North Minneapolis was a great place to be a boy. A kid was always aware of the adventures possible along the river, and there was always the aroma of freshly cut pine lumber from the Northland Pine Company sawmill.
Washington Avenue was the chief commercial street. There had long been numerous sawmills, sash and door factories, and other wood-products factories on both sides of the river from St. Anthony Falls.
commercial (adjective): Of or pertaining to commerce or business.
People from all over the city rode the streetcars to work.
Our Lowry Avenue stop was where the mill hands got off the streetcar. They were a familiar sight in their denim work clothes and heavy boots and, of course, carrying their metal lunch buckets.
mill hands (noun): The workers in a mill.
Occasionally we were permitted to venture onto the catwalk that overlooked the whining, thrumming scene where logs were cut up into lumber.
catwalk (noun): An elevated walkway.
thrumming (noun): The sound or action of something that hums or vibrates.
First, the log came, dripping, up from the river on an endless chain-lift runway.
The chief sawyer supervised every cut of the log. He was the most important man in the process, because his know-how produced the highest yield possible from every log.
When it was "dogged" to the carriage, the log was driven into the whirring bandsaw that made the initial cut.
Then with lightning speed it reversed its motion back to the starting position, flipped the log and fastened it in place, and rode it to the next cut.
sawyer (noun): One who saws timber, especially in a sawpit.
yield (noun): A product; the quantity of something produced.
carriage (noun): A part of the machinary that wheeled the log forward toward the saw.
We wondered how the setter on the carriage kept from getting thrown from his place on the shotgun return ride.
Equally amazing was the way in which the steam-operated clamps turned the log and held it in place while it was being sawed.
shotgun (noun): The front passenger seat in a vehicle, next to the driver; so called because the position of the shotgun-armed guard on a horse-drawn stage-coach, wagon train, or gold transport was next to the driver on a forward-mounted bench seat.
Throughout the sawmill, leather belts drove the machinery. Everywhere belts flapped wildly as they moved from pulley to pulley.
As we continued on the catwalk we watched the boards move from that saw to the next saws that trimmed them to the desired width and cut them into standard lengths.
Moving continuously and given only an occasional assist by a mill hand, the lumber was processed until it emerged from the huge factory shed, stacked in neat piles, and loaded onto the narrow-gauge trucks.
narrow-gauge trucks (noun): Railroad tracks that were close together.
My pals and I knew how the men piled the lumber, reversing each course so the pile could breathe and the boards dry out evenly.
Cliff Borgen's father, worked in the saw shop handling the big saws that required regular sharpening.
Those saws seemed to sing as they vibrated in response to the file.
I could see that working in the big mill was exciting.
Eight years later.
All throughout my boyhood, I never tired of exploring the wonders of my neighborhood. As I grew older, however, the neighborhood began to change. The vast forests were gone that had made Minneapolis the lumber capital of the world. Now the mills were silent.
One summer day I saw a huge column of smoke rising high in the sky. The sawmill around which so much of my boyhood had centered was going up in smoke.
I ran as hard as I could go.
Not until I was at the powerhouse and fire-barn corner could I actually see the fire.
powerhouse (noun): Any source of power, energy, or strength.
fire-barn (noun): Fire station where fire engines are kept.
Men from engine house no. 18 were hard at work fighting flames that still burned fiercely.
Their faces were grimy with sweat and dirt. I dared to ask questions. "The mill is gone," they said.
The fire department's steam pumpers throbbed as they pushed water through the hoses winding their way to the big nozzles flooding the flames with water.
throbbed (verb): To pulse with a steady rhythm.
nozzles (noun): Short tubes, usually tapering, at the end of a hose.
What had been a raging mass of flames gradually subsided into many small fires scattered about the immense yard.
subsided (verb): Worn off.
immense (adjective): Gigantic, very large.
Such a sad sight, I thought. The Northland Pine mill was gone, and with it like a wisp of curling smoke went my boyhood, except for so many memories.