The Anaconda Copper Mining Company lumber department’s library car served as an early bookmobile for loggers in camps throughout Missoula County from 1921 to the late 1950s. After serving as a dormitory and storage shed at the Lubrecht Experimental forest, it was brought to the Fort in 2005. Today it houses an exhibit about the Lumberman’s Library.
Can you spot... the small room? What do you think it would be used for?
The librarian for this book-mobile-on-tracks would need a place to stay while he was visiting the camps and the library car made a great home away from home. Official business took place at the counter and then his bed and belongings would be tucked away beyond the partition wall.
The concept for a library car for loggers was certainly not a high priority for the General Manager of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, Kenneth Ross, when approached by Missoula County librarian, Ruth Worden, in 1919. At first the library sent a shipment of books to the camp to be cared for by the logging camp clerk and a shipment to the store clerk to bring out to the sawmills. This quickly became not enough for Worden, so Ross set up a small room in a local hotel where a young bookkeeper kept track of the books. A year later, Ross was handed a report that stated nearly 4,000 books had been borrowed and read over the past year and that books were in constant demand at both the camps as well as the small hotel library. Believing that relations between the workers had improved because of this new offering of education, Ross set forth to create a better plan.
Soon known as the “Lumberman’s Library”, Ross had a library car constructed at 14 feet wide and 40 feet long, equipped with as many books, magazines and newspapers as possible. This library car switched from one camp to another every few weeks. It was under the charge of one librarian, who had living quarters in the car and traveled with it from camp to camp.
Painted grey with a sign that read “Missoula County Free Library”, the Lumberman’s library was an instant success. In 1926, under the librarian James Dwyer, the library car saw over 5,000 visitors and 3,195 books where checked out. On average 300 to 350 books were in circulation at any given time from a collection that totaled over 1,400 titles. Many of the books were donated, while others were purchased by Miss Worden from a fund of about $400 provided by the lumbermen themselves.
Dwyer noted that the library car was busiest on Sundays when as many as 60 men would come through to check out books to bring with them out to the camps during the following week. The library was especially busy during the winter as it was equipped with bright light, a stove for heat and a long table with comfortable armchairs. Inside each book cover was a pocket and a card to keep track of who borrowed the book. Men often requested books on particular subjects, and the librarian would oblige requests when possible.
The Lumberman’s Library use peaked in 1927 with over 9,000 visitors and nearly 8,000 books checked out. During the ensuing years patronage gradually decreased, likely because of the growing popularity of the radio and increased use of automobiles.
The Anaconda Copper Mining Company ceased railroad logging in 1949, but the library car continued its trips to logging camps until the late 1950s when it was moved to the Lubrecht Experimental Forest. The Lubrecht Forest is about 30 miles northeast of Missoula along the Blackfoot River and is part of the University of Montana School of Forestry. Here, mounted on a foundation, the library car became “Cabin 15” a bunkhouse used by the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. logging camps and later by students stationed at the Forest.
In 1960 Hank Goetz, Director of Field Stations for the University of Montana School of Forestry, recognized the library car and knew its history. Even though the car was no longer on standard-gauge trucks, much of the interior was still the same, bookshelves on the walls, long table where students now sat. The car eventually became storage before being brought to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. It has since been restored and preserved as likely the only Lumberman’s Library Car to ever have existed.