Molding Camas history

Molds used to fashion paper mill machinery offered in fundraiser

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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CAMAS — A lot of newsprint, disposable towels and tissue rolled through the Camas paper mill in the last 130 years. After serving its purpose, it was quickly discarded.

The enduring history is in the machines that made the paper, and recently another layer of that history has emerged: hundreds of wooden molds that were used to make parts for the machines that made the paper.

Where to get molds

• Wooden molds for Camas paper mill machine parts will be for sale from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Downtown Camas Association’s booth at the Camas Vintage Street Faire along Northeast Fourth Avenue.

The molds have been gathering dust in a warehouse for decades. Now the Georgia-Pacific Camas Mill has donated them to the nonprofit Downtown Camas Association, which is selling them to raise money for its community projects.

The molds are available at Camas Antiques, 305 N.E. Fourth Ave. The Downtown Camas Association also will sell them at its booth Saturday at the Camas Vintage Street Faire.

Some Camas residents buy molds as family keepsakes, reminders of the machines their parents or grandparents operated. Others buy them as examples of industrial-chic art.

Daniel Lane, who looked over the display at Camas Antiques with some family members Wednesday, had a couple of links. Lane is a Camas resident; his father, Chuck Lane, was a vice president of National Sanitary Supply when the Los Angeles-based company was one of the biggest customers of the Camas mill's products.

Daniel Lane wound up buying a compact wooden block painted red and yellow, bearing an ID number of 5604.

Clark Crawford, who was behind the counter, referred to a multipage list of numbers: 5604 was an upper squeeze roll bearing, he told Lane.

If an upper squeeze roll bearing happened to break a few decades ago, somebody would find that mold and take it to a local foundry, where metalworkers used the mold to cast a replacement part.

"There were several hundred molds — large, medium and small," said Caroline Mercury, who was the person in the middle of the story.

"Several years ago, my boss said we have this stuff in a warehouse and maybe we need to empty it," said Mercury, the mill's quality manager. "I went up to look, and among other things, saw these wooden patterns for foundry molds for making machine parts. I can't imagine the last time a mold was sent to a foundry. Probably more than 40 years ago."

"I thought they were too lovely, too interesting to throw out," she said. "I called museums all over the country. The Clark County Historical Museum took a couple of large pieces and used them in an exhibit a few years ago."

Which still left her with several hundred molds. After she became involved with the Downtown Camas Association, Mercury hit on the idea of asking Georgia-Pacific to donate the molds for a fundraising project. JoAnn Taylor, owner of Camas Antiques and an association board member, offered to be the retailer.

Some molds represent identifiable machine components — wheels up to 7 feet in diameter or big gears.

"A lot of the wood is furniture-grade mahogany," Crawford said while he was washing decades of dust off several items Wednesday.

Some of the molds are finding new lives as furniture or home furnishings. A few of the big disks and wheels are being converted into wooden table tops, Crawford said.

In addition to the inventory number, "Many molds have a metal tag with a 'CWP' mark," Mercury said. "That's Crown Willamette Paper Company. The mill hasn't had that name since 1928, so some of these are probably close to 100 years old."

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.