NW Fires

Pictured above, left to right: Jesse Morgan (Grandfather), Melvin Morgan (Father), Wayne Morgan (Son)

Rebuilding After the Fire

Third generation carpenter Wayne Morgan (LU 271) rebuilds after losing his home to the fires in Medford, Oregon, this summer.

Morgan: My dad and I did most of our work through Local 1001 in Coos Bay, Oregon and Local 2067 in Medford, Oregon.

How long have you been a carpenter?
I was in the Laborers Union at 18. I went to work for my dad, who was a superintendent in Jackson County. I took the carpenter test at 18 and got hired as a carpenter apprentice two years later. I retired about 10 years ago. I did a little bit of everything. I started in the commercial end of the industry working for my dad. We even had our own small construction company. We were one of the first union contractors to build houses in the state.

What is your favorite project over the years? 
The project I take the most pride in, 14 years ago, seems like yesterday. I worked for Portland-based DPR that built hospitals. I built a six-story bed tower, and helipad for Rogue Valley Hospital in Medford, Oregon. I worked there for almost two years before it was done. I am so proud of this work because my dad was the superintendent at the original hospital. Between the two of us, we had a lot of builds at that hospital.

My dad was my construction hero.

What is it like being a third-generation carpenter? 
I’m proud to be a third-generation carpenter. I’ve only met one other family that I know of. I lost a lot of this history in the fire. I’m hoping information exists with the UBC that captures my family history. 

My grandfather, Jesse Morgan, started as a carpenter apprentice during World War I. He worked for the American Federation of Labor and the Works Progress Administration. In 1942, the family traveled the highways from Los Angeles, California to Richland, Washington, working on military bases. My grandfather built the rockwork at the Ashland Lithia Park. I can go there today and see the steps and walls that he built.

My father, Melvin Morgan, worked for my grandfather for many years in the Jackson County area. In 1954, he joined the Carpenters Union and came in as a journeyman. At the age of 24, he became a superintendent because he was so knowledgeable. He was a superintendent of three jobs at Southern Oregon College in Ashland, Oregon, the dormitory being one of them.

His crew called him the “kid” because almost everyone on the job site was older than him. He was very experienced and an excellent carpenter. He poured the first tilt-up west of the Mississippi at a Harry and David project in Jackson County. When I first got into the trade, he showed me how to use a bit and brace. They didn’t have power drills back then, so you had to do it by hand. He was a guru of construction. My dad was my construction hero.

Do you mind sharing some of your experience with the recent wildfires? How has that impacted you? 
It was an eye-opener. I lost about 99 percent of everything I own. I’ll tell you about the day it happened. I had gotten done with work and went down to the store for ice cream that evening. The power was out, and I couldn’t get into the store. The checker came out and said, “Sorry, we are closed. The power is out.” We looked out and saw smoke in the Ashland area. I knew it wasn’t good. We had 45 mph winds coming towards us. I went home and knocked on my neighbors’ doors to let them know. 

The sad thing was, there was nothing on the radio, nothing on TV about it. As a younger man, I fought fires for a few summers. I have some experience reading fires. You could tell it was getting worse and closer. I was helping people get out, and then we realized the main artery through town, Highway 99, was locked down. The fire had jumped the road into some big trees and then structures. I was in survivor mode, kind of like the fog of war. I realized I didn’t want to leave the area, but I needed to get out of there. My neighborhood had at least 80 homes in it, and only seven survived.

I had lockboxes full of tools, and I couldn’t get any of them. I collected hats, work jackets, hard hat stickers. All I have left of that collection is the hat I had on my head when I left the house. This has been the craziest year of my life; still, I’ve been pretty fortunate. It’s just been a bad year. I’m muddling through it. I’m told that my attitude is good.

I’ve hired a local contractor that I am committed to. The equipment showed up to start work on rebuilding my house. I spent a day and a half going through the remains that can be found in the ash. I had so many tools, I am taking pictures of every piece of metal I find, all that’s left. Being a carpenter, there’s a lot of metal. I am laying the pieces out on a concrete slab. They have filled my mom’s entire driveway. 

I received a $500 check from LU 271. My father served on the Executive Board of Local 1001, and I served at Local 2067. I am very grateful for my Brothers and Sisters. I’m loyal to them, I love to mentor, and I’ve put a lot of money in those hats over the years. It all comes back around.

Did You Know?

PNWRCC has many women in our crafts and leadership positions.

Margaret Ellings became the first woman initiated into the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in October 1935. The establishment of a women’s committee within the United Brotherhood of Carpenters is one of the most important developments in the union’s recent history. Visit ubcsisters.org


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