Rainier Soap & Christmas

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Rainier City Hall with a diminutive & dark Christmas tree at its side, awaiting official tree-lighting time.

A couple weeks ago I attended the Rainier tree-lighting ceremony. It was a small affair. My new community of Rainier is pretty tiny. Its heyday was when the Trojan Nuclear Facility  was running, which lasted until the plant was closed in 1993. Rumor has it that the TV show The Simpsons modeled their nuclear plant after this one, which makes sense, since so many Simpsons characters are named after streets in Portland. When the nuclear plant shut down, the town of Rainier slowly began to disintegrate. It still exists because of the logging industry, with multiple mills on the Longview, Washington side of the Columbia River (two largest employers there are Weyerhaeuser and Kapstone, timber/paper companies). But it’s not enough to keep a town thriving, so my home of Rainier is understated and I can almost see it shrinking.

The indefatigable citizens organized a caroling event and tree-lighting on the steps of the impressive City Hall building. It’s the only impressive building in town. The tree appears newly planted, and is about 8 feet high and not quite grown into its oversized decorations. About 30 of us stood on the sidewalk along Highway 30 in the rain, and listened to Christmas carols.

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Carolers were energized when Chief Elf showed up.
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Tree is now lit

Soon the city fire engine pulled up next to us, and Santa himself climbed out. The kids all broke into a rousing version of Santa Claus is Coming To Town, and Santa helped sing. When the song was over, Santa led us in a countdown, and the lights of the tree came on at our command.

Then everyone hurried inside and out of the rain. Kids got in line to talk to Santa, grownups grabbed hot cocoa and cookies to wait for the kids. There was a long table piled with donated goods from local businesses. Each person who walked through the door got a raffle ticket and so everyone stayed to see if they won anything good.

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Soon the little tree will be a big tree, and these ornaments will look just right.
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Tree comes to life with lights.

This waiting around took a long time, and I entertained myself by wandering the main hall of the City Hall. There are historic photos on the walls and I was delighted to discover that one of the largest original industries in the town was the Rainier Soap Factory, providing critical employment for women as well as men.

Finally, Santa was done talking to the kids and assisted with the raffle. I won a little basket with a stuffed animal and some Christmas dishes, but traded it with the next door neighbor girl for a squirrel magnet. Squirrels are my favourite.

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Homemade antiquey looking clocks were the only thing I wanted, but no such luck.
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Photos of the Rainier Mineral Soap Factory and its employees (mostly women) are along the walls of City Hall.
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Rainier Mineral Soap – keeps out blood poisoning, cleans ink spots, polishes metals, and protects from pestilence. This natural antiseptic contains no dirty fats. It’s a miracle product! This great little advertisement for the Preston Manufacturing Company tells a story and lauds the many benefits of Rainier Mineral Soap.

I also found an old photo of the City Hall (not very good, so I didn’t include it here) with interesting bits from the back of the photo posted beside it on the wall. “The new City Hall. The American Legion post here was given the privilege of obtaining two cannons, which in a moment of enthusiasm they decided would be fine placed at either side of the entrance to City Hall. It didn’t seem like such a good idea after they were installed, so they were moved to the grounds of the new High School on Nob Hill (1926).

“In the building, provisions were made for a hall above for the American Legion. Also for the library on the east side.

“Bord Kegh, carpenter, built the fire bell tower to the south east side of the building (1922). On Sunday morning, young Robert McKinley (1925) begged the janitor of the Methodist Church across the street for special permission to ring the church bell for Sunday School. In his youthful enthusiasm, he rang it with such vim and vigour that he called out the fire department – the bell tones were similar.”

My first question about those notes from the back of the photo is “Why was it a bad idea to have cannons at City Hall, but a better idea to have the cannons at the High School?” I’m also curious about the timeline, since it appears that the fire bell tower was built in 1922, but the cannons weren’t removed till 1926. Apparently it took years for the bad idea to be discovered. And finally, look at that vigour: Americans in the 1920s also used the British spellings, just like me. Maybe I’m channeling my inner frontierswoman.

It wasn’t the flashiest Christmas party I’ve ever been to, but it was a good night because I visited my City Hall and learned some great little tidbits about the building and my town’s history. These are the kinds of things to make a person feel more connected to her home.

13 thoughts on “Rainier Soap & Christmas

    1. If you are familiar with the Simpsons characters, it’s fun to spot the street signs in Portland with character names. Tara and I can’t go past Flanders St. without saying “Flanders!” in Homer’s voice.

      I actually thought of you, Derrick, while posting this. You have put up some great historical information and I’m happy to be able to find some of my own.

  1. Good to see you took some time out to enjoy. Fascinated by the soap. Wonder if it’s still made anywhere? I think my small town was bigger than yours but don’t think I ever went to those kind of functions. Maybe I should get out more too. Not very brave with the cold and dark. Merry Christmas to you both. Hugs,M

    1. Merry Christmas back to you, Ms. Marlene! I think you get out plenty with your seniors group. My next door neighbors (you know the ones) invited me, and I really had nothing else planned that night, so it was a good idea. I am glad to have been raised in tiny towns among rural folk, so this gathering was somewhat familiar to me, ha ha. I know what you mean about the cold and dark. When it’s 40 degrees and raining and pitch black at 4:30 pm, it makes a person want to stay home.

  2. A very strange soap ad indeed, Crystal. Glad you celebrated along with your small community, however, and had the fortitude to hang in there until you got your squirrel magnet. 🙂 Here’s wishing you a very happy Christmas. –Curt

    1. I got such a kick out of that soap ad! At first I was going to paraphrase it for the blog, but I was hoping someone would enjoy the whole thing. It is very entertaining to have the story of the flood told. Also apropos, since our region is suffering from multiple floods right now. If only we had stockpiles of Rainier Mineral Soap to ease our troubled minds.

      Without the squirrel magnet, I would have been disappointed that night, with a basket filled with a small stuffed bear and a Christmas-themed cheese dish and spreading knife. However, Skyla (6 years old) was delighted with it, and did not hesitate an instant when I suggested the trade. The squirrel is now prominent on my refrigerator.

      1. I kind of doubt a contemporary marketing firm would write copy quite like that! 🙂 As for the trade… as long as both parities are happy, what more can you ask for. Have a great holiday, Crystal. –Curt

  3. Mineral soap! We used to clean newborns with that in the nursery. I’d forgotten all about it, but as I read through the ad, the smell and feel came back to me.
    Good for you for getting involved in the local community! I’d have been right there with you 🙂

    1. I know you would; it’s just the kind of thing you do. Isn’t that a neat side-effect, that the sensations of the soap came to you while reading the ad. I love how human brains do that kind of stuff.

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