Sawdusted: Notes from a Post-Boom Mill


When Raymond Goodwin started work at a Michigan sawmill in 1979, the glory days of lumbering were long gone. But the industry still had a faded glow that, for a while, held him there. In Sawdusted Goodwin wipes the dust off his memories of the rundown, nonunion mill where he toiled for twenty months as a two-time college dropout. Spare, evocative character sketches bring to life the personalities of his fellow millworkers?their raucous pranks, ribbing, complaints about wages and...

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Sawdusted: Notes from a Post-Boom Mill

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When Raymond Goodwin started work at a Michigan sawmill in 1979, the glory days of lumbering were long gone. But the industry still had a faded glow that, for a while, held him there. In Sawdusted Goodwin wipes the dust off his memories of the rundown, nonunion mill where he toiled for twenty months as a two-time college dropout. Spare, evocative character sketches bring to life the personalities of his fellow millworkers—their raucous pranks, ribbing, complaints about wages and weather, macho posturing, failed romances, and fantasies of escape.
    The result is a mostly funny, sometimes heartbreaking portrait of life in the lumbering industry a century after its heyday. Amidst the intermittent anger and resignation of poorly paid lumbermen in the Great Lakes hinterlands, Goodwin reveals moments of vulnerability, generosity, and pride in craftsmanship. It is a world familiar, in its basic outlines, to anyone who has ever done manual labor.
    At the heart of the book is a coming-of-age story about Goodwin’s relationship with his older brother Randy—a heavy drinker, chain smoker, and expert sawyer. Gruff but kind, Randy tutors Raymond in the ways of the blue-collar world even as he struggles with the demons that mask his own melancholy.
A Michigan Notable Book, selected by the Library of Michigan
Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the Public Library Association
Outstanding Book, selected by the American Association of School Libraries

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Goodwin gets the wrong side of the tracks right in this rare, rich glimpse of working-class lives in the Upper Midwest’s industrialized backwoods. A painstaking and painful yet poetic and inspiring mill-hand’s chronicle of hell-raising and hard work.”—James P. Leary, author of So Ole Says to Lena: Folk Humor of the Upper Midwest

“All-night bonfires, heavy drinking, and barroom brawls are what the reader may remember about Goodwin’s cast of characters, but his depiction of life in a declining Michigan sawmill town reflects a keen insight into people, passion, and survival in the Midwest.”—Jeremy W. Kilar, author of Michigan’s Lumbertowns: Lumbermen and Laborers in Saginaw, Bay City, and Muskegon, 1870-1905

Library Journal
Two-time college dropout Goodwin was headed nowhere in 1979 when his older brother steered him to a job in a rundown rural Michigan sawmill. The Michigan lumber industry was well into decline by this time—and Goodwin portrays here the individuals who hitched their livelihood to its downward trajectory. He chronicles the history of the lumber industry in the upper Midwest and the social history of the communities in which it thrived, and he muses on the men and women of the lumber camps, sawmills, and small towns. He also reflects on the changing topographical and societal landscapes through anecdotes of the mill's cast of characters worthy of the best television sitcoms. This is as much an account of a waning industry as it is Goodwin's story about his own passage to manhood, and the stories work well together. VERDICT Goodwin's clever characterizations of his solidly Midwestern, blue-collar sawmill mates are as vivid as the plaid shirts they sport. And his vignettes of sawmill politics, pranks, and passions bring the long-silent saws buzzing back to life. This entertaining work chronicles the decline of a once proud industry and the scrappy survivors it left in its sawdust trail. Amusingly appropriate for public and academic business and labor collections.—Carol J. Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin, Whitewater
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299235703
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 5/20/2010
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 180
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Raymond Goodwin went back to college after his stint in lumbering. As a manager of human resources at Central Michigan University, he now helps a new generation of young people find work.

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Read an Excerpt

He was tall, gangly, and forever grinning one of those grins you give a double take because the first glance hasn’t told you whether the grinner is daft or dangerous. Our friend the Cat was not daft, but, not altogether purposely, he may have been dangerous. The Cat was six foot four and 210 rangy pounds, the wrong size for instability.
© The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

A Shot of Whiskey
The Blanched One
Scruff Scuffle
Yuletide Blur
The Cat
The Stacker
The Innocent
Bob Tale
The Rookie
The Rug
Outside the Fence
Belated Author’s Note
Come and Get It
The Foreman
The Tree Lover
The Tattoo Man
The Rat
The Transient
First Mill
The Sawyer
Once More to the Mill

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