Every large or small logging or mill operation in the redwood country had a cookhouse. It was the hub of life in the temporary community, if it was in the woods. If it was located in a substantial settlement, it served as a "community center". If the cookhouse was set up to serve fifteen or twenty men in a shingle bolt camp, often a woman and her husband, with a helper or two called bullcooks, flunkeys or cookees, handled the cooking and serving. If the boarders numbered in the hundreds, a staff of dozens of men and women carried the demands of the task. "Come and get it!"was a familiar cry heard by millmen and brawney-armed longshoremen at the Hammond Lumber Company cookhouse - now the Louisiana-Pacific Samoa Cookhouse - at the beginning of the century. When "quitting" whistles blew, the men were more ready to sit down to a big meal.
Even the big, white horses which drew the three-wheeled lumber carts around the yards were wise to the meaning of the whistles. They stopped in their tracks, refusing to make another move until their harnesses were unbuckled, allowing them to head for the big barn down below the cookhouse, for their oats. Lumbermen worked six days a week, twelve hours a day. They were served three hot meals everyday except for Sunday evenings - a "cold plate" made up of leftovers and cold cuts was served. In 1906, the men spent a small fraction of their one-dollar a day earnings for meals.
Waitresses worked seven days a week for five weeks before earning a "day off". The "day off" was usually on Sunday. They received $30 a month, including board and room. Each waitress was assigned to four tables, with ten men per table. As many as ten waitresses were employed regularly. The girls appeared in the cookhouse kitchen at 6am. They set up tables and fed the "early" men. By 7pm they usually completed their day's work. In the summer, they worked until 9pm in the preparation of vegetables. There was no overtime, but morning and afternoon breaks were permitted.
The splintery wooden floors, scarred by the calked boots of the pondmen, were scrubbed every Thursday. Everyone, except the boss was provided with husky broom and a plentiful supply of soapy water. Wearing rubbers, the girls scrubbed the dining room and the kitchen.
By 1922, in the days after World War I, they earned more and could pay more. So, 60 cents a day covered three generous meals. When the big doors of the Samoa Cookhouse were thrown open, the men some were wearing calk (pronounced "cork") shoes, made a rush for their places at the table. There was no waiting. Each man sat down, took up his steelware - knife, form and spoons and dished up his food and ate all he wanted. He could tell what day of the week it was by the menu. The tables were set "family style" with heaping bowls and platters of food. The men ate heartily until the contents disappeared. As the plates lowered, the waitresses were kept busy rushing to the kitchen and bringing back refills. A good cookhouse never sent a man away saying "I could have eaten more". The main part of the menu was meat, with potatoes and gravy, and plenty of vegetables.
All of the bread was baked in the cookhouse kitchen accompanied by fresh butter from the company's dairy. There was often fruit, and always a big piece of pie or cake. The Hammond Lumber Company cookhouse operation was self sufficient depending on others only for supplies and refuse disposal. The milk was brought on the company's train from the dairy at Essex. Later, the dairy located just north of Samoa furnished the supply.
Meals were served at long tables covered with cloth. From 1900 to 1930, it was a busy place. While there were no "reserved seats", some of the men had places where, through habit, they sat, an no one dared to sit in that place. Now and then a newcomer would sit down and refuse to move, and once in a while there would be a fist fight over the matter.
New men sometimes suffered at the hands of regulars, until they "wised up" on cookhouse traditions. Etiquette took a back seat. Everyone dove into the food and ate quickly. Rarely was food passed - the boarding-house "reach" having preference. On one occasion, a steward believed he could speed up the feeding of the men by having them dine in silence. When he tried to enforce this rule, he was "laughed out" of the dining room. After the men had eaten, they were in a happier spirit, talking and laughing in a boisterous manner upon the success of a joke. The girls took the jests and laughter along with the men.
Up until 1915, the cookhouse management had a steadfast rule which said only single women could be employed. After that time, a few married women were hired. Around the founding year of 1900, and the years after, girls who worked at the cookhouse were required to reside in the upstairs dormitory.
When longshoremen were loading ships down at the dock, 30 extra tables were set. Even the girls who make the beds in the bunkhouses, where the bachelors lived, came in to assist the waitresses. If the logging train came in from the woods, the girls had to stay and feed the crew.
On January 13, 1917, the U.S.S. Milwaukee, a heavy cruiser, was wrecked on the beach near Samoa while attempting to remove the Submarine H-3, which had been beached earlier. The U.S. Life Saving Station began bringing in the nearly 500 men and officers aboard the war craft, housing them temporarily in private Samoa homes and empty spaces in the bunkhouses, and feeding them at the Cookhouse.
The Cookhouse also served as a relief headquarters for other shipwrecks, providing both food and bed.