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Voices from Beaver Hill

Beaver Hill Coal Mine and Company Town

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 copyright c  2006 by Marilee Miller.  This is a work in progress, a rough draft. 

                                  PART   1  

          Life in a Company Town

   1  -  1   GETTING IN AND

     The houses and other buildings sprawled in tiers across the uneven hillside.  But a wide marsh fronted the mining camp.   A few dirt trails wound about the hills, through the woods – or down across Caulfield Marsh.  But there was no driving road to the camp. 

     The way in and out was the 1 ½ miles spur track which connected to the main rail line at “the Junction”.

     A train of coal cars brought out the coal (and sometimes logs from the nearby woods).  [Arnot ianterview]  The locomotive also hauled incoming freight – even horses for mine company business, when needed.  Assistants from the camp operated hand pump-carts to fetch in high officials.  Later, the company seems to have owned a few gas-powered rail speeders.  For very rare special events, a  group of miners and perhaps their families, could get permission to borrow one of the railroad handcars.  (Scuttlebutt has it that a few parties who didn’t wish to walk even borrowed push-carts without asking permission.)

     Although Beaver Hill was an incorporated town, there never was an
official Post Office.  Mail for the mining camp came by train to “the
Junction”, or Preuss, named after Rosa Preuss, an early school teacher at Beaver Hill.  [letter fm Lewis McArthur, Geographic Names].  The mail carrier had his own little two-wheeled rail-riding cart to bring mail in and out, to be distributed through the company store.   [M.  but see Chappell in Hotel, who says mail was at boarding house.] 

     Fern DeLong (Chappell), a new schoolmarm sent to the community in 1919, got off at  Preuss, a stop on the regular railroad between Marshfield (later called Coos Bay) and Coquille and Myrtle Point.  She looked around.  There was no place to wait.  Nobody around to question.  She was just left standing on the track.  She didn’t even know where to go.

     "About that time, a Japanese man came along with one of those push-cars. He offered me a ride.  And I…loaded my luggage, got on, and… rode to Beaver Hill.    It was sure nice of him to give me a ride.  I’d have hated to walk clear in there [carrying my belongings]."  [Chappell 9]

     However, most of the miners and lesser-beings had to walk in and out on the spur railroad track with its two long, elevated trestles.

     It took careful pacing to negotiate the uneven wooden railroad ties. 

     Hugh Brown vividly recalls his family’s trek in for the first time in the
summer of 1914.  He was about eight years old – and small for his age. 
Walking the railroad ties stretched his short legs to take long steps.  (Anyone watching must have realized the coming of the Browns would increase the population at Beaver Hill substantially.)

     "The reason I remember it so much," says Brown, "is that one of the
miners -- actually, he was my cousin – made a remark that it looked like the tail end of the Barnum and Bailey circus coming.  There were 9 kids, my mother and dad, all strung out across that trestle.”  [Brown a3; 1, consolidated].

     Tommy Kingsley and his sister Emily, youngsters who came to the mining town in 1921, also recall their first  approach.

      "It was quite frightening because of  the [trough -- low ground far below the wooden ties]," Emily declares,  while Tommy adds,"It was quite a high trestle."  Emily:  “And we didn’t know if there were alligators down there, you know.”  Tommy (with an amiable joke): “Prob’ly were! Black alligators! 
…And we should have known [about strange creatures], because we had the Loch Ness monster back in Scotland!”   [Kingsley-Winsor 7-8]

     The railroad tracks, coal tipple, and a warehouse dominated the lowest level of  edifices.  [M.  Tracks to tipple were probably there, but wouldn’t tipple have to be higher?]   Above them rose the hillside.  The hill had been logged off before the houses went in.  A lot of stumps and ugly, high snags were just left  between the buildings.  (Beaver Hill never did aspire to be a pretentious city.)  Several rows of  miners’ houses followed  the contours of the hillside.  The houses all had the same floor plan.  Were built of bare boards, with no insulation or interior finishing.  A long,  long stairway marched stiffly up the hillside, connecting the various levels.

    Alex McKelvie was seven years old when his family arrived in about 1914 or 15.  All his life he would recall that first impression after crossing the two trestles.  Beaver Hill looked about like any other coal mining camp.  But his mother had told him they were moving to Oregon, where they would live in a big, beautiful house.  The boy spotted the big, beautiful house at once –  the only one on the hill fitting his mother’s description.

     His finger singled out the lone painted residence amidst the unpainted
smaller all-look-alike dwellings.  “Mother, is that the house where we’re
going to live?”

     Mother tried to prepare her son gently.  “No, I don’t think so!”

     Young McKelvie was upset for a while.  The “big white house” was
reserved for use by the manager.  However, McKelvie got used to living in a house no better, no worse, than the rest of the housing.  With the resilience of youth, the boy went on to have a “pretty good time” living in this Coos coal camp.  [McKelvie]

     Once families moved to the company town, they weren’t likely to traipse off to other Coos towns very often.  Hugh Brown: 10-11.  [M.  His age, or 1910-11, ?]  "– We was lucky to get in to North Bend once a year.  …We had to have money enough to catch a train in.  See, that highway [to Marshfield] wasn’t in then; it was all just a dirt highway [a wagon road]. …In the wintertime there were no cars at all – you couldn’t travel, it would be so muddy."   [Brown ]

     (Chan Beebe, whose father was on the staff, not a miner, was of the more privileged sort. A newspaper article (1974) described his earlier  childhood at the mining camp.

     “But didn’t you go anywhere outside of Beaver Hill?“

     “Sure,” [he] answered...enthusiastically.  “Every summer we spent a
couple of weeks at the hotel in Bandon and usually were joined there by some relatives.  We kids climbed around the rocks and everybody hunted agates on the beach.  They were quite plentiful then.

     “Sometimes we went to Marshfield on the train and put up at the Blanco Hotel. It was quite a hostelry in those days.  I was a special admirer of Henrietta Ferrey, who was about my age.  She was such a pretty little blond that she was always chosen to represent such characters as The Angel of Peace in church parades or be a queen at carnivals.

     “We recently spent an afternoon at her home in Hayward, Calif., and
reminisced about the old days.  We recalled that Marshfield was a very noisy place as the horse-drawn trucks and wagons passing the hotel made a big clatter on the plank paved road.  They even made the hotel shake.  Then at night the frogs croaked so loudly you could hardly sleep.  Henrietta used to come over to Beaver Hill once in a while."   [Chan Beebe article, The World, September 21, 1974]

YOU DO NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO COPY THIS electronically or manually.  Please copy only the  link to the  URL. 
 Beaver Hill home-- 
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 copyright c  2006 by Marilee Miller.  This is a work in progress, a rough draft. 

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