A New Labor Force

Working the Land

Labor & Lumber

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A New Labor Force

Section crew. Courtesy of Tai Funatake.

It was hard work, and someone had to do it. The Oregon and California Railroad Company relied on Chinese laborers to build its Portland Roseburg line in the 1870s. However, in 1882, U.S. legislators passed a law prohibiting further Chinese immigration to the United States. The Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company turned to Japanese laborers to complete the Oregon Short Line.

A single railroad tie weighed 80 pounds. Rail sections weighed 560 pounds. Laying rail was difficult, demanding work, but it paid twice as much as farm labor.

Working the Land

Picking strawberries. Courtesy of Rick Saito.

Farming provided Japanese laborers an opportunity to better their situations. Although wages for farm labor were poor, some workers were able to save enough to make a down payment on a piece of land.

Others pooled their resources and bought land together. Land could be bought cheaply from logging companies that had cleared the area of timber, but left behind large stumps. By 1905, 35% of Oregon’s Japanese were working the land.


Labor and Lumber

Logging at St. Helens. Courtesy of Tai Funatake.

Japanese immigrants also found work in the area’s logging camps and sawmills. New railway lines extended timber markets, and the logging industry experienced a boom. There was a lot of work to be had. A number of Japanese laborers found work at sawmills located in Wanna, Vernonia and Linnton.