Pine Valley, Oklahoma LeFlore County

1927-33 As Remembered, written by Francis L. (Frank) Powell in Aug., 2002

In the fall of 1927, I was just six years old when my family moved from Mountain Pine, Arkansas, to a new lumber town, Pine Valley, Oklahoma, owned (literally) by Dierks Lumber Company. I rode on the top of our furniture on the back of a truck with my dad while my mother and younger brother rode in the cab. I remember that enroute my mother thought she saw a bear crossing the road some distance ahead, but we never knew for sure. The country was certainly wild enough for bear.

My father, William C. (Cess) Powell began work at the lumber mill there having worked at a Dierks mill at Wright City, OK. where I was born in 1921. He had worked briefly at Mountain Pine, AR, the summer of 1927 Helping build a new lumber mill there. Our first house was a "portable" 3-room at the back side of town. These "portables" could be separated in halves and moved on railroad flatcars. Pretty primitive. Water was from an outside hydrant that served several houses. Other facilities were separate little one-holers.

We didn't live here but a few weeks then moved into a more permanent "shotgun" three-room. In a period of two or three years we lived in three different houses of this type, each a little closer to town center but still with outdoor privys. During this period my sister was born in 1928, delivered at home by Dr. J. P. Lokey, the company doctor, the same doctor who delivered my brother and me at Wright City, Oklahoma, (another Dierks mill town) in 1925 and 1921. One house we lived in had been the mess hall for workers when the mill was being built; it had an extension on the end as long as the house with screen-covered openings down both sides with canvas curtains that could be lowered for bad weather.

We then moved into one of the "classy" houses for upper level workers since my dad had been promoted to foreman of the Reworking Plant portion of the mill. The house had a bathroom with running water, two bedrooms, living room and kitchen, quite a leap from the former houses all with "outside plumbing."

Our next and last house was on the front row of houses next to town center, also with bath---but no hot water. Cooking was done on wood or kerosene stoves and houses were heated with wood or coal.

This covers the three levels of housing available except for three special houses for upper management that sat apart on the road from Muse, the small town about a mile north. The mill superintendent, H. J. McAdams, the manager of the company store, Mr. Woodell, and the "woods boss" whose name I can't recall lived in these houses.

Pine Valley was oriented fairly close to East/West, North/South, with the Kiamichi River to the South paralleling the Kiamichi mountain that made a very scenic setting for the town.

Town center was at the cross road intersection with the road coming south from Muse and the "main street' running east and west.. On one corner of the intersection was a 75-room, two-story hotel where many of the single mill workers lived, the movie theater on another, the company general store on another and the post office and barbershop on the other. Just east of the general store was the "Big Office" where all the mill business affairs were conducted. The last time I visited the site, about 1998, the "Big Office" was still there and used as a residence.

Most single workers lived at the hotel. Behind the general store was a warehouse with railroad siding; beyond that to the south was an ice plant where ice was made for the whole town and sold in 25-50-75 lb. blocks for home use since there were no home refrigerators.

A rail line connected Pine Valley to the Kansas City Southern railroad at Page, Oklahoma, 16 miles away. Our railroad was named the Oklahoma and Rich Mountain Railroad with one steam locomotive that hauled logs on spur lines to the mill from the forests and freight to and from Page, OK. The engineer was Mr. Gatlin, whom I envied very much. A "jitney"---small truck-car vehicle with rail wheels---made a daily run to Page for mail and passenger service. The operator was Audie Hill our neighbor.

The mill was "state of the art" for that period. All the machinery was powered by electricity except two steam "shotgun" carriages. These moved logs past big band saws as they were cut into boards. Electric power was generated by steam turbines on boilers that used wood scraps for fuel. Enough power was generated to provide electric lights to every house at night and power the mill by day.

There was a water treatment facility near the power plant that provided water for the whole town. Often it was only a communal water tap between houses, but it was clean and pure.

Logs were transported from the forests by train and dumped into a mill pond where they were kept wet until they were pulled from the pond onto a moving, inclined chain to the carriages to be sawn into boards.

The two carriages on which the logs rested as they moved back and forth by the huge band saws were very fascinating to a small lad. I wasn't supposed to go near them, but I did.

A long rod on a steam piston drove each carriage along a track then pulled it back for the next pass. Three men rode on each carriage. The block-setter sat before a wheel that set the thickness of the board to be cut.. Two "doggers" operated sets of claws mounted on two uprights; these gripped the log at both ends and held it in place as the boards were cut from the log. The three men had to constantly brace themselves for the back and forth movement of the carriage---a tiring job. A steam-operated "arm" with claws could turn the log as needed or hold it against the uprights until the carriage claws could grip it. The "sawyer" sat in a pit by the carriage track and operated a lever steam valve driving the carriage back and forth and the arm that turned the logs.

As the boards were cut from the log, they moved on "live" rollers to a conveyor chain where they passed beneath a set of saws operated by a man in a cage. By levers he could lower the saws and cut the boards to desired lengths.

Further on, men "graded" the boards on the "green chain" as they moved on conveyor cables moving on rollers on a platform. The boards were then stacked on dollies and moved to the drying kilns.

From the drying kilns, the lumber went to the "Reworking Plant" where the bark edges were sawed and further graded to remove flaws, knots, etc.

Then to the rough shed where it was stored temporarily until needed for planning and shaping in the Planer Mill. Then it was stored in the planer shed or moved directly onto railroad cars for shipment.

How did a 10-11-year-old boy learn so much about the operation of the mill? I've always been fascinated with machinery and some of us kids roamed all over the mill in spite of warnings from parents. But I know of no kid ever getting hurt during these expeditions.

On Sundays, the only day the mill didn't operate, sometimes we played games with the watchman who was supposed to keep us away. He would chase us as we ran and hid.

On the top of the Planer Mill was a large "cyclone" shavings and sawdust collector that emptied into a large pipe where wood trash was blown across the river. The pipe, about 2 ½ feet in diameter, went under the railroad then up above ground and suspended on cables to cross the river. We kids discovered a "man hole" at the railroad where we could enter the pipe, go under the railroad and across the river inside the pipe. Of course we could only do this when the mill was not operating.

During summer months we kids (boys) roamed the valley almost without restraint. We swam in the river, wandered the hills, picked berries and gathered Indian artifacts in a cultivated field near the river where obviously there had been an Indian settlement many years before. I had about 200 various flint points at one time from tiny to about 4 inches long. It must have been a large Indian village from the wealth of artifacts and ideally situated by the river. In the fall, we gathered nuts

The theater showed mostly Wild West movies with such actors as Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson---all silent. Tickets were 10 cents-unless my friend, Howard Johnson whose mother sold tickets could get me a free pass. My 10 cents then bought two Milky Way candy bars from the drug store across the street. I saw my first sound movie in Talihina about 1930-31 when my family drove over just for the miracle of "talking pictures." The theater at Pine Valley didn't get sound while I lived there. It stopped showing movies for a while when the Depression hit in 1930 and few had 10 cents for a movie.

Our school was on the small hill behind the theater and across from the "super's" house. At first it served 12 grades in four rooms, three grades to each room. My earliest memories there are in the fourth grade (I skipped third grade). Mr. Compere was the principle, later replaced by Mr. Breedlove whose wife also taught. I attended first grade through seventh grade there although I only remember from about the 4th-5th grades.

Pine Valley and Muse schools consolidated when I was in the 5th grade with 1st through 6th grades going to Muse and 7th through 12th grades at Pine Valley. Mr. Herman Evans was the principal at Muse then.

Some of the names of schoolmates are:
  • Ray McAdams (the "super's" son),
  • Howard Johnson (bookkeeper/comptroller's son)
  • Ralph Woodard, childhood "daredevil",
  • Edith Rodgers, (Planer Mill foreman's daughter---and my first love),
  • Janet Fry, from the Muse Fry family,
  • Bob Rice, preacher's son,
  • Kay Morrow,
  • pharmacist's son,
  • M. H. Harrison,
  • Kenneth Brashears,
  • Odell Rodgers,
  • Odean Rodgers,
  • Ted White,
  • Elaine White.

Older students whose names I remember were the Graham brothers, Gracen, Ambrose and Marcus (their father was Sawmill foreman), Aubrey Gatlin, son of railroad engineer, Clarence Watson, Prater McAdams, "super's" son, Margarete Harrison, Edna Smith, Helen Loveless, town beauty queen and Esther Rodgers.

Some family names I remember who had children so young I don't remember their names: Harvey Woodin, Cecil Looney, Shorty Rodgers, W. Culp (town marshal), Bonner, Workman,

A number of kids from surrounding farms and small communities also went to the schools. I remember only a few names from this group. Some are McBride, Sullivan, Fry. We didn't mix much except at school because of distance and a little snobbery, I fear.

One notable incident was the burning of the Reworking Plant about 1930-31. It was a major jolt to the community. The mill modified the lumber processing operation around this loss and continued to run.

     The nearly 6 years I lived there were some of the most memorable of my life. I can recall in great detail many of the events too numerous to name.

But it came to an end when my dad died in March, 1933 just before my 12th birthday. He died from complications at the Veterans Hospital in Oklahoma City following an appendectomy.

My mother with three children moved to Camden, Arkansas, to be near her family and we soon lost touch with all our friends in Pine Valley even though I learned the mill continued to operate until about 1947 when the company closed and dismantled the mill and moved the houses to other mill towns

I have visited the site of the town several times since where little is left to indicate that a thriving community of 1000-12000 once lived here. A few concrete foundations---and the two-cell town jail---are about all that remain. The sloping slab that was the theater floor is visible---with rusty spots where the screws held the seats down. A lot of memories lie among the rubble.

Pine Valley was to me an ideal place for a boy my age to spend his early years. I doubt such freedom and exciting adventures existed many places in the whole world. We enjoyed a Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn storybook life. And at 82 now, I value those years near the top among my many experiences since.

I have written this to help later generations understand the "sawmill" life of that era, to realize that where those few concrete reminders now stand a generation of happy kids got their start in life. Ours was the generation that later endured the Great Depression and World War II, and maybe some of the values we learned in Pine Valley helped us through those difficult years. The "ghosts" of this forgotten town are the memories that still live in the few surviving former residents.