February 16, 2023
The following story is from the Feb. 2, 1939, edition of the Shelton-Mason County Journal. Oxbow is in the Wynoochee River drainage area.
At Simpson Logging Company's Camp 5, about as far from the famous Wynoochee Oxbow as a big scowling rain cloud can blow in two minutes, twin tanks perch beside the railroad track.
Offhand, you'd say they were water tanks, but loggers up in that neck of the woods will chuckle and tell you you're wrong .... they're "rain gauges" ... Oxbow rain gauges. And after squinting over records of Oxbow rainfall, heaviest in the nation, it is understandable. They need tanks for gauges up there.
The loggers say the company didn't even bother to hook up a water line to the tanks. It just lets them fill of their own accord from the heavens, which weep, drizzle, shower and storm incessantly. Back in 1933, it rained 185 inches on the Oxbow, more than 15 feet of water, and any year you care to name has shown upward of 125 or 130 inches.
Each of the "gauges" has an overflow pipe, which drains into a sort of sump. To measure the rainfall, you don't bother with the tanks ... you know they're always full ... so you lower a peavey on a string into the sump. When the peavey hits bottom, you measure the string, add the height of the tanks, and then estimate the amount of water Simpson and Schafer locomotives have used, and you have the Oxbow total. (Note: A peavey is a long wooden pole with a metal spike on the end and a hook attached to the pole above the spike, used for separating logs.)
But again, that figure isn't quite accurate, for often a locomotive fireman will lift the lid of the tank on the engine tender and let the container fill with rain. It has been known, the loggers say, for a fireman to stick an intake pipe out of the cab window and inject water into the boiler right out of the air.
Other regions can't hold a candle to the Oxbow country even during some of that region's "light" showers. Trainmen, especially Irwin Jones, the trainmaster, tell of one "shower" when the train left camp with a 22-car string of logs. By the time the train hit the mainline, water on the hillsides was up to the brake rods, and before they'd left the Oxbow country all that was showing of the train was the locomotive stack. Joyce says they always carry life preservers and figure they might lose every other train of logs if it happens to be raining very heavy. The logs float right off the cars, so they have to dog 'em together and tow them down out of the hills.
It's a strange country, and so damp that the camp cook never puts water in his coffee pot. Just tosses in a can of coffee, heats it and starts pouring.
■ Jan Parker is a researcher for the Mason County Historical Museum. She can be reached at [email protected] Membership in the Mason County Historical Society is $25 per year. For a limited time, new members will receive a free copy of the book "Shelton, the First Century Plus Ten."