Note: While this speech was given at an event in Stratford, there are references to Laona and Laona families)

It is a great honor for me to be here on this occasion representing the Connor Lumber & Land Company, and my father, W. D. Connor.  You people of Stratford and your service clubs are to be congratulated upon the fine job that you have done.  I think having this celebration at 65 years of growth rather than waiting for 75 or 100 years to pass is a very good idea.  This allows many of the "old timers" to enjoy this occasion and also contribute greatly to the interesting historical recollections.

Stratford and the people from the surrounding territory deserve much credit for the progress and the new industry that you have developed during the past 65 years.  You have developed your farms into the finest dairy land in America.  My only regret is that W.D. is not here today to see this thriving but changed community.

At the age of eight years, my father moved from Stratford, Ontario, to Auburndale, Wisconsin.  When he was only 28, we find him president of the Robert Connor Company, operating a sawmill in Auburndale and starting the sawmill and town here in Stratford.  Early company records and payrolls show that the Stratford mill construction was well underway in November of 1891.  It took great imagination, courage, and foresight to come into the timber, stumps, rocks, and mud to start the construction of a sawmill and town.  His vigilance and hard work brought about a successful operation, and records show that by 1892 there was a considerable volume of lumber shipped.
Of course, the backbone of any organization
or any company and the success of any
enterprise depend on the caliber of the men
employed in that particular organization.
With this in mind, I went back into the company
records to August of 1891, and have taken down
the names of a number of men who played such
an important part that first year in the founding of
Stratford.  These men, for six days a week,
worked from "Kin to Kant" cutting out the heavy
stand of timber, room enough for the mill,
boarding house, store and later homes and
Wm. Adams, O.K. Anderson, Mike Baltus, N.M.
Berg, Peter Berg, R. Borchart, John B. Borgeson,
George Bower, Jerry Bradley, August Budkey,
Ferdinand Budkey, Wm. Budkey, John Burton,
Wm. Cady, Wm. Chrouser, Andrew Daul, W.C.
Dean, M. Derfus, Wentz Dillinger, Joseph Dennee,
Geo. Fenrich, Ignatz Fuhr, Wm. Fulmer, Ed Fulmer, John Haefs, H. Hafenbradle, Chas. Hanna, John Harrington, Ed Hayes, Frank Hilgart, Ed Hughes, Alex Johnson. August Junemann, Frank Junemann, Gregor Junemann, Christ Kaiser, Peter Kaiser, Frank Jatlow, Jr., Ed Kennedy, John Kennedy, J.C. Kieffer, Mark Kieffer, John Kohl, Joe Koller, Jr., Joe Koller, Sr., Lewie Koller, Nute Kolstad, August Kroening, Charles Kroening, Ernest Kroening, Fred Kroening, Peter Krings, Herman Langer, Wm. Lawrie, Albert Leffel, Jacob Lusk, Wm. Madenwalt, Fred Wews, Jr., Fred Mews, Sr., George O’brian, Ed Palage, Julius Palaga (Polege), Casper Pankratz, Frank Pankratz, Joe Pankratz. C.H. Parham, Peter K. Peterson, H. Pfifer, Joe Raab, Albert Radtke, Ed Radtke, Ernest Radtke, Wm. Radtke, Arne Revling, Alley Rogney, Nute Rogney, Thomas Rogney, Gilbert Rudi, Fred Schutte, Jr., Fred Schuette, Sr., Fred Schultz, Albert Seivert, John Sell, Joe Seidl, Arthur Singleback, Sam Smith, Joseph Sturm, Fred Summerfield, E. Vashow, Andrew Weber, Christ Weber, Henry Weber, Wm. Weinfurter, Emil Wetterau, Ben Williams.  Many of these men continued with the company on through the winter of 1891-1892 and worked in the mill the following spring and summer. 

The next company record that I examined started with October 21, 1892.  It was a busy day at the company store.  Fred Schuette, the first customer, purchased two plugs of tobacco, two planes, a brace and a bit--all for the sum of $2.30.  The next customer was William Radtke, who held his purchases to a minimum in buying half a pound of smoking tobacco at 12c, seven yards of calico at 7 cents a yard, 3 window panes at 8c each--for a total purchase of 85c.  Henry Weber was in for a larger order, as well as Ed Laessig.  Ernest Radtke and P. Docter Sr. went heavy for tobacco, each purchasing a pound plug for 50c. H. Soper, who in later years established his own lumber business at Soperton and Wabeno, purchased 11 yards of calico at 8c per yards.  John Kaiser, V. C. and R. A. Chrouser were in for miscellaneous purchases as well as Andrew Daul and Garrett Hughes.  Fred Schuette returned later in the day to purchase a bottle of pain killer at a cost of 25c.

W.D. Connor was charged 25c that day for a message to and from Marshfield, Ed Radtke, John Kaiser, Garrett Hughes and the Chrouser brothers brought in several pounds of hides which they sold at 3c per lb., and Hughes sold 180 pounds of beef at 6c per pound. E.  Wetterau sold one
mule for 20c.

Saturday, Oct., 22nd, saw the work on houses numbers 1, 2, and 3 progressing rapidly.  Many of the same customers returned for merchandise in such items as port at 8c per lb., butter at 18c per lb., eggs at 15c per dozen, cheese at 12c per lb., crackers 8c per lb., cabbage 5c a head.  One of the best buys that day, I believe, was made by Andrew Kaiser when he purchased a half a dozen chairs for total sum of $2.50.

J. W. Goetz came in and picked up his washing and had the 50c charged to his account.  A.R. Rusch dropped in to purchase 4-3/4 pounds of butter for which they charged him 58c.  His brother, A.F. Rusch, was also in to purchase 6 pounds of oatmeal for 25c.  The Rusches were later show up in the sawmill business at Wabeno, Ole K. Olson, Nute Rogney, and Jake Oettinger were also in for miscellaneous buys as well as E. Kroening, August Kroening, Fred Ottinger, G. Junemann and Frank Junemann.  Andrew Kaiser came back before closing to purchase a box of cigars at $1.50.  Herman Langer, not to be outdone, dropped in for a half-pound package of smoking tobacco at 10c.

It being Saturday night, some of the boys thought they should make a small draw, ranging from Ole Olson’s 50c to $1.00 and $2.00 for Sam Smith, the Junemann brothers, Nute Rogney and Herman Langer. P. Doctor Jr. got set for the biggest time of all with a draw of $5.00.

The following week at the store found among other customers, August Gust, Ed Fulmer and Pete Kaiser who bought a barrel of flour at $4.75 and a barrel of salt at $1.35.  Fred Schuette was back to purchase 25-1/2 yards of calico at 8c a yard.  Joe Kindheimer dropped in towards the end of the week for a bottle of medicine and Ed Zehlke was in for quite a list of groceries including 100 pounds of flour for $2.40; a pound of coffee for 25c’ sugar at 6c, and half a pound of smoking tobacco at 12c.  John Stangle and L. Kaiser, along with George Fenrich were in for miscellaneous items before the Saturday night closing.

In on the usual Saturday night draw were Sam Smith, Fred Schuette, Ole K. Olson for his 50c, Nute Rogney cut down his draw from last week to 25c; A. Hogan drew heavy at $5.00 and J.R. Goetz was best of all with a $14.00 draw. The first part of the following week saw Charlie Daul, Charlie Schultz, Charlie Schuette and Martin Kurtzweil on the books as new customers, as well as Henry Hallfrisch.

We are now into the first part of November 1892, with many carloads of lumber being shipped out of the yard.  The price on the lumber ran from $4.00 to $33.00 per 1,000 feet, and an entire carload was selling from $80.00 to $170.00, now the price paid for a small tractor load.  Board and keep at the boarding house was 50c a day.

The payroll for the month of October, 1892, was entered the first week in November.  It contained many of the names mentioned as customers of the store and their wage rates ran from $22.00 per month to $28.00 per month with a few exceptions, such as Fred Schuette at $42.00 per month.  Charles Lee at $4.50 per day, Frank Scheribel at $3.00 per day, Fred Kroening at $36.00 per month, and E. O. Cady at $50.00 per month.

Among other newcomers in the month of November was Len Sargent, who, later in the early 1900s operated a hotel and saloon at Laona.

As we got down into the month of November the number of employees increased considerably and so did the purchase of coffee and tobacco, both of which were selling at 25c a lb.  Overalls were 85c a pair, and the rent was from $2.50 to $3.00 a month on the numbers 1 and 2 houses.  As winter approached, the purchase of rubbers increased at $1.40 per pair; leggings were very popular at 75c a pair; and, as the days grew shorter, the popularity of the lantern increased and many sales were made at 60c each. Beans sold at 5c a pound with sugar at 6c.

Several Indians were working for the company, both in the mill and in the woods and there are many listings of moccasins sold at 90c per pair.  Venison was sold in the store at 10c a pound, and Frank Young, an Indian, received $1.00 for a venison he delivered that day.

As Thanksgiving neared, Pete Kaiser delivered 125 pounds of turkeys at 9-1/2c per lb. and L. Kaiser delivered 18 pounds of geese at 8c per lb.  A load of wood was delivered readily at 75c per load.  Mike O’Connell outfitted himself for the winter, paying $1.50 for a pair of pants, 70c for a jacket and $1.00 for a cap.

In December, 1903 houses numbers 4, 5, and 6 started to take shape, and the middle of December also saw the issuance of "script," the lumberman’s currency.

Early that December the names of Mike Baltus, E.L. Rozell, Jerry Bradley, August Leffel, Herman, August and Rudolph Viegut, F. Guenther, John Harrington, Wm. Grambo, Joe Kurtzweil, D. Reed, and many others began to appear on the company’s payrolls as Camp Nos. 1, 2, and 3 got under way for the winter’s work.

A new January, 1903 customer was Frank Curtin.  On that January payroll, Joe Kundinger was drawing $45.00 per month.  August Mews $30.00 per month, Frank Sheribel $78.00 per month. Most of the sawmill wages were from $24.00 to $26.00 per month.  Fred Schuette in Camp No. 1 was drawing $45. per month; Herman Langer in Camp No. 2 was getting $50.00 per month. Casper Aschenbrenner appeared on the payroll for the first time in January, 1903, in which month he worked 3 days at $78.00 per month.  The highest paid man at the mill was J. C. Emberson at $91.00 per month.

By March, 1903, Fred Dix, John Severin and John Kohl were regular customers, as were many Indians such as Charlie Pottwein, Jim Eagle, Pat and Paul Whitefish, Joe Jack, Charlie Sky, Jack Brown, Jim Young and numerous others.  Lena and George Koller were steady store customers, and on March 17th they purchased a barrel of salt for $1.25, a washboard for 25c, and a corset for Lena at 50c.

Indicative of the thrift of those days, John Baltus was in for the purchase of 8 old shoes at a cost of $1.00 and Ed Kennedy bought one old shoe at 25c on March 18, 1893.  W. D. bought a pair of moccasins for 50c and suspenders, rather high at 50c.

March 1893 was cold, but with an eye to warmer weather ahead, the icehouse was filled with 4 days of work at a total cost of $5.85.

Through the winter logging seasons the crews in the camps and the mill were made up predominantly from the surrounding farm area.  Oxen and mules were used for skidding the logs, and many parts of harness, rigging, etc. were purchased, as these farmers worked with their own oxen and teams, augmenting their yearly incomes.  John Baltus worked at the mill with his team for $70.00 per month for himself and team.  Will Ebbe, later of Marshfield worked at Camp No. 2, M. Stauber, related to the Marshfield Staubers, worked at the mill as did Frank Stauber, later of Laona.  Mike Kohlbeck was working in the lumberyard at $26.00 per month.

Many of the farmers delivered their own logs for sale to the company as well as having lumber sawed for them to be used on their small farms at a cost of $3.00 per M.  John Haas delivered 35,000 feet of logs at $6.00 per thousand.

On Tuesday, April 18th, the total winter log production is stated at 2,734,174 feet from the three camps in operation.  On our present-day operations in Michigan we would put in this amount of logs in about three weeks, but we certainly would like to purchase stumpage at that 1893 price of $2.50 per thousand.  A little bookkeeping trouble on April 17, 1893, was cleared with the joyous notation: "To account to balance ledger, last error found this day....’Hurrah for us.’ In presence of J.J. Martin, C.P. Arnold, J. C. Kiefer, and J. W. Goetz.

Checks were drawn that month of April to many still well known names: Dr. K. W. Doege of Marshfield, Louis Laemie of Marshfield, Murray Mfg. Co. of Wausau, Wausau Steam and Laundry, Carson Pirie, Scott and Co. of Chicago, Standard Oil Co., Atkins Saw Co. of Chicago, Armour & Co., John Pritzlaff Hdwe. Co. of Milwaukee, and Goodyear Rubber Co.

May bargains that year showed Frank Curtin buying 4 pieces of underwear at $1.80, 6 pairs of socks for 25c, and similar sundries for H. L. Klemme and Len Sargent on May 13.  Lots were selling in Stratford at that time for $10.00 each, with the cost of the construction of the chimneys on houses at $3.00 each.

Houses numbers 7, 8, and 9 were started in May, 1893, but Casper Aschenbrenner and Frank Sherbel were still living in Marshfield and walking home each Saturday night, ten miles down the long railroad tracks, and back again Sunday nights, ready for the whistle Monday morning
Through the next years the names of Burkart, Brunner, Ulrich, Schuster, Oettinger, Sheribel, Warnke, Aschenbrenner, Verch, Lawrie, Drexler, Bartz, W. F. Goetz, Franzen and of course, the well known Dr. N. S. Wahl all became connected with the successful operation of the company at Stratford.  Interestingly, many of these same names are today found on the operations of our company at Wausau, Laona and Wakefield.  In Michigan, many of the responsible jobs are held by men who came to that job as I did from Stratford.  I refer to Casper Drexler, Chester Pilarczyk, Louis Verch, and many others in less responsible postions.  The same thing is true of our Laona operations where many families who had worked for years for the company came either from Stratford or the surrounding territory.  I refer to the Sturzig, Aschenbrenners, Bohmans, Godins, Baltus’s, Bradles, and many others
We give a good deal of credit for the success of our company to these men and their families.  We have always found them to be dependable, hard working, trustworthy individuals and the Village of Stratford can be proud of them.  And we, in our company, take deep pride that these sons, grandsons and even great-grandsons of the hardy pioneers continue in the employ of our company.

Let us contrast those early days with today.

Numerous changes have taken place in the management of timber and forest lands since our company operated here in Stratford.  These transitions have been brought about by many factors. Perhaps the most important is fire protection and forest fire fighting equipment; secondly the development of road systems, fire towers, and the education of the general public to the importance of forest fire damage.  Third, the change over from railroad to log truck hauling has brought about the networks of roads to formerly inaccessible areas, that are so important to fire protection.

All of these factors have changed log cutting practices from clear-cutting to taking; instead, only the larger mature trees from a stand of virgin timber.  In the days of no fire protection, fires were commonly expected to run wild in the spring and fall months; the primary thought was to get the timber cut, removed, and sawed into lumber that was needed so badly in the development of our farms and our cities.

The hunger for farm land coupled with the increase of our population at that time created a demand for new towns, new buildings, new cities, new farm lands, all of which demanded a tremendous amount of lumber.  The end result of this thinking was the great number of fine farms that entirely surround this area.

Gradually, as the timber disappeared, the value of the woodlots left in Marathon county and other parts of Wisconsin have increased tremendously in value.

Today, anyone owning a wood-lot considers this acreage as a crop, with the cutting of the trees on these wood-lots a matter to undertake with great care and study.  To slash down a good growth of small hardwood trees is like plowing under a good grain crop just before harvest time.

A careful selection and thinning of the poor, deformed trees that can be removed for hardwood pulp will greatly increase the growth on the remaining healthy stems.  It is surprising to see the amount of growth that will come to a hardwood stand that is given half a chance.  The future income that is possible from matured saw logs and veneer logs will be many times the present market and prices that can be obtained from harvesting good small hardwoods for pulp.  These trees of 6-inches, 8-inches, and 10-inches diameter will rapidly develop and grow into a much greater cash return to you wood-lot owners.

A large proportion of the timber left in Wisconsin and Michigan is in the hands of you wood-lot owners. It can be one of your most profitable crops if you handle it carefully.  The State of Wisconsin has 25 trained, experienced foresters available to help you in wood-lot management; our own company has available foresters.  So do many other wood using industries, who are anxious to assist you in the proper selection and cutting of your timber.

In looking over the old records from 1891 to 1893, dealing with old cross-cut, the axe, the oxen, the mule, and the sleigh-haul days, I could not help thinking of the wonderful developments in mechanization which have transformed our timber industry.

Today, the roads are constructed with bulldozers, and, in many cases, trees are felled and topped with power saws.  Large tractors with arches behind them are used to skid out four or five large, full-length hardwood trees on a 1/4 mile skid. Many of these stems are up to 65 feet long.  They are handled in the full length, loaded on to trucks in the full length, and hauled to a central point where they are carefully measured up to give us the best possible veneer logs, saw logs, pulp logs, or chemical logs.

The days of the old sleigh hauls are gone.  The old lumber camps are a thing of the past.  The old lumberjack has been replaced.  In most cases, with a young married man who lives in town and drives out to his job each day in one of the latest model cars.  These men work with mechanized equipment, are strong, active, tough individuals who make about as much from one day’s work as the men made from one month’s work in 1891 to 1893.  Many changes have also taken place in the sawmills and especially in the handling of the lumber produced.  The development of new log and lumber handling equipment has been almost as remarkable as the development in new farm machinery.  Many of the latest sawmills operate the carriage with no setter or rider. I don’t know of a single sawmill operating today that has more than one man on the carriage.

One of the most outstanding accomplishments in the sawmills has been the reduction of waste; the sawdust from our company mills is now dried and sifted to various grades that are used for many purposes.  The slabs and edgings are put through a chipper and at our Wakefield mill we now produce a carload and a half of chips per day, or one ton for each thousand feet of lumber sawed.  These are used largely at the present time in the manufacture of charcoal and other wood chemical products.  Within a very few years I believe that practically of the hardwood logs sawed will be peeled and the bark-free chips will be moving to the paper mills here in Wisconsin.

The balance of the lumber manufacturing refuse is used for the generation of power in the operations of the saw mill and other manufacturing and drying facilities.

The demand for kiln dried lumber has greatly increased, and our kilns at Wakefield alone will dry a fourth of a milling feet in a single charge.  The old long tramways have disappeared and lumber is now handled with large machines.  We are installing at Wakefield this year a machine such as we have operated at Laona the past several years, which automatically piles the lumber on stickers ready to go out into the yard or dry kiln. I wish to invite you to visit our woods and mill operations at Wakefield and Laona to see the modernization and mechanization that has taken place in the past several years, also to visit our timber lands that have been selectively cut and where each tree that is to be cut and removed is marked and the smaller hardwood is left to grow into merchantable timber.  You perhaps saw in the parade today our load of logs which, of course, is still the backbone of our production.  The Connor Company is still using a tremendous quantity of logs. In fact, we consume 3 logs per minute each day on an 8-hour day basis.  We employ in our wood operations, sawmills, flooring plant, furniture plant, veneer plant, and by-products division, about 700 men.  These people live in Wausau, Wakefield and Laona, and in the surrounding areas.  The employment of these people means to us a payroll of over $10,000 per day.  This is quite a contrast with the combined payrolls of 1893 for both Auburndale and Stratford, where approximately 300 men were employed with a daily payroll of approximately

I have here with me the old records of the Company, running back to 1891.  We are going to turn these records over to your representative here today and ask him to have them available for your inspection at your local library for a few months.  Following that, I would like to see them turned over to the Marathon County Historical Society in Wausau for safe-keeping. 

Again I wish to thank you for inviting me to be here today and I hope that I have given you some information that may be of interest to you.

R. Connor Mill
Stratford, Wisconsin
From The Stratford Journal - June 19, 1956