Stumps of the Northwest: History, Old and New Enormous stumps in the Pacific Northwest tell the tale of vanished old-growth forests and a logging industry once enriched by giant trees. Member station KUOW's Harriet Baskas visits some old stumps put to new and creative uses.
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Stumps of the Northwest: History, Old and New

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Stumps of the Northwest: History, Old and New

Stumps of the Northwest: History, Old and New

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Finally this hour, a story about leftovers from an era gone by. In the mid- to late 1800s, logging was a way of life in the Pacific Northwest. Loggers made vast fortunes chopping through virgin forests filled with giant trees that were thousands of years old. Few old-growth trees are left, but some communities are celebrating their logging culture by honoring the giant stumps. Harriet Baskas reports.

Ms. HELEN STARR(ph) (Museum Volunteer): I remember when my dad would take me hiking in the woods. He could see, well, those three trees would make so many houses. He was a lumberman.


Ninety-two-year-old Helen Starr likes to reminisce about the old days when she volunteers at the Stillaguamish Valley Pioneer Museum in Arlington, Washington. The town, located 40 miles north of Seattle, was once a major lumbering center.

Ms. STARR: People don't realize that there were trees like that to begin with.

BASKAS: But there were, trees so big and so numerous that Pacific Northwest historian Robert Ficken doesn't even venture a count.

Mr. ROBERT FICKEN (Historian): I just prefer to say things like there was a hell of a lot of timber and it was more than people could possibly use when they first started using it.

BASKAS: Those old-growth trees were often hundreds of feet tall with gnarled bases that Ficken says presented a challenge to early loggers armed with only handsaws and axes.

Mr. FICKEN: The loggers would have to go above the ground maybe--sometimes as much as 10 feet to find a flat surface that they could stand on to do their work. And they created the flat surface by cutting these holes in the side of the tree and sticking boards in. The would stand on those boards and cut the tree down.

BASKAS: The giant logs were hauled away; the giant stumps, left behind to rot. If you hike, you'll come across some in the woods, but in Arlington two huge stumps are community souvenirs. A stump house sits in front of the Pioneer Museum. It's 18 feet across and 20 feet high with a wide doorway, a roof and an upper level enclosed in clear plastic.

Mr. HARRY YOST(ph) (Museum Volunteer): Nobody's going to pick that up and carry it very far.

BASKAS: Eight-five-year-old museum volunteer Harry Yost says the stump has been at this spot since 1935, serving as everything from a storage shed to a stage.

Mr. YOST: There used to be a platform up above and there's steps you could go up into it, and the politicians would yak out through the side. And the governors used to come up and yak, yak. I remember hearing them.

BASKAS: Folks in Arlington are proud of the stump house, but Yost says the town has another stump that's even bigger.

Mr. YOST: It's all the way from one side to the other, a hoot and a holler across, you know.

BASKAS: This stump is actually about 20 feet wide and 25 feet tall and is impossible for motorists like Dorothy Keen(ph) to ignore at the Smokey Point Rest Area on Interstate 5 a couple of miles up the road from the museum.

Ms. DOROTHY KEEN (Motorist): I'm from east Texas. We have cedar trees, but not this big.

BASKAS: There's an archway in this cedar stump big enough to drive a car through, and in 1939 Norway's Crown Prince Olaf and Princess Martha had their picture taken doing just that. These days, though, the stump is a walk-through attraction that's had it's share of vandalism and decay. It's been set on fire, cut in half, put back together and moved several times. All worth it, says Harry Yost, because it's an irreplaceable, if unusual, link to the region's past.

Mr. YOST: It's Washington, western Washington, red cedar. The younger generations will never see one like this. If you don't keep it, well, it's gone.

BASKAS: For NPR News, I'm Harriet Baskas.

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