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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

People Logging Camps

Legacy of an Oldtimer

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

Alvin Burchfield of Rusk is the kind of oldtimer every historian dreams of interviewing. At 92, he remembers more facts and dates than you'll find in most county history books. And he does it with the thankfulness that he has lived in East Texas longer than most of us.

In the fall of 1917, at the age of four, Alvin recalls moving to Cherokee County with his father Sam and his mother Annie. The young family stepped off a train at Rusk and his father started cutting logs to support his family.

In 1923, while Alvin was only ten, the Burchfield family moved into a tent near the Neches River, fifteen miles southeast of Rusk, where Southern Pine Lumber Company began building the logging settlement of Fastrill -- named for three lumber company officials (Farrington, Strauss and Hill) in Diboll, where the company was headquartered.

At fifteen, Alvin began riding horses used to "pull" lines into the woods, where they were fastened to logs to be dragged to a logging tram railroad owned by Southern Pine.

Burchfield remembers Fastrill with fondness. "It was a sprawling logging town. The homes had picket fences. There were street lights, we had a nice school, a commissary store, a barber shop, drug store and a cleaning store. It was nice, clean little town and everyone got along with each other," he recalled.

Like most lumbering towns in the early 1900s, Fastrill was a segregated community. White families lived in one area, black residents in another and Mexican workers in a third living area.

One of the places Burchfield remembers best was "the rock hole," a Neches River swimming hole about a half-mile from Fastrill. "There were weekends when there would be a hundred people swimming there," he said.

Burchfield also remembers that Fastrill also had a "barrel house" --- a place where planks were placed across a couple of upright barrels and used as a makeshift bar for black workers. "They drank and they played music, but a lot of young people, including the whites, went there too," he said.

Each July Fourth, Southern Pine "would kill four or five cows" and hold a big barbecue for 300 to 400 people, all over Cherokee County, and repeat the celebration for black families on Juneteenth."

At Fastrill, Alvin became a jack of all trades. He learned to file saws, drive log trucks, and work a mule team. In the l920s, Alvin earned $2.50 a day riding a log skidder, but when the Great Depression arrived, wages dropped to eleven cents an hour and a woods worker often worked ten hours a day to make a living.

"It was a rough life in the Depression, and it was tough on a lot of families," he remembers.

Alvin soon slipped away from Fastrill, moving to Alto to work for Whiteman-Decker Lumber Company, but he returned to Fastrill in 1937, staying a couple of years until Southern Pine sent him and a handful of other workers to Longstreet, Louisiana, to open a new logging camp.

One day, as he was working on a peckerwood sawmill near a lake near Longstreet, Alvin got into an argument with the paymaster, threw his ax into the lake and went to Houston to become a carpenter.

That ended his career with the lumber business.

All Things Historical >
February 5, 2006 Column
Published with permission
(Distibuted by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a past president of the Associaiton and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)

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Bob Bowman's "All Things Historical"

The Forgotten Towns of East Texas, Vol. I
By Bob and Doris Bowman
66 stories about forgotten town in 45 counties
 
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