Despite closing their sawmill in Mapleton, the Davidson family is sticking with its annual practice of sending out wooden Christmas cards to keep the holiday tradition alive for...

Share story


EUGENE, Ore. — Despite closing their sawmill in Mapleton, the Davidson family is sticking with its annual practice of sending out wooden Christmas cards to keep the holiday tradition alive for a 32nd year.

The wooden cards begin with a tree felled in an Oregon forest — grand fir, for instance, or Pacific yew or Oregon ash. By March, a craftsman has begun the process of planing, sanding and carving the word “Noel,” along with branding the four-digit year into the wood and applying a semigloss finish.

The final touch is an ode to the particular kind of wood, penned by the company forester, then printed on gold foil and applied to the back of the card.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

People not on the Davidsons’ Christmas list may see the cards hanging around Lane County.

The Siuslaw Bank in Mapleton arranges them in tree shapes on a wall. Until its recent sale, the Gingerbread Village restaurant displayed them for decades. Ramsey-Waite owner George Karotko keeps them on his Glenwood office bulletin board all year.

“Let’s face it, that’s what Oregon was — it was wood country. And the cards are certainly a reminder of that,” Karotko said.

Davidson Industries began a half-century ago when Sherm Davidson bought the sawmill on the bank of the Siuslaw River. His son, Don-Lee, oversaw the mill’s heyday a quarter-century ago, when 450 Davidson employees produced more than 100 million board feet of lumber a year.

The Davidsons celebrated their good fortune every December, when employees would deck out the mill, stringing lights along the heavy chains at the entryway and stationing a glowing plastic Santa in the guardhouse.

In those days, a band of revelers led by Don-Lee’s daughter-in-law, Sue, would head for the Mapleton Lions Club to transform the old gym into a children’s holiday wonderland.

“They would spend days decorating,” said Peggy Simington, whose husband was a 25-year employee and whose daughter attended the parties.

In the peak year, 217 employees’ children came to see not only the Davidson Santa Claus but Mrs. Claus and two elves, too.

And there were presents: sleeping bags, fishing poles, punching bags, jewelry boxes, clock radios, wooden drums, basketballs, footballs and soccer balls.

When Don-Lee Davidson is asked why his father started the tradition, he shrugs: “Anyone would.”

“These guys live it,” said Paul Ehinger, an industry consultant. “When you’re a small mill in a small town, you live the life. You are a participant.”

Davidson Industries was Mapleton’s largest employer, benefactor to the school district, supporter of sports teams.

But by the late 1990s, the employee count dipped below 100. Last year, production was one-fifth what it was at its peak.

In February, the Davidsons announced they would close the mill because of declining profits caused by a dwindling wood supply and costly environmental regulations.

On June 2, they stilled the blades and said farewell to 50 of their 90 employees. The remaining crew runs the chipping operation and harvests logs to sell on the open market.

But Davidson crews went out last week to buck a wind-felled black walnut tree, pieces of which will arrive in the Christmas mail next year, bearing the traditional “Noel.”