Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Bunkhouse Lice, Boiling Clothes For Freeze Dry and Capitalism.

How odd it feels – or maybe “old” –  to read in our own grandfather’s words, his reference to a co-worker, who was a  Civil War Veteran. Such is rather akin to grandkids easily accepting our dial phone, while questioning the hand crank-up, wooden wall mount. The one in our Port Renfrew logging camp, circa 1940.  Those are just tidbits though; this is about the life of the logger, Matt Hemmingsen. This is Part IV of his memoirs, still mid-1890s in the northwestern woods of Wisconsin. 


As preface to his “Camp Accommodation” captured below, Matt had told us (previous posts) about the loggers’ long day, say 4 AM to 9 PM, of strenuous, hunger producing work.  Dinner then, would be anywhere up to 11 PM with breakfast, as early as 3:45 AM.

The bottom line is that the exhausted men would have considered their hay or pine bough bunks, as we would Giza cotton sheets on the finest mattress. But in their cases, while slumber would have been instant, their desire to rise would have been mighty strong. Methinks. Matt had referenced bugle call – really?



Matt began this three year run for the Humbird and Weyerhaeuser lumbering concern around November 1894.  Just turned 18, his family homestead had been burned in the epic forest fires of that summer. It was depression time, and time to start anew.

Matt had said that by the winter of 1895-1896 pay had risen to $18/month as the depression eased. Here he shows that a family house could be rented for $5/month including fuel. That ratio today is mortgage worthy, should down payment be available.


Matt failed to define “surplus” lice. But, the question is begged: what is worse – surplus lice as meaning any over zero, or the pungency of previously frozen clothes drying by the stove?

Grover Cleveland was in his second presidency (non-consecutive) with Adlai Stevenson his Vice President. Adlai would become topical at Matt’s family table in the first half of the 1950s for his unsuccessful presidential bids. We, Matt’s grandchildren were just coming into that age to listen to the adult debate, perhaps not attentively so yet, for only impressions of conversation remain.  Just enough silent echos to treasure the scene, to be there again, right now. Aunt Marg would go on about John Foster Dulles, and Granddad on Adlai, “back in the day” verses now.  If only we understood then, that his recall was of his bunkhouse time with surplus lice. After all, we were hearing that surplus could be a good thing.

THIS ENDS PART IV.  Matt would turn 21 the summer after those three winters were up, when Part V is presented.

Left: Hemmingsen Logging at Cowichan Lake B.C., ca. 1912. Matt emigrated from Norway in 1887, was logging in the Wisconsin woods at twelve and migrated to Vancouver Island in 1906. Our woods pioneer retired in 1946 after significant innovation. CLICK for our broader genealogy and Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen (1867-1976).

Notes and Sources


4 thoughts on “Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Bunkhouse Lice, Boiling Clothes For Freeze Dry and Capitalism.

  1. That was a tough life, Marilee. I have been eco washing for years in Scotland, using low temperature suds. Then I moved to this swamp and realized that I HAVE to wash towels on a hot wash with suds and borax so they don’t smell funky. Having said that, I have an automatic washing machine so why am I complaining?? I remember that I thought it was fun to help Nana use the mangle on the top of the washer – at least you didn’t have to iron the sheets but it was exhausting. My grandfather worked in the oil fields of Texas so I imagine there was some rough living…


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