Editor's Note: Leno Bassett is well known in Woodinville. Rather than writing a typical obituary (for which I do not believe I could have done him justice), his daughter Leanette (owner of) gave us permission to post his autobiography.
Leno, 97, passed away on Friday, Jan. 6, at his home in Woodinville. Bassett and his wife Antoinette were moved to the area in 1959 buying 133 acres near the lake, some of which later became .
Leno Bassett – An Autobiography
At the age of 15, I graduated from Rainier Grade School, Seattle, Washington, in mid-semester, 1929. I enrolled at Garfield High School for one year. I quit school in March of 1930 and went to work for 25 cents an hour at a sawmill in Dryad, Washington. I did about everything that there was to do around a sawmill. The mill closed after about eight months, and I was out of a job. I was also out of school and never went back.
December of 1930, I joined the Civilian Conservation Corps for a six-month period, and I was stationed at Olympic Hot Springs near Port Angeles. I did carpenter work, fell trees, and built roads.
In 1931, I worked for a small bulb company in Renton, Washington. We dug tulip and daffodils. In July, we planted the bulbs back in the ground for another season. That Fall I went over to Yakima and picked hops for a couple of months. I made very good money for two months.
In 1932, I went to work for John Fischer, a landscape contractor. In the beginning we maintained yards three days a week and landscaped for three days. We worked six days a week, ten hours a day for 25 cents per hour. I worked for John Fischer for eight years.
In 1938 with John Fischer's permission, I bought a 1937 Ford single axel truck that I could haul about a six-ton payload. Those days you had to shovel a load of soil, peat, or manure on the truck by hand. A hand-cranked B.B. six-ton winch loaded rock. This same year I bought three-quarters of an acre lot in Lake Forest Park. It had a shack 16 feet by 20 feet. The lot cost $550 – ten dollars down and five dollars per month. There were lights and water connected to the house, and I put in a shower and partitioned the building into two rooms.
In the meantime during 1938, I was courting Antoinette DeLeo. We saw each other often. On Friday the thirteenth of January 1939, I bought her a nice diamond ring, which I gave her that night. Then I asked her if she wanted a big wedding or if she wanted to elope the next day. Without hesitation she said, "Let's elope." I said, "OK. Be ready tomorrow morning by seven, and we will go." We were married on January 14, 1939, by the Justice of the Peace, Judge William Hoar.
I did not own a car, but my brother loaned us his coupe. Antoinette and I took a week off for a short honeymoon. When we got back I drew up a plan for our future house. I built the two-car garage, and we moved into it by the end of 1939.
By 1938 I had my own business; Leanette, our daughter was born in 1940; and in 1941, I traded in the 1937 Ford dump truck for a brand new 1941 Cabover Ford. I bought a six-ton power winch that was driven from the power take off. I built a flat bed deck that hinged at the back and was dumped with a cable over an A frame. I could use this truck not only to dump a load, but also to load soil and rock up to 5-ton. What a change this made in my work schedule!
December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor
In 1942 I went to work in the Lake Washington Shipyard as an apprentice machinist. I learned very fast. We machined engine foundations, gun foundations, and propeller shaft bearings.
I worked the swing shift at the shipyard, and I hauled a load of soil or rock during the day when I got an order.
In 1943, our son, Roger, was born, and in 1944, I bought a 5-ton Hammer Mill to grind soil and peat. I installed this mill at Leon's Economy Store at N.E. 147th Street and Bothell Way in North Seattle. I set this mill up high enough so I could drive a truck underneath. This was all done near a twenty foot high bank so I could build a ramp to dump a truckload of material into it. At this time, there were no wheel loaders on the market. The mill ran by a gas engine. I did all of the work with no other help. I hauled a load of peat soil from Everett, and dumped it in the bin so I could try the mill out. It worked find.
May, 1945 Germany Surrenders
I decided to order two more Ford trucks. I went over to the Ford agency to find out when I might be able to get the trucks if I ordered them immediately. They told me that delivery could be six months to a year. I ordered them. Within three months I received a call from the Ford agency that they had a truck for me. No loaders, yet.
In the meantime, the grinder I installed worked fine.
August, 1945 Japan Surrenders
By 1946 I discovered there was a three-wheel front-end loader that was being built in Portland. I took a look at it and decided to order one. About four of them had been sold, and I bought the fifth one. It was a small loader with a 5/8 cubic yard bucket. With this loader everything changed for the better for me.
In the meantime a fellow by the name of Roger Junot came to my place of business. He introduced himself and said that he was a landscape designer and contractor. He wanted to know what I was doing with all of this machinery. I told him I was in the business of supplying topsoils, peat, manure and rock for landscaping. He asked if I could supply a soil mix consisting of one-third peat, one-third sand loam, and one-third manure. I told him that I could not do that yet, "but give me about another week, and I will be able to do it. I should have a new three-wheel loader in a few days." This was the start of the expansion of my business and a long friendship with Roger.
The loader came in another week. I loaded up ramp to the grinder with one bucket of sandy soil, one bucket of peat, and one bucket of manure until I had eight cubic yards in the bin. I parked the truck under the mill. I started up the mill. Presto! I had three-way mix. It took about 12 minutes to run through the mill. That was the start of many different soil mixes.
Still in 1946 I had signed a contract with Ostrom Mushroom Company to haul away on a weekly basis the entire residue for growing mushrooms. This was a great material. I used it for many different soil mixes.
I leased another peat bog and sand bank near Kenmore on Alaska Road.
By 1947 I bought about a three-acre tract at 205th and Aurora (Highway 99) at the Edmonds cutoff. I was going to relocate my soil mill there. I moved the soil plant to this location in 1948. We made many different mixes of soil for landscaping and nurseries.
In 1949 I started to build in my spare time a garden store at the 205th site. I opened the store in the spring of 1950. We put shrubs in containers in sawdust bins.
A new four-wheel drive loader came on the market in 1947. It had a one and one-half yard bucket that was hydraulically operated. I bought a used loader in 1949. This piece of equipment revolutionized the loading of materials.
My crew and I were able to mix or load hundreds of yards per day. We were able to load peat soil onto trucks right out of the peat bog. We stockpiled thousands of cubic yards for future use.
In 1950 I made up several mixes of soil and planted over a thousand one-gallon tin cans in different kinds of shrubs to see how they would grow. We also planted three-gallon cans – roses and shrubs. We mixed soil for different nurseries and greenhouses as time went on. It was about this time that I joined the fledging Washington State Nurseryman's Association.
In 1955 I sold the garden store and moved the soil plant to the peat bog in Kenmore, Washington. I put in a screening plant to screen sandy loam and sand. I bought another Hough Loader and more trucks.
In 1959 I bought a 133-acre farm near Cottage Lake (Woodinville, Washington.) This farm had a forty-acre peat bog on it. I leveled one acre of land and paved it with asphalt.
I moved the plant from Kenmore to the farm at Cottage Lake in 1960, and I dug a ten- acre lake in the peat bog.
By 1965 I leased forty acres near Woodinville that had sand, gravel, and peat.
In 1970 I merged Bassett's Soils with Western Sawdust, and we formed a corporation called Bassett-Western. Western Sawdust was a company that specialized in sawdust, bark, and shavings. The company was under contract with Seattle Snohomish Sawmill at Snohomish, Washington, to haul all of the sawdust, bark and shavings the sawmill produced.
As the president of Bassett-Western, I contracted to take all of the bark supply from Weyerhaeuser Sawmill B in Everett, Washington. I also contracted to take all of the bark from Summit Timber Company in Darrington, Washington.
In 1971, Bassett-Western leased about four acres of land near the entrance to Weyerhaeuser Mill B, and we built a new bark screening and sizing plant, which produced fine, medium and large grades of bark. We processed about a thousand cubic yards per day, sometime running three shifts a day. Also, by this time we were getting all the bark from the Buse Sawmill that was close by.
In 1973, we stopped harvesting peat from the Woodinville farm peat bog, and we bought a sixty-acre peat bog from Mr. Merz near Thomas Lake in Snohomish County. We started harvesting thousands of cubic yards per year, and we continued to mix the peat in our landscape materials. In addition to our other soil business, we contracted with Soils, Inc., to produce their greenhouse and nursery mixes, and we delivered the mixes to their customers.
In 1975 we contracted with Weyerhaeuser Mill in Snoqualmie, Washington, for their bark production. We built another plant at the Snoqualmie Sawmill to screen the material.
By 1979 with all of the bark we had in production, we still needed more bark. I recognized that Weyerhaeuser was dumping their log yard waste consisting of broken logs, bark, rock, dirt, and sand. I decided to develop a process by building a small experimental plant to take all of the log yard waste and segregate it and make into new products. The new process worked.
In 1980, we built a new machine to segregate all of the log yard waste, where we opened a new plant on Smith Island in Everett. We contracted to take the log yard waste for five years from Weyerhaeuser. We had 5 new products to sell: bark, sawdust, rock, wood, and soil. We operated the Smith Island plant for one and one-half years. Unfortunately, Weyerhaeuser decided to close the Everett Sawmill B before the five-year contract was up, and consequently, we had to close the Smith Island Plant.
Bassett-Western continued to operate in Woodinville until 1985 when the corporation was dismantled and the company was sold.
Viewing will be held on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 9 a.m. at Acacia Funeral Home, 14951 Bothell Way NE, Seattle. Funeral services will follow at 10 a.m. Graveside services will be held at Cedar Lawns Memorial Park in Redmond, following funeral services.
In lieu of flowers contributions in honor of Leno may be sent to:
WSNLA Scholarship Fund
34400 Pacific Hwy South, Suite 2
Federal Way, WA 98003
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