It has just been reported that this Brokaw Plant will be close in 2012. How sad. (121011)
May 8, 2010
The town of Brokaw, Marathon County, Wisconsin is just a few miles upstream the Wisconsin River from Wausau. In the 2000 census its population was listed at 107. It is considered part of the Wausau Metropolitan Statistical Area, which means it's not actually part of Wausau but is centered around Wausau and is economically tied to Wausau.
Many people likely drive right through Brokaw without giving it much attention, though the Wausau Paper Mill is huge and cannot be missed. Given that Brokaw is so small, yet so economically important to central Wisconsin, we should take a closer look at her. I should say that the mill, it seems, teeters on being closed, staying open, being sold, great uncertainty, a sign of our times.
As happens so often, once we started digging into Brokaw we learned some neat history about the state.
A man named Norman Brokaw was born in Michigan, and graduated from Kalamazoo college and Three Rivers Law School there. He practiced law for about a year and decided to get involved in one of his favorite industries, making paper.
Falls Manufacturing Company Mill, Oconto Falls, date unknown. Presented by Oconto County WIGenWeb Project
He took some positions in the industry in Michigan, and in 1884 took an interest in Wisconsin, organizing the Falls Manufacturing Company at Oconto Falls. He created a ground wood pulp mill, a sulphite plant, and a paper mill there.
One year later he bought an interest in Bradner Smith and Company’s pulp mill in Kaukauna, then known as the “Eagle Mill." Kaukauna is located near Appleton.
Let's pause here and talk a bit about Kaukauna's mills "in the day." I have had to do some analysis here of the historic records available to me. Those who know the history here better than I might correct me where I'm wrong.
This map is, of course, hard to read. It reflects the paper mills in Kaukauna in 1886, which is about the time Norman Brokaw moved there.
I believe Brokaw bought into what had been known as the Eagle Mill operated by Bradner Smith and Co. It is located by the red arrow to the far left within the rectangular box. Some sources say he bought the business, others say he partnered with Bradner Smith & Co.
Once he bought in, it became known as the Brokaw Pulp Co. To its right was the Badger Tissue Mill, owned by H.A. Frambach, quite a legend himself. Then, staying with the lower group of red arrows and moving left to right are the Union Pulp Co., Kelso Pulp Mill and the Fox River Pulp Mill. The two top red arrows, again moving left to right, point to the Kaukauna Paper Co. and the American Pulp Co. renamed the Thilmany Pulp & Paper Co. The map was presented by Fox Cities On-line.
This is a zoom of the previous map. "No. 5" is the mill bought by Norman Brokaw. "No. 4" is the Badger Tissue Mills owned by H.A. Frambach, also known as the Badger Mill.
This photo, also presented by Fox Cities On-line, shows a mill named the "Eagle Paper Mill" from 1872-1881. It closely resembles the image of the Brokaw Mill on the map. That is why I have assumed it to be the one bought by Brokaw. The Eagle Mill was the first paper mill in Kaukauna, built in 1872. It operated as a flour and paper mill. Budding young scientists might wish to explore why someone would mill flour and paper in the same mill.
This drawing shows the Eagle Mill from the side in 1880, also presented by Fox Cities On-line.
The logging and paper industries are fascinating and central to Wisconsin history. It is amazing how fast people bought them, built them, sold them, watched them burn down, and then rebuilt them. It was a very fluid industry to be sure.
In 1889 Brokaw sold this mill to Badger Paper Co. and formed a new company, Kaukauna Fibre Mill. So on this drawing, Nos. 4 and 5 joined. This was the first exclusively sulphite mill in the Fox Valley. Regrettably, it burned down, as so many mills did throughout the state in those days, in 1893. Brokaw simply built another.
The history of the paper and logging industries in Kaukauna is a study of its own, and we commend such an endeavor to enterprising readers.
Norman H. Brokaw joined with brothers W.L. and E.A. Edwards to establish Wausau Paper in 1899.
They built the first Wausau area paper mill which at the time was only the second mill to be built on the Wisconsin River. The mill’s first paper started rolling out in 1900. I do not know when this photo was taken, but I suspect early on in the mill's evolution. Unfortunately, Mr. Brokaw died on October 30, 1900 at Kaukauna, where he maintained his residence.
In 1901, the United Brotherhood of Paper Makers established a lodge in Brokaw. This union had formed in 1888. By 1900 it had nine locals and 800 members, only about five percent of the people employed in the trade.
The company did not like the union's entry at all, and by 1902 the Brokaw lodge was gone. While the paper unions managed to get established throughout the years in some plants, my reading of the history I could find is that it took a while for a union to get established in the Brokaw plant. Today, hourly workers are represented by United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, which is part of United Steelworkers (USW).
At present, the Brokaw Mill is one of four operated by Wausau Paper, the others located in Rhinelander and Mosinee, Wisconsin and Brainerd, Minnesota. Its corporate offices are located in Mosinee. As you can see from this MapQuest aerial shot, the town might be small, but this is a very large plant.
The Brokaw Mill grew to a substantial size by 1912. At the time, its specialty was wrapping paper. The plant ran during the day with night and Sunday watchmen holding down the fort at those times.
During late July 1912, heavy rains to the north took their toll on Merrill, Brokaw and Wausau. Rootsweb has good information about the flood. The website printed an excerpt of a letter received from the Hon. Neal Brown addressed to L.M. Nash talking about the flood conditions. It said:
"The flood losses in this vicinity have been many hundred thousands of dollars. The Wisconsin river dam at Merrill went out; the old Prairie river dam which had been abandoned went out; the Brokaw dam went out; the guard-lock dam in Wausau and one smaller dam of the Wausau Street Railroad Company went out; four bridges in Wausau went out in whole or in part; the upper highway bridge being swept clean; the new railroad bridge across the river went out in part; one end of the high bridge was wrecked and two spans of the highway bridge at the south end of the city went out; two dams on the Eau Claire went out and a part of the Brooks & Ross dam at Schofield; the highway bridge in the Village of Schofield was taken completely out; the coffer dam of the Marathon mills was blown out to relieve the pressure of the water; from ten to twenty million feet of logs went down the river from here to Brokaw, Merrill and on the Eau Claire.
"It is said to have rained eight inches at Merrill; four inches in one cloud burst. The result was a wall of water came down, taking out one dam after another. At Brokaw they didn't even have time to open all the gates. So we all have a lot of work ahead of us to repair the damage and get under way again. The water in the Eau Claire was two or three feet higher than I have ever seen it before."
The State of Ohio, Miami Conservatory District, issued technical reports about the flooding there in 1913. Written by Arthur E. Morgan and published in 1917, it addressed this flood of July 20-24, 1912. In the report, Morgan said this:
"This storm covered large portions of Wisconsin and Michigan and produced in many localities rainfall intensities that are extraordinary for these northern latitudes. At Merrill, Wis., 11.25 inches was recorded in a little less than 24 hours on July 23 and 24. This is the record for 24-hour rainfall in quadrangle 12-B.
Prairie River joining the Wisconsin River at Merrill, modern-day photo by MapQuest.
"The floods resulting from this storm were very destructive to dams. The Prairie River, which joins the Wisconsin River at Merrill, rose to a high stage and washed out portions of the dam of the Grandfather Paper Mills Co.. the volume of water so liberated caused the destruction of dams at Merrill, Brokaw and Wausau, on the Wisconsin River, accumulated waters creating a flood stage of unprecedented magnitude. At Wausau, the river reached a stage of 15.3 feet on July 23, breaking all records."
The Marathon County Historical Society has a marvelous photo of the Wausau Paper Co. before and after the flood.
The water accumulated at the Brokaw Dam and the dam broke on July 24. In the middle of the night, at about 2 a.m., the rapidly flowing water breaking through the dam hit Wausau, damaging all of the city’s bridges in some way. A rail bridge had to be dynamited to break up the jambs (pillars). They also blew up the another dam to relieve the pressure behind it.
Thankfully, no lives were lost, though several houses were carried away and telephone communications were cut off. Wausau itself was paralyzed and there was extensive crop damage. Heavy and continuous rains were the cause. There were reports that the large power dam at Merrill had also broken, but that proved untrue. Press reports at the time indicated the Brokaw Mill was out of business for about two weeks until a the dam could be repaired. I believe a new dam was built. The Brokaw Dam was rebuilt several times and authorities finally surrendered in 1941 and gave up.
It’s worth noting that Shawano was hit hard as well. An estimated 8-12 inches of water fell all of July 24, into the night and raised the Wolf River so high that a plan was developed to dynamite the dam there in order to save the mills there. The Daily Commonwealth of Fond du Lac reported on July 24 that “Everything in Shawano is in awful shape.” One death was reported as the result of the rains. Phillip Henford, a crewman tasked to watch the dam serving the Wolf River Paper Fiber Co., was trying to pull out wooden “needles” from the dam’s structure when one broke and a burst of water threw him into the rapids. Unable to swim, he drowned.
A needle dam was designed to maintain the level flow of a river through the use of thin "needles" of wood/ The needles leaned against a solid frame and are not intended to be water tight. It would apper that Mr. Henford tried to pull out some of those needels to allow a greater flow of water through the dam to relieve the pressure.
There is at present no dam at Brokaw. This is a modern-day aerial from MapQuest of the Wisconsin River as it starts its run past the Brokaw Plant. The two yellow arrows point to remnants of the old dam still in the water, which create a little rapids.
Flooding of the Wisconsin River in this area had been problematic for many years. My research shows a flood in 1858. In 1880 a flood washed logs downstream, washing out the bridges in Merrill and isolating Wausau. Damage was heavy; another equally strong flood struck in 1881 that would change Wausau’s landscape causing small islands to disappear and form in a large sandbar that would move the channel to the west. One result of these two floods was to build new and more bridges. In 1909, the Marathon Paper Mill was organized in Rothschild and a dam was constructed, creating Lake Wausau. Shortly after completion in 1911, authorities had to blow a hole in the dam to save the mill from flooding. Another flood in 1912 would hit the rebuilt dam and did more damage than in 1911.
My experience in researching paper mills in Wisconsin is that floods and fire were the two main threats to them in the day.
Having traveled throughout the state I remain fascinated at how industry makes use of Wisconsin’s rivers. The Wisconsin River is often referred to as “the hardest working river in the nation.” I believe that. It is about 430 miles long.
The topography of this region and the area to the north is interesting and relevant to this problem of flooding. The northern section of the state consists of a flat highland with elevations ranging from 1,900 ft. in the east to 1,000 ft. in the west.
The Wisconsin River flows from the Lac Vieux Desert in northern Wisconsin and descends in all directions except to the east. Let's get our bearings here.
The red star marks Lac Vieux Desert, which is a lake that straddles the Michigan-Wisconsin border. Let's get in closer.
Lac Vieux Desert has a surface area of about 4,260 acres, the state boundary between Michigan and Wisconsin runs through it, and it is the source of the Wisconsin River in the southwest corner. Let's take a look at that corner.
You can see the Wisconsin River rising from the Lac Vieux Desert and heading to the northwest. It does that for a bit, and then turns to the south, the result of interesting topography.
The section of the river in which Brokaw is located is called the Upper Wisconsin. This upper region actually extends to Plover to the south. The region of the Upper Wisconsin is largely flat and the river itself is narrow and winding. Because it is flat when compared to other sections, it has been a good location for hydroelectric power dams and plants.
Leonard Sewall Smith of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural history Survey, writing The Water Powers of Wisconsin, published in 1908, wrote this:
“Owing to the fact that Lakes Superior and Michigan bound the State on the north and east, while the Mississippi River forms the southwestern and larger part of the western boundary, all the rivers must find a low trough into which to discharge, and that at a short distance from their source. This condition results in a rapid fall and large water powers.”
Overall, the Wisconsin River drops 1,067 feet from its origin to where it joins the Mississippi River.
This is a MapQuest aerial of the Wisconsin River between Merrill and Wausau, with Brokaw just to the north of Wausau.
In 1908, twenty miles separated the foot of the lower dam at Merrill and the head of the Wausau Dam. In that distance, the river descended about 55 ft. The foot of the Merrill dam was about 14.5 miles north of the Brokaw dam, and the river descended 32 ft. between the two, leaving another descent of 23 ft. from Brokaw to the Wausau dam, only 5.3 miles from her.
One would expect the water to be moving swiftly through this region, but I have seen kayak reports that the current is slow most of the way from Merrill to Brokaw and even slower from Brokaw toWausau. When the flood of 1912 hit, one can only imagine the massive amount of water hitting the river from all corners and from the sky in very short order and then rushing very rapidly through this region.
Let’s take a look at the expanse of the Wausau Paper facilities in Brokaw. In July 2005, the company announced it was closing its sulphite paper mill due to high costs of operation and the investments that would be required to modernize it. It closed in November 2005. Papermaking operations continued.
Wausau Paper Corp. manufactures, converts and sells paper and paper products, in three segments: specialty products, printing and writing, and towel and tissue. The Brokaw plant is focused on printing and writing paper. In June 2008, the company announced it intended to invest $15 million to optimize fiber handling and stock blending systems at Brokaw. In 2009, the company relocated converting equipment from its facility in Appleton, Wisconsin, to the Brokaw, Wisconsin, and Brainerd, Minnesota, mills. The Appleton facility was closed.
About 52 percent of the Brokaw workforce resides in Wausau. So you can see why Brokaw is considered to be in the Wausau Statistical Area as mentioned earlier.
When I passed through Brokaw and decided to do this story, it was a weekend so I hung around the outside of the plant to take my shots. But I think these will give you an idea of how big and therefore how important this plant is to the region.
This last photo is one that always attracts little boys like your editor! Take a look at this next one and salivate you guys.
Now ain't that a beauty? Please excuse this "little" 65 year old boy as he beats this engine to death. It was fun learning more about this engine.
Focus in on her number, "RLCX 1003." This number means that this is a RELCO (Railway Equipment Leasing Co.) Locomotive. She is a model S4 and is being leased by Wausau Paper. She was built by American Locomotive Co., or ALCO, then headquartered in Schenectady, NY.
Painting: American Locomotive Company, Schenectady Works, date unknown. Presented by Schenectady Digital History Archive.
ALCO was the second-largest steam locomotive builder in the United States, producing over 75,000 locomotives. Some of our largest and most famous railways favored the ALCO steam locomotive, ALCO's specialty. While the company opted toward the steam locomotive, in 1924 it started building diesel-electric locomotive, teamed with General Electric (electric components) and Ingersoll-Rand (diesel components). By 1930 the company was the pre-eminent diesel locomotive builder in the US.
The company had a falling out with GE and was forced to close its Schenectady plant in 1970. After the closure of ALCO's Schenectady works, locomotives to ALCO designs continued to be manufactured in Canada by Montreal Locomotive Works, and in Australia by A. E. Goodwin. In addition, ALCO-derived locomotives form the major chunk of diesel power on the Indian Railways.
The ALCO S4 was built between 1949 and 1961, the first coming off the line in 1950. She has been used mainly as a prime mover, packed with 1,000 hp (about 750 kW).
Side profile of the AAR type switcher truck. Presented by wikipedia.
The S4 rode on standard AAR type A switcher trucks. This means that it was designed for switcher service and did not need more complex high-speed passenger locomotive trucks. Switcher service generally means that the locomotive is not used for moving trains, but rather for assembling trains ready for a locomotive to take over, disassembling a train that has been brought in, and moving rail cars around. They are also used on occasion for making short transfer runs and also serve as the only motive power on branch lines and switching and terminal railroads. They usually have low-powered engines but high starting tractive efforts for getting heavy cars rolling quickly. They are restricted to low speeds. Some have compared the switcher to a tugboat, a useful analogy. They are most often seen in rail yards, such as the one at Wausau Paper in Brokaw.
Some 797 of these were built. She was powered by ALCO 539 turbocharged, six cylinder diesels.
I'd like to conclude by showing some photos of the residences in Brokaw. The village consists of 1.1 square miles. The 2000 census reported 47 households with 24 families residing in the village, about 107 people.
I did not intrude on people's lives by knocking on their doors to learn more about who liveshere, but the village is well kept amidst this towering Wausau Paper plant. My guess is the people living here are typical "Wisconsin marvelous," and proud of their small village, its heritage, and its importance.
Broadly speaking, most of the residential area is within the yellow rectangle, across from the Wausau Paper plant.
This Wausau guy is high on Brokaw. You should be too. Given that the village was so small and located entirely on the east side of the Wisconsin River, it bought and annexed 52 acres of the Lemke farm for a residential subdivision on the west side of the river, now called the River Ridge subdivision. Adjacent to the North Side Business Park this land was subdivided into 86 residential lots with spectacular views of the valley and the bluffs surrounding old Brokaw. Single family home and apartment buildings have been going up in the new subdivision.
Just a few parting shots of the mighty Wisconsin River as she passes eastward for a very short distance and then southward beyond Brokaw to Wausau and the Great Mississippi.
As bad as things might seem to get, we are blessed.