Big wheel’s story coming full circle

Published 12:09 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Staff Writer
John Mason is determined to erect a plaque for the wheel at Havens Gardens to honor his family.
Mason claims his family, which owned the Mason Lumber Company in Washington, donated the wheel to the city in the early 1970s.
The drive wheel, or “fly wheel,” was used as the driving force of a steam engine that powered a planter at the company’s mill in Columbia. The planter was used to dress lumber that had dried, Mason said.
He has been in contact with Washington Parks and Recreation Director Phil Mobley about placing the plaque. Mason said he would pay for the marker out of pocket.
Mobley said the department will consider placing a plaque on the wheel once Havens Gardens in completely remodeled and the Runyon Creek Bridge is replaced. Construction on the bridge is set to begin this summer and projected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2010.
Placing a plaque on the wheel at this time would be unsafe to the children who play on it, Mobley said.
According to Mobley, the wheel will be moved during the waterfront park’s renovation process. Once it is moved to its new location in the park, it will no longer be used as a piece of playground equipment. Only then will it be appropriate to erect a plaque. And the marker will only be placed if the department confirms where the wheel really came from.
Mobley said he knew Mason’s grandfather, Marvin Mason, and communicated with him as the owner of Mason Lumber Company, but wants the department to research the wheel’s origin before commemorating the donation is etched in stone.
Mason said his motivation for erecting a plaque comes from hearing others speak falsely about the origin of the wheel.
Some community members have claimed the wheel came from the Moss Planning Mill or the Eureka Lumber Co. mill, he said. Both former mills were in close proximity to Havens Gardens.
Washington old-timer Clarence Beacham is willing to defend Mason’s assertion.
Beacham, who worked for the Mason Lumber Company for 40 years, has a lifetime of stories about the old drive wheel. He retired as vice president of the company on Dec. 31, 1990.
Beacham said he was the strapping young lad who suggested Marvin Mason donate the wheel to the city.
The company then formally offered the wheel to the city, he said.
The wheel was dismantled into halves before being loaded onto a “boom truck,” a flatbed truck with an hydraulic arm. Beacham said the wheel was too wide for the narrow streets it would travel to the park.
They arrived at the park, but to little fanfare.
But the wheel has garnered recognition over the years.
On any bright, sunny day, children scale the spokes of the larger-than-life wheel.
Mayor Judy Meier Jennette, whose family moved to Washington when she was 6 years old, remembers playing on the wheel.
Before the wheel became the centerpiece of the park’s playground, it was used at Mason Lumber Company’s mill in Columbia, according to Beacham and Mason.
Beacham said he was the last person to run the wheel.
It was dismantled in the late 1960s and shipped to the company’s headquarters in Washington, Beacham said.
Mason, whose parents, Betsy Mason Whitley and Bill Whitley, ran the two mills, oversaw the company’s machine shop in Washington for five years.
Beacham believes the wheel is worth the recognition.
Cutline for corresponding photo: Washington resident Ted Day gets ready to catch son Logan Day, 5, as Logan jumps from the wheel Tuesday afternoon at Havens Gardens park. Logan’s sister, Taylor Day, 10, watches from the relative safety of the top spoke. (WDN Photo/Paul Dunn)