some sentimentalists may disagree, living in East
Texas’ early sawmill towns was no bed of roses.
My parents lived in four such towns in East
Texas and western Louisiana, and I still remember those days
vividly, but not always pleasantly.
We didn’t have refrigerators; our food was kept cool in what we
called “the ice box.” Even today, I still find myself calling refrigerators
A delivery truck
made its way across town each week, delivering ice, but only if
a family had hung an “ice card” on the front door. Depending on
which side of the card was up, an amount of ice was dropped off.
The kid who failed to put out the ice card was certain to receive
a lecture from his father, especially if the father had to drive
to the local ice house and pick up a block of ice.
Most sawmill houses didn’t have bathrooms in the early years. Baths
were taken in the same tubs used to wash the family clothes. And
outhouses, were usually located far from our house because of the
When Southern Pine Lumber Company installed bathrooms in its employee
housing at Diboll
in the 1940s, the four kids in our family were elated over having
a real bathtub.
But my father commandeered the tub for the first week or so to mix
up a batch of home-made beer. We considered pouring out his beer,
and taking real baths, but couldn’t work up the courage.
Air conditioning was another rarity and nights were miserable, even
My dad, a creative genius who invented one of the first power lawn-mowers
in Diboll, found
a way to install a box containing a block of ice so a large window
fan would blow across it. But the cool air vanished as soon as the
My mother once saw in Lufkin
a pond where goldfish were swimming among water lilies, and persuaded
dad to build one for her in our front yard, using large stones he
picked up on our vacation trips and goldfish bought at a Perry’s
store in Lufkin.
It was the only pond of its kind in our neighborhood and any kid
caught fishing in the pond faced the wrath of our Mom.
Most sawmill towns had commissary
stores owned by the company. There, paychecks were passed out
to the sawmill workers and they walked down the store’s porch to
cash their checks and buy goods at the company store.
In some mill towns, sawmill tokens made of wood, cardboard
and metal were used instead of money until they were made
illegal by the government.