Highlighting Lewis County: Buswells Flew Airplanes During WWII, Then Logged Forests and Built Roads


In the spring of 1940, a year after Don Buswell graduated, the old wooden Toledo High School building on the hill burned down, and not long after a principal had been fired, perhaps for fooling around with female students. Construction on a new high school began that summer. 

Don dreamed of flying airplanes, but he started working in the woods for his sister Nelma’s husband, Al Rhyne, first as a whistle punk and later as a truck driver. He saved money and enrolled in a pilot training course at Lower Columbia Junior College in Longview. He lived in Kelso and paid for his room and board by milking his landlady’s cow twice a day.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Don enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He trained as a pilot, flying B-24s and B-26s, and graduated in December 1943. He was promoted to second lieutenant and assigned as an instructor to train pilots stateside.

When asked if he served overseas, Don quipped, “Oh, I got over Mexico about a mile and a half.”

His brother Anor, who played football at Western Washington University for two years, also joined the Army Air Corps. Stationed in the South Pacific, Anor flew 47 missions in a B-24 Liberator during World War II with the 5th Bomb Group, returning home as a decorated lieutenant.

Don recalled when the war ended, saying, “Well, the officers’ club was busy.”

“They gave us all ground-pounding jobs. This mess officer was desperate to go home, so he got me his rating number as a mess officer,” he said. “As soon as he had a substitute, he got out. Here I was, I didn’t know poop about mess.”

Before they transferred him to Hardin, Texas, as a mess officer, he left the military. He said he might have made a career in the military if he could have kept flying. He joined the Air Force Reserves at McChord Air Force Base for a short time but didn’t have a car to commute from Toledo.  

In 1948, Don and Anor partnered with another man, George Wilson, to form a gyppo logging outfit they called Hardly Able Logging Co., working locally and then in Sutherlin, Oregon, where they logged until 1954. 

It was in Sutherlin, Don said, where he “made the best move of my life” by marrying Karen Bernice Peterson, a former Toledo resident teaching high school in Southern Oregon. She was an only child, born in Portland on Jan. 31, 1928, to Swedish immigrants Carl and Alma (Oberg) Peterson. Her father had served in the Army’s Coast Artillery during World War I and worked on a railroad, at a bookstore, as a logger and finally as a farmer. She lived in a logging camp in Oregon until she was four, when her parents bought a small farm east of Toledo. She graduated from Toledo High School in 1945 and attended Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, graduating in 1949 with a teaching degree. Although she attended Toledo schools, Bernice was younger than Don.

“Though we were both from Toledo, we had to go 200 miles to meet and marry,” Bernice wrote in 2003, when she and Don were named Toledo’s Big Cheeses. She died on May 28 last year at the age of 94.

Don and Bernice married on Aug. 4, 1950, in Sutherlin, and before long, they welcomed three sons to their family: Donald Jr., Carl and Guy. Don quipped that “logging was a bit slack at that time.” The family moved 13 times, following logging and road construction jobs.

“When I was born, they lived in the skid shack,” said Donnie, their eldest son. A skid shack was like a single-wide trailer on wheels.

While living there, Guy said, one time a salesman knocked on the door. When his mother answered, the man asked, “Are you Mrs. Hardly? Or are you Mrs. Able?”

“I enjoyed and looked forward to moving to new locations, but it was not nearly as much fun for Bernice with all the effort required to move our household,” Don said in his Cheese Days writeup. “I cannot portray in words the thanks I must offer to that sexy Swede woman who is my wife. How grateful I am!”

“When Mom started having kids, we got a house,” Guy added.

In December 1953, Don and his brother, Anor, partnered with Lawrence Gault and the Wallaces of Toledo — Ray; Wilbur, who was known as “Shorty”; and William, known as “Les” — in forming the Yellow Creek Logging Co. They worked in the Klamath River area of California, where they floated logs from the Indian village of Pecwan to the mouth of the Klamath River and reloaded them to ship to Crescent City. Then they worked at Willow Creek in California, where their youngest son, Alan, was born.

While living in California, Don remembered driving home to Toledo for Christmas in a little ’59 Chevy coupe. He stopped at a liquor store for a bottle of rum and stuck it under the seat where the heater blasted it. Near the Peterson farm, he visited Bernice’s uncle. 

“I stopped and pulled that bottle of rum and gave it to him. He uncorked it and took a great big swallow. He gagged, snorted, and his eyes watered. He says, ‘Boy, that’s good visky.’” 

In California, Don joined in perpetuating the Bigfoot hoax, which he said started with Rant Mullins, who was cutting snags to build a trail when he created the first gigantic feet.

“Rant got him a couple slabs out and whittled these feet out of them,” Don said. “Rant and his buddy, they made these big tracks in the snow. Scared the berry pickers off the mountain.”

Don described Ray Wallace as a practical joker who wound up with the feet and fostered the Sasquatch legend after arriving in Willow Creek.

“He got obsessed with it,” Don said. “He went ape. He’d pack bear dung around and pretend it was from Bigfoot.”

While working in California during the middle of the summer, with thick dust on a road that ran like mud in the rain, Don recalled Shorty Wallace had the gigantic wooden feet with him. 

“I put them on, and I grabbed the back of the pickup,” Don recalled. “He drove it real slow, and I took these big steps. Well, there was a guy driving water truck there for a logging camp. He saw those. The next night, he was looking up and down the road, absolutely terrified. You won’t believe it. He was so scared that he took the door handles off his truck, so something couldn’t get in. He only worked one more night and he quit. Well, you look back at those tracks, and they’re kind of eerie.”

When he told a local minister in California that it was all a hoax, Don recalled, “he got mad because he believed so implicitly.”

While in the logging camp, Don’s son Guy remembered a knock on the door in the middle of the night. It was Ray Wallace bringing a bear cub into their home. Ray later ran a wildlife farm in Lewis County.

Another time while living in skid shacks near Sutherlin, Ore., Ray took an M-80, wrapped it in wet toilet paper, and dropped it down the smokestack. Then he dropped to the ground, entered the skid shack, and walked to the far end of the room, where he curled up and pretended to nap.

“About five minutes later, that paper’d dried up, and the M-80 would go off inside the stove and blow smoke, soot, and ash all through the room,” Guy said. “And they couldn’t figure out how it happened because Ray was over there sound asleep.”


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