By Harry A. Sherling
In speaking of Okanogan County, Loomis is old and rich in history. From what little I know of Loomis, I could be justly classed as a newcomer, or outsider. But as there has been so little written about a place that has so much to tell, I thought maybe I could remember some things others may have forgotten. I will stick just to the time I was there, Loomis 1916, and leave the early history to its pioneers.
To start this story of Loomis, 1916, I’ll drop back a few months to the fall of 1915, when Fred LaCass of Oroville, formerly of Molson, came back on the hill with a new hay baler to do custom baling and I got a chance to work for him. The baler was horse powered, hand fed and hand tied with wire. I met to life long friends on that job, Guy Allen and George DeMerchant of Oroville. George was a very entertaining imitator of Mr. LaCass’s French accented English.
In March 1916, Mr. Cass wrote me that he had 300 tons of hay to bale near Loomis and that if I would like to work, to come down. I was glad to go, and in a couple of days Ray Carlyle and I left Oroville with four horses and a baler. We went over the hills by Golden to Loomis and then down the valley to the Vic Champney ranch at the north end of Palmer Lake. It was a long trip for the horses, but it was new country to me, and I enjoyed every bit of it, especially Loomis. I thought it was the most picturesque place I had seen. We camped in a tent and cooked our own meals on a fire. Our wages were $2 and groceries for a 10 hour day. We bailed Mr. Champney’s hay and some others. The Champneys were an elderly couple with no children. Later that summer they sold their ranch and cattle for $80,000. It seemed like a fabulous amount of money.
When the hay bailing job was finished, I didn’t like to leave this country. Work was just starting on the Whitestone irrigation project so I got work there. Wages were $2.50 for eight hours which didn’t leave too much after paying board and room in town. Anyway, it was expenses and some spending money. I stayed some at Mrs. Cecil Hutching’s boarding house but mostly at John Wentworth’s hotel. Rooms were .50 cents, meals .35 cents, but we got some cut on that by the week.
John Wentworth was a mining promoter, too, and a story teller from way back. He was a tall, lean man with heavy long black eyebrows, mustache and a deep rich voice. He had crossed the continent on every transcontinental railroad in the United States and Canada, and sure could make a kid listen in awe to the tales of his adventures.
Loomis in 1916 had three stores, a boarding house, hotel, movie theater, a brewery (though only near beer could be brewed since January 1), Grant’s law office, Bob Gallop’s pool hall and lunch counter, Arthur Lund’s bank, Judd’s livery barn, Lon Gadberry’s barber shop, Bob Calahan’s restaurant, a blacksmith shop and two churches. The catholic priest was Father Sherman, son of the famous Civil war general.
Loomis was a cattle and mining town and was having a little boom that summer. The Whitestone project was building and keeping the saw-mills busy. The Ruby, Ivanho and other mines were working some. The Palmer mountain tunnel, which sold millions in stock, still had one man on the payroll, a watchman, Mr. Melcher. The Tungsten mine was going full blast. Cattle prices were good. There also were still quite a few prospectors around Loomis. They could be seen usually at Forde and Forde’s big general store, loading their packhorses with supplies for a trip, sometimes 40 or 50 miles back into the mountains.
There were two familiar characters around town. One was Peg Leg Negro Henry. He came to Loomis in early boom days, working as a cook. An old man now, he did odd jobs for a living, was everybody’s friend, and the townspeople saw that he was not in need. The other was a gambler known as Ding Bat. He had a homestead but rarely stayed there. He never worked, just played cards every day. His shrill laughter could readily be heard in the card room. Ding, Negro Henry and others had cabins next to the hill across the street from the Eagles hall. Ding was good company, and I stayed with him sometimes.
Ranchers I can remember in the Loomis valley are Jack Long, Jim Kinchelo, Bill Berry, Austin Lenton, Indian Edwards, Price Fruit, Elgin, Louden, Paul and Frank’s Dad, McDaniels, Claude Cutchie, Thorps, Vic Champneys and John Woodard, Sr. The Whitestone irrigation project had been started before 1916, as there was quite a long piece of weathered flume from Toats coulee creek which we hooked onto. Hartvig was engineer and foreman, Marvin Chase, promoter and superintendent. Entering Loomis from the east you see this flume winding its way around the rock cliff. Here is a feat I think is worthy of mention, the blasting out of a footing for this flume. Three men stood on a plank suspended about 8 or 10 feet from the rim of the cliff. On this narrow footing they drilled (two striking and one turning the drill) and blasted out the footing for the flume. Though it was quite a drop into the sharp rocks below, they used no safety ropes, but insisted that I do so, as I worked behind them, boring out the loose rock after blasts.
The project got as far as the Sinlahekin siphon that summer and work was suspended until 1922 when the state took it over.
Late in May I went home for a few days, taking the auto stage via Golden to Oroville, fare $6. I returned via railroad to Nighthawk and went from there by stage. The old rocky road by Palmer Lake was way under water. Passengers, mail and freight had to be transferred by boat a mile or so. The flume project had closed temporarily, so I had no job, and soon no money. Mr. Tillman, who owned a saw mill, was playing cards in the pool room one afternoon. When I approached him for work he said he didn’t need anyone now. I sat by him all that afternoon and I guess he could see how badly I wanted to work for him, so on leaving he said, “Well, I guess you better come home with me.”
Mr. Tillman was very good to work for. He had operated mills in Greenwoo, B.C., 1895, Phoenix, B.C., 1898, and sawed the lumber for the building of Molson in 1900. He came to Loomis in 1901. He told many interesting stories of the Boundary country. Logs were cut and decked in the woods in the winter and skidded to the mill as needed in the summer. The one-half mile chute was built of one foot plank, with sapling rails on either side, spiked to cross ties. A team could pull from one to three logs. The last one quarter mile was quite steep, and the logs would skid along by themselves, leaving a trail of blue smoke behind them. Wages were $2 and board for 10 hours. Mrs. Tillman ran the cookhouse. Three Tillman children were still home, Glee, Bertha and a stepson, Allen.
Those remembered working at the mill were Fred and Floyd Hill, Bert Barrett and a great big old man with a full beard. He had only a second grade education, but given the dimensions of a hill he would figure the yards and prove his figures in a few seconds. The method belonged to him and nobody could dispute his answer.
Loomis had a Fourth of July celebration that year. The Tonasket band furnished music and everything was free except the evening dance. A bit of unexpected excitement happened the eve of the Fourth. A couple of bootleggers brought in several cases of whiskey from Keremeos, B.C. Someone spotted their cache and the whole works was stolen and handed out free by the bottle. My boss was pretty sick the next day. Later in July the mill shut down to install a planer and Mr. Tillman spoke for a job for me on the flume. Arriving in town I heard the Thungsten mine freight wagons had left an hour before. This sounded like an adventure, so forgetting the flume job I caught the freight wagons in about three miles. Joe Hall, the freighter, said he thought there would be work at the mine and I was welcome to go along with them, helping a little for meals. Joe Hall and Ed Renne, his partner, each had four horse teams. We made Duncan James’ ranch (about ten miles from Loomis) that evening. James’ homestead was the last ranch on the Tungsten trail and the only one for miles around. Duncan was a bachelor living in a log cabin with a dirt floor. He kept his cabin very neat and clean. He served meals and kept a bunk for travelers to and from the mine. Duncan’s ranch was also headquarters for the pack trains as it was the end of the wagon road. From here freight went by pack train a distance of about forty miles to the mine in what is now the North Cascades primitive area.
Joe and Ed had some business at the mine so decided to take a pack train themselves. Their wives went along and Mrs. Hall, who everyone called Rosey, carried a big tomcat in a flour sack tied to the back of her saddle. When we made camp, she would turn him loose and he would wander around amongst us looking for eats and affection. Rosey carried a camera, and took many pictures along the trail and at the mine. If her collection could be found, it would tell a lot about the story of the Tungsten trail and mine. Joe and Ed had about 25 horses, packing about 250 pounds per horse. Along the trail were blazes on trees, as high as twenty feet, made from the snow road a few months before. In 1915-16, a winter of record heavy snow fall, a snow road was built from Loomis to the Tungsten to transport the heavy machinery to the mine. Cuts, fills and grades were built of snow. This snow road to the Tungsten would make a good story by itself. It is said to have cost $10,000. What a shame it had to run down the creek in the spring.
Camps remembered along the trail were Sunny, Windy, Bear Trap, and Bean camp. The old trail went by Horseshoe basin and Windy peak. Catching up with us on the trail was Harry Canfield, a navy electrician. Harry worked in the kitchen and did the electric wiring around the camp. He now lives in Tonasket.
The Tungsten deposits were discovered in 1904 when crews were surveying and slashing out the U.S. Canadian boundary line. Herb Curtis, one of the crew, became part owner of the mine. Other owners were Billy McDaniels and George Louden. They sold their claims to the milling company, receiving $100,000. Herb Curtis, now over 90, still lives in Loomis with his son Bob. Louden and McDaniels have passed on. The Tungsten mine was at 7,200 feet elevation, near the Canadian border and four or five miles from Cathedral peak, an 8,590 foot point.
I went to work at the mine the morning after arriving in late July. It was just barely spring there then. The first of July the camp was still covered with a couple feet of old snow. I was the youngest one in the crew, 16 years old, and worked every day (we all worked Sunday) until it closed down in December. Most of the time I drove a team, the nicest little team you ever saw. They were trained and sold to the company by Frank Schull of Loomis. We drove them tandem, hooking the lead horse tugs to the other one’s hames. Walking behind you could guide them anywhere by just calling Gee or Haw. The mine also had a mule team.
Our work was principally skidding logs to the sawmill and skidding the lumber to the carpenters. There wasn’t a wheeled vehicle in camp. The crew was housed in tents. The commissary, cookhouse, and other first buildings were of logs. The shop, also a log building, was well equipped. Charcoal was burned at the mill for use in the forge. Built of lumber that summer was a sawmill, a new commissary and office, three bunkhouses, a large dinning room, ore mill, stable, and a quarter mile of flume to carry water to the ore mill. During September and October at the peak, 80 men were employed, including freighters and packers. Our cook was a young man from Arizona who served the best meals, which often included game birds and venison. Wages were laborers, $2.00, carpenters, $2.75 for ten hours. Only a few men worked in the mine. Wages underground were mockers, $2.25, miners, $2.75 for eight hours. All wages included board.
At the mine when I came there was a well-known Loomis trapper, Frank Arnold, a pleasant, mile mannered Irishman with a heavy handlebar mustache. He had six cabins on a sixty mile trap line. Once he froze his feet and stayed six weeks at a temporary cabin, living on bear and a sack of flour, until he was able to hobble to the mine. In one of his better years he had cleared $1,800 and taken a trip to his native Ireland. Otter, martin, weasel, and mink were the chief animals trapped. Frank spent practically all his time by himself, just coming to Loomis long enough to get someone to pack his hides out and his supplies back in for another year. After his feet got well, he worked at the mine a short while, and from having been alone so much he would talk to himself, both in the bunkhouse and on the job, sometimes taking both sides of the conversation, and he didn’t like to be interrupted. One year in the thirties Frank did not come out and though a search was made for him, his body was not found until two years later, accidentally. He was hanging to a limb of a tree. As he never spent much money, rumors of foul play, but this was never determined.
Along in September the company decided they needed a set of rollers to crush the rock finer for milling. These would weigh a ton apiece. Seven miles of road had been built from the mine out, but this left over 30 miles to Duncan James’ ranch of rough mountain country with no road. Freighters Hall and Rene decided to try it. Eight men with picks, shovels and axes were sent from the mine to help the wagons in. The worst obstacle was a mountain we had to cross to avoid an impassable canyon. There was a crater on its top. Inside the cone was an ice lake. I don’t think it ever thawed out. I believe the mountain was Boarman ridge. To make the ascent both four horse teams were hooked to one wagon with its ton load. It was too steep a route to go straight up, so Hall and Rene picked an angling route. Long poles were cut and tied across the top of the wagon and men hung on the ends of these to keep the wagon from rolling. It was a tedious, hard climb with many rests, but we made the top. Going down the other side, the wagon was held back with ropes, to the timber line, where a tree was cut and dragged by its top, with the crew ridding the tree. This held the wagon back very nicely. The second wagon was brought over in the same fashion and the two wagons reached the mine, the first and only time a wagon was ever at the Tungsten.
When the ore mill started, they found they did not have enough steam. A pipe type boiler was chosen as it is just a lot of ¾ inch pipes, set over the fire box. These pipes and sheet iron could be cut in short and small enough pieces for a horse to carry and then assembled at the mine. The inventor of this type of boiler came in and set it up. Towards winter I asked for a change to work underground, as the mine was on an eight hour day, in out of the weather and 25 cents an hour more pay. The drilling in the main tunnel and cross cuts was done with a compressed air water liner. It was my job to take out the muck which the shift before had blasted, and sometimes I worked in the stopes. The Tungsten ore lay in a blanket ledge from 3 to 14 inches thick. With a 3 ½ foot ceiling in the stopes, miners had to work on their knees in these cramped quarters to cut cost of handling waste. It was all single jack drilling in the stopes.
After the blasts the high grade ore was packed into wooden boxes and dragged to the cross cuts where it could be taken out in cars. The waste was thrown behind us. There were many pretty calcite crystals to be found in the mine. Every few feet stalls with head boards were out in to hold the ceiling. As we worked ahead the weight would press these four inch boards to less than an inch thick and the green stalls would swell an unbelievable amount at top and bottom. The ceiling (miners call it the hanging wall) just had to keep on coming down until it rested on the waste behind us. You could hear it gradually settling, an eerie sound.
About the last of October the first shipment of ore was ready to go out with the pack train. There were about 50 sacks of concentrates. Though little bigger than a ten pound sack of salt, they weighed over 100 pounds. Tungsten means heavy stone in Swedish, the country that first found a use for it in hardening of steel. Mr. Savage, our superintendent, and a fine man to work for, refused to let the ore go out as we hadn’t been paid in three months. By the way, Mrs. Savage was the only woman in camp. Pete Peterson of Oroville, now deceased, got married while working at the mine. Between freight teams and pack trains it required about 150 head of horses to keep the supplies rolling into the mine. There were three pack trains on the trail, two coming in loaded, one going back empty. They usually arrived in the evening, and we would gather around the commissary to watch them unload and get our mail. The week-old papers were late news to us.
Two men handled about a 25-horse pack train. One rode ahead leading a horse with a bell; the second rode in the rear, wrangling horses that tried to get away back into the train. Many green horses were just tied, packed and turned loose. Sometimes packs were damaged as the horses bucked and raced off trail between trees. Packs were such as baled hay rather than eggs. Pack horses had to be rested as they couldn’t stand the gaff for long at a time. Of all the jobs for the mine the packer had it the hardest. Packers remembered are Cecil Hutchings and Happy Dunn. Happy said that to make a good packer a man should have his brains knocked out. I think he liked it though as he stayed until the mine closed. Happy died in Oroville about 15 years ago.
Nighthawk, 14 miles north of Loomis, was the rail freight point. The company, looking for a shorter route to the railroad, found one down Ashanola Creek, which flows north and joins the Similkameen and the railroad eight miles west of Keremeos, B.C. This route cut the distance almost in half. The Canadians, eager for the mine’s business, agreed to help build a wagon road to the mine, and a crew started working up the Ashanola. The mine started a crew working towards them. The two crews were six miles apart when the mine closed down. No more work was ever done. The mine’s part of this road was built with just pick, shovel and axe.
When development work was started at the mine, the price of Tungsten was over $5 a pound. When it closed, the price had dropped to less than a dollar a pound, said to be due to large deposits found in Colorado. There were only two accidents that I remember at the Tungsten. Before I came one man was killed in a mine cave-in. His body was taken out on a hand sled. While I was there another miner was injured in a cave-in but recovered. Near the mine was said to be the grave of a U.S. soldier who dies during the surveying of the boundary. Both countries had some soldiers there then.
The Grandby Mining Company of Phoenix, B.C., had invested in the Tungsten. In November they paid our back wages up in full. Though the flume carrying water to the ore mill was boxed in and sawdust packed all around, it would still freeze. They would thaw it out with steam, sometimes taking half the day. But they finally gave up milling ore for the winter. Work in the mine was to continue all winter, but in December it shut down, too. The sacks of concentrates were still by the commissary when we left.
Carrying our treasures inside our blanket rolls, it took us two days to hike via the Ashanola to Keremeos, a distance of about 40 miles. We hired cars from there to Loomis, where I cashed five months worth of checks, and this story ends. For many years after 1916, no work was done at the Tungsten Mine. A forest fire practically wiped out the camp. In the mid 1930s a different company tried to resume operations. It packed some ore, by horse and mule, down the Chewack River into the Methow Valley. But this went on for only a year or so. In the 1940s there was talk of re-opening the mine and great efforts were made to sell stock. It was then that a road was built from Horseshoe basin country all the way to the mine. But nothing came of it, and the mine has been silent ever since.