Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

 June 1, 1994, Page 32

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Good Old Days" Articles 



Good Old Days   


By Dee Zimmerman


The days of lumbering in Clark County were prolonged by the activities centering at Owen, in the northern portion.  It was in 1893 when John S. Owen became a contributor in Clark County’s development, almost exactly half a century after the lumbering industry had begun in the southern part of the county.


By the 1890’s the cutting in the south had been nearly completed.  The big lumbering drives were “no more.”  The Black River Improvement company was phasing out, with no reason for its further service.  Its manager, Joseph Nesbitt, with hearing dulled, was approaching the final cleanup.  The works of which he was director, the Hemlock Dam and Dell’s Dam, were to be wiped out by the 1914 flood, which would put the “finish” upon the era that was already ended.  The Black River, once the great artery of commerce and business, had subsided in importance.


The Owens, spreading their operations from Owen as the center, laid rails and provided the railroad as means of bringing in nearly all of their logs by overland haul.


Owen entered Clark County on a big scale, purchasing 30,000 acres within Clark County and beyond, to the north.  The operations covered 400 to 500 square miles stretching mainly to the northeast.  The logging and milling were carried on largely, with the count in millions of feet, both of logs and lumber.  Immense piles of lumber, with open aisles between, were always visible-drying out by nature’s method, continuous by going out in railcar loads to the trade.


The Owens, not only, lumbermen of the earlier years, were looking at the future of the land.  They were thinking of what would happen after the trees were taken off.  So, a promotion was made on their part, working as realtors and financiers in the land development.  They encouraged farming, as they cut trees, selling the land on easy terms to those who gave sincere promise of permanence.  Similarly, they inspired the business and industry growth of the city where they lived and which carries their name.

John S. Owen, founder of the Owen Lumber

Company and for whom the city of Owen was named


Owen died in 1939, at the age of 90.  He had witnessed the transition within the northern part of the county.  His son, A. R. Owen lived his later years in turning the cut over acreage into permanent usage, much of it in the dairy farming.


As the lumbering activities began to wane, the Owens spread into the retail field.  In 1915, a retail organization, the O & N Lumber Company, was formed by the John S. Owen Lumber Company joining with the Northwestern Lumber Company at Stanley and G. W. LaPoint, Jr. of Menomonie, which would spread over Clark County and beyond.


An advertisement of the O & N Lumber Company listed “Lumber, all building materials, paint, cement, coal, Manville, U. S. Gypsum and Ruberoid Company Products.”


Every city or town in Clark County had one business building, easily identified, as you would enter its business section, during the ‘20s, through the ‘50s.  It was a large wooden structure, painted a bright orange with large black painted letters on the front that spelled out “O & N Lumber Company.”  Each lumber yard had a manager who lived in the town where he worked, the 1950’s managers and locations were as follows: F. J. Klancher, Greenwood; V. O. Kaufman, Loyal; F. R. Podhola, Thorp; E. M. Halvorson, Withee; Henry Nacker, Abbotsford; J. J. Gries, Colby; Roy Wiseman, Dorchester; H. N. Hilts, Owen and A. A. Morgan, Neillsville.  Many of us can remember going to the O & N Lumber Co. for our remodeling and building needs through the years of its existence.  During the time my husband and I lived in Loyal, we always bought the porter paints for redecorating projects as well as the other needed materials at the big orange building on Main Street.


Loyal’s O & N Lumber Co. was managed by Harry Palms when it first opened for business.  Vern Kauffman started as assistant manager of the Loyal outlet in April of 1920.  Kauffman married Elva Shupe of Loyal, in 1920, and they built a new home across the street and one half-block south of the lumber yard in 1921.  He was transferred to manage the Riplinger O & N Lumber Co. store for the year of 1923.  One year later, 1924, he was given the manager-ship of the Loyal yard, returning that year and continuing in that position until retirement.  Upon his retirement, his son, Dale assumed the responsibility as manger, after growing up with and assisting in the business throughout the years.  Sometime later, during Dale’s role as manager, the O & N Company sold out to the United Building Center Co.  A few years ago that business closed and is the site of the Loyal Kwik Trip. 


Vern Kauffman’s entire working years were devoted to the lumbering retail business, seeing many changes along the way.  Kauffman’s had two other children, Don, who resides in Florida and Dorothy (Steiger) who with her husband, Ervin (“Ertz”) lives in Neillsville.  (Thanks to Dorothy for the photographs and information used in this article.)


The Owen Mill in its busy days


Vern Kauffman, sitting on the running board of the lumber yard delivery truck.  Notice the wood spoke wheels and the chains on the rear wheels.  The mud on the wheels indicates the season of the year.


An early 1950’s photo shows Vern Kauffman to the left (behind the counter) with son, Dale, to the right and an employee, Albert Meyer, at the far right.

The first style barn cleaner, put on the market, was available at O & N Lumber Co.  Walter Mack and Vern Kauffman are shown in the carrier with Harry Palms standing on the right.


Perry Volk took young Dale Kauffman with him,

Climbing a utility pole in front of the lumber building.



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