It was March 18, 1939 and Stanley Scurlock and his young son Rod were putting in horses when they noticed a large plane flying over Alder. Large planes weren’t a common occurrence back then and they looked up to watch.
Rod describes the plane coming apart in the air in his and Joe Sander’s book Old Alder. “The plane started climbing and making more noise. Suddenly, it turned downward and started spinning, and then the air became filled with material, wing tips and motors fell off, and the plane disappeared behind the ridge on the north end of our property.”
Stanley, told the Post Intelligencer, when the plane was at about 1,000 feet, “. . . it was doing a pancake spin, whirling flatly. For a minute it looked as if the pilot was attempting to land in my meadow, for he either straightened her out or she did so herself, and she settled slowly not three blocks from my house.”
Rod says he and his dad could see the plane crumpled and lying across their fence. They looked inside the plane, but found none of the 10 passengers alive. “Some of the men had been thrown out through the rent in the fuselage. I was one terrible sight,” says Rod.
The plane turned out to be a 307 Boeing Stratoliner, the world’s first pressurized commercial airliner, and one of only 10 built. It could hold 33 passengers and five crew and its silver body was described as a “cigar with wings, dipped in liquid chrome.”
This wasn’t the plane’s first test flight. It had been up as many as 25 times. The cause of the crash was debated at the time. Some said pilot error, some said outside causes and others suspect a failed maneuver.
No matter what the cause, in 1939 it was the deadliest air disaster in Northwest history. Highway 7 was packed with cars as people came to check out the crash site.
If you were wondering what happened to the other nine Stratoliners, eight were purchased by airlines and the last became the personal property of Howard Hughes. You can find the last one on display at the Smithsonian.
The first photo is of the Alder School #2, built in 1905 on a knoll on the north edge of town. It burned down two years later.
The new Alder school was built in 1909.
Rod Scurlock reminisces about his days a school kid there in his book Old Alder.
“Discipline in schools was different hen. The south bench kids were walking down the south side of the highway after school on afternoon, and the north side kids on the north side of the highway. Words occurred, and soon became rocks. One of the north side kids threw a rock that hit a south side girl in the forehead.
At just that moment, the principal came by in his Model T and saw the fight. The next afternoon when school was out, several of us were detained and the principal took down a slot made form the back fo a rocker and employed it where it would do the most good. There was no more rock fights after that.”
Going to School in Alder Rod says there were eight grades in the school — grades one through four in one room and five through eight in the other — with one teacher per room. You even though many students got their exercise walking to school (some coming several miles) it didn’t stop them from enjoying recess.
“Everyone participated in the games, boys and girls together. Favorite sports were baseball, basketball, pom pom polaway, hockey (with vine maple clubs and tin cans), and less vigorous sports for the little ones. Torn shirts for pom pom polaway, and bruised heads, arms, and legs from the hockey were the oder of the day,” says Rod.
“A one-machine shingle mill was set up by a Mr. Daniel a the north fork of Alder Creek. August Delin built a three-machine shingle mill, to which he added a small sawmill. Cedar was cut into bolt 4’4″ long and about 20 to a cord. They were transported to the mill on skid roads by sleds up to 20′ long. The cedar from the Boettcher place was mostly transported on wooden railroads. Bolt cutters received $1.00 per chord and bolts brought about $3.00 per chord at the mill.” History of Southeastern Pierce County
It was 1943 and the world was at war. Even in the tiny town on Eatonville, far from the front lines, the impact the war was having on the country was obvious.
Articles of the Time
In a September ’43 issue of the Dispatch, articles about the new women’s athletic club and an episode at the pool hall ran alongside articles like this:
• Dim-Out. Eatonville’s “Dim-Out” regulations were easing up. Dim-out regulations were in effect along many coastal area roads to reduce light, and make it hard for enemy aircraft to identify target locations. The regulations required homes to pull shades and businesses to turn off signs and marquees.
• Ration Board Needs Volunteers. The Eatonville War Price and Rationing Board was scheduled to open in August and would service LaGrand, Silver Lake, Alder, Elbe, and Ashford, among others. The call was out for volunteers.
Rationing scarce resources and goods, such as gasoline, tires, sugar, meat, silk, shoes, and nylon, was commonplace in 1943 and the Dispatch was anticipating a run on canning sugar.
• The 2nd War Loan Drive. The Eatonville Lumber Company ran an ad to promote the sale of war bonds.
According to Duke University, the War Finance Committees, in charge of the loan drives, sold a total of $185.7 billion in securities. “This incredible mass selling achievement (for helping to finance the war) has not been matched, before or since. By the end of World War II, over 85 million Americans had invested in War Bonds, a number unmatched by any other country.”
• War Stats. The Dispatch also ran information on Eatonville men involved in the war, from where they were stationed to who had been lost.
The paper also reported interesting facts, such as “Two dollars a day from the pockets of every man, every woman, every child in the United States! That’s what it is costing the U.S. to win this war — $260,000,000 a day.”
On a brighter note, the Roxy Theater was doing great business and playing 5 movies a week, including Wings and the Woman, the story of one of the first women in uniform.
History of Southeastern Pierce County
Besides a history of Eatonville, Ohop Valley, Longmire, Ashford, National, Elbe, Alder and LaGrande, this 235-page book also includes 154 photographs, an every-name index to text and photographs and the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Eatonville Dispatch. 252 pp. Velobound. 1989.
It was September 21, 1924, and the townspeople of Eatonville were battling a string of arsons. Little did they know the real fire was yet to come.
Rumor has it, that afternoon in Alder a Fire Marshall swapped someone at the Cascade Timber Company a bottle of whiskey for a slash fire permit. Despite how the slash fire started, what made it a deadly were the 40 mph winds that picked up shortly after it was set.
The fire swept down the hillsides toward Eatonville, covering swatches half a mile to five miles wide and 15 to 20 miles long. It ravaged its way through Pack Forest, Ohop Valley, jumped roads, traveled through Lynch Creek, and Kapowsin, and set fire to millions of board feet of timber as far as Graham.
The draft from the blaze was so powerful “good sized” fir trees were twisted and pulled up from their roots. Barns, houses, livestock, and logging camps were destroyed in the fire’s path and people frantically worked to save their homesteads.
Eatonville resident Frank Hoffman says, “Our family was good friends with the Conrads who lost a barn in the fire. Mrs. Conrad worked hard to save their home and I’m not sure if it was the smoke or the heat, but it left her blind.”
By 5 p.m. the fire had completely encircled Eatonville and 500 people had yet to evacuate.
“The late Mrs. Otto Anderson once told of walking down Eatonville’s main street at the hour,” writes Marjorie Hayes in History of Southeastern Pierce County. “There was no sign of life. All the stores were empty and there was no one on the street but Mrs. Anderson and a bewildered cow. The air was full of smoke and ashes which obscured the sky, and there was a lurid glow over everything.”
Mrs. Larry Smith went up to the school to check on her husband, the custodian. Hayes says, “The fire was roaring through the canyon behind the buildings, and the draft was so great that she feared she would be sucked into it and resorted to crawling on her hands and knees.”
Firefighters from Tacoma arrived in time to help save the residences on the north end of Washington Avenue. More equipment arrived from Fort Lewis, right behind Dr. A. W. Bridge who had rushed from Tacoma to his patients at the Eatonville Hospital.
In the end, it was probably Mother Nature who played the biggest part in saving the town. The “freakish” windstorm shifted direction, which kept the fire literally at arm’s length.
Rains came the next day and Eatonville residents returned, relieved to find their town intact.