© 2024 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
Listen | Discover | Engage a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As It Was: Lumberman Burns 15 Acres of Stacked Waste in the 1940s

In 1946 George Flannagan started Elk Lumber Company on a corn field just north of Medford, Ore., the location of the present-day Boise Cascade plant.

He added a planing mill and wigwam burner to incinerate sawdust and wood waste, but within a year the mill had accumulated 15 acres of stacked waste wood.

“I decided to burn it up,” Flannagan said in an interview.  “My mill superintendent and construction boss wouldn’t light it.  So, I said I would light it myself.  I got one guy to help me.  We strapped 5-gallon tanks with pumps on our backs and started squirting saw oil on the wood.  We started at 11 a.m. and by 4 p.m. everything was burned to the ground.  The smoke went up about 5,000 feet in the air.  People said it looked like an atom bomb.”

Today, utilization of a sawmill’s waste is the key to staying in business.  Bark, sawdust, shavings and chips become raw material for valuable byproducts, ranging from horse bedding and paper to custom pallets and particleboard.

Wigwam burners have been outlawed in the Pacific Northwest for environmental reasons since the 1970s.

Source: Hegne, Barbara M. Logging the Rogue Valley. author, 1991, pp. 88-89; Long, Stephen. "Lumber, Chips, and Sawdust: For Sawmills, There’s No Such Thing as Waste." Northern Woodlands, Center for Northern Woodlands Association, 2019, northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/lumber_chips_and_sawdust_for_sawmills_theres_no_such_thing_as_waste. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.