Has electrified homes and school buses ~ whole families live in Timber Country for the first time in unique experiment
25 Mar, 1951 DRY MILLS, Me.-The new look in logging camps is to be found here in this little cross-roads town.
And, shades of Paul Bunyan, it is different from the usual thing!
The S. D. Warren Company’s de luxe logging camp, complete with every comfort of home, is unlike anything ever seen before in the timber country.
The camp is located up in the woods at the head of Little Sebago Lake, near the Raymond town line, and here some 30 men, women and children live a normal and comfortable existence. In fact, that existence is so comfortable that some of the women who first accompanied husbands into the woods with some misgivings now declare that it is almost like a vacation to them.
The old-time loggers who have spent winters in the snow-jammed woods in the past, living a rough life under crude, even primitive conditions, just don’t know what to make of this newfangled logging camp, which is more like a temporary village than a camp.
They shake their heads in disbelief at what they see and talk about the old days when a logging camp existence meant beans, bunks and bruises for the lumberjacks.
Most of the lumber camps still are like that. The usual thing is for a camp to consist of a cook house, with bunk houses adjoining on both sides, so that the general appearance is of a long log structure. In such a camp the men eat in the cook houses, and use the bunk houses for sleeping and for such entertainment as they may have. The entertainment may be poker-or it may be rassling on the bare floor.
In such camps the diet is beans, three times a day and seven days a week, along with pork, steak and other meats. The cooking is important at such places, and many a camp has found difficulty in keeping its lumberjacks because of poor cooking,
In order to satisfy the men sometimes a woman cook will be hired, usually the wife of one of the men, and in such cases she and her husband will live in a single cabin some distance from the bunk houses.
Life in the bunk houses is usually rough. There is no place for a weakling among the men who tramp through the heavy snows, carrying axes and saws, and who labor at hard work from dawn to sundown.
But here in Dry Mills the S. D. Warren Company has set up a logging camp that is a far cry from the kind of camp of the past, or the kind that exists elsewhere in the lumber country.
At first glance it does not even look like a logging camp, but like a small military post. There are two rows of plain, barracks-like cottages facing each other across a street. The houses are all alike, with the exception of the foreman’s, which has a porch. Each is painted white.
The little village, which also includes a garage and a couple of other buildings, and a water pumping station, rests on a slope in a clearing near the head of Little Sebago. Beyond the clearing is forest land except for the lake.
Set Up Village
The camp is several miles from the black road, and the dirt road through the woods has been churned and rutted by the big lagging trucks used in taking the logs out and down to the big S. D. Warren Company paper mill in Westbrook.
In the camp live eight families. There is a family in each of the bungalows, and three unmarried lumberjacks occupy another of the bungalows. Outside the buildings look prety plain, but inside they look like modern city apartments, with rugs on the living room floors, linoleum on the kitchen floors, drapes at the windows, the kitchens filled with electrical housekeeping appliances and nothing to suggest that the inhabitants are miles from the nearest store.
Mrs. Jeanette Melcher, wife of foreman Harry Melcher, told a Sunday Post writer how the camp happened to come into being.
“We’re all from Bingham, up in the big woods. All the men have been working at logging, and coming home every night to their families in town. Sometimes a man would go into the woods for the winter, but most of the time they lived in their own homes in town, and every workday morning they would go out logging, returning at night.
“The S. D. Warren Company wanted the men to come down and work in these woods, but they were reluctant to leave their families. So the company set up this village, so that the men could bring them. Each family has a bungalow furnished with their own belongings.
“These things here in the kitchen are mine, just as the things in the rest of the house belong to Harry and me. But the company brought in electricity for us, gave us running water in our kitchens and in our bathrooms, which they provided, so we are very comfortable.
“It is the same with the other families. That is why some of the bungalows have electric stoves like mine, and others have wood stoves.
“I spent one winter in the woods before. I was at a regular logging camp one year with my husband, and it was pretty rough. But here it is nice. The school bus comes and picks up the boys and girls. Those up to the fourth grade go to school in Dry Mills and the others go to the school in Gray. There are eight boys and girls in school from this camp.
“There have been two children born since we came here, my son Michael, who is 6 months old, and Joyce Croteau, who is 7 months old.
“The rooms are small here, but otherwise we live just about the same as we would if we were back in Bingham. After the men go to work, and the schoolchildren take the bus, we girls clean our homes, and then we are apt to get together for a bit of talk, or an occasional game of cards.” .
Across the street Mrs. Florence Ward told the Sunday Post writer that life is wonderful in the camp. “I have as much room here as I have up home, and I like the other girls, and everything is nice.”
The one thing that she has missed is snow. It has been a light winter in this area, and there has not been much snow, not more than a half foot or so. She had brought down her snowshoes from Bingham, but they have hung all winter outside the bungalow without being used even once.
“It’s been so mild here that after Bingham it’s just like going South to Florida.”
Mrs. Ward likes a good warm wood fire in the kitchen, and so she has no electric stove such as Mrs. Mechler has in her modern kitchen.
“I like the wood, and besides it does not cost anything. My husband, Lester, cuts it and saws it for me after he gets home from driving the big 10-wheel truck.”
In the evenings the couples like to visit each other and there is hardly a night that there is not at least one card game going in one or another of the bungalows. Occasionally they will take turns baby-sitting, so that the movies in Gray or Lewiston may be visited by the others.
Each bungalow has two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room and a kitchen. Each has electricity, running water, and some of them have gas ranges instead of either the wood stoves or the electric ranges.
Most of the couples are in their 20s. They came to the camp last June, and, says Mrs. Ward, the summer was wonderful. There was swimming at the lake, and fishing for the men. There were no flies and everyone had a good time.
Some of the men were disappointed in the fall because the hunting was so poor as compared to the big woods up north. That has been the only sour note in the idyll.
The camp is expected to be continued until the spring of 1952. Most of the actual lumbering is done a few miles from the camp, and across the line in Raymond. The men leave in their cars in the morning, go to the black road and along to where a dirt road wanders off into the woods. This is a bad road and the men park their cars and ride in on the big trucks.
They are cutting oak for pulpwood, and sometimes some of the local men have been hired to help the Bingham crew in felling the big trees, cutting them up, and taking the logs out to the mill.
“I have never spent a winter in the woods before, and I was nervous about coming here,” says Mrs. Ward. “But if they are all like this camp, I’ll never hesitate again.”
The modern, comfortable camp, known locally simply as the S. D. Warren Camp, was set up as an experiment, and the women living in it say they understand that the company has been so pleased with its success that it is considering setting up others like it, gradually replacing the old primitive set-ups so renowned in the Paul Bunyan fables.
The house beautiful has come to the forest primeval.
We received a casual inquiry about a logging camp at Dry Mills recently. Coincidentally, in her work to index volumes of scrapbook clippings collected over a period of decades, our volunteer Sally Emery found this article about the “De Luxe Logging Camp at Dry Milles, Me.”
The article was written by Jay Bridgton and, according to the handwritten note in the margin, it was published in the Boston Post Magazine on March 25, 1951.
If you would like a scan of the original article, please use our online contact form.