My-Turn-thumb

By Otto Brask

My Aunt Marie Cockrell lived in a little house across the road from the Chewack River Ranch, a few miles north of Winthrop. She had this place for free while working as a housekeeper and companion to Mrs. Wagner, whom she had known in Okanogan.

There, in the summer of 1954, I met, for the first time, my Aunt Marie, my mother’s oldest sister, whom I only knew through letters. She left Denmark in 1906 at the age of 17, to keep house for two older brothers living in Portland, Oregon, but she spent most of her lifetime in Okanogan County.

My friend Tom and I had driven across the country from Chicago to visit my aunt and to experience the mountains of the Northwest, so different from flat Illinois cornfields. Most nights on the way we slept on the ground in the open without a tent. We cooked our simple meals in an old coffee can over an open fire.

Aunt Marie welcomed us with open arms and a big smile and fed these two “starving young travelers” with a scrumptious meal – one of many we enjoyed while staying at her place for a week.

Hospitable Mr. Wagner, owner of the Chewack River Ranch and Wagner’s Sawmill in Twisp, had contracts for logging timber in the national forests all around this area. He gave us a tour of the ranch and showed off his prize cattle with pride.

One day Mrs. Wagner took us greenhorns in her Jeep up into the woods along Eightmile Creek to show us the logging operation; not just to be nice to us, but to teach us about the hard work of the men logging the timber. We witnessed the men fall big Douglas fir trees and buck the fallen trunks. Big machines then picked up those logs as if they were little sticks and loaded them unto trucks navigating on narrow forest roads. What happened before our very eyes seemed otherworldly for us two city slickers watching this procedure from the adjacent hillside.

With each huge truckload of logs coming down the road past her house on way to the mill, my Aunt Marie would say, in jest: “Here goes another $1,000 for Otto Wagner!”

We also were invited to go through the expanding site of Wagner’s sawmill in Twisp. The superintendent explained the entire sawing process while we stood by in awe on the “gallery:” Logs from the millpond being hauled into the mill, then sawed into lumber and boards of many dimensions while moving along at breakneck speeds – a most fascinating operation. Thanks to Mrs. Wagner, we two young bucks were treated like important visitors.

In 1957 my Aunt Marie moved to Brewster, where, years later, my wife and I often visited her at her cozy home by the Columbia River. She and her friends from Winthrop taught us much about the character of the hard working folks in Eastern Washington. She died in 1969.

I have fond memories about my visit to Winthrop 60 years ago.

Otto Brask lives in Kirkland.