20th Century, Great Lakes, History, Industry, Intercession, Judgment & Counter-Judgment Cycle, Logging, Minnesota, omnipresent history, trade, Unions, World War I

Workers Strike at Largest Sawmill in the World 1917

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1917

“Workers at the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company sawmill, the largest in the world, strike for higher pay and safer working conditions. Organizers from the radical International Workers of the World spread the strike to the logging camps before police break it up with arrests and force.” *

Minnesota’s history of logging in this era is rife with irony. On one hand, it is a shining example of cooperation and productivity. 

“The VRL Lumber Co. was the largest on earth producing on average a million board feet of lumber a day seven days a week. Production on such a vast scale required an enormous supply of virgin white and red pine harvesting a total of four billion board feet over a 20 year period.” **

On the other hand, this mill was pitifully negligent in its care for its workers’ health and well-being. 

“Toilet facilities were primitive in the extreme. Privies were no more than shallow, open pits with a roof and some poles for seats. Excrement was only rarely treated with lime or even covered with dirt. State inspectors repeatedly and despairingly observed that “there seems to prevail an idea that toilet facilities in a camp are superfluous.””

Safety precautions were ignored, too. Engaged in strenuous manual labor with lethal tools in frigid weather, lumberjacks had an extremely high accident rate. Although immediate first aid was therefore the jacks’ greatest medical need, a survey of logging

camps several years before the strike revealed that “in none . . . were there any facilities for giving first aid to the injured.” **

Below is the an eye-witness testimony regarding the ‘jacks accommodations.

“Prospects of a major IWW walkout were enhanced, however, by the working and living conditions of the lumberjacks. Typically, jacks lived in rough-cut lumber shanties. A bunkhouse 30 feet by 80 feet by 11 feet would house anywhere from 60 to 90 men in rows of double-decked wooden bunks lining each wall. Each individual bed with its mattress of loose straw slept two men. Each jack received two or three woolen blankets from the camp (sheets were unknown). The turnover was so high that four or five men might easily use the same blankets each season. 

Virtually all the beds, blankets, and men were infested with lice. In 1914 inspectors from the State Department of Labor and Industries observed that “the conditions under which the men were housed made it impossible for men to keep their bodies free from vermin.” 

Bunkhouses were ventilated only by doors at each cud and one or two small skylights in the roof. One or perhaps two iron stoves, kept fired all night, provided heat. The poor ventilation compounded sanitary problems.

The men worked 11-hour days in the cold northern Minnesota winter and generally wore two or three sets of underwear in addition to their outer garments. The combination of wet snow and hard labor soaked the jacks’ clothes every day, but the men were without washing facilities either for themselves or what they wore. 

Since most of them put on all the clothing they owned, dozens of sets of wet-from-sweat clothes hung near the stove every night to dry for the next day. The steam from the clothing joined the stench of tightly-packed, unwashed bodies in the bunkhouse, prompting one Wobbly to comment that “the bunk houses in which the lumber jacks sleep are enough to gag a skunk.” **

“Chronology

December 24, 1916

Timber mill workers at the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company draw up a list of demands.

December 26, 1916

Workers present their demands to the superintendent of manufacturing, Chester R. Rogers.

December 27, 1916

Mill workers decide to go ahead with the strike.

December 28, 1916

Pickets begin at the company’s gates. One thousand workers go on strike. Flying squads (IWW messengers) head north to lumber camps.

January 1, 1917

One thousand lumberjacks walk out of the camps.

January 2, 1917

A thousand more lumberjacks strike. Lumberjacks are banished from Virginia, Minnesota.

February 1, 1917

The lumber strike is officially called off.” ***

So, what was the aftermath of this strike, and how did it improve the lives of lumberjacks and those that worked the sawmill? Below is an excerpt from Wobbly (IWW) records:

“The mill workers returned to their jobs in the last week of January. The lumberjacks held on a bit longer and neither the Virginia and Rainy Lake Company nor the International Lumber Company was able to reopen logging operations until February. What remained of the Wobbly lumber strike leadership gathered in Duluth. On February 1 the leaders called off the strike, claiming a partial victory by way of improved conditions.

Most companies did attend to their camps better after the strike. The ILC bought new blankets for the men and raised slightly the base pay. The quality of food seems to have been improved, too, in most camps. In 1917 the Virginia and Rainy Lake Company spent nearly 20 per cent more per man for food than earlier. Wartime price inflation accounted for part, but not most, of the increase.” ****

What say You of this event and the broken relationships between loggers, their representatives in the IWW, and the V.R.L. company managers and International Lumber Company (ILC) owners? We invite Your timeless knowledge, and graceful judgment into their circumstance Ruach Ha Kodesh. How do we begin to make right this wrong from Your perspective? How have we offended You and the principles of Your kingdom?

You have said clearly through the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:

“Do I say this from a human perspective? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Isn’t He actually speaking on our behalf? Indeed, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they should also expect to share in the harvest.” I Corinthians 9:8-10

We acknowledge, first, our offense to You through the judgments of Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company and the ILC. We offend You as employers when we do not provide a Sabbath rest. We offend You when do not provide for the lives and safety of Your workers. We offend You when we fail to provide food, clothing, and adequate shelter for those in our care. We offend You when profit becomes an idol that forgets the contributions of the employees to the health of the corporation. Will You forgive VRL Co.  and the International Lumber Company in this era, and create right relationships that lead to blessing in our timber industry’s management both in the present and future?

Similarly, we have offended You through the judgments of the lumberjacks and sawmill workers towards the VRL Company’s owners and ILC managers. We offend You when we do not take a Sabbath where it is offered. We offend You when we expect our employer to solve our unmentioned problems, and fail to be proactive in our own needs. We offend You as workers through the misbelief that profit is a given, therefore, the company has unlimited resources to spend on labor. Will You forgive the lumberjacks and millworkers of VRL Co. and ILC of this era, and create new 

interconnections between laborers, labor unions, and executives of our logging industry that lead to present and future blessings for all?

Above all, we especially ask for the release of the victims of the injustices of this era from the prisons of their counter-judgments. We know that there are those who lost life and limb. We know that there are those who were circumstantially hemmed in who felt they had no choice but to submit to abusive work conditions to survive. 

Will You forgive those who were ensnared through the maintenance of offense towards the abuses of Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company and the ILC? Will You give them gifts of grace that look to You for justice, while not resubmitting themselves to abuse? Will You take these judgments and counter-judgments up, out, and onto the Cross of Christ? Will You remove the log from the eyes of all in the logging industry?

* http://www.mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm

** http://monarchtreepublishing.com/Ilets/1916-Lumbering-Strike.pdf

** Testimony of Jay Hall; Sixteenth Biennial Report, p. 117; Boose, in International Socialist Review, 14:414

*** Chronology and an excellent brief summary by Anja Witek can be viewed at this MNopedia link. http://www.mnopedia.org/event/iww-lumber-strike-1916-1917

**** https://iww.org/node/1524

 

 

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20th Century, Culture, Environment, Faith, Great Lakes, History, Humor, Labor, Logging, Minnesota, outdoors

Paul Bunyan is “born” 1914

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1914
Paul Bunyan, the mythical lumberjacking giant who logged off most of North America, is created as an advertising gimmick by the Red River Lumber Company in Minneapolis.*

There’s something that makes me smile just reading the name, “Paul Bunyan”. His name is synonymous with the North Woods of Minnesota. For the past 100 years, most midwestern kids have heard about him at camp, at a summer cabin, or sitting around the campfire.

I won’t bore you with the breadth and depth of research as to the origins of his legend, but report a few quick facts. His stories came from the oral tradition of logging camps. They were most commonly credited to William B. Laughead writing promotional material for the Red River Lumber Company. Some researchers think his legend started with the French Canadian folk tales of Paul Bon Jean or Tit Jean. Bunyan phonetically is similar to the Quebec expression for surprise; “bon yenne”.**

So here begins my prayer, Lord, thanks for the legend of Paul Bunyan! Help me reflect on his folktales, and find their blessing.

Christ, I thank You for Your masterful parables. You chose to allow those who were looking for meaning to catch it, and for those listeners who were not, to breeze over its intent for their heart and remain relationally open to You. Stories seem to have a magic to get past our trip wires, and speak deeply and gently to us.

I thank You for the good these tales did for the loggers. They entertained, distracted from boredom, aches and pains, and maybe even planted seeds of inspiration. Who wouldn’t want to be the ultimate mans’ man in those rough work conditions? Paul laughed at fear and the elements, did an impossible workload each day, ate mountains of food, and maybe even created some mountain ranges playfully wrestling his giant blue ox. (Wink wink!)

So today, Creator of the Forests, I thank You for the gifts of hyperbole, folklore and camp stories. I thank You for the relationships born of telling and listening to “tall tales” like Paul Bunyan in Minnesota. I thank You for an example, though fictional, of a huge, happy man loving his hard work in Your outdoors!

May You enable this State to take to heart and to practice the rule of Saint Benedict to pray and work; “Ora et Labora”.**** May You bless us to practice contentment in our work until You come. May we forever return to You the free, yet costly gift of doing our best!

 

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23 ESV

 

*P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Bunyan
***https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pray_and_work
****http://biblehub.com/colossians/3-23.htm

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19th Century, 20th Century, Business, Environment, Great Lakes, History, Intercession, Judgment & Counter-Judgment Cycle, Lake Superior, Minnesota, omnipresent history, Shipping, Transportation

Split Rock Lighthouse Opens 1910

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July 31, 1910

“Shipwrecks from a mighty 1905 November gale prompted this rugged landmark’s construction. The construction was an engineering feat in such a remote location. The lighthouse was completed by the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1910.” *

Why is it that pain elicits an active response that “normal” life doesn’t? Why is it that we do not neglect action after a certain level of loss? Why do we wait to become creative problem solvers?

Will You guide this writing to elucidate the reader to the level of shipwrecks in this era of iron ore, grain, lumber, and fish shipments across Lake Superior and the Great Lakes? In a single season of November 1905, there were 78 fatalities and 29 disabled or destroyed ships.** When one adds in the frigid water, rocky coastline, and tendency of these shippers to overload their vessels it is easy to empathize with the concerns of sailors.

In response, United States Steel Corporation lobbied Congress to build a lighthouse with a foghorn. This effort was executed by engineer Ralph Russell Tinkham of the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment. All building materials had to be hoisted up the 110 foot cliff from lakeside either by steam-powered derick, or railed up on a freight tram. Workers spent 13 months living and working on the cliff in tents with a brief respite during the coldest months of winter.

This day we remember the names of these lost vessels and their unnamed crews to You, Lord of All Seas: the A.C. Adams, Alice Vivian, Amboy, Bob Anderson, Lotta Bernard, A. Booth, E.T. Carrington, Charley, City of Winnipeg, Comet, Belle P. Cross, F.L. Danforth, Donna Marie, Duluth, Elgin, Samuel P. Ely, U.S.S. Essex, Fayling, E.P.Ferry, Fiorgyn, Thomas Friant, F.W. Gillet, R.F.Goodman, Criss Grover, Harriet B, George Herbert, Hesper, B.B. Inman, Isle Royale, John H. Jeffrey Jr., J.C. Keyes, Lafayette, Lewie, Liberty, Madeline, Madeira, Mary Martini, May Flower, Mentor, Niagara, Benjamin Noble, Oden, Onoko, Osprey, G. Pfister, Rebel, George Spencer, Ella G. Stone, Stillman Witt, Stranger, Robert Wallace, Thomas Wilson,  and the Six Dredge Scows. 

Will You forgive any judgments’ we made of these lost seamen, their wives, families and friends, and employers towards each other and towards You in their aeon? Will You cleanse Superior and the Great Lakes of its vast depths of unforgivenness? 

Will You especially release the pain caused by the urgency of the timber, iron mining, and taconite industries to expedite these shipments to world markets? Will You forgive us our industriousness that broke with Your Sabbath? We have missed Your wisdom when we work too much.

We remember also the efforts of Ralph Russell Tinkham and his construction workers. We thank You for their superhuman efforts to build Split Rock Lighthouse. Will You bless them, their progeny, and those who follow in their footsteps? Will You give us strength and acceptance when we face storms beyond our control? Will You make us  beacon and horn today to lead our peers away from the rocks and towards safe harbor?

* http://www.mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm

**http://www.mnhs.org/splitrock/learn/shipwrecks

***http://www.mnhs.org/places/nationalregister/shipwrecks/list.php

 

 

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18th Century, 19th Century, African American, Canada, Economics, government, Great Britain, Great Lakes, History, law, Minnesota, Politics, State Government, Treaties

Webster-Ashburton Treaty Signed Aug 9, 1842

 

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The Webster-Ashburton Treaty, which established the boundary between the United States and Canada, was signed by the United States and Great Britain. Minnesota’s “Northwest Angle” was a result of this treaty.*

It is hard to imagine a time where our most pressing and trying foreign policy questions concerned Great Britain or Canada. The hot button issues of the slave trade, impressment of United States sailors, or resolving the unrest due to the Canadian Rebellion of 1837 needed resolution.

Webster-Ashburton, though months in the making, resolved disputes that went back to the Revolutionary War. Lack of clarity in the Treaty of Paris of 1783 seeded conflict on our Northern Border. Lord Ashburton and Secretary of State Daniel Webster made clear land boundaries with open navigation on key portions of the Great Lakes. **

Jesus, thanks that You respect our boundaries. Thanks for the generations of peaceful relationships we have enjoyed with Canada and Great Britain since this agreement. Will You watch over this national border, all Minnesota state borders, and our personal borders? Will You be the Keeper of our Peace?

*mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm

** https://history.state.gov/milestones/1830-1860/webster-treaty

 

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