Home Back Issues April 2009 Working in Oregon through history

Working in Oregon through history

| Print |  Email
Archives - April 2009
Wednesday, April 01, 2009

It wasn’t that long ago in Oregon when hard-rock mining with a pick axe was a common line of work, when crews of immigrants competed for work laying railroad tracks, when farmers harvested wheat by hand and loaded it into horse-drawn carts, when men waded into the Columbia River to net fish by the thousands, when the idea of a woman wearing pants to work was considered a radical notion, when the notion of shipping jobs oversees would have seemed insulting and absurd.

The new book Oregon at Work 1859-2009, by Tom Fuller and Art Ayre (Ooligan Press; oregonatwork.org) of the Oregon Employment Department, traces the evolution of the workplace since statehood through a lively collection of anecdotes, oral histories, photographs and statistics. In the current climate of layoffs and cutbacks, it serves as a reminder that life and work in Oregon have rarely been easy over the past century and a half.

Consider a typical day for Augusta Clawson, who worked as a poop deck welder for the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation in 1944: “The tight band of the helmet makes your temples so sore that it even hurts to touch them when you’re away from the Yard. The gloves make your hands sweat. The arcs give off fumes, and lots of us have burns. But none of us kicks.”

A similar attitude drove Greek immigrant Haralambos Kambouris, who helped build the railroad line from Roseburg to Grants Pass in 1913: “Inside the tunnel there was water and they wanted to replace the supports… It was dangerous for many reasons and, also, very dirty and hard.” Kambouris notes that while some crewmen dropped out, he never missed a day.

The work ethic wasn’t just a means unto itself. It was also a path to innovation, job creation, even industry transformation. Take the story of John West, who started out salting the fish that migrated past his riverfront property and expanded into Oregon’s first cannery. Or Howard Vollum, who parlayed his fascination with the oscilloscope into the creation of Tektronix, the state’s largest private employer in pre-Intel days.

Because Oregon at Work covers such a wide swath of subject matter, it doesn’t delve as deeply into some of these stories as the reader might like. But the details Fuller and Ayre provide in this sweeping account tell a lively story that is brimming with precisely the sort of can-do attitude that will serve us well as the recession deepens.



Above: “coverall girls” at the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill in Salem rebel against wearing dresses to work. Below left: building ships in 1944. Below right: miners in the gold rush town of Quartzville.

Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


More Articles

Car ignition recalls and lean product design

Contributed Blogs
Friday, April 11, 2014
04.11.14 thumb gm-gettyTOM COX | OB BLOGGER

The auto industry is starting to share more costs across manufacturers for complex and challenging design work, like new transmission design, and certain new engine technologies. What we’re not yet seeing is wholesale outsourcing of “unavoidable waste” components to specialist companies.


100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon [VIDEO]

Monday, March 03, 2014

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 11.26.47 AM

Check out interviews with employees from some of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon winners and find out what makes their company a great place to work.


Banishing oil burners reaps benefits for schools

Tuesday, April 01, 2014
04.02.14 thumb co2schoolsBY APRIL STREETER | OB CONTRIBUTOR

Three years ago, PPS set out to begin to convert the 1930s-era boilers from diesel/bunker fuel to cleaner-burning natural gas. Oregon’s largest school district has realized impressive carbon dioxide emissions reductions, setting an example for public and private institutions.


From the Editor: The human factor

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In this issue, we celebrate our 21st annual 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon project.


Branching out

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A blueberry bush is a blueberry bush — except when it’s a blueberry tree.


The 2014 List: The Top 33 Small Companies to Work, For in Oregon

March 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014

100best14logoWebOur 100 Best Companies project turned 21 this year, so pop open the Champagne. Our latest survey gives us plenty to cheer.



Buy the book

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
2 03.25.14 thumb bookshopBY VIVIAN MCINERNY | OB BLOGGER

Oregon is home not only to many fine writers but also several accomplished small publishers.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02