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Shevlin, Oregon from my wayback file

October 30, 2022 06:04PM
Shevlin was Oregon’s own wandering timber town
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By Finn J.D. John
August 25, 2013
THE U.S. POST Office inspector was puzzled. He’d just arrived at the tiny logging-company town of Shevlin, deep in the ponderosa pine woods south of Bend — and found it gone.

Shade trees still towered over manicured home sites. A stray whiff drifted in the wind from an open pit where an outhouse once had stood. And on the spot where he’d expected to find the Shevlin Post Office, there was nothing but the bare outline of a building.

This plat map shows the town layout for Shevlin in 1943, with residences in the blocks at left and commercial district to the right. (Image: Ronald L. Gregory)
The entire town of 600 was gone, as if abducted by aliens.

But chances are good that the inspector knew exactly what had happened. Shevlin, you see, was a town built entirely with railroad rolling stock. It was, depending on how you looked at it, either a very small company town, or a very large and elaborate logging camp. And the company that owned it did not practice sustainable forestry, so when all the trees were cut over, the town would simply move on.

One of the railroadable family houses of the type later used to house logger families at Shevlin. The houses were divided into two rooms. (Image: Ronald L. Gregory)
The inspector headed back to headquarters, where he learned that Shevlin was now at a new location, 40 miles deeper into the pines, across the county line. A couple weeks later, he got out to the new town site and completed his inspection.

The Shevlin-Hixon Company
THE TOWN OF Shevlin more or less came into being in 1932, and it lasted less than 20 years. It was named after the company that owned it — the Shevlin-Hixon Company of Bend.

Shevlin-Hixon was one of the most successful beneficiaries of the Oregon land-fraud scandals of the early 1900s, in which sharp operators like Stephen Puter hired hobos and laborers to pretend to homestead claims so that he could aggregate them into blocs of land large enough to interest timber producers. After years of investing in buying aggregated claims like these, along with railroad lands, by 1915 the company was the second-largest owner of Central Oregon ponderosa-pine timberlands — right behind Weyerhaeuser. It owned a vast tract of virgin ponderosa, some 215,000 acres.

Once its mill in Bend was complete, the company got busy turning those acres into dollars in what was then the usual manner. Crews of railroad builders (“steel gangs”) graded and punched lines into the timberlands; spur lines were built; timber was felled, limbed, bucked and loaded onto rail cars and hauled out to the company sawmill in Bend.

Portable logging camps
OF COURSE, TO get all this work done, the company needed men. It needed swarms of men, and they needed to be close to where the work was being done. So, like most logging operations of the day, it threw together crude logging camps deep in the woods and stocked them with the gangs of young mostly-Scandinavian bachelors who worked the woods in those days. There was no store, no post office, no barber shop, no schoolhouse. The only family housing was for supervisors. In 1916, if you worked in the woods, either you were a bachelor or you left your family back in town for months at a time.

Now, even by the standards of a railroad-logging show, ponderosa cutting was fast — faster than Douglas fir or Sitka spruce. It didn’t make much sense for the company to invest in building a camp of shacks only to abandon them a few months later.

So instead, the company built portable camps that could be moved out on railroad flatcars. When it was time for camp to move, the buildings would hauled in, lifted off the flatcars with log loaders, and arranged along the spur line. When it was time to move on, it would be the work of a day or two to load the buildings back up and move them out.

The camp becomes a town
THIS SYSTEM WORKED great for the company, as it progressively moved southward, getting farther and farther from civilization. But by the mid-1920s, society was changing fast. It was clear that to continue logging, the company was going to have to make its camps more family-friendly, or it would have trouble finding and keeping workers.

So in 1932, the Shevlin-Hixon Company decided to consolidate all its logging camps into one big one. They’d plat it with streets, blocks and lots. They’d endow the camp with plenty of family housing, a store, a post office, a barber shop and a school district. In other words, they’d turn it into a full-blown small town.

And thus, the town of Shevlin was born.

Life in Shevlin
FORMER RESIDENTS OF Shevlin tend to remember it fondly. Deep in the heart of Central Oregon, it was close to the kind of back-woods recreation that Oregon timber families have always loved: fishing, hunting, trekking, camping, swimming in cold alpine lakes, that kind of thing. There were no telephone bills or even rent payments to worry about. The isolation fostered a strong sense of community, and that sense extended to the owners and managers of the company — who, when the Great Depression gobsmacked the lumber market, helped the families get through by spreading the work around so that everybody got enough to survive.

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Subject Author Views Posted

Shevlin, Oregon from my wayback file

Jeff (CA) 127 October 30, 2022 06:04PM

Re: Shevlin, Oregon from my wayback file

Jeff (CA) 74 October 30, 2022 11:58PM

Really nice story! Thanks.

Monte 74 October 30, 2022 11:02PM

Re: Shevlin, Oregon from my wayback file

Remfire 71 October 30, 2022 10:06PM

I figured you worked some of them.

Monte 69 October 30, 2022 11:00PM

Re: Shevlin, Oregon from my wayback file

NWCindy 116 October 30, 2022 06:30PM

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