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
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
-- 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.
Burchfield 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.
One 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 said.
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."
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.