Friday, February 25, 2011

The Last Shift

Southbound train of empty centerbeam cars passing the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City.

(Written on March 23.) This afternoon was the final shift at the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City, a clear and cold winter day that produced billowing clouds of steam at sunrise, looking for all the world like the very symbol of corporate health. I was surprised to hear a southbound train approaching in the early afternoon, an unusual time of day for rail activity on the main line, but it turned out to be an extra train of 75 empty centerbeam flatcars heading south -- cars that had been in storage due to the depressed demand for lumber during the recession ... somehow fitting as one the last trains to pass the mill while it was still in operation. When I came back outside three hours later, everything was quiet. Later, while photographing the OC Switcher's last work in the mill with several friends that night, we wondered whether there was simply some big, overriding on-off switch somewhere inside the mill. More seriously, I did wonder who was working that last shift, and who had the tasks of shutting things down for the last time, and what they were thinking.

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