Thursday, June 11, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Brown: The Birth of UPS in Seattle and a Pioneer Driver Parks the Truck

The dividing line between good society and bad society in old Seattle was Yesler Street, the road that originally led down a steep hill to Seattle’s only industry, Henry Yesler’s steam driven sawmill.  Ox teams pulled the forest that resided on that hill down to the mill, giving the street the name Skid Road.  Other logs bobbed about in the water by the mill at high tide and sunk into the mudflats when the tide was low.  Soon the flat was filled in with sawdust and other debris and became buildable, by the standards of the day.  To the south was a collection of bars, whorehouses, coal gasification plants, mudflats and immigrants.  “Down in the sawdust,” people called the area, another name inspired by the mill.  More acceptable people lived on the north side of Yesler.  

City Hall to the right, Yesler's Mansion on the north side
of Yesler Avenue
There were some exceptions to the Yesler rule.  City Hall for many years was south of Yesler, but just barely.  The city’s first Catholic Church was south of Yesler, its presence somewhat compromised by its neighbor across the street, Lou Graham’s four story brick brothel that brought a collection of better off customers, most living north of Yesler.  The early pioneers, like Yesler, built mansions and established acceptable businesses there.  The future lived north of
Lou Graham's, Third
and Washington
Yesler, people thought, a more sober, a less corrupt and less sinful future.

Jim Casey was a young man with a north-of-Yesler outlook who organized one of the most famous south-of-Yesler startups.  With some friends, he entered the crowded bicycle messenger market, starting American Messenger Company in the basement of a typical saloon and pool hall on the corner of Second Avenue and Main Street and next to a hotel whose patrons were routinely knocked on the head by robbers or their drunken friends.  The place had become a parking lot in the early seventies, the fate of many buildings in Pioneer Square then, but Jim Casey replaced it with the wonderful Waterfall Park in 1978, among the best small packages in the Seattle Park System.

The four founders of UPS.  Jim Casey is third from left
Casey had been in the workforce since he was eleven, hoping to replace the income of his father who suffered poor health but still tried to make it in the Alaska Gold Rush, where he died.  At 17, Casey had a lot of responsibility and $100 borrowed from a friend.  He also had a great sense of timing.  In 1907, when he started, the market penetration of telephones was accelerating, causing him to shift more quickly to serving the growing demand for package delivery, rather than his original concept, delivery messages written on small pieces of paper rushed to someone’s front door.  By 1913 he was back where he belonged, well to the north side of Yesler, on the east side of Fourth Avenue about where the Westlake Starbucks store is now located.  He was also competing directly with the federal government, which he would do almost his entire career at the company.

The US post office had just begun its Parcel Post service, although three years after Casey had steered his company in the package direction.  He changed the name again to reflect the new direction, Merchants Parcel Delivery, after a merger with a motorcycle delivery firm.  The deliveries to customers from boys in hand-me-down suits and caps through the Seattle Trolley Car system were now long past.  To go with his fleet of motorcycles, he added the first truck, a Ford Model T, and soon began developing the techniques that are common in delivery today – organizing package delivery along specific routes with the boxes assembled on the truck so that the driver had easy access to the right package at the right place. It would still be a few years before Casey’s brand would evolve to the familiar United Parcel Service, however it was about this time in Seattle that he found the brand's color, dark brown.

Businesses like Merchants Parcel Delivery were the indicators of a much smaller, and much richer world, at least in America.  While the globe's most prosperous country, the American outlook on the new century was still remarkably limited and primitive.  Life expectancy was just 47 years, 7% of students actually graduated from high school, 1% of adults held investments in public companies, 3% had electric lights in their homes, and less than a third of households had running water.  A vast majority, 80%, lived on farms.

Early Piggly Wiggly
Americans were used to buying their limited grocery products on credit, at a store that had a couple of different bean varieties, one supplier of bacon, and bread baked and piled near the cash register.  They bought their clothing and shoes from outfitters with a limited product selection.  Now they were paying “cash and carry” for a much fuller range of items at stores like Piggly Wiggly.  Now, as goods delivery systems took shape, even rural communities could shop from the catalogues that were popping up everywhere.  Shoes that could be bought in New York could be bought in Seattle or Cle Elum.  It was becoming clear that even though most Americans did not travel more than a few miles from their town, it was
unnecessary.  The world was coming to them. 

“Who’s going to patronize a little bitty two by four kind of store anymore,” a salesman sang in Music Man as the train pulled into River City, Iowa.  That wonderful song reveals the details of a growing prosperity based on how and what came to them in 1905, delivered by another delivery pioneer, Wells Fargo.

I got a box of maple sugar on my birthday.
In March I got a gray mackinaw.
And once I got some grapefruit from Tampa.
Montgomery Ward sent me a bathtub and a cross-cut saw!

I got some salmon from Seattle last September.
And I expect a new rockin' chair.
I hope I get my raisins from Fresno.
The D.A.R. have sent a cannon for the courthouse square.

I’ve been talking to a delivery driver who has just left a career she started at

UPS in 1982, her route nearly always along Third and Fourth Avenues in Belltown, or as she calls the place, being a native, ‘The Regrade.’ It’s one of the many places in Seattle where engineers decided the found environment was inadequate and so changed it. Most of the hill that disappeared here was dumped into Elliott Bay, resulting in what was then the largest man-made island in the world, Harbor Island. While focused on just two Seattle streets most of her career, two things have kept work life absolutely fresh for Diane Larson. First, what she delivers is constantly changing as the neighborhood evolves, from automobile dealerships and small office space, then to restaurants and now to high rises where lots of people live. Belltown is now Seattle’s most dense neighborhood. Delivery is harder now, but the changes keep the day fresh. The second is that Diane falls in love with her customers and they with her. She is a classic connector, someone who weaves in and out of place, stitching it all together with her charm, generosity and sharp eyes. She doesn’t miss much on her route, not a hello, not a kind or funny comment, not a detail about a package that might spell trouble for a customer. That is why the Cinerama Theater changed out its reader board a few days ago to thank her.

Largely, she represents good news – a check, a contract, a couch that went missing, a graduation gift arriving the morning of the ceremony, one of the specialized tools Gino Barone uses to hand engrave crystal in his Fourth Avenue shop. She does what we might call her community work even while meeting the relentless metrics set up by her employer. UPS expects her to make twenty stops an hour – one every three minutes, in some of the country’s most congested traffic and with a constantly changing array of packages loaded onto her truck every morning. Her customers are driving the bulk and weight of these packages by their evolving lifestyles, different tastes and their access to technology.

On the way out, she will have 500 packages in her truck. She must take care to deliver those with a guaranteed delivery time first and must keep time in mind her entire shift. UPS trucks, they are called ‘package cars’ at the company, are extensively monitored so that analysts can design routes and suggest training techniques to save time. The company says that a one-minute delay for each driver across the company costs nearly 15 million dollars. A practiced analytical eye at UPS found that turning left at an intersection was a consistent cause of time delays. So, UPS encourages its drivers not to turn left and routes are designed to minimize left turns. On the way back to Seattle’s south end, she will pick up 300 packages, weaving in and out of end-of-day traffic. She has a favorite route, but wouldn’t tell me what it is.

She has many stories she likes to tell, most of them mysterious to a citizen like Jim Casey who could not imagine the technology at Diane Larson’s command. So, let’s linger a bit.

One of her customers was an older woman living in a hotel on Fourth Avenue. She used oxygen and a wheelchair. Sometimes Diane would deliver a fruitcake or something like that on the week before a holiday. One week Diane noticed that the woman was receiving packages from the QVC on-line shopping network, a few each week then several a day – toys, furniture, gourmet peanuts. The hotel even set aside a room to store the packages. Diane inquired. Yes, there was a new person helping the woman and yes, the goods were not intended for the tenant but for the caretaker, who had done this before.

Clark Humphrey was the editor of the Belltown Messenger. He is walking down

the street with his computer bag over his shoulder. From her stool at Two Bells Tavern, her normal lunch stop if there is time to stop, Diane hears a man calling “no, no, no.” It is Mr. Humphrey. A Belltown thug is trying to snatch Humphrey’s computer and is pulling at it while a crowd watches from a comfortable distance. Diane hustles across the street and, as she is crossing, another person, yelling ‘hey’, ‘hey’ approaches the two struggling men and aligns with the thug, pulling on the bag as well. Diane approaches the three struggling men and stands on the straps of the bag. Someone finally calls the cops. Understanding a changed dynamic, the thugs decide their best option is to lope off into the savanna of Fourth Avenue as if it were all a segment of Animal Planet. Mr. Humphrey writes a “my hero” article in The Messenger.

One more Crime Stopper item. She is delivering many COD packages from the east coast to a down and out storefront complex on Fourth. The men in the place, Nigerians, pay only with money orders purchased the same day, all for less than $10,000. They complain to Diane about the cost, the service and the fact that Diane is a woman. She confers with the Fed Ex drivers who have the same suspicion as Diane. They think that their customers are operating a knock off goods warehouse – purses, shoes, other stuff. She made the proper connections and, though there were frustrations, a company alerted police to this theft and the police raided the joint. Some of the men were deported and $200,000 in cash was found in a locker. The folks at Nike, a knock off victim, were very happy with their Seattle UPS driver.

There are many dogs along her route and Diane takes good care of them. On

the weekends, she mixes up batches of smoked lamb or pork liver dog treats and delivers them on Monday. She puts them in a plastic cup like you’d buy with mixed fruit in it. A friend of hers designs labels for the treats that feature individual dogs who are beneficiaries of the treats. The label says:

“Diane’s Dog Crak”

“Ingredients: Liver and Love”

She’s recently branched out. The bees she bought and takes care of provide her with honey and a new brand, “Golden Girls Honey and Hives,” which she also delivers to her customers.

Diane grew up in Ballard. Like Jim Casey, her Dad died in Alaska. She had a fisherman father, a crabber, who was on board a fishing boat in the Gulf of Alaska that disappeared in a storm. She was ten. She went to college at Seattle University where she was a good athlete with nowhere to play. Title Nine of the US Education Act passed just as Diane was entering college. It contained these words:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

She went to the Seattle University Athletic Department and urged, in her quiet, stepping-on-the-straps kind of way, that Seattle University needed a woman’s basketball team.  She was listed as a 5’6” guard on first on Seattle University’s club team and then was on the first Division I team in 1977.

Packages delivered by Diane over the years reflect the changes in the neighborhood and the basic alterations of the on-line economy.  In the 1980s, Belltown was becoming a restaurant neighborhood and Diane’s truck was full of the items needed to build and operate a large group of emerging restaurants. 
The packages tended to be much smaller than they are today.  Diane brought Tom Douglas and his wife Jackie Cross their first deliveries when they opened the first Dahlia Lounge at 1904 Fourth Avenue and followed them to today’s Fourth and Virginia location. When they added the Dahlia Bakery and Lola, the Palace Kitchen and all the others, she delivered to those places as well.  Diane also has “like staff” status at Assaggio on Fourth, which opened in 1993, owned by Mauro Golmarvi.

The expansion of the on-line economy and Belltown’s role in the city’s growth have conspired to make the packages Diane delivers much bigger and heavier.  Belltown is going through robust residential and office growth today, and most of those items associated with setting up house frequently come on Diane’s truck.  Much of the furniture, dishes, television sets, beds, sofas, tables bought on-line find their way to Diane’s familiar route. The old 50 pound rule is long gone, and deliveries much larger are routine, wrestled out of the truck and to a door at a high rise address by this small woman.

After college, Diane left for Europe, having a great time in Paris and the French countryside.  When she returned, in 1982, she became one of the first women hired by UPS, one of three in Washington state at the time, and was assigned the Third and Fourth Avenue route.  As drivers gain seniority and can choose their own routes, many like more rural/suburban routes because there are longer drive times between deliveries and a quieter work life with less traffic.  But she long ago decided to keep her congested and chaotic urban route down the center of Belltown, delivering the baby stuff and toys to the new, younger families growing on her route.  

When she started along Fourth Avenue, vinyl records were so yesterday, but now she delivers to the world headquarters of Sub Pop Records, a record label that began about the time she did and had some of the great names of the grunge era. At Sub Pop, vinyl is back in vogue, good news for listeners and Sub Pop, but bad news for Diane. Diane reports that a carton of records is heavier than a box of rocks.

Fourth is a great street that you sometimes drive through a bit too quickly.  If, like Diane, you are paid to stop, you get to see some amazing things.  At Yellow Leaf Cupcakes, they once named an ice cream flavor after her.  She’s watched the rise of Pop Cap games, the popular producer of the non-violent Bejeweled franchise since 2001.  She frequently delivers or picks up at Holy Cannoli, a lovely little specialized bakery at the north end of Third Avenue.  It's an important street for Diane because it’s the street where she makes the turn for home, picking up packages and getting positioned on her magical, secret route that avoids all Seattle traffic and leads directly to the next good life.

Monday, June 1, 2015

From horses to cars in Seattle

The restoration of an older brick building on Western Avenue has me thinking about the transition from horse transportation to automobile transportation in Seattle.  The building, five stories high, originally opened in 1910 as a stable for horses, three hundred of them, in fact, the biggest, most modern stable in town.  Better than anything else West of the Mississippi, the owners, V. D.  Maddocks and Scott Benjamin liked to say.   

There were many stables on Western Avenue then, two of them just a block to the South and the big Bon Marche Stable a block to the North, home for the store’s delivery horses and wagons.  In fact, Seattle had 38 public stables in 1910, the zenith for that Seattle business category.

I wondered about the wisdom of building a fancy horse stable in 1910. Wasn’t the transition from horse to horseless well underway by then?  I somehow had the transition happening more quickly than it did.  And I wondered about the quality of the transition.  Did people see it a good thing?  Or, were they exchanging a slower, less polluted time for a noisier, dirtier, more dangerous time?

The answers are pretty simple.  Among the leading problems of the good old days was the horse.  The horse had been the center of transportation and other work for centuries, but by the beginning of the last century, there were too many of them serving people who increasingly lived in crowded cities.  For example, in the 30 years between 1880 and 1910, Manhattan's density doubled from 20,000 people/square mile to 40,000. The bulky horse was asked to work squeezed into crowded, noisy streets where they were dangerously prone to panic in all the noise and clatter.  Over 200 New Yorkers lost their lives to horse accidents in 1890.  It went both ways.  Horses worked until they fell, frequently left dead on the streets.  The great city disposed of 15,000 dead horses in 1890, about 10% or the city’s equine population.

The old Seattle garbage man Josie Razore once told me that the principal reason he got an early solid waste disposal contract in Bellingham back in 1929 was that he committed to the city that fewer dead horses would wash up on the Bellingham shore. Garbage, manure and other unpleasant things, like dead horses, were then loaded on barges and taken out into Bellingham Bay on a retreating tide and dumped.  It was discomfiting to a generation that was discovering how wonderful recreation was to come across a big horse on the beach ripped apart by sharks and pecked apart by gulls and vultures. 

Razore knew about horses at the end of their lives.  The garbage wagon was usually the last stop for older horses who broke into the transportation game in Bellingham as muscular fire horses pulling bright and expensive equipment.  Later, when Mr.  Razore had them, they plodded slowly along to the end of their days.  Sometimes, however, when the firebell rang, their training and adrenaline kicked in in and off they’d run to the firehouse, ruining Razore’s carefully planned pick up routes.

The more complicated and dense environment was tough on the urban horse.  Pulling a rail carriage each day took the work of 11 horses and there were 297 horse cars in 1890 New York.  Each horse needed 1.4 tons of oats a year and 2.4 tons of hay, the products of five acres of nearby farmland.  The average life of a horse pulling a trolley car down the middle of a New York street was just over two years. 

UW Collections
Today's site of the Virginia Inn
Each horse left behind 25-35 pounds of manure each day and two quarts of piss – 2,250 tons of material each day in Seattle that mixed into the streetscape and formed a gelatinous goo in the winter and a fine windblown grit in the summer, ground down by the iron tires of the wagons as they gritted, banged and rolled over cobblestones, gravel, dirt and fresh manure.

The picture at right shows a 1904 protest put together at Seattle's First and Virginia Streets calling attention to the state of Seattle's muddy roads -- thick enough to pull a shoe off a foot, but thin enough, the protesters said, to harbor a salmon.  

Sometimes the manure had value to scavengers, but sometimes the manure markets collapsed and the manure just piled up.  It was sometimes deposited in vacant lots or pushed into the river or bay and sometimes not.  It was further distributed about the city by the big horseflies.  Public health officials in New York thought at the turn of the century felt that 20,000 residents a year became seriously sick because of the stuff.  When the horses got sick, as they did in a horse epidemic in the late 1870s, the economy shuddered as well.

The first international convention of city planners came to New York in 1898 and they were quick to place the urban horse on top of their agenda.  They concluded that the horse in the urban environment had become unsustainable.  

But the horse was hard to replace, largely because the new auto industry early on concentrated on custom built automobiles.  Two years after the planner’s convention, a grand total of just 4,192 automobiles had been sold in the United States.

On a Friday, just before Christmas weekend in 1904, a handful of city workers completed a traffic count at the corner of Second Avenue and Pike Street that showed the horse was still king in Seattle:

Type of Conveyance  Number      Horses
Express wagons pulled by one horse 1,375 1,375
Express wagons pulled by two horses 1,682 3,364
Lumber wagons pulled by two horses 571 1,142
Lumber wagons pulled by three horses 32 96
Lumber wagons pulled by four horses 72 288
Horse trucks pulled by two horses 32 64
Horse trucks pulled by four horses 3 12
Buggies pulled by one horse 178 178
Automobiles 14
3,959 6,519

Though I’ve never seen a horse census for Seattle, applying the same ratio of horses to population  that existed in several cities during the first decade of the 20th Century, the number of horses in Seattle at the turn of the century would have been 12-15,000 horses. 

French street scene.  Note the lack of lanes.
As horses, street cars and automobiles crowded the streets of the turn of the century city, the lack of order and the chaos quickly became apparent to a little boy of nine years whose family Barouche was stuck in a New York traffic jam in the 1880s.  He became fascinated by traffic then and it stayed with him.  His fascination turned to sophistication as he grew up. His wealthy circumstances took his curiosity global.  When ten or so, his dry goods and New York real estate magnate father took him to Europe where he spent many days in Paris enthralled by the sight of the city’s magnificent streets as the people on them fell into a hell of shouting, swearing and fist fights brought about by the lack of rules.  In London, he was impressed by how thoughtful they were and how rules of the road propelled their complicated commerce more efficiently.

William Phelps Eno developed traffic rules globally and his snippy letters and relentless personality helped implement them around the world, starting at New York in 1903.  He described one way streets, stop signs and a host of other strategies that make up today's traffic safety regime.  He thought cars were a fad but what he did to create order among horses and the wagons they pulled allowed the car to ultimately thrive in the crowded city.

The old stables rehabilitation I am watching is the Union Stables Building, completed in January of 1910.  The owners had previously owned Pony Stables on Third Avenue between Pike and Pine and made a great deal of money buying the Pony Stables property and selling it shortly after the new commercial core of Seattle was emerging.
UW Collections
Their lucky streak continued in June of 1910.  A spark from a passing Great Northern train ignited the warehouse and stable that was the Galbraith and Bacon Building four blocks away.  The fire was second only to the Great Seattle Fire that leveled the downtown twenty years before.  Nine square blocks were completely destroyed and 40 mile an hour winds made it happen in a hurry.  Then a biblical Seattle downpour arrived and shut down the fire a block from Union Stables.  Thirty-six horses stabled in the area died but a heroic evacuation of a hospital nearby resulted in no human casualties.  

In 1912, traffic counts in London, Paris and New York all showed that the car had overtaken the horse.  A Seattle traffic count in 1915 quantified traffic going to West Seattle and showed that horses still held market share in delivery functions but were losing out to street cars and motor vehicles for hauling people.  From 5 AM to midnight on that November day, 291 street cars carried 11,699 people, 692 automobiles carried 1,501 people and 203 motorized taxis carried 744 people.  Just 155 horse-drawn vehicles carried 187 people.

Later, in 1917, one in eight vehicles passing by the intersection of 4th and Jackson Street was powered by a horse.  Just three years later, it was one in a hundred.  The year 1915 was the high water mark for the number of horses in America, nearly 27,000,000 animals, but they weren’t working as hard as they had in the past.  Today, there are ten million horses living in America.  

Even as the automobile thrived, The Union Stables were very busy in the horse business and it still carried its traditional dangers.  One of the owners of Union Stables, Vernon Maddocks, was driving a team of horses in 1915 that were helping him haul feed and other goods back to the stable.  He decided to head down the short but steep Cedar Street hill and take a left at the bottom, on Western, to go the final five blocks South to the stables.   Something happened, perhaps an automobile backfired, but Maddox only remembered the growing alarm he felt as the horses broke down the hill and blasted across Western over an embankment of wet blackberry bushes and emerged next to the railroad tracks as a pile of twisted horse bodies, bales of hay, bags of oats and the completely unconscious body of Mr. Maddocks.  He spent Thanksgiving in the hospital, though he recovered and would live in his fine Capital Hill home for many more years.

Mr.  Maddocks' lucky survival came as the Ford Motor Company was in the middle of one of the most amazing business accomplishments in the country’s history.  In 1908, a basic Ford Motor car cost $850 dollars.  In 1924, an automobile from Ford cost just $240.  While there were many automakers, they tended to make larger, more expensive cars, custom-built jobs, leaving Ford mostly alone in the affordable car arena.  Ford's 1921 market share was 60%.  Fifteen million Ford Model Ts were built between 1908 and 1927.

The Ford automobile was pretty much the final decider for the urban horse.  However, horses remained a big part of farming in American life until the end of World War II.  It was 1944 before there were more tractors deployed on the farm than draft animals like mules and horses. 

A lovely memoir about growing up in a First Hill mansion written by Edward Dunn, "1121 Union," tells us that some of his wealthy neighbors took their time turning in their horses and kept them well into the 1930s. 

”A regular Sunday occurrence was the arrival of Mrs.  A. H. Anderson in her shiny black coach pulled by two beautiful chestnut horses with a plump coachman on the box and a skinny footman attired in full black uniforms and silk toppers.  Mrs. Anderson was one of the wealthiest women in the state as the widow of a prominent lumberman.  She arrived every Sunday to take our neighbor, Lillian Riley, to the Christian Science Church.”

“I don’t remember when the horses were retired, but it must have been in the late 1930s.  I do remember how the horses became plump with age as did the coachman.  The footman became skinnier.”

Seattle Police Chief William Severyns was just shutting off the light at 10:30 PM, December 19, 1923.  He was trying to get the city’s Civil Service Commission out of his mind.  The commission kept getting in the way of cleaning up a police force constantly tested by the loose money blowing around during prohibition.  In fact, the biggest bootlegger in Seattle was a charming police captain and most people knew it.  But, when Severyns would fire a crooked officer, the commission traditionally reinstated him.  Then the phone by his bed rang.

A voice he couldn’t identify told him in a matter-of-fact tone that the Union Stables was home that night to nearly 250 cases of illegal liquor and wine, assuming the chief was interested. 

Soon, investigators from the night shift of the department were chatting with the night watchman, a Mr. A. N. Blood, who was, of course, completely unaware of any alcohol on the premises and could produce no keys, when confronted, to the multiple padlocks on a storage room door at the back of the building.  Soon, the lads were tallying up 230 cases of liquor and fine wines, valued between $100 and $170 each “at bootleggers’ prices.”  The chief said that the cases had little blue tags on them containing the names of ‘several prominent citizens.’

The chief later wondered out loud to the Seattle Times if he should give the names on the tags to the grand jury then impaneled and looking at violations of the state and local laws implementing the Volstead Act.  The little blue tags never came up again, though Severyns’ problems with the Civil Service Commission continued, earning him the wrath of Seattle’s first woman mayor, Bertha Landes.  The next year, 1924, he speculated at a big meeting downtown that if he had his way as many as a hundred officers would not be working in the department. 

This intrigued Council President Landes, then serving as temporary Mayor while Mayor Edwin Brown, a dentist, was at the Democratic National Convention in June of 1924.  She sent a letter telling Severyns to identify and fire the 100 officers or she would fire him.  He didn’t.  She did.  In her dismissal letter she told him to turn the department over to Assistant Chief J. T. Mason, whom she notified while he was at a golf course, but thought better of it over the weekend and appointed herself as chief on Monday.  I can’t help but wonder whether Assistant Chief Mason finished the round before assuming his new duties, which might have cost him the job.  Mayor Brown re-instated Severyns when he returned and the Seattle Daily Times threw up its hands on the editorial page:

“Of one thing there need be no doubt, Seattle is sick and tired of government by hysteria and police activity with brass bands!”

It was hard to be Chief of Police during Prohibition.

The year Mrs.  Landes was actually elected Mayor, 1926, there were only three stables remaining in Seattle and the car now ruled.  Union Stables grew into the automobile and supported several business models supporting the car -- parking, storage, repair and towing before turning into a Volkswagen dealership where I once looked at a car. Later, it became a Continental Furniture, a bargain furniture outlet and has been mostly empty during the recession.

Every energy source leaves some kind of legacy, even the horse.  Modern sewer systems were designed during the horse transportation era and combining sewage removal with stormwater runoff helped removed horse manure from the streets and treated it -- most of the time.  When there were big storms, however, the volume overwhelmed the treatment facilities and untreated manure from the streets along with human feces spilled into the water.  

King County has been dealing with Combined Sewer Overflows since the 1960s and has reduced the amount of untreated sewage and modern day chemicals flushed into Elliott Bay by nearly a third, about a billion gallons a year. When the job is finished, well into the future, it will have cost $600 million dollars. 

The building will become the business offices of Lease Crutcher Lewis, a construction firm that is doing the remodeling.  There will be a penthouse on top that will have amazing views of Puget Sound and Seattle's new waterfront, as it develops.  The renovation will leave the building looking much as it did when it was brand new with its lovely terra cotta representation of a horses head, buffed and shiny, fetchingly looking over its shoulder at all that has happened along its home above Western Avenue.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fighting World War I in the woods of the Pacific Northwest

World War I in the Pacific Northwest saw the discovery of a new strategic war material, the Sitka Spruce, that supported a rapidly growing new war technology, the combat aircraft. Getting the spruce out of the forests while a rapidly growing and aggressive labor movement began to take charge of the woods was a major challenge. Added to a volatile labor issue was a fundamental change in how the Spruce was harvested and milled along with an exploding, world-wide demand. And don’t forget another ingredient, the deadliest epidemic of modern times, the so-called Spanish Flu. Finally, let’s add in four events that just scared the hell out of people. The Everett Massacre just before the US entry into the war, the Centralia Massacre, on the first anniversary of the armistice, The Seattle General Strike and the Russian Revolution.

Everett Library Northwest Collection
The first event was the Everett Massacre in November of 1916.  In support of a Shingle Weaver’s Union strike in Everett, two boats containing 300 men chartered in Seattle by the Industrial Workers of the World attempted to land at an Everett dock.

As the passengers on the first boat, the Verona, approached, they were greeted by 200 armed men deputized by Snohomish County Sheriff Don McCrae.  The Sheriff and his deputies believed that the IWW radicals were going to burn down their city and Sheriff McCrae shouted at the men on the boats that they were not going tie up in Everett.  There was a shot, stunned silence for half a breath, and then an enormous barrage that killed five on the boat and two on the dock and wounding many.  It is quite possible that others on the boat were killed but never found as they fell, wounded or dead, into the receding tide. 

Jack Miller, last surviving passenger on the Verona.
He died in 1986.  This is his booking picture taken the day
after Bloody Sunday
Everett Library Northwest Collection 
When the Verona and the Calista returned to Seattle, 30 miles south, many who had been on those boats were arrested and returned to Everett.  Ultimately, only one person on the Verona was tried for murder and he was acquitted.  No one on the dock was tried.

Another event was the Centralia Massacre.  Four young veterans were killed, along with a Lewis County deputy sheriff and an IWW veteran during a November 11, 1919 parade celebrating the first anniversary of the Armistice.  The IWW had opposed America’s fighting in Europe and had tried to close the woods with a vigorously enforced strike over the eight hour day and the appalling conditions for loggers even as timber was becoming a critically important part of the war effort.

Clockwise, from left.  Ben Casagranda, Warren Grimm,    
Arthur McElfresh, Dale Hubbard, Legionnaires killed.
The IWW and the citizens of Centralia had tangled the year before during a parade and the IWW hall had been destroyed and its inhabitants beaten.  This time, the seven men waiting in the union hall were armed and they had stationed other armed men with line of sight to the hall. 

The men in the parade were set on violence, prepared for it and, as expected, charged the hall.  While it is not entirely clear, I think it is more likely than not that the Wobblies fired first.  Two in the parade died immediately and two others were shot by Wesley Everest, a veteran and IWW organizer, as he dashed out the back door and was cornered.  Everest was captured, jailed and later mutilated and lynched by a mob who broke into the jail and hung him on a bridge over the Skookumchuck River.

In between these events, the Spanish Flu ebbed and flowed, piling up the bodies of far more people than the fighting in Europe or at home. 

Perry Cross
At this moment John Cross, who preferred his middle name, Perry, reported for duty in the US Army at the Vancouver Barracks, across the Columbia River from Portland. Cross was homesteading and making moonshine near the Crook County village of Hampton, Oregon 60 miles southeast of Bend in what is the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert. His mother, Mary was with him as was his older brother, Frank. Hampton had enough rain to support cattle then and even had a post office, which would close in 1953.  The cattle were mostly gone by the time Perry left his claim as the desert crept north.

The picture here shows him in a US Navy uniform.  It’s hard to read on his cap the ship he’s assigned to, but it’s the Charleston.  The ship was stationed at the Bremerton Navy Yard between 1912 and 1916 and served as a “receiving ship,” a temporary assignment for new recruits until things got sorted out and a permanent assignment for the recruit was found. 

The USS Charleston on Puget Sound
The temporary assignment never got permanent and Cross left the Navy after just five months, likely sometime in 1916, I believe.  When he registered for the draft on June 5, 1917, he noted his Navy experience and wrote that he had been a coal passer, a person with a shovel at the interface of a very hot fire and a very large pile of coal.  Clearly, the Navy assignment didn’t go well for Perry.  Perhaps he couldn’t stand the dust, heat and noise in the bowels of the Charleston, or perhaps he busted something up in Bremerton, maybe a colleague.  His kids think the jagged scar on his throat stemmed from that time.

Spruce Loggers
Note that they are splitting this log in two, lengthwise
Cross was thirty when he registered for the draft, which would put him at the high end of the draftee manpower pool.  Perhaps that was the reason for his assignment to the Vancouver Barracks, a place where he and 30,000 other soldiers reported to the Spruce Production Division and fanned out across the Northwest to logging camps.  His assignment was a camp not far from Grays Harbor, along a narrow band of the Pacific coast where the Spruce thrived.  It had become a strategic war material critical for use in wood frame airplanes. 

The combination of strength and flexibility made the Sitka Spruce the ideal wood for the cloth covered bombers and fighters used by the allies.  British airframe manufacturers had identified the value of Sitka Spruce and had tested it in British Columbia in 1914.  As Europe began blundering into war, they decided it was by far the best airplane material for their air force, overtaking Fir, not as strong and 35% heavier than Sitka Spruce.

Spruce Production Division
Meeting the design requirements for aircraft quality wood was difficult and the demand for properly prepared Sitka Spruce seemed impossible meet.  There could be no knots of any kind in the wood.  Knots created weak points unable to stand up to the stresses of flying.  Milling the wood to keep the grain in the wood at its strongest, required techniques not invented before the war.  Initially, only ten percent of the Spruce tree would meet design requirements after it was milled.  Drying the wood properly took many months.  But national security is a powerful motivator and problems got solved with enough money and men.  Work at the University of Wisconsin led to a new technique that would dry the wood in a matter of days and loggers started splitting the wood in the field to keep the grain intact and also made the giant logs more manageable.

Demand was massive.  At the beginning of World War I, Russia, France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States had just 688 warplanes between them and they played a limited role in combat strategy.  By the end of the war, the allies were flying more than 12,000 combat aircraft in many different strategic roles.  There were long range bombers, anti-submarine aircraft, torpedo fighters and many other specialized planes being built and deployed. Aircraft were also falling out of the sky in astonishing numbers.  France, England and Russia lost 116,000 planes in just four years.

Price for Sitka Spruce was twice what Fir could command and airplane quality wood was selling at $105/thousand board feet.  Despite a strong price incentive, the demand continued to exceed delivery. According to the Lumberman, an industry publication in Portland, there just weren’t enough workers in the woods. Combined with the technical problems and the difficulty of getting equipment to the right stands of trees, production of aircraft quality wood was well-below the expectations of the war managers.  The workforce left in the woods was unreliable and highly politicized.  Many former loggers were now fighting or working in European forests and the percentage of IWW men in the woods was higher than ever before. Their strikes, slowdowns and industrial sabotage was becoming a national issue. In 1917, the Lumberman published a tough editorial outlining the problem:

“In the Spruce camps of Oregon and Washington are to be found a steadily decreasing number of Americans...Among the men of the woods there is to be found a certain percentage who have developed an outright antagonism to this
Fine Art America
country and its institutions.  We will not stop to consider or analyze the causes of their mental attitude.   They are bitter. They have no interest in the nation’s affairs at home and are not concerned with its success on the battlefields. Their resentment is manifest.  Their influence for evil is world-wide.

The nation must rise to the emergency.  This is not the time to quibble over hours, or the price of logs or the percentage of acceptable grades.  This is a national crisis.  To delay action with the view of harmonizing individualistic views is well nigh treasonable.  Unionism and employers’ associations should be forgotten while the insidious, stealthy and criminal acts of sabotage should, upon conviction, be met by death.”

Spruce Production Division
Military intelligence had labeled the woods of the Pacific Northwest a volcano ready to explode.  The war department decided that a fresh set of eyes were necessary and they found them in a retired Lieutenant Colonel who had, before the war, decided to start a new career as the warden of the Michigan State Prison System.  As the American entry into the war became more evident, Brice Disque wanted to get into the European fight as an infantry commander and was lobbying the army for a command.  Instead, he was asked to remain a civilian and make a study of the situation in the Pacific Northwest forests and bring back recommendations to meet the demand for Sitka Spruce. 

A University of Washington professor who studied union/management issues, Carlton Parker, was one of the people Disque turned to for advice.  Parker was a student of working conditions in the woods and was aware of a recent study by the Commission on Industrial Relations that specified the cruel conditions in the logging camps.   Half of the camps were infested with bed bugs and only half had showers.  Forty people slept in a tent designed for twelve, two people sleeping in the lower bunk with another two overhead.  The majority of mattresses were nothing more than hay dumped into a bunk.  Food was dreadful, turnover was off the charts.  

Parker took Disque on a tour of the camps.  Disque, who had served during the
Henry Suzzallo
UW Collections
Philippine Insurrection, noted that they had treated prisoners there better.  He was appalled by the conditions and thought attitudes of the companies and the IWW and the other forest unions had long since frozen in place.  Company spies were everywhere and The IWW was growing in strength, as many as 100,000 IWW in the northwest forests. 

“My wonder was not that production was low but that there was any production at all,” Disque wrote. 

Working with Parker and with University of Washington President Henry Suzzallo, who was serving as Chairman of the Washington State Board of Defense, Disque devised a plan that would address working conditions, install military discipline and standards and create a labor union that could work with the companies and have the respect of workers.

Spruce Production Division
Disque recommended that military camps be set up near the Spruce forests and the private camps were expected to apply the same standards to their workers as the military.  Each camp had to have designs for sleeping quarters, bathing, latrines and recreation that met US Army standards.  If the private companies could not, military teams would step in and build them.  The food was double the military ration in Europe and mostly better in quality.

General Black Jack Pershing, head of the War Department, liked the recommendations and asked Disque to implement them. 

As 1918 approached, Disque, who was suspicious of politics, showed some excellent political instincts.  The pay would be standardized and each skill would be paid accordingly, the same for the civilians as for the military.  Also, Disque announced that there would be an eight hour day in the forests of the United States Army.

The companies preferred firing people rather than compromising with them and were completely shocked by what Disque was doing.  So was the IWW and the American Federation of Labor, who competed for the loyalty of the loggers.  The unions thought the Army was simply a strikebreaker, but here they were giving the unions their key issues -- the eight hour day, on-site medical care, better food, better pay and decent housing.

There was a catch.  Workers and companies who did not sign the patriotic pledge as a member of the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen had a tough time finding work in the woods.  While never claiming to be a labor union, the Spruce Division made the LLLL the only game in the forests.  The constitution of the LLLL defines a role far more benign that it actually was: 

“The Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen is not a labor union in the common acceptance of that term, but is purely a patriotic association of both operators and operatives engaged in this essential war industry.”

In the twelve months from November 1917 to October 1918, aircraft quality Sitka Spruce production went from under 3,000,000 board feet/month to well over 30,000,000/month.  Not only did actual logging and milling increase dramatically, but the infrastructure being built by the army was an asset of considerable future value to the region.  New logging roads, bridges and rail lines opened up billions of board feet to Sitka Spruce production, but also for whatever other forest products were in the way.  

In November of 1918, an exhausted Europe laid down its arms and the Spruce Production Division its shovels, axes and saws.  Men like Perry Cross were sent to the Vancouver Barracks to be mustered out. At the same time the great pandemic, the Spanish Flu, was at its peak in Portland and on the way to killing 50,000,000 people in the rest of the world by the end of 1919.

The flu was always big news in our family.  It took the man who would have been my uncle.  Joe Royer died at 18 years in Missoula, Montana, one of three people who died that day, about an average day at the Railroad Hospital.  The disease ended my father’s formal education.  The schools closed in St.  Ignatius and my father, an eighth grader, never returned. 

When Cross left the woods, he likely would have spent some time quarantined at the Vancouver Barracks.  Had he gone into Portland, he likely would not have seen one of the vaudeville shows at the Pantages Theater.  He might have been unable to join other soldiers at a bar. It's possible he would have been barred from riding a trolley without a cotton mask.  Portland was ambivalent about preventative measures like these because of their impacts on business, and put them in place and abandoned them throughout 1918.  The mayor and others in Portland found a silver lining just about everywhere, and decided to believe the epidemic was on its last legs.  Some weeks cases might wane somewhat, but they came back with a vengeance throughout the year and well into 1919.

The disease was especially hard on young, healthy people for reasons still unknown today.  Here are the heartbreaking death notices for December 27, 1918 from the Seattle Times:

Charles Henry Herman, 3; Matilda Kotiranta, 28; Victor Denton, 51; Leonard S.  Martin, 25; Marjorie Hilda, Dolores, Howard Prosser, 4, 2, and 6 months; Myrtle Hoffman, 33; Frederick Harvey, 55; Wells Perigo, 36. 

December, 1918 nurses log at the Long Beach, Washington
 hospital in Southwestern Washington coast
Who can say how many fatalities might have happened in the woods if the conditions Brice Disque found in 1917 existed in the flu years?  Medical care, better food and clothing, and better housing kept fatalities in the Northwest woods in the lowest quartile of death rates around the country.

A unique 1919 study among wage earners across the US, Harvard professors Lee Frankel and Louis Dublin studied rates of death based on insurance claims among 12,000,000 policy holders across the United States.  The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company sold life insurance policies to industrial workers over
many years.  Analyzing that data base, the two professors compared claims before and after the pandemic. They found that the rate of death from flu and pneumonia between the pre-influenza years 1911-1917, was 125/100,000.  If that number were applied to 1918, it would have meant 14,000 deaths.  However, the death rate they found during the epidemic was 774/100,000, translating to more than 71,000 deaths of policyholders between October of 1918 and June of 1919.  Nearly 75% of those deaths happened in the Fall of 1918.  

National Geographic
Spanish Flu got the name because Spain was neutral during World War I and did not have the kind of press censorship the allies practiced.  Accordingly, it seemed worse in Spain than anywhere else.  The real origins of the flu are disturbingly vague.  An early outbreak occurred at Fort Riley near Manhattan, Kansas and killed 48 soldiers in March of 1918.  It has long been thought as the beginning of the pandemic.  Today, a Canadian historian points to the formation of the Chinese Labor Corps, a 100,000 people who came to Canada from China by boat and shipped across Canada by train before reporting to France as laborers, freeing up servicemen for the front. 

Before leaving, the Chinese had been exposed to an evolving flu virus coming from the mixing of birds and pigs in China that produces our influenza today. As the virus evolved, it would soon turn into the killer it became in 1918/1919.  The laborers' early exposure to a more benign virus made them less susceptible to being sick later.  People born after 1889 and never been exposed to a flu epidemic were highly vulnerable.

Like so many other veterans demobilized at the Vancouver Barracks, Cross felt fine in the morning and sick as hell in the afternoon. Soon, he was wheezing inside a hospital tent, the regular hospital completely full and he toes poking into and under the wet canvas.  He couldn’t keep track of the time, dozed on and off and woke to a strange voice above him saying:  

“Well, this one’s moving.”

His mother and brother were then in Portland and Cross recuperated there before making his way to Hampton where he found his homestead stripped of most things that were useful.  The house still stands though the bunch grass that surrounded the place, “belly deep to a steer,” no longer is part of the desert landscape.

He wasn’t long for Hampton.  In a couple of years he traded the homestead for an orchard in Mosier, in the heart of cherry country near The Dalles. He met a woman there and she moved in.  Just about the time she thought they had become orchardists, they moved on to Harrison, Idaho, where Cross made his life as a ranch hand and whiskey-making entrepreneur way up lake Couer d’Alene.  He said he never drank his own. There, even in the mid-twenties, people needed a good ranch hand and especially someone good with all animals.  He rode horses everyday until one day he couldn’t get up on one.  He had six children.

The Charleston is still working.  Towed to a Powell River log pond next to a mill, she was part of a breakwater fleet of hulks on Vancouver Island keeping the logs close to the mill.  In danger of sinking, she was towed a short distance away and protects Kelsey Bay, though scuttled now and sitting on the shallow bottom. 

Brice Disque was made a Brigadier General by the end of the war but soon found himself before The House Investigations Committee on Wartime Spending trying to explain why a railroad he built into the Olympic Peninsula cost so damned much a mile.  

A great many things came together after the war that made the wartime decision to send 30,000 troops into the woods of the Pacific Northwest seem as radical as it was.  The 1920 presidential election loomed.  Some private lumber companies who felt they could have done it better than the government wanted an opportunity to complain.  Other timber companies wanted a return to the 50 hour week and the two dollar day.  Canada, they said, didn’t put its army in its forests and still put out Spruce in the millions of board feet. Still others saw the infrastructure in place and wanted to buy it or steal it.  

Disque was a guy who liked the offense, felt partisan politics a despicable profession and was proud of what he’d done.  He didn't like where he was and the pique came out. In a deposition, he was told by his inquisitors that the person who was going to testify negatively was the brother of the President of Columbia University:

“The brothers of a lot of prominent men are the worst crooks that you meet,” he said.  Later, he asked the the statement be dropped from the record.

The storm passed and Disque supervised the biggest surplus sale of federal equipment since the building of the Panama Canal. 

The Sitka Spruce has none of the elegance, say, of a True Cedar, Sequoia or Ponderosa Pine.  It is simply big, often with great burls just above its feet, limbs pointing every which way, moss along its shaded side.  It is a loner, a kind of alien dropped into a community of meek, skinny trees keeping their distance. 

On the road between Seaside and Portland our family drove by such a tree for years, a sign by the road saying “World’s Biggest Sitka Spruce.”  It stood close to the highway, down a path from a small parking lot.
Klootchy Creek Spruce
The conversation, starting in the early 1950s and lasting, with mostly different participants, until 2007, started this way, beginning in the back seat:

“Daddy.  Can we see the tree?”
“No, it’s late.  We have to keep going?”
“Just this time?”
“Okay.  Just this time.”