JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Racing shells go back to the source

“BACK OF THE bread is the flour,

and back of the flour is the mill.

And back of the mill is the wind and the rain

and the Father’s will.”

With a few changes, this grace could describe the connection between classic wooden racing shells (the bread) and the material they are made from: clear, fine-grained western red cedar grown in the rain forests of the Northwest.

Last Friday, Stan Pocock, whose family built racing shells that were a staple with rowing teams for half a century, met Oscar Peterson, who worked in the Forks mill that provided cedar for the shells.

“The Rosmon brothers would set the very best logs aside — clear cedar, old-growth, no knots,” Peterson said, referring to the mill’s owners.

Boat shop meeting

The meeting took place in the Point Hudson Boat Shop, where Steve Chapin makes single racing shells, known as cedar speeders, in the Pocock tradition.

Peterson had met Chapin, but learning that Stan Pocock would be coming over from Seattle for the Wooden Boat Festival, wanted to meet him in person.

Peterson recalled that Stan’s father, George Pocock, who designed and made racing shells in his Seattle factory, would come to Forks to check out the cedar before it was shipped.

“My old dad really appreciated the service they gave us,” Stan said.

The three brothers started the mill after the war, a small operation where the workers weren’t rushed because the owners wanted the job done right.

Peterson, who goes by “Pete,” was the trimmer. It was his job to check every board that came through.

Rosmon lumber

The brothers were proud of supplying cedar to the Pocock company, Peterson said.

An entry in the mill diary records that Pocock made the finest racing shells in the country.

The Rosmons shipped lumber all over the world as well as sold it locally. Benches and buildings in Olympic National Park were built with cedar from the mill.

“Most of the homes in Forks were all Rosmon lumber,” Peterson said.

For Pocock shells, the best logs were milled into cants — sticks 2 inches thick, 8 inches wide and up to 25 feet long — and shipped to the factory in Seattle.

From there, the cedar was taken to the old Seattle Box Factory, out in the middle of the tide flats, Pocock said, and split into mirror-image pieces for the boat hulls, which were dressed down to one-16th of an inch.

The wood had to be clear — knots don’t steam and bend uniformly — and his father didn’t tolerate any pattern or discoloration in the cedar.

“Dad said beauty makes the heart grow fonder,” Pocock said. “He said it lifted the spirits of the crews.”

Big sport in the ’20s

Rowing was a big sport when he was growing up in the ’20s and ’30s, Peterson recalled, and newspapers carried big stories and photos of races on the sports pages.

After the war, Pocock coached the freshman University of Washington rowing team that as seniors beat the Russians.

When the Lake Washington Rowing Club formed, he coached a team that took gold in the 1960 Olympics in a Pocock 8, the “Hoh.”

He also took teams to Prague in ’61, Japan in ’62 and ’64, and Brazil in ’63.

In the 1970s, when he quit coaching to share more responsibility for the family business, Pocock went with his father to visit the Forks mill.

The visit stands out in his memory for one reason.

“It didn’t rain that day,” he said.

The son of West End pioneers, Peterson was born in Forks in 1921.

Graduating from Forks High School, he went to college for a year, then joined the Army.

Trained as a medic, he landed on Omaha Beach with the 2nd Division on D-Day plus three, eventually ending up in Czechoslovakia.

Returning to Forks, Peterson started working at the mill in 1950.

He retired after 35 years from the mill, which the brothers operated until 1984, when they sold it to someone who ran it a few more years, Peterson said.

The three Rosmon brothers have all passed away, Peterson said, as have their spouses, and the mill site, now owned by Bill Sperry, has been put to other uses.

George Pocock died in March of 1976, just short of his 75th birthday.

Stan Pocock ran the company until he retired in 1985, when he sold it to Bill Tytus.

The Pocock company switched to making of lighter-weight composites but continued to make wooden racing shells until 2003, when Bob Brunswick, master shellwright, retired.

Provisions to PT

Not having a use for the forms, jigs and tools used to make wooden shells, the company entered into a collaborative project with the Northwest Maritime Center/Wooden Boat Foundation and the Point Hudson Boat Shop to provide Chapin with the equipment and the stock-piled cedar.

Chapin, a master shipwright, also received instruction from Brunswick on construction techniques and has since built 10 singles in the Pocock style.

At the Wooden Boat Festival, Chapin gave demonstrations of steaming and bending cedar he learned from Brunswick, who died in Kirkland two weeks ago at the age of 84.

Most people tended to drift away before the three-hour process was complete, Chapin said.

Patience is amazing

“You’re like the old hand,” Peterson told Chapin. “I’m amazed at the patience you must have.”

Stan Pocock celebrated his 87th birthday in Port Townsend during the Wooden Boat Festival with spouse Sue Pocock and friend Frank Cunningham, a long-time rowing coach.

Peterson, who will be 89 next month, still works on his farm in Forks with spouse Wilma Peterson. They were putting in cattle fencing the day before Peterson made the trip to Port Townsend.

Dr. Tom Baker, who accompanied Peterson from Port Angeles, is a friend who has his own connection to rowing history.

“I have a lightweight teardrop single that George Pocock built for me in 1966,” Baker said.

“It was built with wood that Pete cut.”

________

Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.com.

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