Burchfield of Rusk is the kind
of oldtimer every historian dreams of interviewing. At 92, he remembers more facts
and dates than you'll find in most county history books. And he does it with the
thankfulness that he has lived in East
Texas longer than most of us.
In the fall of 1917, at the age of four,
Alvin recalls moving to Cherokee
County with his father Sam and his mother Annie. The young family stepped
off a train at Rusk and his father
started cutting logs to support his family.
In 1923, while Alvin was only
ten, the Burchfield family moved into a tent near the Neches
River, fifteen miles southeast of Rusk,
where Southern Pine Lumber Company began building the logging settlement of Fastrill
-- named for three lumber company officials (Farrington, Strauss and Hill) in
Diboll, where the company was headquartered.
At fifteen, Alvin began riding
horses used to "pull" lines into the woods, where they were fastened to logs to
be dragged to a logging tram railroad owned by Southern Pine.
remembers Fastrill with fondness.
"It was a sprawling logging town. The homes had picket fences. There were street
lights, we had a nice school, a commissary store, a barber shop, drug store and
a cleaning store. It was nice, clean little town and everyone got along with each
other," he recalled.
Like most lumbering towns in the early 1900s, Fastrill
was a segregated community. White families lived in one area, black residents
in another and Mexican workers in a third living area.
of the places Burchfield remembers best was "the rock hole," a Neches
River swimming hole about a half-mile from Fastrill.
"There were weekends when there would be a hundred people swimming there," he
Burchfield also remembers that Fastrill
also had a "barrel house" --- a place where planks were placed across a couple
of upright barrels and used as a makeshift bar for black workers. "They drank
and they played music, but a lot of young people, including the whites, went there
too," he said.
Each July Fourth, Southern Pine "would kill four or five
cows" and hold a big barbecue for 300 to 400 people, all over Cherokee
County, and repeat the celebration for black families on Juneteenth."
At Fastrill, Alvin became
a jack of all trades. He learned to file saws, drive log trucks, and work a mule
team. In the l920s, Alvin earned $2.50 a day riding a log skidder, but when the
Great Depression arrived, wages dropped to eleven cents an hour and a woods worker
often worked ten hours a day to make a living.
"It was a rough life in
the Depression, and it was tough on a lot of families," he remembers.
Alvin soon slipped away from Fastrill,
moving to Alto to work for Whiteman-Decker
Lumber Company, but he returned to Fastrill
in 1937, staying a couple of years until Southern Pine sent him and a handful
of other workers to Longstreet, Louisiana, to open a new logging camp.
One day, as he was working on a peckerwood sawmill near a lake near Longstreet,
Alvin got into an argument with the paymaster, threw his ax into the lake and
went to Houston to become a carpenter.
That ended his career with the lumber business.