ON AUG. 1, 1934, a recently married young doctor and his wife, a registered nurse, drove off the ferry at Port Ludlow to take charge of the Polk and Talbot lumber company clinic.
The Jefferson County Historical Society’s oral histories of each of them reflect the sense of adventure and youthful self-confidence with which they approached the task.
Dr. Harry Plut was just 26 years old and Dorothy Wilkes Plut was 24.
They had both grown up near Kimball, S.D.
Harry was a town kid, described by Dorothy as a “little red-haired boy … kind of a smart-aleck” when they were children who both attended services at the Catholic Church in Kimball.
The Pluts meet
Dorothy lived on her family’s farm outside Kimball and went to a country grade school, so it wasn’t until she boarded in Kimball to attend high school that they got to know each other.
Dorothy recalled: “He didn’t pay any attention to me, but when I was a junior, he was a senior.
“He sat in the study hall right across from me. That was the first time he knew I was alive, I think.
“So it wasn’t long after that he asked me for a date … to the Yankton Glee Club that was coming to our town.
“We dated regularly … during that school year and the next summer.”
In the fall of 1926, Harry went off to college at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and Dorothy’s father, Leo Wilkes, moved his family to Seattle.
South Dakota farming was difficult due to droughts, tornados, hailstorms and crop failures.
Wilkes had been farming on his grandfather’s farm, where he had been sent to live after his parents’ divorce in Seattle when he was 8 years old.
“My father never liked farming, though he was a very successful farmer,” Dorothy remarked.
“His father still lived in Seattle and there were job opportunities there. My father went into the construction business.”
Dorothy spent her last year of high school at Broadway High School in Seattle, then went into nurse’s training at Providence Hospital, where she graduated as a registered nurse in 1931.
She and Harry continued their relationship through the mail: “I think I had 266 letters from him the first year. I wrote him that many, too.”
After two years, Harry came to Seattle to visit and look for summer work.
After that, he recalled, “I came out every summer to work because I found that wages were much higher and jobs more available than in the little town of Kimball …”
After finishing his pre-medical studies, Harry went on to medical school at Creighton.
Dorothy said, “After I finished my nurse’s training. I had planned to go back there, but it was the depth of the Depression and there was no way for me to go back — no money to buy a train ticket.”
She worked for the hospital for a year, but after a salary cut to $70 a month, she quit and entered her name on the registry for private duty nursing at $7 per 12-hour shift.
Later, she got a full-time job in the office of Dr. Jackson K. Holloway, where she earned $100 a month.
After Harry graduated from medical school, he came to Seattle to do his internship at Providence Hospital.
Married in 1934
During his internship, on May 26, 1934, he and Dorothy were married.
Near the end of Harry’s internship, Holloway, who had contracts to provide medical service to the mills at Port Ludlow and Port Gamble, asked Dorothy if she thought Harry would be interested in practicing in Port Ludlow because the doctor who had been there was leaving.
Harry was interested, but their departure was delayed because of a longshoremen’s strike that closed the mill for several months, so he took a job for the city providing medical services at the Seattle jail.
Dorothy recalled: “On the 31st of July, [Holloway] came into the office … and said, ‘Can you be in Port Ludlow tomorrow morning?’ ”
“We had a little apartment, and we packed everything we owned in the back of our car … and had dinner with my mother,” she continued.
“The next morning, we got on the ferry for Port Ludlow.”
They arrived at their office and home “… a big long building. You went through the waiting room to go into our quarters …
“The living room was large with a … sunporch on one end. There were two bedrooms and a kitchen … and then there were three ward rooms and a lab and a little surgery and the office.”
There was no furniture.
So Dorothy took measurements, then took the ferry back to Seattle to buy a second-hand electric kitchen range from a cousin.
“I went to Grunbaum’s Furniture Store … and they let me have several hundred dollars’ worth of second-hand furniture …
“I was to pay $10 a month, and I didn’t have anything to put down.”
That night, Harry slept on one of the patient beds and cooked his breakfast egg in the office autoclave.
Dorothy drove home with the stove the next day, but the other furniture was delivered two or three weeks later, so they continued to use the hospital beds.
Meanwhile, because there were not yet many patients, Dorothy and Harry painted all the walls and made the apartment and the waiting room more attractive.
Harry’s patient base consisted of 250 loggers and 450 lumber mill workers.
He said, “In an average day, we would see perhaps 25 or 30 patients.
“We averaged about 85 emergency calls a month, which were mostly mill cases and accidents to the loggers.
“The rest of them were office visits from dependents and mill workers for minor things.
“I delivered 25 babies while I was there.
“Some of them were born in the hospital in Port Gamble, but most were home deliveries.”
Harry remarked on the condition of the mill: “The Port Ludlow mill was sinking into the bay, and they couldn’t keep it jacked up.
“The machinery was … out of level, and that caused a lot of accidents …
“I was aroused just about every other night by someone banging on the door …
“Then, during the day, just as soon as we opened the office, there were four or five people waiting in the little reception room …
“That went on to the point that I decided I wasn’t going to spend my life there, because I never had enough time to catch up on my sleep.”
Most common injuries
Most injuries at the mill were hand and eye injuries.
Harry said, “One of the most common things I did was to take emery out of the cornea in their eyes.
“I got to be an expert at that …
“I amputated 22 fingers that were smashed so badly that there was just no way of saving them.”
There were also many cuts to be stitched. There was always danger from infections because penicillin and other antibiotics were not yet available.
“We took our hospital cases to Port Gamble, where we operated every Thursday when Holloway would come over from Seattle.
“There was a resident doctor at Port Gamble, so we had a very modern hospital … with a full staff of nurses and doctors and a good cook.
“I went with some very serious accident cases on the ferry over to Port Gamble.
“We took two or three cases to Seattle.”
Harry was happy to increase his surgical skills with Holloway, who was a “Mayo-trained” surgeon.
Harry did see some patients at the Port Townsend hospital.
There were dependents and private citizens at Port Ludlow who were not loggers or mill workers.
“I had to give my income from them to my employer for about the first six months,” Harry said.
“Then Dorothy went over and made an agreement with Holloway to allow us to keep 50 percent of our income from our private practice.”
Their income from the mill and logging work was $200 a month.
By the time they left Port Ludlow in 1936, the income from private patients had grown to about $700 a month.
At first, Dorothy was the only nurse.
She did lab work and took X-rays.
She remarked, “It was the most primitive old X-rays … that shot sparks.
“I didn’t use a lead apron or anything. I took X-rays when I was pregnant.”
Neither she nor her baby suffered ill effects.
‘Thrilled’ to work
“I was thrilled that I could be working with him, and I had had a lot of experience in state industrial cases with Holloway, so I felt good about being able to help him,” she said.
She went over to Seattle every month to take the receipts to Holloway’s office and pick up medical supplies. But Holloway never came to Port Ludlow.
Dorothy said, “I think we were both quite excited about being so independent.”
One night, when Harry was gone out on another call, a man who had been drinking came in with a badly split lip after running his truck into a tree.
Dorothy said, “There was no way to stop the bleeding, so I sewed him up … and it turned out so nice, he went around telling everybody how Mrs. Doc had fixed his lip.”
Daughter is born
After Harry and Dorothy’s daughter, Theresa Anne, was born in May 1935, another nurse was added to the clinic staff, but Dorothy continued to keep the records and do some nursing at the office.
They hired a helper to take care of the baby while she worked.
The Pluts were not lonely at Port Ludlow. They had friends and family from Seattle who often came over to visit on weekends.
There was a movie theater in Port Ludlow showing several films a week.
They played bridge with their next-door neighbors, and were sometimes invited to go with mill management people to lunches and dances at the country club at Chevy Chase.
Harry loved to hunt and fish and found time to do that. The Pluts also raised a sizable vegetable garden.
When the mill in Port Ludlow closed for good in the middle of 1936, Harry had the choice of going to work for Holloway in Seattle or purchasing a private practice in Port Townsend.
Harry and Dorothy decided to move to Port Townsend, where they remained for the rest of their lives.
More on Pluts
The October Back When column will continue their story.
Note: I want to give a special thanks to Helen Plut Marriott for loaning photos from her parents’ collection.
Linnea Patrick is a historian and retired Port Townsend Public Library director.
Her Jefferson County history column, Back When, appears on the third Sunday of each month, alternating with Alice Alexander’s Clallam County history column on the first Sunday of the month.
Patrick can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear Oct. 16.