1890s - The Danger of the Mills
Working in a shingle mill was dangerous and it took a certain kind of employee to survive at these jobs. “Men pushed hunks of red cedar through the huge circular saws, smaller shingle saws, and finally trimmer saws.... One slip and a finger, hand, arm—or a life—could be gone. With the sawyer handling 30,000 shingles in a 10-hour shift, slips were inevitable.”
After trimming, shingles were dropped down a chute and bundled. Skilled packers worked with such speed that they appeared to be “weaving” the shingles together. This is how the term Shingle Weaver came to be known for just about anyone working in a shingle mill. Shingle weavers “exhibited a special blend of fearlessness, toughness, manual dexterity, and pride.” They were often recognizable by their missing fingers. In addition to the danger of the blades, exposure to cedar dust resulted in cedar asthma for many workers.
Fire was a persistent threat to these early mills – and the 14th Street Dock had its share. Gaulin and Garthley Lumber Company burned down on December 19, 1902. McNeeley’s succumbed to flames, along with two other serious fires erupting between 1900 and 1910. A 1907 blaze at Carlson Brothers destroyed two million shingles and prompted the fire department to request a larger fire engine. One year later, the Lundren mill lost four kilns and 2.5 million shingles to a major fire.