Roy McDaniel: “I’m 90, but I feel 20”
Roy McDaniel estimates that he has worked continuously for 75 years. He was born in the sawmill town of Fullerton, Louisiana on January 26, 1925. In 1927, the timber was gone, the sawmill closed, and the McDaniel family moved to Pelt Hill. He started working in the sawmill town of Mab, Louisiana when he was 15 years old as the boy who would sweep floors, deliver messages and do anything else that needed to be done around the mill office. He would walk about two miles to work and after the office was cleaned, he would catch the school bus and go to school.
His family moved several times, once to Elizabeth, Louisiana. At the mill there he worked in the laboratory. His regular shift was seven six hour night shifts.
Often he would have to work six hours, be off six hours, and go back for another shift. By the time World War II started manpower was so short and he worked so many hours he did not attend his high school graduation.
McDaniel had gone to the DeRidder Air Base and taken the test to join the Army Air Corps and passed them. He wanted to wait to enlist after he graduated from high school, but was drafted and assigned to the infantry. He applied to take the Air Corps tests again and once again passed them. He was sent to Gulfport Field, Mississippi for training. He was assigned to clerical work in the base office.
He was sent to New Orleans and from there to Cuba. From Cuba he went to Panama and by narrow gauge railroad crossed to the Pacific side of Panama. He was the only soldier of his group to be sent to the Galapagos Islands. Once he arrived there he met his uncle, Audice Earl. He and his uncle were together for three months. Earl was in an artillery unit whose job was to protect the Panama Canal, McDaniel’s Air Corps unit was assigned flights to look for enemy forces that may be trying to attack Panama.
McDaniel was discharged in February, 1946 after 30 months of service. “After I got discharged, I went to Orange and went to work for DuPont. Over the next 40 years I worked at three of the plants, two times for two of the plants. I never had one day of not having a job. I would leave one plant one day and be hired again the next day”, said McDaniel. His career in the plants was with electrical and instrumentation jobs, along with draftsman work in both fields. He especially enjoyed his years as a draftsman. “I used to watch the clock, not to see when it was time to go home, but to see how much longer I could sit and draw. I really enjoy drawing”, said McDaniel. At the age of 90, he still has a steady hand and is able to still draw with the drafting tools ; almost a forgotten art in the age of computer assisted drafting.
When the mill at Mab closed McDaniel was given a small wooden table from the office. The table started his life long love of collecting. The collection grew so large that he built his personal museum. The building was built mostly of antique lumber, some from old sawmills. He obtained some flooring from the old Farwell house in Orange, and redwood from a cooling tower at the Allied Chemical plant. “I would run this old wood through my planer and it came out beautiful. I had old doors, windows, all that sort of stuff and even old electrical switches I used a lot of old material and had a beautiful building”, saidMcDaniel.
The museum contained items from sawmill life to old pictures, and even two large grinding stones from a grist mill. “I had so much in my museum that I cannot remember all of it. Not many people came to see my museum so I decided to close it. I gave everything to the heritage museum at Fort Polk. Thousands of people have seen my collections now. They even had me up there two different weekends when they had their weekend heritage festival”, said McDaniel.
He has written 16 books, most have been about the old central Louisiana sawmill towns and the lumber companies that operated them. It is entirely possible that his filing cabinets contain nearly a million pieces of paper and pictures.
“One book I wrote is about the first Protestant church in Texas. I wrote this book because my great grandfather, John Duke Mathews was a part of it. He was a sawmill man and a Hardshell Baptist preacher for about 65 years. Some of my stories have been printed in Leeseville, Alexandria, Oakdale, DeQuincy in Louisiana and Orange, Texas. Recently I wrote a sawmill history book. I have enjoyed writing my books”, said McDaniel.
His talent as a woodworker is evident by his collection of clocks. He has built and has in his home about 125. They are made from salvaged old wood, new wood and even hubcaps from old cars. “The last 35 years of so I have been building clocks. I love to build clocks, I have probably built over 200 of them. I love to build clocks in memory of special people and I love to use special wood. One clock is built from wood that came from a house that was built by slave labor. Two are build from lumber from a house that was built in 1850. I have given clocks to my church children. I gave five clocks to one family”, said McDaniel.
McDaniel is proud to be a charter member of Calvary Baptist Church in West Orange. He has been a member for 64 years and served in nearly every capacity that needed manpower, including working in the nursery.
“I may be 90 years old, but I do not feel like it. I try to stay active, and I feel more like I am 20”, said McDaniel.
McDaniel is shown sitting in his office surrounded by some of his collectible treasures and files.