the coal rather than simply blow out the end of the hole. “Stemming” means to tamp, plug, or make tight, to ensure a successful shot.  Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

One shift, bored and alone in the crosscut, I turned off my miner’s lamp to see if my eyes could fully adjust to the dark.  It was an experiment.  After 10 minutes, I slowly drew my hand towards my eyes guessing ambient light would illuminate the outline of the appendage, but there was nothing – complete and total darkness.  There was no sound beyond my breathing.  The lack of sight and sound that far below the earth’s surface conjured feelings I’ve never forgotten.

People often asked what it was like working underground.  The best part was a constant temperature somewhere around 50º. There was little air movement except for a slight breeze from fans that ventilated the mine.  We didn’t have to worry about rain, as it was dry except for a stream of underground water that accumulated in a ditch next to the hanging wall.  It flowed to a sump and was pumped outside.  The mine tunnels were supported by a three-piece timber set, consisting of two uprights supporting a cross beam log all tied together by an overhead roof of rugged boards, called lagging.  It was a comfortable working environment, save for the fact everything you touched was black.

At 7 pm, work stopped for our dinner break.  I moseyed down to the hoist room where a pot-bellied coal stove kept the tin shack warm.  On rare occasions, the miners came up from below to warm themselves and join us.  But most nights it was just me and the hoist man, either Roy Darby, Bill McLoughry, my cousin, Bob Morris, or sometimes Frank ManowskiPee Wee, the dirty black mine dog hung out in the hoist room.

George Savicke, right eats his lunch while Tony Basselli toasts his sandwich on the pot-bellied coal stove in the hoist room. That night the two miners came out from below for their dinner break.  November 1974.

Dinner break was a time to relax, chat, and eat the meal Mom prepared 12 hours earlier.  Sometimes she packed homemade soup in a thermos, but more often a meat and cheese sandwich, which I toasted atop the hot stove.  I was talkative and conversations with the old coal miners took curious turns.  Almost to a man, they told me to get an education and stay out of the mines.

Following our half-hour pause, it was back to work until 11 pm when our shift ended.  Then I dragged my tired body, covered with sweat and coal dust, down to the wash house where we showered on concrete floors, under three side-by-side spigots.  It was like traveling back to a shoddy version of a junior high locker room.  The hot showers felt good, as did donning clean clothes you’d changed from eight hours earlier.

Pee Wee, the hoist room mine dog carrying a miner’s lunch box ,then seeking attention and perhaps a snack from the miners. Photo by Barry Kombol, April 1974.

Each night, your work clothes were hung from hooks on a wire basket, with gloves and hard hat placed inside.  A chain and pulley hauled the gear to the eve of the wash house where heat naturally accumulated.  If your clothes were wet, they’d be warm and toasty by the following day.  Each Friday, I brought my dirty garments home for Mom to wash.

I was in my car by 11:20 pm for the 20-minute drive back to Enumclaw.  I brushed my teeth and plopped into the same bed I’d slept in since sixth grade.  Falling to sleep each night was the easiest part of my day.  Six hours later, it started all over again – up for breakfast, in my car, and driving to the U.W.

On weekends, I’d sleep till 11 or noon.  I had no life outside of school and work.  All my friends were away so largely I kept to myself.  Some Saturday nights, I walked to the Chalet Theater to see a movie.  But mostly I studied, typed papers, and prepared to face Monday.

After two college quarters and more than seven months of this routine, I was burned out.  Fortunately, the underground coal mine was preparing to shut down.  My night-shift job on the picking table phased out shortly after the start of the spring quarter.  I completed my senior year living in Enumclaw but no longer working at the mine.

When the Rogers #3 mine finally closed, a retirement party was held featuring a cake with all Palmer personnel, who were part of the last underground coal mine in Washington State written in the frosting. 1975.

In addition to my regular Econ classes, I took a one-credit P.E. in tennis and a two-credit course on nutrition.  But my favorite class spring quarter was a three-credit course entitled the Living Theater.  We studied drama, went to plays, and wrote reviews of those we saw.  It was my favorite college class and fittingly my last.

During those days of school and nights of work, my dreams were filled with fears – of papers not completed and exams I didn’t understand.  Remarkably, I scored all A’s, and only one B that year.  Slowly my life recovered as I took pride in a fat bank account.  It’s easy saving money when living at home with no time to spend it.

For more than a year prior, I’d suffered an emotionally embarrassing case of facial acne.  I felt ugly.  But nothing Dr. Homer Harris, a noted dermatologist prescribed seemed to work.  I stopped getting haircuts and grew my hair out.  To hide my pimpled face, I quit shaving.  Perhaps it was the release from stress or maybe shaving irritated my skin.  But the acne lessened and within a few months disappeared.  I began to feel human again.

I graduated that June, with a B.A. in Economics.  I was tired of college.  My attachment to fraternity brothers dwindled and I abandoned the academic scene.  I had no interest in attending commencement.  My sister graduated from high school that same year, so the folks wanted to throw a party for the both of us.  I declined their offer and also pointedly skipped graduation ceremonies.  My diploma arrived in the mail four months later.

Four years of study and 195 college credits produced this Bachelor of Arts in Economics, mailed to me several months later, as I had no interest in attending graduation ceremonies.

A few relatives and two high school teachers sent congratulatory cards. My Grandma Kombol, a school teacher for 44 years gave me Webster’s Third International, a 13-pound dictionary I still cherish.  I loafed all summer.  I bought a motorcycle in August and moved to Lincoln City that fall.  There I collected unemployment checks, read books, and walked on the beach.

Working at a coal mine my senior year of college was an experience I’ll never forget.  It was a lonely existence within a beehive of perpetual motion.  My life was a rolling slog in squirrel-cage.  That choice shaped my life, unlike anything before or since.  Perhaps the Stoic philosopher, Seneca said it best, “Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.”

The mine and the old miners are now all gone.  All that remains of Rogers #3 is the weather-beaten washhouse.  Still to these memories I remain eternally grateful – the miners with whom I worked, the hours spent driving to and fro, the classes attended, and college papers written.  Textbook pages studied, the picking table, cement-floor showers, and the sense of freedom that spring when released from the whirlwind into a world of plays and theater.

Of those days long-ago, this memory I shall never forget – dinnertime in the hoist room, standing beside a hot coal stove, and tasting the melted cheese on the sandwich Mom lovingly packed for me.

* * *

After loafing all summer, bumming that fall in Lincoln City and cashing unemployment checks, seven months later, I came back to work for Palmer. Bill Kombol in Enumclaw helping the company relocate the Stergeon cement  bins to Black Diamond for use at the coal mine wash plant. Photo by Charlie Falk, January 1976.

 

 

 

Categories
History

Cal Bashaw: A Life Well Lived

The day he graduated from Kent High School, his mom took him to lunch.  There she announced, “From now on, you’re on your own.”  He spent that night in the basement of Mrs. Shaffer’s home, the mother of the man, Marie Bashaw would soon divorce.  The next day, Calvin Frank Bashaw started a journey that ended on Sept. 29, 2021, several months past his 101st birthday.

Cal Bashaw at Kent High School.

Cal Bashaw was born June 19, 1920, in Edmonton, Alberta to a French-Canadian father, Reuben Bashaw (formerly Beauchesne) and Scandinavian mother, Marie Caroline Peterson.  He died in Enumclaw, his adopted hometown since 1966.  Cal’s early years were spent in Renton at the Sartori School, then Hillman City where he attended Columbia Grade School.  Cal was 13 when his father died in 1933.  His older brother, Ed had already left home.

When he and his mother moved to Kent in 1935, Cal was a scrawny boy of 15 who barely made the football team, and was quickly ignored as undersized.  The following summer, he labored at his uncle’s sawmill on the Frazier River, 60 miles east of Prince George.  His job was “dogging the carriage” where he worked 10-hour shifts alongside stout mill hands, ate hearty meals in the mess hall, and slept in the camp barracks.  Cal’s summer labors earned him $45, of which $16 purchased his first car, a Model A Ford coupe.  Kent’s legendary coach, Claude French took note of the now brawny Bashaw boy and he became starting tackle on the football team.

Cal and his Model A Ford, purchased  for $18 with summer wages from working at his uncle’s sawmill on the Frazier River.

A few days after that graduation day lunch, Cal turned 18 and started work at the National Bank of Washington in Kent.  Banking was not his calling, so he next labored in a cold storage plant earning enough to start school that fall at Willamette University in Salem.  He secured room and board through a job set up by the college and the following summer worked at J.C. Penney in Port Angeles.  But in those late years of the Great Depression money was short, so he left college with plans to reenter after earning enough to pay his way.

Next came jobs cleaning and remodeling kitchens, which led to a position with Boyles Bros. Diamond Drilling at the Holden copper and gold mine in Stehekin.  Deep underground, he and a partner drilled exploratory holes allowing mine engineers to chart the course of mining. He earned $.75 per hour plus room and board in the remote mining camp located at the upper end of Lake Chelan.  As war against Germany and Japan approached, work becoming more plentiful so Cal hired out to Siems Drake to help build a Naval Station in Sitka, Alaska.  He learned to run a P & H shovel and became the youngest man to earn his union card in the Operator’s Engineers, Local 302.  At $1.75 per hour, Cal was earning so much money he had to open a bank account.

Cal and Varian in Sitka, Alaska, shortly after Cal earned his union card in 1942.

Secure in his potential to support a wife, Cal reached out to the girl he left behind in Washington.  Her name was Varian Graham of Kent, and in early 1942, he sent a telegram asking her for her hand in marriage.  No response came for Varian had another boyfriend in Seattle.  Cal booked passage on a southbound boat to help make up her mind.  Varian’s mother advised her 20-year-old daughter, “You can’t get along with him and you can’t get along without him, so give it a try –you can always come home.”  They were married on April 12, 1942, Varian’s 21st birthday, and remained so for 58 years until her death on November 10, 2000 at age 79.

After a short honeymoon in San Francisco, the newlyweds moved to Juneau where Varian worked for the territorial treasurer, while Cal operated a shovel for Guy F. Atkinson on the Al-Can Highway.  A few months later, Cal received his draft notice so joined the Air Force to become a pilot.  He never got through flight training as World War II wound down and Cal was honorably discharged at the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.  Back in Washington, Cal began selling heavy construction machinery for Clyde Equipment, then joined Northern Commercial (now NC Machinery) at their Caterpillar department in Anchorage.  Now with two children, Jill and Win, Cal turned his attention to building his family a three-bedroom home of his own design, at night and on weekends.

The Bashaw family: Win, Cal, Varian, and Jill in Anchorage, circa 1954.

Cal then took the biggest risk of his still young life – he mortgaged his home to start a business repairing and selling heavy equipment.  The family lived frugally, while Cal worked long hours.  Bashaw Equipment Company established a consignment sales relationship with Morrison-Knudsen, a civil engineering and construction company based in Boise, Idaho, who had large contracts in Alaska.  It was during this period he met Dwight Garrett, an entrepreneurial inventor prowling through Alaska seeking used cranes and shovels to remanufacture into logging equipment back in Enumclaw.

Cal at the Bashaw Equipment Co.’s Anchorage yard  during the early 1960s.

Cal’s company prospered and the family moved to a home in a new development on Telequana Drive in Anchorage.  Bashaw Artic Machinery was next founded to sell Snow Trac vehicles manufactured in Sweden.  On Good Friday, March 27 1964 at 5:36 pm, all hell broke loose as did the Bashaw house.  The Great Alaska Earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale left their home hanging from a cliff and Cal’s businesses hanging in the balance.  The home was condemned but the family was safe.  Cal related the family’s experiences through first-hand reports, one of which was published in the Kent News Journal.  One of Cal’s maxims came from this experience, “You can never really appreciate a gain until you have suffered a loss.”

A year later, Cal was diagnosed with colon cancer, which previously cursed other members of the Bashaw family.  His businesses were sold, and the family moved to Enumclaw in 1966.  There he reconnected with Dwight Garrett, the owner of Garrett Tree Farmers, whose articulated skidders revolutionized the logging industry.  The two formed a handshake business relationship investing in land, which lasted the rest of Garrett’s remarkable life.

Cal Bashaw in front of one of Dwight Garrett’s Tree Farmers, the skidder that revolutionized logging in the 1960s.

Cal joined Dwight on the Board of Directors at Cascade Security Bank, which Garrett founded in 1964 to compete with First National Bank of Enumclaw, because he didn’t like how the old guard operated the town’s only financial institution.  There Cal met a widow, Pauline Kombol with whom he forged a union in 2001, a year after Varian passed away.  Their relationship lasted a decade and ended with Pauline’s death in January 2011, the same day Cal attended the funeral of his daughter, Jill Alverson.

Pauline Kombol & Cal at her 80th birthday celebration in Arizona, March 2007.

When Garrett decided that Cascade Security Bank needed a new home, it was Cal whom Dwight selected to choose a new design for the building after the original architect’s plans were found too grandiose and expensive.  Cal threw himself into the project and in 1980 had it built for one-third the projected cost of the abandoned design.  That building stands at the corner of Griffin and Porter in Enumclaw and since 1996 has been a branch of Green River Community College.

On his deathbed in Aug. 2005, Dwight called Cal into his room asking him to be Executor of his estate, likely the largest the small town of Enumclaw has ever seen.  Dwight’s last words to Cal, “You are someone I know I can trust.”  Cal was 85 years old and it took him till 2017 to complete the undertaking Garrett assigned.  By then Cal was 97, yet still living on his own, driving to the store, and enjoying days out and evenings with friends.  One of his great joys of life was eating strawberry shortcake with whipped cream on his birthday, each June 19th when local strawberries ripen.

Cal on his 100th birthday with a giant strawberry short cake, June 19, 2020.

Cal Bashaw completed his assignment on earth in a manner that exemplified his life.  Sensing time was growing short, Cal accepted his fate with a Stoic resolve and a cheerful heart.  Friends and relatives came to say their final goodbyes, while he remained alert and communicative to the end.  In his last days, Cal spoke mostly of thankfulness, of a life well-lived, and for the family and friends he’d served, as they served him at his passing.  He left behind a written account of his life from which this obituary was drawn.  It’s a detailed story of hard work, dedication, and love of family.

Cal Bashaw departed from this life grateful, content, and fulfilled.  He carried no regrets.  Nearing death, he held hands with those who visited and thanked each for their kindness, while thanking God for the good life he lived.

Cal, happy, content, and with a smile on his face, days before saying goodbye for the last time.

Cal was preceded in death by his wife, Varian and his beloved daughter, Jill Alverson. He is survived by a son, Win Bashaw of Texas, his faithful son-in-law, Bruce Alverson of Enumclaw; granddaughters, Brynn Dawson (Dean) of Klickitat, Tess Heck (Brian) of Lake Tapps, Kalyn Gustafson (Jake) of Seattle, and Katie Smith of Arizona; great-grandchildren, Hunter Dawson, Beau Dawson, Max Hollern, Olivia Hollern, Elle Gustafson, and Emmett Gustafson.

 

Categories
History

Hitchhiking to Haverfordwest

St. Patrick’s Day has always been special for me, though my heritage is Welsh. That day in 1978, I hitchhiked from France to Wales to visit a friend living near Haverfordwest.  There’s no Irish blood in my veins, but surely on March 17, I had the luck of the Irish.  Here’s the letter I wrote home a few days later describing the adventure to my parents.

March 21, 1978

Dear Mom & Dad:

Well, as you can see by the postmark and card, I’m now in Wales.  Last Friday I took the train from Paris to Le Havre on the coast of France.  I had planned to take the ferry to Southampton. I arrived at 11:15 am and fiddled around the train station for a while, only to find I had missed the noon ferry.  I walked to the ferry docks and saw the next ferry was at 11:30 pm.  It was about 1:30 in the afternoon.  There was only one other person hanging around, a French boy a couple of years younger than me.  I asked him where he bought his ferry ticket and he said something in broken English about hitching a ride on a truck.  He asked me if I wanted to go to town so we stashed our luggage and went to town for the afternoon and early evening.

My letter to Mom
My letter to Mom, postmarked March 21, 1978, Haverfordwest, Wales.

We got back about 8 pm, checked out ticket prices, played pinball and whatnot.  He related that the truck (i.e. lorry) drivers were allowed to take one passenger with them in their lorries.  Almost all the lorry drivers were English so I started asking them if they could give us a lift across on the ferry.  The ones who were in line said they couldn’t since they already had their tickets.  By this time, we were pretty despondent and figured we would have to buy tickets.

Then I decided to see if I could find someone who hadn’t been able to get his ticket yet.  I found a lorry driver and he said, “Well, I suppose that would be quite alright.”  He and a friend got us tickets, and onto the ferry we rode in their trucks.  Then to my astonishment and good fortune, I discovered we’d have beds for the 8-hour crossing, in a room with three other truck drivers.  You see truck drivers are treated royally on the ferries and since I was now a ‘truck driver’ (by virtue of my ticket) I was entitled to the same treatment.  We had a huge dinner, comfortable beds in a four-man room, a shower, plus breakfast in the morning.  All these lorry drivers were the friendliest people imaginable.  They treated me just like one of the boys.

My handwritten copy
Back then my cursive penmanship was small, neat, and legible.

Well, to make a long story longer, I made it to the docks of Southampton where my lorry driver friends (John and Ted) dropped me off and found a good place for me to hitch a ride (at the exit gate from the docks).  I waited there, talked to a policeman, and attempted to find Brawdy, Wales on a map I had purchased.  It wasn’t on the map, so this very nice bobby (English policeman) called the U.S. Embassy in Southampton and asked them where Brawdy was.  They said it was near Haverfordwest, which is in the middle of Wales on the west coast.  The same policeman (who was guarding the checkout point from the docks) then proceeded to ask every exiting lorry if they were heading to South Wales.  He asked for a couple of hours in the early morning cold, but no one was headed for South Wales.

One chap was headed north to the M-4 at Newberry (a major east-west thoroughfare to Wales), so I hitched a ride on his lorry.  He dropped me off at the M-4 and no sooner had he left, another lorry stopped to drop off a rider and motioned me to hop in.  I did and he took me to the Severn Bridge at the border of Wales, where he dropped me off.   Waiting there was a car with a Welsh driver who had stopped for a cup of coffee.  He motioned me over and took me about half of the distance that remained to Haverfordwest.

This time I wasn’t so lucky.  I had to wait a whole five minutes before two men who looked like coal miners just getting off work, picked me up.  As it turned out they were Irish and worked for the telephone company laying cable underground (which accounted for their appearance).  We headed down the freeway only to come upon an accident.  My Irish friends saw it would be a while.  So, back onto the freeway, and back to the exit we’d previously taken, and all the way back to where they had picked me up.  We then took another route.

Since they were Irish and it was March 17th (need I say more) we decided to stop off at an olde pub and celebrate a bit.  We had some pints and a good talk with the bartender who used to fish off the coast of Washington.  Soon enough we were back on the road and feeling a whole lot finer this Friday night.  That’s when these two Irish workmen who were heading back to Ireland for the weekend decided they might just as well take me to Haverfordwest, then continue to their own destination.  They did and that’s how I arrived here.

Middle Mille, Wales
My first view of Middle Mille, where I would spend the next month of my life.  Scott’s home was across the bridge in the center of the photo.

I called the U.S. Naval base at Brawdy and asked for Scott (Hamilton), but the sailor on duty said he’d gone home.  He gave me Scott’s address and I took the bus to a town one mile from Scott’s house walking the rest of the way.  He lives in Middle Mille, a tiny village of half a dozen homes.  Scott had just received my letter three days before (even though I mailed it from Vienna nearly a month ago) so he knew I was coming.

Today’s weather is sunny, but cold.  Happy first day of spring (today!).  Talk to you later.

Love, Bill

Note: Scott Hamilton was a longtime family friend, serving in the Navy and living in Wales.  I stayed a month at his home.  Here’s how I described it in my letter.

“Scott has a beautiful, old English house (formerly a pub) made of stone and 50 feet from a creek.  It’s in the middle of a group of 5 to 6 other houses which make up the Village of Middle Mille.  It is fully modernized with two upstairs bedrooms and a large front room and smaller kitchen and bathroom downstairs.”

Scott Hamilton's home
Scott’s home was formerly a pub and occupied the central location in the tiny village.

Most days I toured the countryside often on foot or bus while Scott was at work.  At night we ate dinner, watched BBC, and messed around with his Ham radio equipment, a teletype machine, and perhaps 20 different connections and components.  With his knowledge of electronics, Scott devised a way to pick up wire service broadcasts and print out those news dispatches.  Sometimes we’d stay up reading press releases from TASS, the Soviet Union’s new agency, the Associated French Agency (in English), as well as the Associated Press (AP).  One night we “watched” (i.e. read) live new dispatches from South Lebanese Conflict involving that month’s Israeli-Lebanese- Palestinian hostilities and U.N. responses.  In this tiny corner of Wales, what Scott had devised was a primitive form of the early internet.  I was fascinated by the experience of it all.

One day, I walked the local countryside with two neighbor boys which I recounted in “A Walk in Wales.”  A few weeks later, I crossed over to Ireland, met a bunch of guys my age, and traveled with them up the Irish Coast, relating that adventure in another letter home titled, “My Week With a Welsh Rugby Team.”

King boys in Middle Mille
The two boys who lived next door and joined on “A Walk in Wales.”      
Categories
Musings

Tom Colvin and the Summer of 1966

It’s funny how a song can evoke memories of times long passed. I’ll never forget the song from July 1966, and where I first heard it. I was visiting a childhood friend, Tom Colvin who’d moved away after 4th grade. We were best friends during our elementary school years. On their last night in Enumclaw, he and his sister Julie slept over at our house. Somehow, three years later, Tom and I hatched a plan (made real by our mothers) where I’d stay with the Colvins for a week.

I didn’t know it then but I’d just played my last game of Little League baseball. Playing second base, in the second game of a double-header, a sharp grounder hit a rock bounding into my face and producing a nasty fat lip. I left the next day to visit Tom. Back then parents had neither the time nor inclination to spend six hours driving kids from Enumclaw to Port Angeles and back again. So Mom drove to Tacoma and placed me on a Greyhound bus. It was a long ride. The bus stopped at a half dozen towns along the way. I remembered my mother’s final directive, “Now make sure you get off in Port Angeles!” I called their home from a payphone to say I arrived, but it took some time for Mrs. Colvin to pick me up. In those 30 minutes, I discovered what shabby places bus stations really are, despite the allure of vending machines and pinball.

Enumclaw Little League Baseball 1966
7th grade baseball. Front: Les Hall (of course!) Back: Del Sonneson, Tom DeBolt, Jim Ewalt, Keith Parmenter, Jim Clem, Wayne Podolak. Sponsored by the Enumclaw Junior Chamber (J.C.), Summer 1966.

The Colvins lived in a daylight rambler several houses up from Highway 101. It was next to a two-story motel and restaurant, where Tom’s brother Jeff worked. That week was cloudy each morning, a summer weather pattern typical near the sea. Tom’s sister, Julie owned just about every one of The Animals’ albums. Most mornings we listened to their songs time and again until the marine air lifted and we went out to play. Mickie Most was a record producer who made pop stars of the Animals and would soon do the same for a Scottish folk balladeer about to become a groovy, trendsetting pop star. His name was Donovan.

Towards the end of my stay, Tom and I went to a beach party on the Straights of Juan de Fuca at Crescent Beach. Tom was popular with his friends. I was a shy kid from Enumclaw with a fat lip. There were lots of junior high girls, each pretty in their own way, but none turned their attention to me.

Someone’s car radio was playing in a time before “boom boxes.” I heard the song of that summer . . . and every summer for the next 45 years––Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” Memories of that moment are etched in my mind. The teenage girls no longer mattered.  The syncopated beat, sing-along melody, and hip lyrics did.

Donovan album cover Sunshine Superman
Donovan’s Sunshine Superman single, released July 1, 1966.

At week’s end, I joined the Colvins and visited their friends who owned a cabin at a nearby lake. It was a serene and sunny Sunday when my Port Angeles vacation came to an end. I said goodbye to the Colvins and my family picked me up, coming from nearby Hood Canal, where they’d spent the first half of our summer trip. We ferried across the straights to Vancouver Island and made our way to Salt Spring Island where Mom reserved a cabin for the second week of our planned vacation.

There wasn’t much to do at the faded resort of rundown cabins where we stayed.  There was no television.  With little to do and the sun shining warmly each day, we had to figure out ways to have fun.  Near our cabin was a small inlet with a narrow channel opening producing strong currents when the tide ebbed and flowed.  We built a makeshift raft of logs and planks and at high tide rode the Tom Sawyer-like raft down what we pretended were rapids into the larger bay beyond.

In our cabin, a radio played, but the Canadian stations weren’t playing Donovan.  But, I must have heard Brian Hyland’s “The Joker Went Wild” thirty times that week. I Googled the song and found out for some strange reason, it was the number one song on Vancouver’s Top 40 station that week.

It was there I played the only round of golf I ever played with my father.  The course was dumpy and so were our rented clubs. The grass was bone-dry, so balls rolled easily along the fairway.  Dad, Barry, and I knocked balls about and putted across bumpy greens.  We didn’t keep score.

We soon exhausted things to do on Salt Spring Island, so cut our stay short.  Our holiday ended in Victoria, where we kids insisted upon staying at a motel with a pool and television.  That evening on the local news broadcast, the reporter told the story of a police crackdown on prostitution in the city. I asked Mom, “What’s a prostitute?”  She dissembled an oblique explanation. There was a hint of the end of summer in the air.

I saw Tom Colvin one more time before our friendship was set aside. His family visited Enumclaw and we spent an afternoon fiddling about in a makeshift tree fort we made in the empty lot behind our house. Much later Tom landed in Portland, but in days before the internet looking up an old friend was well-nigh impossible. Years passed and I’d hear occasional reports of his doings from friends of friends.

Quite by accident, we reunited one Friday night in July 2017 at the Bellingham Bells baseball game against the Port Angeles Lefties. He was there with his P.A. buddies. I was there to see Jim Clem, who coaches for the Bells and once pitched for the local Peninsula Community College team.  All of Jim’s baseball pals were part of the group that Tom came with.

Civic Stadium Port Angeles Lefties
Bill Kombol and Tom Colvin at Civic Stadium, Port Angeles on July 7, 2017.

Our worlds united on a warm night when two schoolboy chums reconnected 51 years later. Tom and I spent the couple hours at the baseball game reminiscing about our lives long ago and today. By game’s end, we said goodbye. Three-and-one-half-hour later, I was back home with new memories of another day.

Tom and I became Facebook friends but we haven’t seen each other since.  When our lives might next intersect, only fate knows.

Categories
Musings

On Turning 68

Fifty years ago I turned 18, a few weeks after graduating from high school.  My head was filled with dreams of heading off to college.  My bank account was bolstered by countless graduation cards filled with $5, $10, and $20 bills.  I was filled with certainty in the knowledge that so many relatives and friends believed in me. The feeling was one of confidence.

Those first post-graduate weeks were spent lounging in Lincoln City in the company of Grandpa Morris and cousin, Dave Falk.  Returning home, I began my second season as an ice cream vendor for another cousin, Dan Silvestri selling popsicles from a three-wheel Cushman scooter.  That summer job netted me $1,032, plus all the Sidewalk Sundays I cared to eat. 

The graduate (left) and his 68-year-old self, standing beside the same home at 1737 Franklin Street, this time holding the high school diploma awarded 50 years earlier.

One thought however, did not cross my mind.  I spent no time reflecting on what life might be upon reaching the age of my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, many of whom had sent cards and offered words of encouragement.  It isn’t in a boy’s nature to think about growing old.  It’s certainly of an older man’s to ponder what has long since passed.

My Dad never finished high school, but insisted I go to college.  My grandfather provided funds for my first year.  After that I was on my own and worked summer jobs to pay my way.  If I’ve learned one thing in the ensuing 50 years, its thankfulness––the knowledge that I stand today on the shoulders of those who came before.  We exist because our parents brought us into existence.  And they too, through generations stretching back to the beginning of humanity.

I’ve grown to recognize how blessed I’ve been by those who blazed the trail to where I now dwell.  And to recognize the debt we each owe to those who helped us along, taught us a song, or how to belong.  To better cultivate that sense of obligation, we owe it to those coming after to pave for them a better path forward, in gratitude for that trail blazed for us.  And through it all to rely on the grace of God whose plan unfolds every day, whether be helped or hindered by each daily action we undertake.

Perhaps my great-great grandmother who came across the plains on the Oregon Trail said it best:

“Our being in this world is not accidental.  We all have a mission to do some special work, and it is work that will honor Him and bless those around us.  If we do not find that work and do it, our life is a failure; the true end of living is not realized.   We may not learn in a moment; but step-by-step, day-by-day; as we go on things will be made clearer.  Those who do the smallest things well because they are God’s plan, are to be honored far above those who do great things for the world’s praise.”

Nancy Matilda Hembree (1837-1922)
Categories
Musings

The Man Who Dredged, Filled, and Sculpted Lake Sawyer

by Bill Kombol

Jim Hawk was responsible for the vision behind dredging, filling, and sculpted what is now known as Lake Sawyer Park. He lived on Lake Sawyer for nearly two-thirds of his life.  That’s a long time for a 95-year-old who built his lake home in 1961.  His name is Jim Hawk and he’s arguably done more to craft the Lake Sawyer we know today than any other person.

LS065- Lake Sawyer, circa 1985 looking south east. Jim Hawk’s completed project can be seen at the top of this photo at the south end of the lake.

Jim Hawk was born in Seattle on April 27, 1926.  His father, Ray Hawk was of Dutch descent but left his Pennsylvania home at age 13.  His mother, Mary Romano, was the daughter of Italian immigrants.  His grandfather, Sam Romano was blinded by a dynamite blast at age 18, returning to Italy where doctors restored his sight. Sam came back to Seattle and started a family-owned construction company, Romano Engineering which developed the Riverton quarry and built highways, bridges, dams, and other projects.  

The extended family lived in one large home in the Mt. Baker neighborhood of Seattle with Jim’s Italian grandmother, Anna who spoiled Jim and his cousins rotten.  Growing up Jim loved chemistry and inventions.  With money earned from cutting lawns and landscape work, he’d head straight to Scientific Supply Company to buy chemicals and lab equipment.  Often his mother signed permission slips so Jim could purchase ingredients which could only be sold to adults.  Jim was known as the “mad bomber” of the neighborhood making rockets and bombs from his chemistry set. 

Jim graduated from Franklin High School in 1944 and would have been drafted for World War II, but for an automobile accident near Skykomish which left him nearly dead and lying in the river bed.  He spent a long time recovering from a collapsed lung.  That fall he enrolled at Seattle University graduating in 1948 with a degree in chemistry, his childhood hobby.  However, one of his most consequential lessons came from a Jesuit priest in an American history course Jim hadn’t wanted to take, but was required to graduate.  To this day, Jim remembers the opening lecture.  “All history teaches is that we never learn from our mistakes.”  A light came on in Jim’s brain.

After graduating from Seattle University, Jim was accepted into graduate school at the University of Washington.  He joined the chemical engineering program seeking a PhD in electro-chemistry.  Jim demonstrated his early brilliance by proposing an idea of creating fluorocarbons through electrolysis with hydrocarbons.  The professor was amazed as Jim described a process which had only recently been theorized.  However, his graduate studies fizzled when Jim took a heavy load of classes.  One consisted of memorization which didn’t teach him to think; another by a professor who on day one asked his students, “Which course am I teaching?” And the third, who, “Didn’t teach you to think outside the box,” as Jim recalled, “The biggest dud of my life.”

Around this time, the Romano family business began to disintegrate.  His dad, Ray Hawk started Black River Quarry, Inc. mining a rock deposit near Tukwila where the Black River once flowed from Lake Washington into the Green / Duwamish River.  The Black River disappeared in 1916 after Lake Washington was lowered 9 feet and connected to Puget Sound through the Ballard locks.  Ray was having problems running his quarry so reached out to Jim who dropped out of grad school.  He planned to help his Dad for a short time.  Jim easily solved early problems though each day brought new challenges so he stayed on full time.  Eventually Jim took over the business. 

Grand projects like redirecting the White, Black, and Cedar River, plus lowering the level of Lake Washington were common in the early 1900s.

Jim’s talents were always larger than his business life.  In 1953, he filmed a nature movie from the cockpit of his Super Cub float plane.  The movie was professionally shot in 16 millimeter wide-angle, commercial cinemascope, color film with Jim narrating.  He offered the movie to Disney but they declined.  In 1958, Jim married Mary Jo Burns and by 1961 they’d built the Lake Sawyer home where they still live today.

In February 1966, Jim purchased a 31-acre parcel of primarily swamp land from John D. Nelson for $37,000.  Nelson bought the property in 1945 from Pacific Coast Coal Co. at a price of $820. It was located at the south end of Lake Sawyer with access from the terminus of S.E. 312th Street.  Jim’s vision was to turn the marshy property into a lakefront residential development.

This 1936 aerial view of the south end of Lake Sawyer shows the swampy area where Hawk dredged and filled in the late 1960s. The Lake Sawyer Road is the bright white line to the left. Ravensdale Creek be seen to the north, while Frog Lake through which Rock Creek flowed is southeast of the lake.

Jim’s company, Black River Quarry (BRQ) mined rock much of which was sold during wet winter months.  But Jim had a problem of keeping key employees busy during the slow summer season.  He employed four extremely talented individual who could do just about anything when it came to earthmoving.  Chris Peterson was one of the best shovel operators to be found, even in his 70s.  John Yourkoski was a journeyman bulldozer operator who also ran loader and dragline.  Walt Schoebert was a master mechanic with a knack for tinkering and building machines from component parts.  Don Shay worked in the office and was always ready with sage advice. 

Jim spoke with experts, but nobody had ideas for building a road through a twin-creek delta, half swamp and the other half peat bog.  So he read widely about bogs and contacted Leno Bassett who mined peat in the Cottage Lake area.  Bassett provided good advice and Jim’s plans soon took hold.  Hawk obtained Hydraulic Project Approval from the Department of Game & Fisheries in 1967 for a channel change and excavation of the shore of Lake Sawyer.  The permit allowed dredging two creeks and the lake’s bottom with requirements to protect water quality.  Work was done on an intermittent basis to prevent excessive siltation.  Production was prohibited on weekends and holidays to protect recreational users of the lake.

LS015- Southeast end of Lake Sawyer, circa 1968-69. This view shows the early construction of gravel dikes and the dredging of the Ravensdale Creek inlet to the right. Aerial photo by Jim Hawk.

Jim’s plan was to refashion the swamp into 31 acres of dry land surrounded by open water the two separated by piling and wooden wall panels.  The topography was surveyed by Jim and BRQ employees using probing devices to determine whether they were standing on peat soils floating on water.  After the initial survey was complete a rudimentary plan was developed to build access roads and perimeter dikes throughout the dense jungle of interlocking vegetation. Behind these dikes new dry land would be formed from dredged and fill material.  Outside the dikes open water connected Ravensdale and Rock creeks to Lake Sawyer.

To gain access through the marsh, a floating road concept was utilized.  In some places peat and mud extended down over 40 feet before reaching compactible soils.  Downed logs, brush, and debris from clearing were used as a mat that was pushed down into the peat and mud by a bulldozer.  A gravel road several feet thick rested above the “floating vegetation mat” below.  Pit run gravel was obtained from three barrow sites on the property.  Those gravel deposits rose 10-15 feet above surrounding terrain.  Most of the older-growth trees outside the gravel extraction areas were preserved. 

LS026- South end of Lake Sawyer, circa 1968-71. This was the staging area for the piling and panels forming the pier wall which separated land and water. Photo by Jim Hawk.

This floating road needed to be stable enough to support bulldozers and a 53-ton Northwest brand cable-operated shovel.  The shovel doubled as a crane, equipped with a 3/4 cubic yard clam bucket for digging or a dragline bucket for open water dredging.  Other miscellaneous equipment supported the operation.  When remembering the challenge, Jim laughed out loud, “Nobody else in their right mind would have tried it.”

The long-term success of the project depended on using the best bulkhead materials available.  Jim found piling at the Wyckoff Company consisting of hemlock poles, pressure-treated with Chemonite preservative, yet still needed to find a long lasting cable to hold everything in place.  In a stroke of luck, Jim talked to Pacific Iron & Metal who’d just found 14,000 lineal feet of surplus 3/4” stainless steel cable which could be had for 50-cents a foot.  Jim bought it all.

During the summers of 1967 and 1968, the initial work of building a perimeter road to separate Frog Lake from Lake Sawyer was completed.  The dragline shovel operating from the road excavated mud from the lake and built a containment berm just inside the gravel road.  The pile driver used the same perimeter road to drive treated wood piling until these long poles reached a firm foundation.  The piling were driven at an average 10-foot spacing with treated wooden walls placed between, thereby providing a sturdy barrier between land and water.  

The first phase of the project ended, but the next stage of dredging and pumping was even more challenging.  The dredge–pumps Jim investigated were typically used in oceans and rivers, far too large for a small lake.  Once again he consulted experts but found no clear answers for available technology.  Ever persevering, Jim and his master mechanic, Walt Schoebert began designing their own machine.  It was a tall order as it had to float; move around the lake; cut through a dense mat of peat, roots, and mud; shred the mixed result; then pump it through pipes into diked areas.  In addition, the machine had to work around and through ancient logs littering the bottom of this jungle-strewn bog.  

LS021- The south end of Lake Sawyer, circa 1969-71. The cutting and dredging machine created by Walt Schoebert and Hawk is parked next to recently installed piling. The gravel dike road is partially covered by water to the right of the piling. Bob Eaton’s white boathouse located at 23232 S.E. 312th (now owned by Adam & Jenna Running) can be seen in the distance. Photo by Jim Hawk.

The next order of business was building a barge consisting of sealed floatation tubes connected by decking where machinery could be housed.  Paddle wheels were installed on each side of the floating wing tubes for propulsion.  A 4-cylinder GM diesel engine was bolted down to power the large hydraulic pump driving the machinery.  A cutting wheel was developed which could be lowered by boom into the muddy vegetated morass.  The cutting knives were protected within a collecting box.  The emulsified cuttings consisted of chopped roots, peat, mud, and wood shreds.  In order to suck this slurry and water mix, a pump designed for sewage plants was chosen.  That impeller pump thrust the slurry mixture through heavy rubber piping to containment areas behind dikes.  If they hit a log or something impenetrable, the cutting heads stopped and the differential caused the pump to stall.  The boom then lifted the log out of water and resume dredging.  Jim attributed the success of their home-made dredging machinery to his mechanic, “Walt Schoebert could build anything.”

LS029- All of the components of Hawk’s plan can be seen operating in this circa 1969-71 photo. The gravel dikes contain the hydraulically dredged and pumped slurry of lake sediment, while the log booms retain floating debris. Ravensdale Creek enters into the long canal in the center. The large peninsula of pumped sediment is to the right. To the far right is the larger inlet where Frog Lake flows into Lake Sawyer. Aerial photo looking east by Jim Hawk.

The system worked so well you could clearly see the cutting knives through the water when wearing Polarized sun glasses.  In addition, a floating log boom was constructed to curtain off the work zone and ensure no floating debris left the active dredging area.  No complaints were ever registered by lake residents.  Bob Eaton, the closest neighbor in the last residence on S.E. 312th Street was always supportive.  An official from Department of Fisheries and Game once stopped by the job site and declared the operation, “The cleanest lake clean-up we’ve ever seen.” 

The dredging work continued over the next three summers allowing the muddy mix to consolidate during the fall, winter, and spring seasons.  The project was completed by 1972.  During five years of operation there was never an accident or mishap. 

LS032 – This view looking southeast shows Hawk’s work circa 1969 with Frog Lake visible in the center right of the photo and Palmer Coking Coal’s slag pile near Highway 169 in Black Diamond in the far upper right. Aerial photo by Jim Hawk.

The completed land form was ready for development, but the property lacked sewers and wasn’t currently viable as the 31-lot plat Jim envisioned.  So rather than develop the few lots that could be served with septic tanks and drain fields, Hawk pursued other ventures.  When asked why he didn’t move forward, Jim said, “I’d accomplished the job and had no need to sell.  Frankly, we were hoping for something better than just a dozen more homes on Lake Sawyer.”  When asked if he was proud of all he’d accomplished, Jim demurred, “It worked,” then added, “plus it gave me satisfaction to do something that all those experts and soil engineers couldn’t do.” 

This June 1, 1970 aerial photo shows the vast changes completed to date. Hawk’s work was finished the following year.

With his newly developed dredging technology, Jim turned his attention to helping Lake Sawyer residents rid their shorelines of unwelcome milfoil.  This non-native and invasive plant sets down a deep set of tangled roots which envelope shallow areas of the lake.  Using concepts similar to his recently utilized dredging equipment, Jim invented a machine to remove milfoil.  It consisted of a cutting edge on the bottom surrounded by a screened cage allowing excess water to drain.  The machine worked so well, he even received a patent and named it the “Water Bulldozer.” It was mounted on a self-propelled barge.  Jim tested the equipment by cleaning out much of the boot at the north end of Lake Sawyer.  Inspectors from the Department of Fisheries told him it worked great but they would still require each lot owner to apply for a separate hydraulic permit.  Jim lamented, “It was a great idea that didn’t work because of bureaucracy.” 

In 1985, Hawk turned his attention back to the Lake Sawyer jewel he’d sculpted more than a decade earlier.  He installed rockeries along certain shorelines where unprotected gravel bulkheads were eroding. But, the regulatory climate had changed.  The government agencies which had once praised his work refused to issue permits.  King County filed criminal charges against Hawk in Aukeen District Court claiming he’d harmed the environment by failing to secure a hydraulic permit.  The judge who heard the case declared Hawk’s existing restoration sufficient and Jim was order to pay court costs of $8.  King County and the State Department of Fisheries followed up with letters certifying compliance with permit conditions.

LS184 – In 1985, Hawk undertook additional work on his property, but ran afoul of new regulations. Restoration included adding gravel to shorelines and planting Douglas fir and red cedar trees along the lake shore.

When completed, Jim Hawk had created over one mile (5,600 lineal feet) of Lake Sawyer waterfront in three main sections surrounded by two navigable bodies of water.  But Jim was on to other ventures.  In April 1989, Hawk sold his 31-acre Lake Sawyer property to Palmer Coking Coal Company, who owned 480 surrounding acres.  With proceeds from the sale Jim assembled acreage to build the Jade Green Golf Course on the Lake Holm Road, east of Black Diamond. 

Ten years later, much of Hawk’s Lake Sawyer improvements became part of a 162-acre acquisition by King County of a planned regional park.  Portions of the park land and open space within city limits were deeded to Black Diamond in 2005.  Today the developed Lake Sawyer waterfront created by Jim Hawk is the focal point of a park through which a future trail connecting the Cedar and Green Rivers will pass.

Jim Hawk in the kitchen of his home on Lake Sawyer. This photo was taken the day of the interview, March 25, 2017.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Jim Hawk, the son of Pennsylvania Dutch and Italian ancestors constructed this remarkable development at the south end of Lake Sawyer.  After all, it was practical Dutch engineers in the Netherlands who created an incredible system of dikes and canals reclaiming vast areas of that country from the sea.  And in Seattle, it was Italian immigrants, with surnames like Segale, Merlino, Scarsella, Scocollo, Fiorito, Pierotti, and Scalzo who built the vast reach of roads, bridges, cuts and fills throughout the Puget Sound area.

Jim Hawk was never afraid to dream big. In 1983, he directed preparation of drawings showing a series of connected waterways anchored by his earlier work on the south end of Lake Sawyer. Environmental regulations had tightened and the grand ideas envisioned by his Lake Sawyer Project were out of step with the times and never seriously pursued.

This story was written from an interview conducted by Bill Kombol on March 25, 2017.  One key but little discussed element of Jim’s life was recounted by Scott Sandwith, his former son-in-law.  Scott suggests the foundation that enabled Jim to build so much was his wife, Mary Jo’s eternal support for his “brilliant plans and ideas.”  Scott continues, “Mary Jo and Jim are two matched souls who embody what a marriage can be” resulting in the amazing and supportive legacy of five children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.   Jim and Mary Jo Hawk live in the same family home they built in 1961, located at dock #104.

Categories
Musings

On May 26, 1985 – I Gave Up Alcohol Forever

On May 26, 1985, I gave up alcohol forever.  I drank my last drink and never looked back.  As a drug, alcohol is a depressant.  Yet, alcohol induces depression in a sly manner – by disguising its psychoactive effects within the soft glow of frivolity.  Life without booze invigorated me. After quitting, many asked why?  My short answer: I’d already seen life saturated with booze – I wanted to experience something new and better and different.  For thirty plus years, I have.  It’s the second best decision I ever made.

Allow me to explain.  I had no serious issues with alcohol.  There were no DUIs, no courtroom appearances, no family interventions, no passing out, no automobile accidents, no slobbering drunken episodes.  Sure, there were morning hangovers cured by drinking copious amounts of water to work the poison out.  Though I sometimes drank alone, it was never to excess.  I enjoyed the camaraderie of friends when imbibing.  Wine accompanied a good meal, just as a cold glass of ale enhanced a steak or sausage.  A night of drinking beer over a card game or sporting event, were times to enjoy. I even pursued finer beverages such as cognac and bourbon.   Sweet drinks were fine for the right occasion.

Keith Hamilton and I serving champagne on the day of my sister, Jeanmarie’s wedding, June 18, 1977

My final night of “feeling no pain” included a couple neighborhood friends during a Saturday evening of merriment fueled by strawberry daiquiris.  Before stumbling home there was talk of getting together for breakfast the next morning.  It was Memorial Day weekend.  I awoke with a hangover, worse than previous but nothing debilitating.  I drank lots of water and went for a jog.  Back then I didn’t take the coffee cure.

Through the day I began thinking about life: where was I bound and towards what purpose.  Life seemed to be going nowhere.  I tried imagining a new age, a new direction to change the story I’d been living.  On previous occasions, I’d given up alcohol for short periods of time; one particular three-month calendar season came to mind.  Thoughts began to grow.  Memories fancied a youth – those carefree days before alcohol and mind-altering substances.   There stood a fit young adult, filled with vim and vigor, ready to embrace challenges and explore the world.  Instead the mirror offered a man imprisoned by conventions of social drinking; leaning on alcohol like a cripple leans on a crutch.  I’d studied drugs and knew alcohol was a depressant, fully interchangeable with barbiturates for those addicted to either.  The logic was inescapable.  This drug known as alcohol – chemically a depressant – was depressing me. 

I decided to change.  My first calculus was to give up drinking for a while, or at least until the damn hangover ended.  The more I thought about possibilities the more an idea of significant change grew – I would give up alcohol until its impact was fully reckoned.  I’d never know what that life might be, if I never tried it.  There would be no A.A. meetings for me.  The one meeting I’d been to (as part of a self-awareness class) involved lots of depressing individuals smoking cigarettes in a dumpy Auburn union hall.  There would be no support groups, no grand announcements.  I’d just stop drinking and experience life on the other side of the bottle.  So, I did.

Summer was approaching and opportunities arose for new beginnings.  I started riding my bike again and did more exercising, but nothing terribly radical.  The first big social event of the season was Maple Valley Days in early June . . . for which alcohol was standard issue.  I’d been part of the Cedar River boat races with cousin, Bob Morris several years previous and was friendly with the social circle following the sport.  I saw old friends and when offered a beer politely declined.  Drinking was an expected element of the weekend celebration so declining the proffered libation only heightened attention of the clique.  I answered casually, “Just quitting  for a couple of weeks.  Drying out, you know.” 

Two weeks later I joined my Enumclaw buddies at the monthly incarnation of the DGA (Duffers’ Golf Association).  There I made similar gestures to downplay any importance of “Bill’s not drinking.”  I observed others became uncomfortable if I were no longer part of the drinking fraternity.  To promote a relaxed atmosphere it was important to have some kind of drink in hand, anything would do.  The best prop I found to be non-alcoholic beer.  It allowed those who thought alcohol de rigueur for group dynamics, to more easily accept that my abstinence violated no rule of group etiquette.   They saw me holding a drink and felt at ease. 

DGA dudes: unknown, Jay Carbon, Tom Cerne, Mike Wickre.

The weeks turned to a month and a more formidable test emerged.  Bob was marrying Jill and I would be his best man.  I’d also be part of the close-knit group of friends for his weekend bachelor party.  Eight of us would fly to Reno, rent a van, and tour Lake Tahoe and environs – a four-day, summer bash.  I knew Bob’s friends pretty well from previous Maple Valley socializing much of which involved drinking.  They would be my party-mates during our weekend safari.  Only one of our gang, Keith Timm Jr. was a teetotaler.  Make that two.

In any group setting, every person serves a role.  I could easily take a break from abstinence and join the partying in Reno and Tahoe.  Multiple opportunities to cut loose were available.  Not everyone knew of my new sensibility, so the easy route suggested a reversion to the days of wine and roses.  But, a better plan was hatched – I would serve as designated driver.  The others could fully enjoy drinking and carousing, all under the capable hand of a sober chauffeur.   I’d safely guide the caravan.  Peer pressure melted like a daiquiri in the Nevada sun.  I became the indispensable cog whose sobriety allowed their intemperance; the driver of the bus who piloted the fun.  They admired my sobriety and I reveled in their esteem.  My avenue of abstinence was beginning to look like a freeway to self-fulfillment.

The summer months stretched towards autumn and fewer people noticed, “Bill isn’t drinking anymore.”  In time my sobriety became a non-event.  Most people who drink pay little attention to those who don’t – they’re too affected to notice the person who doesn’t.  Eventually, I gave up the ruse that teetotalism was a temporary phenomenon.  I would never drink again.  I was happy.  It was the second best decision I ever made.

I won’t leave you dangling.  About a month after my drinking stopped, I attended a cocktail party at the Smith Tower in downtown Seattle.  It was a political fundraiser for a King County Councilmember from the south end.  His daughter was there.  We shared a pleasant conversation.  She lived on Lake Sawyer.  Yes, she liked volleyball at the annual Fourth of July celebration.  We’d be on opposite teams for the East – West volleyball match played on the court near Mom’s home on the lake.  I’d probably see her there.  She came.  They won.  When leaving, the motor on her dad’s 10-foot dinghy caught fire.  She jumped into the lake.  Bob, Tom Cerne, and I flipped the boat upside down putting out the fire.  Mom comforted the water-soaked girl up at the lake house.  She called her parents to have someone pick her up.  No one was available . . . though her uncle had seen a fire across the lake.  I gave her a ride home in Terry’s outboard.  I knew I wanted to see her again. 

Jennifer and I at Seafair, Aug. 1985, one of our early group dates.

My mind was no longer clouded by booze.  I was free to pursue the life I needed to live.

Categories
History

Dam It! The Untold Story of Vern Cole and the Lake Sawyer Weir

By: Bill Kombol

Before Vern Cole, Lake Sawyer lacked a dam, also known as a weir to control the level of the lake.  Lake Sawyer is the third largest public lake in King County, Washington.

Over the years a number of stories were written about the outlet dam controlling the level of Lake Sawyer.  Most previous versions were steeped in oral history but light on facts.  Many portrayed Vern Cole as a renegade developer and defendant in a lawsuit he lost to Mary Burnett.  Quite the opposite is true.  It’s time to set the record straight on that dam outlet weir where Covington Creek leaves Lake Sawyer.

Like most lakes of the Puget Sound basin, Lake Sawyer was formed about 10,000 years ago near the end of the last glacial period.  Sheets of ice covered the region with heights reaching 3,000 feet at their thickest.  Retreating glaciers carved the landscape as melting ice deposited thick layers of sand and gravel, including areas around Black Diamond.  This barren landscape gradually supported primeval forests dominated by Douglas fir.   Low areas became ponds and lakes filled with water from meandering creek channels.  Lake Sawyer was fed by two: Ravensdale Creek and Rock Creek.

Water leaving the lake naturally gravitated to its lowest point, the Covington Creek channel located midway along the lake’s western shore.  By the time white settlers homesteaded Lake Sawyer, that channel was filled with several thousand years of logs, trees, roots, branches, and debris all of which clogged the natural outlet.  Busy beavers no doubt added their contribution to the morass of detritus.  The situation remained unchanged until the 1950s.

Aerial photo of the north and west shores of Lake Sawyer in Aug. 1937, the earliest aerial photograph of the area.

During the 1920s, most land surrounding Lake Sawyer was still held by a few large owners including Oscar Weisart, the Lochow family, the Neukirchen brothers, Lake Sawyer Lumber Co., Northwest Improvement Co., Pacific Coast Coal Co., and the lake’s first family, the Hansons.  They later operated Enumclaw’s White River Lumber Co. whose prominence became a defining feature of that town.  Carl Hanson’s original 160-acre land grant also boasted the lake’s first home, a log cabin built around 1884. 

In 1884, the first cabin was built on Lake Sawyer upon Carl M. Hanson’s 16- acre homestead.  This photo dates to 1887.  The two girls standing in front are Anna Elizabeth Hanson (age 12 years), Olga Olivia Hanson (10), while standing in the doorway are Ellen Thyra Maria Hanson (8), and Selma Victoria Hanson (6). 

By the mid-1930s, many owners began platting their land into small lots.  Most are now occupied by lakefront homes.  The plat names included Campbell’s Lake Sawyer Campsite; Lochow’s Lake Sawyer Tracts; Lake Sawyer East Shore Tracts; and Lake Sawyer Grove Park (currently the RV resort).  However the biggest of all was approved in 1939 – the North Shore of Lake Sawyer comprising 139 lots stretching from Hanson Point down to and including a two-acre park dedicated to King County (docks #104 to 189).  The North Shore Plat was owned by the Hanson, Smith and Olson families, descendants of Carl Hanson, and contained a low spot which periodically flooded.  That area is now referred to as the Boot, owing to its boot-like shape as seen on the plat map.  The Hanson family’s summer home (docks #102 & 103) was built in 1926 in the steeped-roof, gabled-style of the day, complete with caretaker’s cottage next door.   Both home and cottage still grace Hanson Point named for that pioneer family.  By 1947, the lake hosted 70 families in permanent residences and three times that many with summer homes. 

The Hanson family’s 1939 plat map of the North Shore’s 139 lots, with the Boot anticipated as potential lake frontage. The park deeded by the Hanson family is now the public boat launch.

Further south, the area around the outlet channel remained un-platted and owned by the Lochow family.  In 1950, Ludwig & Mabel Lochow, William & Marjorie Lochow, together with William & Gladys Gordon filed the West Shore of Lake Sawyer plat.  Their platted tract encompassed 36 acres stretching from the Hanson-donated park (now called Lake Sawyer Boat Launch) all the way south to the present site of the Lake Sawyer RV Resort (docks #191 to 258).  New roads were constructed to service the 73 platted lots including S.E. 298th Street, S.E. 300th Street, S.E. 302nd Street, and 225th Ave. S.E.  Lot sizes were restricted to a minimum of 6,000 square feet, but most were between 15,000 and 25,000 sf.  The West Shore plat involved extensive surveying of the outlet channel designated as Covington Creek on the map.  Each lot’s frontage on the canal extended to the centerline of the creek.  

The Gordon-Lochow 1950 plat map of the West Shore’s 73 lots.  The channel was fully surveyed before any dredging took place, most likely in 1951.

However, nature’s ad hoc dam which governed the lake’s level remained the same choked Covington Creek channel, resulting in periodic episodes of severe flooding.  As seen nearby, the Speery cabin located near the old Neukirchen mill site was inundated during winter floods of 1946.   In his August 5, 1952 findings of fact from King County Case No. 443504, Superior Court Judge Ward Roney declared “the residents and property owners abutting Lake Sawyer have been subjected to severe damage and expense during the past flood seasons.”  Roney further ruled “that said Lake constitutes a flood control problem within the meaning of the statutes of the State.”  

The north and west shores of Lake Sawyer in 1942, showing a clogged Covington Creek outlet and ponded water in the Boot area.

Judge Roney’s decision grew out of a petition filed in March 1952 by Mary Burnett, Perry B. Love, Wilbert Bombardier, Rebecca Miles, Frank Horne, William Gordon, Hans Sands, Perry J. Love, Leonard Cleaver, Adolph Samuelson, and David Cook, all owners of real property abutting Lake Sawyer.  As plaintiffs, the 11 individuals sought a judicial order providing specific proposed relief:

  1. To establish the maximum water level for Lake Sawyer; 
  2. To authorize construction of a dam and fish ladders;
  3. To authorize Vern Cole Realty Company, Inc. to install the dam and fish ladder, subject to the approval of King County, Dept. of Fisheries, Dept. of Game, and Supervisor of hydraulics; and
  4. To authorize the Supervisor of Hydraulics to thereafter regulated and control the maximum water level of the lake.
King County Superior Court Case No. 443504, with Mary Burnett as the first named plaintiff. The March 1952 petition to the court sought a judicial order to fix the level of Lake Sawyer, which led to building the dam and weir later that year.

Named in the action were each and every land and lot owners around the perimeter of Lake Sawyer, with lake frontages of each noted in lineal feet.  Contrary to previous accounts Vern Cole was not a defendant.  In fact, he was actually an ally and confidant of lead plaintiff, William Gordon who owned multiple lots in the just approved West Shore plat.  Vern Cole was described in pleadings as the most competent individual to spearhead efforts for design and construction of an outlet dam to solve winter flood problems and low summer lake levels.  As opposed to the usual formulation where every lot owner paid his or her proportionate share of design and construction costs, the plaintiffs proposed to pay all those considerable expenses.

To gain perspective we now indulge in some informed speculation guided by known facts, aerial photos, and the resulting landscape.  Throughout the Puget Sound region, earthmoving operation significantly altered the course of countless rivers, creeks, lakes, and wetlands.  The White River previously flowed into the Green, but was later diverted south to the Puyallup River.  Lake Washington once emptied through the Black River into the Duwamish near Tukwila, but was lowered nine feet after the Ship Canal was dug, providing a connection through Lake Union to Shilshole Bay and the Puget Sound.  The Cedar River was also rechanneled so it no longer left Lake Washington via the Black and Duwamish Rivers, but through Union Bay and the Chittenden locks in Ballard.  Those were but a few of the large projects financed by government to sculpt local landscapes in pursuit of enhanced waterfront and economic prosperity.

White River was diverted west to the Puyallup in 1906. The Cedar River was re-channeled directly to Lake Washington in 1912. The Black River disappeared when Lake Washington was lowered nine feet and the lake’s discharge henceforth flowed through the Montlake Cut to Lake Union, then into locks at Ballard and Puget Sound.  See When Coal Was King, May 4, 2021.

At Lake Sawyer the goals were modest and the means private – flood control plus fixing the lake’s level with a new dam.  At the end of World War II lots of surplus earthmoving equipment including bulldozers, diesel powered shovels, and draglines were put to use in nearby mining operations.  In the late 1940s, both Ravensdale and Franklin coal seams were mined for the first time by surface methods with bulldozers removing overburden while shovels excavated coal into dump trucks.  Previously almost all coal had been mined underground. 

A similar form of excavation likely took place in the Covington Creek channel and further north in the Boot, a part of the Hanson family’s North Shore plat.  The summer of 1951 is the most likely date for both dredge operations.  The Gordon-Lochow West Shore plat was approved in November 1950 and the lawsuit to fix the lake’s hydraulic problems initiated in early 1952.  Interrogatories exchanged between plaintiffs and respondents indicate that Vern Cole Realty was hired by the Gordon-Lochow forces to open the channel.  In those same questions and answers the Gordon-Lochow plaintiffs proposed that Vern Cole construct the dam, spillway, and fish ladder, designed to replace nature’s failing, log-choked outlet.  After the channel was cleared the lake’s summer level would have been far lower allowing easy excavation of the Boot. 

A trial without jury was heard on April 10, 1952 before Judge Roney.  Several procedural issues were ruled upon and the trial continued to May 19 at the King County Courthouse.  Plaintiffs were instructed to serve copies of the Judge’s interim order upon all parties.  A notice of proceedings was published in the Auburn Globe News for a period of two weeks.  A number of prominent Seattle law firms were involved including Rummens, Griffin & Short represented by Paul Cressman for the plaintiffs, and Bogle, Bogle & Gates for the respondent, John Nelson one of the lake’s largest landowners.  Plaintiffs and Respondents attended the trial as did three State Departments – Game, Fisheries, and Hydraulics.  King County was named in the lawsuit and served notice but didn’t appear.  Unfortunately neither testimony nor oral proceedings from May 19th were preserved.  But the parties must have agreed on most major points as Judge Roney’s decision mirrored the plaintiff’s requests and his order seemingly satisfied all the parties, as no appeals were filed.

On August 5, 1952, Judge Roney issued his final ruling which included Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and a Decree whose decision included the following:

  • That Covington Creek “is inadequate and incapable of carrying off excess water during flood seasons; that as a result thereof, the residents and property owners abutting Lake Sawyer have been subjected to severe damage and expense during past flood seasons.”
  • That “a maximum lake level be established to control and regulate the flow of water in Covington Creek; that the maximum water level on Lake Sawyer should not exceed 518.94 feet above mean sea level . . . that level is 16” higher, according to foot measurement, than the visible level of the Lake on the 19th of May, 1952 [and] that such a maximum lake level will not endanger or damage any property abutting the shores of Lake Sawyer.”
  • “That the Vern Cole Realty Co. . . . has advised the court it will bear the entire construction cost of a dam or spillway to control and regulate the flow of water from Lake Sawyer and through Covington Creek.”
  • That “Vern Cole has advised the court it is having plans prepared for construction of a suitable dam or spillway” . . . and that said plans be approved by the Departments of Game, Fisheries, and Hydraulics.
  • That the Dept. of Hydraulics provide regulation of the dam and spillway following construction.

So what did the lake look like by the end of construction?  And how much variance did the lake experience before and after installation of water control structures in 1952?

The variances experienced in the pre-weir era are not known, but were certainly extreme.  Evidence of severe flooding is seen in the Sperry cabin photo looking west towards the Hanson home built in 1926.  Jack Sperry believes that water level was 38” to 40” (between 3 and 4 feet) above today’s typical level.  The lowest pre-weir levels were likely 5 feet below today’s norms, that being the water elevation at the base of the dam.   A number of intact stumps from old trees can still be seen below water level including one between the two islands in front of the RV Resort.  It has a white buoy attached.  Another stump in front of Eble point (Dock 12) is about 7 feet below the average level.  These trees were probably Oregon ash or another specie which can tolerate long periods of inundation.  These high and low data points suggests that prior to the dam and weir, Lake Sawyer experienced wide variations in water level, as much as 8 to 10 feet.

The Sperry cabin during winter flooding in 1946.  The home on Hanson Point can be seen in the distance, just to the left of the cabin.

Following construction of the weir and dam, the highest recorded water levels in Lake Sawyer occurred in early February 1996.  Heavy rains washed out the dike road between Frog Lake and Lake Sawyer causing a cascade of water to fill the lake and overwhelm the weir.  Water levels were measured at 26” over the weir compared to a winter average of 6” above.  The lowest recorded water levels occurred in late October 2015 when beaver dams up and down Ravensdale and Rock Creeks cut off almost all surface flow to the lake.  Late autumn is also when groundwater flows ebb, contributing to that record low event.  On Oct. 28, 2015 the water level was 39” below the weir.  Thus, the maximum recorded variance in modern times between these two extremes was 65” or about 5.5 feet.  The typical annual variance between the average high and low water is now about 24” or two feet. 

The best evidence to further piece this puzzle together are aerial photos from 1937 and 1942 showing conditions before lake alterations, and from 1959 seven years after.  In the Boot section of the North Shore plat, the August 1937 photo shows definite farming activities.  Yet, the Hanson’s 1939 plat map clearly depicts that same Boot area within the high water line of the lake.   A pond in the north end of the Boot can be seen in the winter 1942 photo, where summer field harvesting was practiced five years earlier. 

Just as heavy rains facing a clogged Covington Creek channel resulted in severe winter flooding, it’s equally fair to assume that lack of a real dam controlling outflow allowed late summer lake levels to fall precipitously.  That would explain why the Boot could be used for farming in 1937, but on the plat map and in the 1942 photo seen as a potential water basin.  Oral history holds the Boot was once dredged, an event surely contemporaneous with the Gordon-Lochow dredging of the outlet channel which created optimum conditions for summer work.  This makes sense given that heavy equipment necessary for one project could easily be redeployed to another. The cleared channel no doubt presented owners with an historic low-water event perfect for carving future waterfront.

The post-dam era in 1959, seven years after dredging and construction of a dam at the outlet.  The wakes of motor boats can be seen on the lake.

A close-up of the west shore area in 1959 showing the dredged Covington Creek canal, the weir, and increasing development of homes within the West Shore Plat.

Despite a lawsuit just six months earlier, by late September 1952 all was peaches and honey in the neighborhood.  The Seattle Times reported, “A 94-foot-long dam has been constructed on Lake Sawyer, near Kent, at the mouth of Covington Creek to establish the lake level and improve property values and fishing.  The concrete structure is equipped with five-step fish ladders which will permit salmon to return to the lake to spawn.”  On October 5th a joint ceremony was hosted by the Lake Sawyer Community Club and Lake Sawyer Garden Club to mark completion of the dam.  That dam and weir still faithfully serve lot owners on Lake Sawyer over 68 years later.

Lake Sawyer weir and dam on Covington Creek, Jan. 1956, a few years after dredging.  Photo by Frank Guidetti of Black Diamond

Aerial and plat photo labeling by Oliver Kombol.

Sources:

  • King County Superior Court Case No. 443504 “In the matter of fixing the level of Lake Sawyer” (1952).
  • King County Assessor and Dept. of Transportation aerial photos from 1937 and 1959.
  • U.S. Army Corp aerial photo from 1942.
  • King County Recorder – Plats of the North Shore and West Shore of Lake Sawyer.
  • Metsker’s 1926 and 1936 atlas of King County.
  • “History of King County” Volume II by C.B. Bagley (1929),
  • Renton News Record, July 17, 1947 – News of Maple Valley.
  • Seattle Sunday Times, Sept. 28, 1952 – page 20.
  • Jack Speery, lake resident – oral communication.
  • Bob Edelman, lake resident – email communication, July 9, 2020.
  • Bob Edelman – “How the Lake is Measured.”
  • The Man Who Sculpted Lake Sawyer – BillBored.org

Vern Cole (1887 – 1970)

Though characterized as villain in some early and inaccurate stories about construction of the Lake Sawyer dam, Vern Cole was one of the driving forces behind designing the weir and creating the stabilized lake level residents enjoy today.  Born in 1887 to a pioneer family from Baker, Oregon, they immigrated to Canada when Vern was six-years-old.  After discharge from the British Navy, he joined the Vancouver, B.C. Police at age 21 serving as Constable Patrol Officer.  Cole moved to Seattle during World War I and became a salesman for a motorcar company.  He was later commissioned as a Washington State Patrol officer.  It’s unclear when Cole first pursued real estate as an endeavor, but he ended up running a very successful business known as Vern Cole Realty Co., which specialized in lake front homes, acreage, and view tracts.

Vern Cole as Patrol Officer in Vancouver, B.C., 1908.

Cole became involved with the Lochow-Gordon plat of the West Shore of Lake Sawyer in the early 1950s.  However, at the start of the 1952 legal action by Lochow, Gordon, and others, Vern’s wife of 45 years, Hazel (Downing) died.  Perhaps in grief, Cole poured himself into completing the lake’s transformation he helped set in motion.  A year later he remarried a widow, Edna Buckingham Raborn and the two of them lived on his 105-foot yacht moored at Shilshole Bay, just outside the Ballard Locks.  Vern Alexander Cole died in 1970 at age 83.  His obituary states he was an active yachtsman and member of the Elks and Masonic bodies. 

The Home on Hanson Point

One of the oldest homes on Lake Sawyer was built by the pioneering Hanson family on a peninsula of land that was part of their original homestead claim.  The patriarch, Carl M. Hanson owned a sawmill in his native Sweden before immigrating to the U.S. in 1883, after hearing of Washington’s vast timber tracts.  For a year he cleared land in Seattle before moving to Lake Sawyer where he filed for ownership of 160 acres under the 1862 Homestead Act.  Carl built a log cabin, proved up his claim, and in 1891 was issued a deed personally signed by President Benjamin Harrison. 

For several years, Carl and members of the extended family worked at the coal mines in Black Diamond and Franklin before building sawmills, first at Summit (Four Corners) and later Lake Wilderness.  Both were operated in association with his three sons, Axel, Charles, and Frank.  The Wilderness mill was owned until 1897 when the family moved operations to Enumclaw following purchase of the White River Mill.  That enterprise was renamed White River Lumber Company and thrived under Hanson family management.  Within a decade the firm employed over 500 men, by far the biggest employer in Enumclaw.  The company increased its land holding to 50,000 acres and later initiated a cooperative agreement with Weyerhaeuser.  In 1900, Frederick Weyerhaeuser purchased 900,000 acres of timber from railway magnate, James J. Hill.  The two companies, White River Lumber and Weyerhaeuser fully merged operations in 1949.

King County Assessor photo taken Dec. 20, 1939. The home still looks remarkably the same.

The Hanson family built this summer home on Lake Sawyer in 1926 and next to it a caretaker’s cottage.  In 1939, Rufus Smith and L.G. Olson, grandsons of Carl Hanson filed a plat named the North Shore of Lake Sawyer.  The lake front portion of the family’s 160-acre homestead was platted into 139 lots and included dedication of the two-acre park now owned by Black Diamond and called Lake Sawyer Boat Launch.  Their summer home which sits on 17-acres (docks #102 & 103), was not part of the plat but remained with the extended Hanson family until 1997 when it was sold to David & Maryanne Tagney Jones for $2.2 million.  A recreational guest house was added to the estate in 2007.  This December 20, 1939 photo of tax parcel 042106-9001 comes courtesy of the King County Assessor held at the Puget Sound Regional Archives in Eastgate. 

This history of the dam was originally published in the Lake Sawyer Community Club Newsletter, Spring 2021. Additional photos have been added to this version.

Categories
Musings

A Walk in Wales

How many walks do you even remember?  Walks to school as a child?  Your walk at graduation? Strolling home from campus late at night?  Walking down the aisle towards your life of marriage?  The solemn pace of the pallbearer when that dear uncle passes?

Some of life’s most memorable moments are seemingly mundane.  So it was with my walk in Wales in the spring of 1978.  I was 24-years-old and spending four weeks of my five-month pilgrimage to Europe, living with a friend in a tiny village of western Wales.  Scott Hamilton was in the service, stationed at a nearby U.S. Naval base.  Scott was something of a loner and rented a stone cottage far off the beaten path.  Middle Mille was no more than six homes and an abandoned mill.  A small creek that once powered the mils flowed through the town.  Remnant water wheels of rotting wood and rusting iron dotted a maze of surviving channels and canals. 

Middle Mille, Wales, April 1978. The old mill is to the left and Scott’s stone cottage is center. The stream is seen below.

A portion of the old woolen mill had been converted to a home.  A family lived there with two young boys, perhaps five and seven.  Most days I was at loose ends so made the acquaintance of their mother.  She was in her thirties and glad for the company in this isolated place.  On occasion, I’d share a cup of tea with Mrs. King.  The King family traded woolen goods from their storefront which doubled as the front room of their rambling stone house. 

The King boys (whose names I’ve forgotten) were game for an adventure so one day, with their mom’s approval, I proposed a stroll up the creek as far as we might go.  It was a typical spring day in western Wales with light breezes and sunlight broken by passing clouds.  The valley was mostly unkempt fields and broken-down fences.  It was a vestige of Wales that time and prosperity left behind.  Without plan, map, or lunch we began our trek with the creek as our guide.  We hopped fences as necessary and crossed stone bridges where sheep once roamed.  The stream grew smaller as we pressed further up the valley.

The King Boys ready at the village church.

The King boys reveled in discoveries and played imaginary games, while my mind drifted back to a childhood hike some two decades before.  The summer of my fifth year, we climbed the mountain just east of my grandparent’s house.  They lived in what was left of a coal mining outpost once called Hiawatha.  Only three homes remained identical miners’ cottages on the Kanaskat-Kangley Road. My dad was born in the middle house 35 years earlier.  The St. Clairs lived next door.  My climbing partners were Barry, age seven, and Billy and Dickie St. Clair, ages nine and ten. 

The Kombol kids the summer Barry and I climbed the mountain: Billy, Jean, Danica, and Barry at our home in Elk Coal, August 1958.

We crossed over the old railroad tracks and followed a creek up the forested hillside. Our first stop was a primitive dam where Pa Kombol maintained the water system which fed the three homes.  We played near the pooled reservoir then continued our climb through dense stands of fir, hemlock, and cedar covered with moss.  There was a trail of sorts but the path was steep.  Determined as only the youngest really knows, I struggled to keep up yet never admitted weakness.

The creek became a trickle but we climbed still higher.  When the creek was no more we determined the summit was reached.  A view appeared within a narrow clearing.  The sun shone down upon us which added to our sense of glory.  To memorialize the accomplishment a knife was produced from which shirt buttons and shards of cloth were cut.  We attached theses badges to the stump of a fallen tree.  The four of us stood in solemn camaraderie.  Our sacrificed tokens echoed a hope that one day we’d return to find proof of the ascent and reclaim our hidden treasures.  Little did I realize that future treasures will one day be found in memories.

Exploring the graveyard with the boys.

Back in Wales, I pondered, “Might these boys one day experience a similar feeling?”  Several hours into our hike the creek forked.  Neither branch provided sufficient flow to keep our interest.  Clouds gathered behind us and it was time to head home.  We left the valley floor climbing the upper ridge.  A trail led us back to the village.  By the time we reached Middle Mille, we’d rambled maybe five or six miles.  I deposited the boys with their mother with promises to explore again. The King boys and I undertook several more adventures during my stay.  We examined a nearby church and graveyard.  We found an old water wheel where I tried coaching the older lad to snap my photo.  He fumbled with the camera asking, “Which button do I push?”  As I leaned forward the shutter clicked. 

At the old water wheel in my trusted pea coat.

My time in Wales was coming to an end.  There was only so much to learn in Middle Mille.  My visits to the nearby market town of Haverfordwest began to grow stale.  London was calling, but I yearned for a piece of this green valley to take home.  Mrs. King helped me choose a Welsh-made woolen blanket.  It cost a pretty penny and I shipped it home in time for Mother’s Day.  Both of my Mom’s parents were children of Welsh immigrants, making her almost pure Welsh. When she died the red plaid blanket came back to me.  It reminds me of my walk in Wales.

Back at Middle Mille 37 years later standing by a water wheel

In October 2015 after visiting our son Oliver at Cardiff University, Jennifer and I spent a night in Haverfordwest before boarding a ferry to Ireland.  We drove along a narrow path barely wide enough for our car to reach Middle Mille.  I wanted to show her the place I’d stayed 37 years earlier.  There were a few new buildings but the village was mostly unchanged.  Scott’s stone cottage looked the same.  The old mill complex still sold woolen goods.  We wandered about the grounds.  Jennifer snapped my picture standing beside a restored water wheel.  We hadn’t time for a walk, for there was a ferry to catch.