In 1932, our grandparents had been sawing cedar shingles for 10 years at various mills on the Columbia River, and they decided to go into business for themselves. They put some machinery on an old scow barge on the Columbia Slough and fired up a steam boiler for power, and the East St. John’s Shingle Company was born.
Though the work was grueling, the little company flourished. Soon, they relocated to a larger site on dry land, and expanded the operations with additional mills in the Portland area. These mills, known as “Faultless,” “Atlas,” “Hercules,” and “Monarch,” became known for producing a high volume of quality cedar shingles and shakes.
Around 1947, employees at the Monarch mill decided it was time to find a use for the shavings and sawdust by-products that came from producing cedar shakes and shingles. The State of Oregon had begun studying ways to eliminate the smoke generated from the wigwam burners that incinerated the shavings and sawdust. The Oregon State Testing Lab in Corvallis and various agencies around the United States all contributed to this research.
Quickly, the tests revealed that cedar shavings could absorb tremendous amounts of moisture without becoming saturated. Additionally, researchers found that cedar shavings served as excellent packing material for transporting live trees and shrubs. Fruit growers in the Midwest and Eastern states became accustomed to shipping their product in these cedar shavings, which were coined “woodfeathers.”
The little Oregon mill had found a market for its curly cedar byproducts, and throughout the 1950s, it shipped the cedar shavings now known as “woodfeathers” by the boxcar load to the largest nurseries across the U.S.
In 1955, the Monarch mill established Woodfeathers, Inc. as a wholly-owned subsidiary to manufacture and distribute the cedar shavings. Within four years, Woodfeathers became a major source not only of cedar shavings, but also a provider of cedar shingles and shakes to roofing contractors.
Eventually, times changed, and by 1973, the last cedar mill started by our grandparents produced its last cedar shingle. With it, the cedar shavings that had made the company famous also became a thing of the past. But the “Woodfeathers, Inc.” name lives on in the roofing distribution business today.
We suppose we could change the name, but every time the topic comes up, we’re reminded of the history our grandparents created more than 75 years ago on the banks of the Columbia River, with a little wood products company named after some cedar shavings. And so, for now and for the future, we’re Woodfeathers, Inc.
— Lee and Terri Gotcher