The Only Fatal Injury in the Blagen Mill
as told by Bill Wakefield to John Hofstetter
In talking to Dale Brooks and Bill Wakefield, as they remember it, there was only one fatal accident in the entire history of the Blagen Lumber Mill. We’re talking here about in the mill itself. Strangely enough, the man killed was the Mill Superintendent, Ray Hollingsworth. Ray had come down from CalPine with Frank Blagen in 1937, and had worked his way up the administrative ladder with American Forest Products to the level of Mill Superintendent.
At the time, in 1952, Bill was working on the pond, but on that particular day, the mill had shut down for maintenance and repairs. Bill and Carl Fields had come into the mill to get a gas welder to make repairs to the D7 Caterpillar tractor that Bill used at the log deck.
Mill Superintendent, Ray Hollingsworth, a man always kind of bursting with energy, came into that area and told an employee that there was a better way, rather than tying it, of connecting a chain to a timber that was going to be lifted to the second story by use of a stiff leg. (A stiff leg is a boom setup, much like the gin pole boom used out on the pond or deck, but smaller) Ray connected the chain to the timber by use of a crossover, a way of connecting a chain to enable quick undoing of the chain from whatever it was fastened to.
As the timber, which measured about 12 inches by 14 inches by 12 feet long raised to the second story of the mill, Ray came over to the gas rig that Bill and Carl were moving and started to help pull it out. The timber by this time, had reached the second floor and was ready to lay down on the deck. The stiff leg operator, instead of lowering it gently, let it fall to the floor which disconnected the chain and the timber fell off the edge of the upper deck. It hit the bottom floor on one end and fell into Bill, Carl, and Ray. Ray fell on top of Bill.
When the pile of men began to be untangled, Carl had a dislocated shoulder and was in great pain, Bill was kind of wandering around trying to help, and Ray, whose head had probably hit a concrete curb, was rubbing his shoulder and saying that he was all right and to get Carl and Bill to the hospital.
Carl and Bill were put in the panel truck that served as an ambulance, and the driver, Glenn Jordan, took them to the hospital. Ray went home to take a shower. At about 4 PM Ray was taking that shower and fell unconscious.
Bill, and probably Carl, were treated by Dr. Elmer Mason a physician who lived in Murphys at the time, and later by Dr. Noetling from Angels Camp. Ray was brought in to the hospital, unconscious, and the doctors tried to get a neurosurgeon to come up to do brain surgery to relieve the pressure from the hematoma. The neurosurgeon said that by the time he could get to San Andreas, Ray would be dead, so the local doctors went ahead with the surgery about 8 that evening. In spite of their efforts, Ray died about 4:00 AM the next morning.
It’s interesting to think about the only fatality in the mill, in all those years, being the Mill Superintendent, and then only because he was the kind of person who was full of energy and wanted to be involved with his men and what they were doing.