Claude Olsen spent a lot of his life trekking between Klamath Falls and his father’s mill in Dorris
One of Claude Olsen’s earliest memories is cutting weeds around the property of his father’s molding mill in Dorris back in 1922.
“I was 9 years old at the time,” Olsen said.
Now 96, Olsen has lived in the same house on Eldorado Boulevard in Klamath Falls since 1954. But he lived a more basic lifestyle in his early years.
Olsen’s father and brothers started the molding mill in Dorris after seeing how much cheaper it was to build there instead of Klamath Falls. During the day, employees of Olsen’s father cut and planed wood to sell to clients as far away as New York City and Chicago. By RYAN PFEIL H&N Staff Writer
The mill still stands, but almost burned down in 1934. A knot of wood from a plank got lodged between a belt and pully in the mill and ignited a fire. Dorris had no fire department at the time, just a hose cart. The dry weather rendered the fire hydrant nearly useless. The mill employees used another plan of attack.
“They had our crew out in front of the lumber yard with buckets of water to douse any embers,” Olsen said. “It managed to keep the depot from burning.”
Moving to Klamath Falls
Olsen moved to Klamath Falls with his family in 1954 to get a better education for his children. The schools in Dorris, he said, weren’t making the grade.
“My kids weren’t getting any education,” Olsen said. “High school teachers were reading them fairy tales for their English class.”
Few houses other than his existed. Businesses were mostly sawmills, banks and restaurants. The Klamath Christian Center was a hospital at the time.
“It was just bare hills. It wasn’t anything,” Olsen said.
The Ewauna Box Factory, Big Lakes Lumber and several other mills ran parallel to South Sixth Street. The timber industry boomed, with giants like Weyerhaeuser leading the way.
“There were little sawmills all over the country,” Olsen said.
Trekking to Dorris
Even living in Klamath Falls, Olsen continued to make daily treks to Dorris to work in his father’s mill. A bulk of his career saw him in charge of purchasing for factory equipment and supplies.
Making the journey back and forth was difficult. There was one unpaved road covered in pebbles and larger rocks that his Model T bucked and kicked on its journey. He sometimes drove it over hills in reverse for additional power. It took him about two hours to go one way. Sometimes, he would stop at Cal Or, a stateline restaurant.
“It was a great place to eat and gamble,” he said. “A lot of money was spent gambling there from Klamath Falls.”
Olsen retired in 1966. He misses hunting, fishing, and playing basketball in high school. In the same house for 55 years, he’s seen many changes, especially in the way of industry.
“Farming is a big business now, he said. “It used to be primarily lumber. Now it’s agriculture.”
H N photo; Claude Olsen remembers Klamath Falls as a booming lumber town in the 1950s.