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An Accident


One of thousands of deaths on the job in the Pacific Northwest timber industry over the years. From West Coast and Puget Sound Lumberman June 1903.

A horrible accident occurred in the West & Slade mill, Aberdeen, Wash., on June 10. C.R. Wyman fell on a saw and his body was cut in two. The first that was known of the accident was the discovery of the body moving along on the conveyor which feeds the fires. He leaves a widow and child.

I have literally hundreds of examples of this sort of thing in my collection of logging papers. In that issue of the journal alone, 12 fatal accidents are reported and described in detail. Lest we forget, the past is the future our corporate overlords have planned for us.

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  • Craigo

    Remember kids, OSHA kills jobs.

  • Derelict

    Indeed, better the dead hand of regulation slightly slowing business than dead workers being created by the invisible hand.

    • DrDick

      The invisible hand likes to give workers the finger.

      • Patrick

        And occasionally take a finger. But the workers knew the risks when they accepted the job to feed their families. Freedom of contract!

        • DrDick

          The concept of economic coercion seems to escape libertarians (like most aspects of reality).

          • greylocks

            You always have the freedom to freeze or starve to death.

            • rm

              If they didn’t want to have their fingers cut off working for someone else, they should have started their own companies.

            • DrDick

              As Kris Kristopherson observed, freedom means nothing left to lose.

              • Malaclypse

                Freedom’s just another word for no taxes left to cut.

              • OK, so when I was at UNM, this was about 2001, the student body put on a free concert outside. It was by Tiffany. I stopped by just to see what would happen. She did “Me and Bobby McGee.” It was terrible of course. But the real outrage that she announced she was covering a Janis Joplin song. Now we all know my dislike my Janis Joplin. But to give her credit for writing “Me and Bobby McGee,” well, that was just too much for me to handle.

                • Malaclypse

                  I stopped by just to see what would happen.

                  Dear Cthulhu, that’s a bad excuse. Seriously, that ranks with “I just read it for the articles” in terms of believability…

                • You dislike Janis Joplin really? Granted, it is a limited body of work, but with that stipulation she was a good blues singer on the verge of becoming truly great.

                  She also seems to have been a lot more intelligent and engaged– and less pretentious than a lot of 60s rockers. Dick Cavett had her as a regular guest and I’m impressed by how charming she seemed when I am watching the dvds of those shows.

                • What made Tiffany great were the originals, like “I Think We’re Alone Now”.

                • Uncle Ebeneezer

                  Honest-to-goodness curiosity led me to witnessing a Phyllis Schlaffly lecture as well as a Klan march (not a huge difference between the two) during college. Your confession makes me feel much better about both.

                • DrDick

                  Disagree completely about Janis, but I own the Kristoferson album on vinyl.

  • JoyfulA

    I was going through some late 1800s newspapers my genealogist mother had and was amazed that every day there was at least one fatal or disabling industrial accident mentioned briefly on the front page. The number one killer job was railroading in this small sample.

    • Railroading, meatpacking, mining, logging, just about any type of mill work. Life without any safety precautions was not much of a life.

      • sparks

        Boiler explosions are fun reads!

    • Jacob Davies

      What I find amazing about these death rates is the sheer cost of feeding and educating a child to adulthood, sure, lower in those days, but still substantial and all of that lost when someone falls on the saw blade and gets bifurcated. The economic argument for safety regulations is simple – dead people cost a ton of money and no longer produce anything (or buy anything for that matter).

      • cpinva

        i believe it’s refered to, in medical lingo, as a “traumatic amputation”.

        when someone falls on the saw blade and gets bifurcated.

        a nice way of saying “sombitch got his body cut clean in two!” no doubt though, it probably was traumatic.

  • Rick Massimo

    “Why should I pay for a safety railing when the damn fool should’ve just learned how to keep his balance?”
    – The CEO then, probably now

    • Another issue of this journal near where this story comes from blames the accidents on too many new workers since they don’t know how to communicate with each other. Later they blame it on other things. It’s always the workers’ fault.

      • Craigo

        Also, anarchists. Gotta work anarchists in there somewhere.

      • Keaaukane

        Fellow servant doctrine, along with assumption of risk, two of the three great Common Law killers.

  • DrDick

    Logging, along with fishing, mining, and agriculture, still leads the nation in occupational injuries and deaths.

  • Stan Gable

    What’s the intended audience for something like this? I’d assume that it’s for management folks – I’m having a hard time believing that this accident report would show up in any modern business oriented journal.

    • Yeah, it was an industry journal. It’s not entirely clear to me why they went in such detail on these deaths. The journal as a whole didn’t actually show a lot of concern about the matter–that fell to the other major industry paper.

      • Stan Gable

        The journal as a whole didn’t actually show a lot of concern about the matter

        Mild understatement there…am I right that there’s been a little bit of a cultural shift?

        As terse as that report is, it’s still an acknowledgement that bad things happen in the timber industry. I am struggling to see how that would show up in any business publication nowadays.

        Poor C.R. would have gotten a brief comment in the local paper along with a corporate PR condolences statement + reminder about the stellar safety record in the timber industry.

    • There is an extremely odd explanation from the July 1900 issue of West Coast and Puget Sound Lumberman:

      “The unusually large number of accidents occurring in the woods along this Coast can only be accounted for by the fact that so many new and inexperienced men are employed. The list of casualties is a long one. It is gruesome reading, but there are so many semi-strangers at work, that without giving these accidents publicity, perhaps their friends or families might never hear of their misfortunes.”

      Safety precautions–impossible. But printing the details of their death–public service.

      • sparks

        It’s the minute detail parts which makes it rise beyond the common reportage. I remember reading a fairly notorious story regarding the San Francisco nitroglycerin explosion, giving details about what parts were found where.

      • prufrock

        Safety precautions–impossible. But printing the details of their death–public service.

        It’s analogous to refusing to install guard rails on a mountain road and then encouraging passing motorists to slow down and look at the carnage.

  • He wuz looky. Dad would have tol’ us ta walk et off!

  • Observer

    Things have changed since the turn of the twentieth century. And everyone understands and appreciates common sense industrial safety measures.

    What people don’t understand is the new doctrine of strict liability. It doesn’t seek to determine blame or responsibility, just who’s got the money. a

    • Which is also the old doctrine of strict liability, which becomes pretty clear from reading court cases of the Gilded Age.

    • Tyto

      What Erik said. Also, strict liability does not apply across the board, but only to certain classes of activities–here, “ultra-hazardous” activities.

    • rea

      the new doctrine of strict liability. It doesn’t seek to determine blame or responsibility

      Well, yes. It’s called insurance. Spreading the costs by pooling the risks. Worker’s compensation insurance. Employer immunity from tort liability.

      • rea

        I mean, I assume what he’s talking about is injured workers being entitled to worker’s compensation regardless of fault. Maybe giving him even that minimmal credit for coherence is too much.

      • This was why the timber industry by and large supported workers’ comp. They were losing money in lawsuits.

  • Alan in SF

    This is in no way meant as a comment on this situation or the politics of workplace safety, nor meant to detract from the seriousness, etc. Just saying…My research for a writing project has heavily immersed me in small-city newspapers from 1946-47. You would not believe the grotesque and wildly unlucky things that happened to people on a daily basis, nor the number of them that a broadsheet newspaper could squeeze onto each day’s front page. Check out NewspaperArchives or Google News — it’s hard to imagine there are that many awful ways to die.

    • sparks

      Lots of grotesque car accidents from items I’ve read c.1910s-’30s, pretty much everywhere, almost any day.

  • Emily68

    More Deadly Than War!: Pacific Coast Logging fronm 1827 to 1981


    My husband read the book when he was working as an arborist.

    • That book has some problems, but the larger point is 100% right and it’s an invaluable resource.

      • ajay

        More Deadly Than War!: Pacific Coast Logging fronm 1827 to 1981

        I remember doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation after watching “The Deer Hunter” and finding that Christopher Walken, Robert De Niro et al would have been twice as likely to die if they’d spent 1970 working back at home in the steel mill as if they spent it as infantrymen in Vietnam.

  • cpinva

    over the years, i have had occasion to audit many small manufacturers, many of them family owned, from lumber mills to door manufacturers. i usually get a tour of the factory floor, where the product is actually made. normally, i’m required to wear the same type of safety equipment (mandated by OSHA) as the workers, for the same reason. i take notice of the various and sundry safety devices, mounted on the different machines used in the process. what i have realized is that, for the most part, the owners are not inherently bad people, wishing ill on their employees. however, in times of economic stress, it’s a lot cheaper to not replace/repair a safety device (which can be quite expensive, depending on the machine and device), and pray nothing happens. they do this, not because they want to keep their nice, fat ceo salary, so much as they want to keep the bank from calling the loan, because the cost of repairing/replacing that safety device could well spell the difference between a net profit(loss) for the year.

    they are required, by the loan contract, to provide audited financials every year. if the earnings & profits don’t meet the loan contract requirements, that loan balance is subject to being called immediately. they most likely don’t have the funds to pay it right now, and probably couldn’t get a loan from another bank, for the same reason the loan they have is being called, so they’re basically fucked.

    this is by no means an excuse for their inaction, but i do now understand where they’re coming from. what’s worse is that, if one of their people does get injured, or god forbid, killed, the owners would go into nearly a suicidal depression, because they knew it was their fault. they know these people, and their families, personally. they probably grew up with them, went to school with them. it’s an injury/death in the family.

    i thank god OSHA exists, every time i go to one these businesses, because they force them to comply with the law, when the stress of finance might cause them to be tempted do otherwise.

  • Yosemite Semite

    You don’t have to go back to 1903 for horrors in the timber industry.

    At one point in my long and checkered past, I worked nights at the All-American Stud Co. in Jasper, Oregon. It was a lumber mill that cut only two-by-four dimension lumber for construction of walls in stick-framed houses. (In case you think I’m pulling your chain, check the Eugene Register-Guard for March 21, 1980. It burned down in 80s, I think it was.) My job was to clean up around the planer: sawdust from under the planer, and boards coming out of the kiln that had dried with too much warp to be fed through the planer, that had just been pushed off the edge of the planer dock by the guys feeding the planer. The planer trimmed the rough boards from their original two inch by four inch sawn dimension down to a smooth, finished dimension of the standard two-by-four: one and five-eights inches by three and five-eights inches. The guys working the planer fed the boards into the planer, one board passing its ten feet of length through the planer in the time the next moved maybe six inches down the chain to line up with the cutting heads. The sideways movement was slow; the lengthwise movement extremely fast. At the planer dock at All-American, there was a porthole about a foot square in the wall at the level of the planer bed where the planed two-by-fours passed into the next bay of the mill, to be cut to custom lengths. Except the boards didn’t always come off the cutting heads flat on the planer bed, and the guys working there had nailed three four-foot by eight-foot sheets of plywood around the porthole, so that if a board leapt up off the planer bed and slammed into the wall, the plywood would keep it from shooting through and taking someone’s head off on the other side.

    The rough lumber went through the planer fast enough to generate considerable heat, and the combination of heat and dry wood shavings and sawdust are dangerous – highly combustible. The mill had a vacuum system to remove sawdust from the air, with vents around the planer. But that was insufficient, so they a fine water spray mechanism above the planer heads, that wet the sawdust coming off the heads. One part of my job at night was to go under the planer in the space between the concrete supports about five feet high, four feet wide, and maybe twelve feet long, and with a scoop shovel, shovel the wet sawdust over my head through an opening about two feet wide onto the planer shed deck so we could push it off the edge of the planer deck into a dump truck and haul it off. (That was maybe the hardest job I ever had.)

    I mention all that to give the context for the work of the men feeding the planer. During the time I was working at the All-American Stud Co., I met and went out with a girl who grew up in Oakridge, Oregon. Her stepfather worked on the planer in one of the mills there – either the mill in Westfir that had about a dozen owners in those years, or the Pope & Talbot mill in Oakridge. He came in to visit her in Eugene one time while I was going out with her. When I met him, I put out my hand to take his, and got a handful of stumps. He had gone through the planer a couple of times. One time a splinter from one of the rough two-by-fours caught his jacket sleeve and pulled his hand through the cutting heads. At the speed the boards go through, there’s no time at all to react. He went back to work after each incident.

    When I was a kid in Lakeview, Oregon, I lived around the corner from Old Mr. Bybee, as we knew him, who worked at the American Box Factory, on the planer. Mr. Bybee had also gone through the planer himself at least a couple of times, and his right hand consisted entirely of stumps.

    And then there were the kids I grew up with. Ted Pauck was working at the landing where logs coming in from the woods are loaded onto trucks for transit to the mill. He got between the jammer and a log truck, the truck moved a bit, and crushed his pelvis. It was replaced with a plastic one, and he was good as new. Banny Banister was setting chokers on logs to be pulled by a cat to the landing and was between two logs when the catskinner misunderstood a signal and pulled away, trapping Banny’s thigh between the logs. The doctors said that if he hadn’t had such muscular thighs, he would have lost his leg. But he was alright. Another guy whose name I forget was unloading logs from his truck at the Lakeview Lumber Company log pond (back when mills still had ponds because it was the easiest way to store logs and move them to the saws). The bunks on the log trucks in those days had chock blocks about a foot high on the outboard ends rather than the four-foot stakes that you see nowadays. When he tossed the last binder over the logs, the logs, which had shifted a little in transit, all rolled off the truck on the landward side onto him. He wasn’t alright.

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