Sawmill Life from a Woman’s Point of View

Editor’s note: Although I never worked in the lumber industry, I was teaching the children of many of them, and had relatives who were working in the timber industry. Ralph and Stan Loomis were among the men I most often heard spoken about with great respect. 

By Velma Loomis

Arriving in Calpine (Sierra County) in 1926, my husband, Ralph, and I began sawmill life with our family. Ralph was never bored on the job because he was a “jack of all trades” and could work in most any man’s place.

Although there were tragic incidents, the happy memories far outweighed the rest. Ice-skating on the mill pond, sliding down the snowy hills in a home made toboggan, playing bridge, dancing till dawn to the strains of an accordion. Then there were the Italian families (Susanettos, Catuzzos, Marzin, Spatarotos, and Bertolinis) who would get their grapes in the Fall, and then make their wine which they generously shared throughout the town. Not even the deep winter snows stopped our fun.

Frank Blagen was the owner and manager of the sawmill. His son, Frank Blagen Jr., was a real prankster when he was only 7 or 8 years old. By the time “Frankie” was 11, he had come to own and drive a “bug” (originally a Model T Ford). Our son, Stan, who was younger than Frankie, often rode in the bug with him. To get back at this prankster, one Halloween a group got together and managed to get the bug perched up on top of the cookhouse, much to young Frank’s dismay the next morning.

During the many years Ralph and I lived in Calpine, White Pines, and Wilseyville, he helped dismantle all 3 of the sawmills in those towns. We’re very grateful for the happy times we and our four children enjoyed over the years.


  1. danielle Says: May 9, 2008 at 11:44 am

    i think people should plant a tree everytime we cut one down!!!

  2. Paul Moeller Says: September 4, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Excellent stories of past times and events. These are our roots and we should cherrish and foster them

  3. To Danielle:
    When we were in the loging buisness in the late 40’s and ear;y 50’s we planted seven trees for each one cut down.

  4. Patti Dolley Geyser Says: August 6, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Regarding planting trees…we were taught to respect and protect the forest and streams long before the word “enviorment” was famiar. “Clear cut logging” was never practiced in our area of Calif. as it is in Or. & WA. However, the underbrush was cleared out and burned safely, a job my Dad, Brown Dolley many times did, to make more light for the new trees to grow, and lessen the danger of forest fires. We had a Forest Service Lookout Station on Blue Mountain, they had a short wave radio to my Dad, who had built most all the logging roads, and secondary “fire roads” . The first location of smoke was radioed, and action began immediately. Summer posed a large problem what with lightning strikes, into the dry forest, dozens of fires could be started instantly.

    Only two times in my childhood, a forest fire threatened White Pines, the worst, came over Reservoir Hill toward the Office (Moose Lodge now), the sky was completely darked with orange yeallow smoke and ashes rained down. A “fire trail” was kept constantly around the town to stop any fire that came our way.

  5. With all due respect to Patti, her statement that there was no clear cutting in our area is not correct. I have a slide show running in the museum as I write this that shows a Pickering clear cut in 1958 in what is probably Southern Calaveras County.

    I am not a forester and I probably should let our forester write this part of this post, but what I have learned from him is that clear cutting was often a best choice in fir forests. Fir trees are particularly susceptible to winds causing wide spread damage if the trees are not in close proximity to each other. Therefore, if you selective cut fir forests, there will be substantial losses during hard winters.
    Most of Patti’s time here was when Sugar Pine, Yellow Pine, and Ponderosa Pine were, in descending order, the most desired species. These could be selectively logged, so her experience is probably accurately reflected in her comments.

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