San Francisco Cable CarWhile Bob and I were in San Francisco a number of years ago, we had the opportunity to ride the cable cars there. Cable cars, or trolley cars are pretty much a novelty in most places, but they used to be pretty commonplace. There are still many cities that operate a modern day version of the cable car, which is reality is more like a inter-city train than a cable car. But, the traditional cable car, street car, or trolley car were really very different from their modern day cousins, and the ride on the older version was really a lot of fun. Many cities had cable car systems that few people even remember. New York for example, has a huge subway system, but this came to be after the trolley system became problematic. Now, the old trolley system is just a faint memory, and in reality, one that is not very well known.

In fact, problematic was maybe an understatement when it comes to reality concerning the cable car system. Once the automobile became a common item in the American household, there were a number of incidences involving the automobile and the trolley The Ride Denver100_0262or cable car. I’m sure you can guess who won that battle. The trolley or cable car was bigger, and it was after all, limited as to where it could operate, while the automobile was free to go where it chose…pretty much anyway. Nevertheless, there were collisions between the two forms of transportation…as well as traffic jams at times. Eventually, with automobiles becoming so commonplace, the trolley or cable car began to go by the wayside…Finally ending up as the novelty it is today.

When my daughter, Corrie Petersen and I were in Minneapolis in August of 2005, we had the opportunity to take a city tour on an old trolley car. Of course this one was of the variety that had come out when the automobile came out. It needed no cable, but was rather a trolley car bus, I suppose. The seats and the windows were definitely authentic trolley car though. The tour was a lot of fun…probably mostly because it was a novelty trip. Bob and I had an additional opportunities in Alaska, on a tour of Anchorage. I really like the Forsyth, Montana Cable Cartrolley car tours.

The other day I was looking at some old pictures of Montana history, and I came across something about Forsyth that I didn’t know about before. The little town of Forsyth, population about 1400 people in 1914, with one maim street is a place that you can easily walk across in just a few minutes. Nevertheless, the little town of Forsyth, Montana had a cable car in 1914, so people could ride the length of that main street…probably eight to twelve blocks. I was amazed to learn of that little tidbit of Forsyth history, which was the place where many of Bob’s family members lived, and where many still live today.

Construction of the Falls Paper Mill 1907'ishMy Grandma Spencer’s photo album contains a number of pictures from the days when the family lived in International Falls, Minnesota, and worked in the lumber business, and I assume, the paper mill there in town. If the family didn’t work there, then I would assume that she was simply interested in all the changes that were taking place in the area. At that time, the big man around town was a man named Edward Backus, who owned a vast empire of lumber and paper mills. Oddly, he originally got into that business as a young college student in need of money to finish his university program. He took time off from college to earn that money, took a job in the lumber business, and bought into the business, before finally buying out his partners to become the sole owner. He later brought in a partner, William Brooks, and together they incorporated, and their company Backus-Brooks Co. bacame the parent company for for numerous subsidiaries that came into being with developments at International Falls, Fort Frances, Kenora and elsewhere. The little sawmill in Minneapolis that started it all, was Falls Paper Mill in 1910sold in 1906 because by then, the owners were devoting much of their efforts into the developing industry in the north, which is where my grandparents’ families came into the picture, and my interest was founded. As a side note, as far as I can tell, Mr Backus never went back to finish his university program, but then I suppose there wasn’t time for that with everything else that was going on in his life.

As I said, my grandmother had numerous pictures of a paper mill, in several stages of its construction. This got me started wondering if that paper mill still existed. I began my search looking for paper mills in International Falls, and came up with a current paper mill owned by Boise Cascade…a name most of us know quite well, which came back into the news just recently when they announced the layoff of 265 workers on May 2, 2013. They plan to stay open, but will focus on the successful lines of their production, and close out two unsuccessful lines. I wondered if this paper mill could have started with the one my grandmother’s pictures to me so much about.
Boise Cascade Paper Mill today
In my research, I found not only the information on Mr Backus, but a picture of his paper mill…Falls Paper Mill…and it was indeed the one in my grandmother’s album. So, not only does the paper mill still exist, it is still in use today. So many buildings that were built in the early 1900’s are crumbling or have been demolished, but this building is still there, still standing, and still useful, although it appears that there have been some improvements and buildings added to it and around it. I guess that goes to show that good workmanship will stand the test of time.

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