I was able to join a select group of elected and appointed officials to tour the historic West Linn Paper company site. This is keen area of interest for me. It represents an exciting opportunity to redevelop the arch bridge area providing a city center, employment and housing opportunities, West Linn gateway, and possibly a hotel; while leveraging the natural assets of the area — Willamette Falls. The second largest waterfall by volume in North America. Here is some background on West Linn Paper.
In the water-powered era, the Willamette Falls offered abundant energy potential, attracting industrial investment. Pulp paper manufactures were particularly enthused by the combination of readily available energy, easy water transport, and wood from nearby Oregon forests. A group of Californians, led by Henry Pierce, established the Willamette Falls Pulp and Paper Company at West Linn. Their first groud-wood pulp mill went into production in 1889, and the plant rapidly expanded with a sulfite mill and more grinders.
Following World War II, the West Linn Mill introduced another new technology to the West Coast paper market, when it began coating its paper to improve print quality. Demand for coated papers grew and coated paper eventually became the keystone of the mill’s product line. Because printing papers demanded a cleaner whiter appearance than was possible with sulfite pulping. The mill shut down its sulfite pulping operation in favor of purchasing higher quality pulp from other facilities. Eventually, coated grades took over completely and the ground-wood portion of the mill was shut down in 1990. Today, all the mill’s pulp is purchased from outside sources.
At is peak in the 1950’s, the West Linn mill employed 1,500 people, operating ten paper machines. The mill produces more paper now, with only three machines and fewer then 280 employees. In the late 1890’s, the mill was said to have had both the fastest and the widest machines ever built. The fastest machine ran about 600 feet per minute and the widest measured about 150 inches across. West Linn Paper Company’s machines now run at speeds of up to 2,200 feet per minute, though they aren’t much wider – in fact, they’re structurally the same machines that were there in 1950 – just with modern updates and computerized monitoring.
In order to understand the evolution of paper manufacturing in West Linn, it helps to understand how a paper machine operates. The pulp furnish is piped to a tank where additional water is added, so that by the time the furnish reaches the machine it is more then 99% water. This pulp/water mixture then is sprayed out in a very thin layer onto a moving forming wire – a continuous piece of woven plastic mesh. The water drains away, leaving pulp fibers interlaced on top, forming a thin sheet. The sheet is transferred to a series of felts, where pressure and heat are applied to dry the sheet, creating paper.