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Emilie Springer - Cannery Watch 1936

Emilie Springer photo
Pratt Museum Collection

      While perusing the Pratt Museum archives, Homer's Emilie Springer ran across a log handwritten in 1936 by a worker at the Snug Harbor Packing Company’s cannery, and shares what she found.


Cannery Watch: 1936
Snug Harbor Packing Company
Journal April 11-July 6, 1936
     In the Pratt Archives I came across a hand scripted log from April 11 to July 9th, 1936.  The composition, in difficult to read cursive script, is from William Coleman.  He is a watchman (along with assistant “Stanley,” who’s mentioned regularly) for the Snug Harbor Cannery that summer.  Though just a simple spiral composition notebook, Coleman opens it with a formally styled title page.  The internal pages include general daily tasks, meals, other non-work activities, grocery and purchase receipts.  
     To get as much of the journal covered here, I tried an unusual review of it by reading the material for digital transcription.  In many cases, the slant and flow of cursive handwriting was impossible to decipher without a magnifying glass.
     Coleman starts with a true, slow beginning of the season; travel to Alaska: “Left the 666 on March 28, 1936 at Winona, Missouri. Home at Joplin, Missouri two days. And by the 1st of April, I'm in Seattle, stay at Mr. And Mrs. Hughes for five delightful days. And on the 4th of April at 11:30, sail for Snug Harbor, Alaska on the SS Yukon. On April 11, 1:10 PM, arrive at Snug Harbor.”
     The men had a little time to settle in: “we take our hand baggage to our new home. The Watchman's house. We are immediately put to work. Stanley and I go to the bunk house and tear up a double bunk. And in two trips, have it all at the back room of the house.  We then bring my trunks and Stan's bag to the house and unpack it and fix our beds, et cetera. Chow. We killed time and turn in at 9:30.”
     Cannery work starts the next day, April 12th, 1936: “up at 7:00. Dress, wash and breakfast. Put on work clothes and put a stove in the cook shack.  Stan and I take a stroll down the beach about a mile and on the way back, about a quarter from the cannery, climb the cliff and wade in snow up to our pockets. Did some sliding on the hard snow and get to the cannery at 11:00.  I get a sink and Bill puts it up.  I clean up the mess.  Chow.  I make a couple of shelves and shave and clean up.”
     On the second page of the notebook is a “Purchases at the Store” list that runs from April 16 to June 16: carton of smokes, 2 bars of soap, pack of Luckies, pack of peanuts, 2 bars of candy, 1 fox fur, six 10 cent cigars, carton of Camels, stamps, clams.
     The daily log entries are repetitive but entertaining and informative; it’s his basic rendition of cannery preparation and operation. “Take a pulley-shaft down, move the machine that puts the bottom on the cans, assemble the Swede (Bolinders crude oil engine. Thirty-five HP made in Sweden), hoist the steam engine to run the can-line upstairs, pipe steam to the can engines and the exhaust, pipe the discharge.
     It gets closer to June and things get busy: “May 19 and 20: I am writing this on the 24 hour and I don’t remember everything.  We do odd jobs. Turn the water on in the cannery.”
     Down time: writes letters, writes the journal, plays checkers, somebody entertains the crew on a “squeeze-box,” fishing and hunting time, goes to the store, every once in a while goes out on a boat (“We went on the Orient.  The weather was swell and the waves as smooth as glass.  Did a turn at the wheel.”)
     Sometimes, it looks like he takes fish from boats that didn’t make it to the cannery: “May 21. We are tied up at the Dolphin at the River.  It is low tide and unable to make it back to the dock.  River is certainly swift. Caused by the tides. We unlock everything and look around for about an hour and begin on the coolers.  Run through about 400 and pick 179 good ones.  Run through them and finally take 159.”
     Coleman continues to note cannery tasks: “line up and set the pump on the platform, put the suction pipe in place, put a brace on the bottom, line up another engine relief for the “Swede,” make hangars for the idler in the blacksmith shop, hook up the intake and exhaust.
     The season transitions. When the crew’s not working, they play: “June 22—we dig clams all day and have a big feast on clam chowder.”  Or, or they’re tired, “we slept through breakfast.” Or, observe the day: “it’s beautiful, it rained all night and cleaned the air.”
     Last entry for this notebook is July 6, 1936.  Sounds like a mid-season journal drop: “The past four days have been busy for the crew.  We canned fish the fourth.  8000 fish, 800 cases.  We had a commotion of a dinner.  Fresh vegetables, etc.  The 6th we had 6200 fish and 564 cases. Today we got everything on the new line ready for tomorrow.  Now, I’m writing a letter.”
     Nothing else is detailed, but I barely captured all the thoughts and work there.

Local News Pratt MuseumEmilie SpringerWilliam Coleman
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