Pendleton Woolen Mills has grown into a large corporation, owned by the Bishop family, many of whom are corporate executives, and named after Pendleton, Oregon, where it got its start around the time of the Civil War. The headquarters are now in Portland, and the company now owns twelve factories. We visited the woolen mills started in 1911 in Washougal, Washington, about half an hour east of Portland on the Columbia River. Mount Hood
We were the only visitors for the 10 o'clock tour, shepherded around by a fast walking and talking woman with a Dutch accent who had got bored after retiring from a job in corporate sales. She took us through many large rooms, where the huge machines washed, spun, dyed, dried, and wound the cleaned wool into yarn and then warped, wove, inspected, and shrunk the yarn into fabric. The plant works around the clock, except for the Indian blanket shop, which is on an eight hour schedule.
Mill equipment hasn't changed much in outward appearance since it started the Industrial Revolution in England at the beginning of Victoria's reign, although the machinery, now mostly built in Germany and Japan, is continually perfected. Before the yarn is set, steam is used to prevent flammable woolen fibers from building up in the air. Pendleton produces fabrics on 80-inch looms, but shrinks the wool to 60 inches finished width. The principal jobs of the people now are machine set up, take down, clean up, and quality inspections. No one has yet built an automatic inspection device that is as good as the human inspectors, which says something about sensory perception. Fort Vancouver garden
Pendleton sometimes (as for heather yarns) dyes the raw wool, sometimes (as for plaids) dyes the spun yarn, and sometimes (as for solids) the woven fabrics. They use several hundred dyes, changing the colors each season to keep stimulating their fashion-conscious market. Much of the fabric is shipped to Nebraska to be cut, and then overseas for assembly. The Washougal mill is well into production for the Fall season.
Returning from the mill we stopped at Fort Vancouver, which was run for the Hudson's Bay Company by a Mr. McLoughlin, a dour-looking, but evidently quite warm-hearted man who established a little pocket of civilized life, complete with workshops, trading post, fancy quarters, fancy dining and a company doctor. For twenty years or so, Fort Vancouver was the largest factory west of St. Louis, and McLoughlin never turned down anyone in need.
Based on extensive archaeological and documentary research, the National Park Service is engaged in reconstructing the Fort as it appeared in 1845, building by building, and we talked with period interpreters manning the large smithy and carpenters' shops. Goods (mostly furs) from the entire northwest were brought by Company traders and trappers to Fort Vancouver, where they were bartered for a wide variety of supplies and equipment. The threat to the Fort Vancouver carpenter shop Hudson's Bay Company was not the Indians, who were well paid for their furs, but the adventurous competitors from the United States.
The story of the end of the Fort was not well told. President Polk acquired Oregon and Washington in 1849 for the United States, and the U.S. Army immediately established a barracks next to the Hudson's Bay Company fort. By 1860 the fort was left as a shambles, and in 1866 it was burned by the Army as a health hazard. Archaeologists have had numerous digs, and the site is a training ground for archaeology students. Why the U.S. didn't take advantage of a very well-constructed fort, or why the Hudson's Bay Company didn't sell the property to the Army and relocate to British Columbia, is not discussed. McLoughlin did decide to remain in Oregon; he moved to Oregon City and took out U.S. citizenship, went into politics and became known to some as the Father of Oregon.
Vancouver and the surrounding area are quite heavily populated; we think that many of the residents prefer to live in Washington, with no state income tax, and work and shop in Oregon, with no state sales tax.
When we left the fort we drove through the Army barracks, still in use as a small base. The large Officers row had been home to General Marshall in the 1930s, and to Sheridan, Sherman, and Grant before the Civil War. The homes were sold to the City, which maintains them beautifully and rents them out.