Forester Remembers Growing Up on Rayonier Railroad Camp | Rayonier Stories
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Forester Remembers Growing Up on Rayonier Railroad Camp

Frank Gage recalls life as a child in a railroad camp once used in logging operations in the Pacific Northwest.

HOQUIAM, Washington—It’s not uncommon to meet Rayonier employees who have been with the company for more than 30 or even 40 years. But 64-year-old Frank Gage holds the record: a lifetime at Rayonier.

lifelong logger and forester
Frank Gage has been connected to Rayonier his entire life.

In fact, one could argue he was born into the company. His father was a Rayonier safety manager, so their family lived on Rayonier land. Their house was at the old Polson Railroad Camp near Hoquiam, allowing Frank’s dad to quickly hear about—and respond to—emergencies. 

Rayonier Railroad Camp Polson
An aerial view of the bustling scene at Polson Railroad Camp, which later became part of Rayonier. In its prime, the camp was used for locomotive and equipment repairs and also provided lodging for railroad employees. Rayonier still forests this land today, but the tracks and buildings are no longer there.

When Frank was born, he came home to the camp. His earliest memories are made up of adventures in the woods: trying to play with bear cubs, going berry-picking in the woods, and watching the excitement of the loggers and railroad at work.

Rayonier Railroad Camp Map
The railroad camp where Frank lived was bustling with activity in 1950, with large shops for repairs and equipment; a fire station; bathing and eating facilities; and residences.

Frank remembers Rayonier once hired a bounty hunter who was paid to capture animals that were a nuisance to the logging crews.

“The guy came into camp one night with a cougar strapped to the roof of his car,” Frank says. “It was as long as the car, from the hood to the tailgate!”

When Rayonier purchased Polson Logging Co., the company came with a railroad, camps, and locomotives. Rayonier was still using steam engines when Frank was a child at the camp.

Frank was there when Rayonier held a special ceremony to celebrate the transition from steam engines to diesel trains. In fact, he was captured on camera: he was standing next to his brother and another boy, who were eating ice cream at the celebration.

Frank Gage Child
Frank is shown at the far left in the railroad camp when Rayonier celebrated its transition from steam engines to diesel engines.

The Backstory on Railroad and Logging Camps

When Frank’s family lived at the camp from 1956-63, there were about a dozen homes and a few shops for maintenance and repairs. That was nothing compared to the bustling scene that once was the Polson’s railroad and logging camps.

Polson Loggers Logging Camp Luggage
A group of loggers awaits a train ride out of logging camp with their luggage in the early 1900s near Hoquiam.

Rayonier purchased Polson Brothers, a logging company, in the 1940s. It came with land, camps and its own railroad line. In the decades prior to our purchase, the camps were home to dozens of loggers and railroad employees. They packed up their belongings and lived there for months at a time.

Logging Railroad Crew Lays Tracks
Temporary Tracks are put into place for a logging railroad spur by the Polson team in the early 1900s near Hoquiam.

Logging Camps provided workers the basics deep in the woods

The loggers woke up early, heading into the woods after a quick coffee before sunrise. The loggers’ camps were along temporary railroad spurs they had built to access their logging sites. They used horse power and what was called a “steam donkey” engine to move equipment and timber. The engine used a cable system to pull itself on a “sled” typically made of logs. It also used cables to move heavy loads.

Steam Donkey Hauling Large Log
In the early 1900s, a Polson Logging crew uses a steam donkey to haul a large log to a railroad car.

Loggers would load railroad cars with as many logs as they could safely hold, then a small locomotive would pull the cars to the main line. There, they would join with other cars and a powerful steam engine that would carry them out of the woods. Here in Hoquiam, the railroad led to the Hoquiam River, where loads were dumped into the water and guided downstream to the Hoquiam mill.

Loading logs onto Railroad cars early 1900s
This photo from the early 1900s shows how the Polson team loaded logs onto train cars using a cable system, which was powered by a steam donkey. To this day, loggers use cable systems to move logs in the Pacific Northwest.

After a hard day’s work, the loggers would head back to camp for a hearty supper made by the camp cooks. There was also a repair shop for any broken saws and equipment. The loggers lived in small bunk houses on wheels that could be moved on the railroad line.

Filing Room Logging Camp
A filing room was an essential in Polson’s logging camps: the saws used to cut down logs were repaired and sharpened here. In the background through the window, you can see the bunk houses along the railroad spur.

Railroad Camp was a central place for repairs

The Railroad Camp, meanwhile, was like a busy little town in its heyday. This is where locomotives and cars were taken for repairs in large repair shops. Railroad workers, mechanics, and section crews lived at the camp.

Polson Railroad Camp Machine Shop
Polson’s Railroad Camp had a large machine shop for repairs.

That was in the early 1900s. By Frank’s time, some of the old bunk houses were taken off their wheels and cobbled together to build homes for Rayonier employees. His house was made from three old bunk houses.

The bunk houses on the left once served as homes on wheels to Polson loggers and railroad employees. When Frank was young, his family’s house was built from some of these old bunk houses. Logging and railroad camps had cook houses like the one shown on the right, where food would be prepared for the workers each day in a separate dining trailer.

Carving out his own logging career

Frank’s dad eventually took another job and left the Rayonier camp, but Frank never forgot the company. When he graduated school, there was no doubt he wanted to return to logging.

He started out on a Rayonier railroad maintenance crew. Known as “gandy dancers” or “section crews,” these teams had to repair sections of track that wore down over time. They traveled on the rails in a small, gas-powered vehicle called a speeder.

Railroad Maintenance Speeder
A speeder is a small, motorized vehicle used to travel quickly on railroad tracks to do maintenance. / “Fairmont A4 Railcar” by Nick / KC7CBF is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

“Working on the railroad crew was the most fun I ever had,” Frank recalls with his signature chuckle. “We had a self-imposed quota to change out 30 ties a day. I remember I made $5.18 an hour. I used that money to buy a brand new Camaro!”

Frank next moved on to a “banding” job. His job was to place bands around the logs on the rail cars before they were dumped into the river. Today, stray logs can still be seen floating down the Hoquiam River. Logs are now transported more efficiently by log trucks, but in the early 1900s and up through the beginning of Frank’s career, the river was at times filled from end to end with log “rafts.”

Floating Logs to Mill
For many years, logs went from rail cars to rivers to make their final journey by water to the Hoquiam mills.

In 1978, Frank began preparing logs for transport to the mills. After the trees were cut and moved to a “yarding area” to be processed, he used chainsaws to further cut and “clean up” large logs. Back then, Frank recalls, the trees were grown to a much larger circumference than they are today.

Frank Gage logger over a lifetime
Frank Gage has seen logging—and even the types of trees that are logged—evolve over the years.

“Wood was 2-, 4- or even 6-feet in diameter back then,” Frank says. “I loved using my old chainsaw. It could cut a 26-foot log into a 13-foot log like it was slicing into butter.”

After 10 years working “union time” for Rayonier, Frank spent 18 years working as a contractor. Rayonier works with many small, local logging contractors all over the country, who support harvest operations, planting operations, road and bridge repairs, and more. Frank operated a skidder and worked in a “rig up crew,” which filled in on odd logging jobs. 

Then finally, in March 2004, Frank became a salaried Rayonier employee. He is now a timber production forester, which means he oversees logging operations on specific tracts in Washington.

Polson Railroad Camp Today
Frank visits the site where his home once stood in the railroad camp.

Logging on Familiar Ground

As fate would have it, Frank would be the forester in charge of logging the land where his childhood home once stood.

The camp closed in 1968, about five years after his family moved out. The houses were removed and a new generation of trees was planted on the property.

In Rayonier’s Hoquiam office, Frank points out a photo of the railroad camp he grew up on. The photo on the right shows what his house looked like.

“It was pretty neat to log in my first backyard,” Frank says. “The logger used my old driveway as a log yard.”

A log yard is a flat, well-located area where logs are taken to be processed and loaded onto log trucks.

“Rayonier is a Home for Me”

For Frank, Rayonier has always been family.

It started with his grandfather, who worked at a Rayonier pulp mill. Then it was his dad, who was focused on safety. The same could be said for Frank. He emphasizes safety for himself, his coworkers and the crews he works with. On his hard hat, he has a large “Don’t Stay Near, Get in the Clear” sticker, reminding loggers to stand clear of logs while they’re being cut, moved and loaded on a logging site.

Frank Gage on a Chilly Morning
Frank oversees a harvest in the forest on a morning so chilly, his breath can be seen in front of him.

Now his coworkers are like a second family, and Frank appreciates the team he gets to work with every day. He also appreciates Rayonier’s ability to hold firm in both the good times and the lean times, noting the company always seems to “find the better markets” for its logs.

“In one way, shape or form, Rayonier has always been a home for me,” Frank says. “I was born into a Rayonier family, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Frang Gage in Rayonier Office
Frank starts most of his work days before sunrise in Rayonier’s Hoquiam office.

Want to learn even more railroad history? Check out the Polson Museum in Hoquiam or visit their website at polsonmuseum.org.

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