Julie McDonald: Toledo’s Don Buswell, His Brother and Four Sons Built Roads and Then Relaxed in the Sauna


Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of a series of columns focused on Don Buswell and his family’s history. Find previous installments at chronline.com. 

After the Yellow Creek Logging Co. partnership ended amicably in 1958, Toledo’s Don Buswell and his brother, Anor, formed Buswell Brothers Construction, building roads throughout the Pacific Northwest for nearly four decades. 

Among their road construction jobs was the Ohanapecosh Junction on U.S. Highway 12 about 7 miles east of Packwood, which he worked on with his sons.

“So if you drive up and turn to go to Mount Rainier, that’s our road because we were working on it too,” said his eldest son, Donnie.

“They all worked for me off and on really in the logging and the road construction,” Don said. “Matter of fact, I didn’t put much money into their college.”

The youngest son, Alan, said, “Once in a while we’d get a box, and it’d be full of cookies or comic books because Mom knew we’d never buy cookies or comic books because we couldn’t afford them.”

All four of Don and Bernice’s sons graduated from Washington State University in Pullman: Donnie in business, Carl in forest management, Guy in industrial arts education and Alan in industrial technology.

“They all had the same fraternity too,” Don said. They belonged to Theta Xi. 

“I went to a couple of graduations — the last one was his,” Don said, nodding toward Alan. “That was a wild thing. They were setting off firecrackers.”

A wall in Don’s living room lists 160 logging and road construction jobs throughout the Northwest with photos of heavy equipment, all under the header: “From Hardly Able to Buswell Brothers: Fifty Years of Working the Northwest.”

Don and Anor also bought the family homestead from their parents in the early 1960s, a few years before their father died on Nov. 4, 1965, at the age of 74.

“He got strep in the hospital,” Guy said. “He went in for an ear infection; came out dead.”

Don’s mother died a year later, on Nov. 24, 1966.

“There was such a bond between them, it really hurt Mom,” Don said. “It was a rough time. As far as their association goes, it was just great.” 

Buswell Brothers Construction owned an airplane, which Don and Anor flew when they needed equipment parts while working in Northern California. “I flew Bernice to the dentist over in Corning, too. It wasn’t too far.”

In 1967, with their sons growing older, Don and Bernice decided to settle in Toledo rather than keep moving to follow jobs. Both Don and Anor held flight instructor licenses, and Anor taught at the Toledo airport (now called the South Lewis County Regional Airport and the Ed Carlson Memorial Field). “I didn’t use mine much,” Don said. 

“During the summer months, the kids and I would go and live at Quinault, Packwood, Galice, Tillamook, etc. — wherever Don worked,” Bernice wrote in 2003, when she and her husband were named Toledo’s Big Cheeses.

Don planted a large garden, including a pumpkin field for grade school students to visit before Halloween, which they did for 13 years. He was appointed to the Toledo School Board in May 1968 to fill a vacancy left by William Wight. He continued to serve on the board through the 1970s, stepping down after his term ended in 1977. 

“He gave us our diplomas at graduation,” Guy said. “We rolled up a dollar bill and gave it to him, so we paid him a little bit. A lot of guys in my class did — gave him one dollar in exchange for the diploma.” 

“What’s amazing about my school board thing is I was on the board when they built the one (high school) that they replaced just now,” Don said.

He said his father, Wallace Buswell, probably influenced him most in his life. “He was a good person,” Don said. “Great person.”

Guy recalled staying for a few days with his Grandpa Buswell, who was known as a great fisherman. Guy wanted to go fishing with him early in the morning, but his grandfather said they could accompany him in the afternoons instead. Guy later discovered that his grandfather, in the early morning hours, cast a net to catch fish.

What advice would Don offer the younger generations? 

“Well, work for a living,” he said, adding a few tidbits he shared with his sons. “Don’t log angry, just log. If you’re gonna fall down, fall toward your work.”

Don described his marriage to Bernice, which lasted 71 years, as “one of the best.” 

“We were wonderful,” he said. “She was the best woman in the world.”

Their son Guy described her as a terrific cook who used to say, “I don’t feed the boys; I throw them food.”

One of the men who worked for Don was Junior Lee. When he applied for the job, Don told him, “Well, I’ll pay you what you’re worth. He says, ‘I can’t live on those wages.’” 

One summer at a logging camp on the Klamath River in Northern California, Don was running the steam donkey when Junior Lee showed up. He jumped on the donkey and said, “Boswell, you’re working on my money.”

“I said, ‘What are you talking about, you knothead?’ He said, ‘I’ve been here three days and ain’t been paid yet.’”

When they paid him, though, Junior Lee planned to go to Mexico for the winter, but the first weekend he went to Eureka, which Don said had 18 bars on one street.

“He tried to hit them all, I guess. He come back looking like hell, oh, my God, beat up. Same old dirty clothes.”

Don asked him what happened. He said he started buying for all the floosies in town who were drinking Cokes when he arrived and Tom Collins before he left. 

“He absolutely turned out to be a good man,” Don said. “He wasn’t very strong. He was a little guy, but he was a good worker.”

Another time while working near Pe Ell, a buddy of Don’s bet him a six pack that he couldn’t hit the top of a log blindfolded. Don accepted the challenge and whacked the top of the stump — where his buddy had placed his fly hat. He removed his blindfold and discovered his hat chopped in half.

“I could tell you a lot of stories, but I’d have to use different language,” Don said.

Guy told his brother Donnie that, during the interview, their father kept to clean jokes, adding, “That kind of shut down about 80 percent.”

“You should have got a shot of whiskey in him,” Alan said. “Then he can really go on.”

Twice a week, Don and a gang of friends — often including his sons — enjoy the sauna, where they sip whiskey and swap stories. Guy, a retired Toledo teacher, swears by the sauna’s health benefits. “Do you know how many days I missed school?” he asked, raising his fingers to form a zero. “Forty years.”

Alan, the baby of the family, said he was picked on at times by his older brothers.

“There’s a dent in the bathroom door he put in there when you guys were fighting,” their father said. “That’s still here.”

That happened when Alan was in eighth grade.

“I tried to catch him, but I gave him a push instead,” Guy said. “I considered grabbing his shirt. I barely launched him. Then he got his head stuck in the sheetrock.”

Don’s going strong at 100, and his five siblings all lived into their late 80s or 90s. Wilma died in September 2006 at 89; Nelma passed away in February 2012 at 93; both Ina, 97, and Hazel, 88, died in 2013; and Anor was 95 when he passed away on Christmas Eve in 2014.

When Don and Anor, who was 73, decided to retire, they divvied up their company assets. Don said he kept their parents’ farm while Anor received his share in equipment. Guy lives on the Peterson farm where his mother grew up. He had to replace the old farmhouse after a fire 20 years ago.

“He didn’t retire until he was 70,” Guy said of his father. “They worked their whole lifetime building roads. And on top of that, he’s always been busy on this farm. Everybody knows his reputation for being a worker.”

Don raised chickens and as many as 20 beef cows. He even had a few left two years ago and grew hay on a back field. When they were haying, Guy said, he looked around at the haying crew, which included his 99-year-old father, a 77-year-old Gordon Schillinger, and the four “boys”: Don, 70, Carl, 69, Guy, 68, and Alan, the youngest at 65. 

“The average age came out right at 75 for the hay crew,” Guy said. “And you know what? You will not find anybody in the whole United States of America that had the same four boys hay for him for 50 or 60 years.”

But given the crew’s average age, Guy decided, “this has to stop.”

Don has four sons, eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

Although he says he’s a bit unstable on his feet, staggering at times because his legs and feet are numb, Don’s overall health is good. 

“Well, I take two sauna baths a week,” he said. “But I can’t do the things I want to. Let’s put it that way.”

So what’s the secret to being 100? He answered with an anecdote of sharing his thoughts with a “food freak” relative.

“I like fat meat,” he said. “I love sweets. And I drink my share of whiskey. Can you find any fault with that?”

Not when he’s reached 100. 

“I’ve got to mow the lawn,” he said as I left.

At 100 going on 101.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.