P.O. Box 476 Jamestown, ND 58402.
In the Fall of 1938, Harry Burns and I went to Big Fork,
Minnesota, looking for jobs. Jobs were not too plentiful. Harry
took a job as cook in Syd Williams’ camp. I don’t know just
how long it went until Harry came to see me. Two men had quit and
we could get their shack and work for Williams. It turned out to be
a cold shack, almost impossible to heat properly. There were three
or four Finns who had come in earlier and built a good log shack.
At times they left the door open.
I was given a strip to cut for pulpwood. It was mixed spruce and
balsam. I had a poor saw and at times I couldn’t make much of a
job of filing. I had not been in the woods before and I was wearing
leather boots. I was wet most of the time. One afternoon there was
a wet snow. That is about the only weather that will stop work.
Four of us went to Bemidji and I bought the best pair of leather
topped rubbers I could find gum rubber soles cost $3.75. I believe
they were the best rubbers I ever had. Wore them two winters. On
the breakup of my second winter I left them on banking of camp to
dry the tops. I guess someone else figured they were worth
Finally I finished my strip of pulp. The sealer, Oscar Ness,
came. First thing he pointed out was that my road was too narrow
and too crooked. The stumps were too high. I had cut too much small
wood. It was supposed to be 4′ tops. A big percentage of the
balsam was called for rot. A sound stick showed no color. No one
had told me. When Oscar finished, I wondered if there was anything
right about that strip. Believe me, I learned more about cutting
pulpwood than in any other winter I put in, in the woods. Got along
pretty well from then on.
Williams didn’t have a big job that winter, but he did have
good timbers. I think he made money. He blossomed out with a new
fluid drive Dodge. I said, ‘You have a good car there, Syd.
‘And Syd said, ‘This is Martha’s car. The Model A is
more suited to an old jungle beast like me.’
When he was nearly done except for some tie timber and tamarac
he let all of us go except the Finn shackers. They cut and hewed
the ties. Then they cut dry tamarac. Syd hauled some home less than
ten miles away, piled the balance in camp. Sold it at $5.00 per
One night the foreman came in the office and said, ‘There
are people out there who want wood.’ Syd said, ‘Sell it to
them. That is what we have it here for.’ Oscar said, ‘I
don’t believe they have any money and I don’t like to ask
them.’ Syd said, ‘I’ll soon ask them.” The two
went out. There was a man and a woman with a truck. ‘So you
people want some wood?’ They said they did. ‘You are going
to pay for it aren’t you?’ They didn’t answer either
way. Syd turned to the lady. ‘You’ll pay for it won’t
you?’ She answered yes. Syd said, ‘Take this little beggar
into bed with you, and you can have all the wood you want.’
When hauling they came from a side road onto Number 6 Highway.
One night a trucker cut the corner too short. He ran his trailer
into a ditch. Next morning when Syd saw the man he said, ‘Leave
her there. That is the best job you did all winter.’
Usually when Syd came from home in the dark he would go past his
road and not know it until he came to a steel bridge over Big Fork
River. That was the last load that went out in the spring. When the
other cutting was done I asked Syd, ‘What are you going to do
with that little patch of cedar?’ He said, ‘I’m not
going to do anything with it.’
He said, ‘You can have it for 2 cents a post, which is
government stumpage. You can cut what you want or all.’ I got
1200 posts. Hauled them out next the highway as I wouldn’t get
out when the swamps thawed out. Got the posts pulled and loaded as
many as I could on the truck in the evening. I was going through
Deer River about midnight when the top chain broke. Posts went both
ways, pretty well toward the curb. I could do nothing until I got
A young fellow came along and helped me reload. Should have
waited, but pulled out on the highway. I was stopped by a
patrolman. He said, ‘You have a big load.’ I said,
‘That cedar isn’t very heavy.’ He said, ‘Too heavy
for this road.’ I unloaded about half and went to Bemidji, but
I got there too late to sell the posts. I had blankets in the truck
and I parked near the railroad right of way.
Well after dark, we threw the bedroll in the empty boxcar and
rolled in. Through the night we heard men talking. We couldn’t
make out words. We thought they might be looking for us, but they
weren’t they were looking for vandals. Got breakfast. I sold
the posts to Dickinson, picked up what I had left on the highway
and left for home.
One night I went from camp into Effie to the barber shop. I
asked the barber if the land was any good if cleared. He said,
‘It will raise anything.’ One spring when he was done in
the woods Ivar Rajala started clearing land with his bulldozer.
Some people made fun of him for thinking he could farm that land.
Rajala went ahead. A few years later he sold it for $40,000 worth
of clover seed.
At a later date, after breakup, I took the truck one Sunday. I
was looking the country over. The radiator was leaking. There was
lots of water, but I didn’t have a pail. Borrowed one from a
man who had a barn near the road. When I took the pail back we
This man said he had clover to thresh, but had no clover huller.
He and his boys went looking for one. He said the first two
machines he would not bother taking it home. They then came to a
good one, but the owner wanted $1200.
Ivar said he told the man he would give him $600, threshed his
crop. If satisfied, he would pay the balance. If not satisfied he
would return the machine. The man could keep the $600. Rajala said
the man agreed. He said ‘I threshed my crop and did more than
enough custom work to pay for the huller.’ Since that I have
never been afraid to buy machinery.
About that time, Mr. Peterson wished to sell his steam powered
mill near Big Fork. Peterson was at the age when he wished to
retire. It was rumored that Ivar Rajala bought $100,000 worth of
pine stumpage. Rajala tore the steam mill down. He rebuilt with a
modern electric powered mill on nearby property south of the town
of Big Fork.
At a later date I got acquainted with Art Rajala, a son of Ivar
who was running the operation. The pine was getting pretty well
cleaned out in that area. Art said at that time they were paying up
to $100 per ton for pine stumpage.
They specialized in pine, but bought other species of logs as
well. They had a dry kiln so they could finish lumber. I once
wanted to buy a load of lumber from Art. He said they didn’t
have any. I mentioned lumber which was piled in their storage yard.
He said, There is half a million feet there but it is sold. A buyer
kept us going in hard times.’
We are keeping him going now. Rajala got to be well off. By this
time Ivar is getting old. One summer it was reported that Art took
him for a visit to Finland.
Art told me he had always wanted to work in the big timber out
West. He said he stayed until he lost $80,000, then came back to
Minnesota. Art once told me they were building another mill in Deer
River. He said, ‘The boys have to run that as I have enough
Shortly after that Art died. Other Rajalas took over. Art’s
wife was the bookkeeper.
I always wanted to see the mill at Deer River, so I went over. I
believe they had the biggest storage landing I ever saw outside of
M & O landing at International Falls. M & O used strictly
pulpwood. They did no sawing.
At Deer River the Rajalas had the timber hauled in tree lengths.
They bought poplar and balsam. You bought the wood by weight. The
timber was cut in log lengths. It was passed through a gang saw and
came out lumber. If a log was of larger diameter than the mill
could take, the larger ones were loaded and taken to the mill at
Big Fork where they had a band saw.
One time I was there on a day that the mill was shut down. I got
acquainted with one of Art’s boys, so long ago I don’t
remember his first name. For some reason we went to his house.
Rajala said, ‘Don’t joke with the wife. She don’t like
that.’ He had a real nice house, recently built. His wife was
about ready to take their daughter to dancing school. They were
both very well dressed and seemed like nice people.
There was a gathering of Rajala men. I don’t know how many
but they were well dressed. Seemed to be very friendly.
I have not been back in that vicinity for many years. There was
an article in the Jamestown, North Dakota, Chronicle about the
Rajalas. Seems they had a number of mills now. I believe it stated
they were the largest timber operation in Minnesota. The last time
I saw Ivar he was living in a house across the street from Art. I
asked Art if it would be alright if I were to see his father. Art
said, ‘Walk right in, he might not hear you otherwise.’ His
house was clean and neat. Ivar said Art’s wife was awfully good
to him. He said he had a son at Bemidji. He said he has those big
Cats. Found he was a road contractor.
The poplar and balsam were not mixed. They sawed one species to
a certain date and then switched to the other.