At various times my father and brothers and myself were loggers. Dad logged at Comox Valley Logging in the 40s and 50s and had his own show on Read Island when I was a kid.
I logged in 1969 and the early 70s for a few years. I worked at Rennell Sound and Peel Inlet on the Queen Charlotte Islands, Roaring Creek Division of Whonnock Lumber at Stave Lake, and Norm Jacobsen's logging show at Port Douglas at the head end of Harrison Lake. I believe it was called Jay-Vee Logging back then. It was based in Maple Ridge. Jacobsen later was the mayor of Maple Ridge.
Unfortunately, I did not have a good camera back then, only a Kodak Instamatic, and it is darn hard to find good logging pictures. The following are the only pictures of me in the logging days. These were taken in spring of 1970 at Peel Inlet when I was operating skidders to swing logs to the beach.
Note the brightness of this picture; the sun is actually sort of shining.
In those days, Mac-Blo, BCFP, Crown Zed, Rayonier, CanCel dominated the industry. Over time, those once-honoured names have left the B.C. woods. Some companies have merged into larger multinationals, some have disappeared entirely. Whonnock Lumber later became Interfor.
Rennell Sound (marker RS on map) was a place of great natural beauty, until we started stripping it. The forest does regrow, but it does take a thousand years to grow the kind of spruce we were logging out of there.
Rennell Sound holds both a bright and a dark place in my heart and memories.
I enjoyed many aspects of working there, for the first couple of months, although being just out of high school, I was always thinking of back home, and girls and beer and the other fine things of life. The work was hard, and the food was good, and it was all new and different from my Dad's gypo logging outfit on Read Island.
Getting there, that first day in June, 1969, was half the fun.
Dad called home af few days before and Gary took the call, and when I returned home that evening, he told me Dad wanted me to come up to camp. I was allegedly studying for scholarship exams, having graduated high school, but really I was doing what any about-to-leave-school high-schooler would be doing, porking the pooch. So, I abandoned academia, always an easy choice for me. We scrambled around the next day, getting some work clothes, a hair cut, and a ticket. I flew from Vancouver to Sandspit on a 737 operated by PWA (Pacific Western Airlines, affectionately known as Please Wait Awhile). At Sandspit, I transferred to Queen Charlotte Airlines' Goose which was doing a milk and mail run to a bunch of camps, Rennell Sound being one of the last. The plane is amphibious, so we took off from land at Sandspit and landed in water, on an airstrip or on the water and taxied up onto land at various places; Massett, Tlell, Tasu, and others. It was several hours later when I disembarked at Rennell Sound, with a thorough grasp of the geography of Graham and Moresby islands.
In the rush to get up to camp, we had neglected to buy caulk boots, as Dad had assured Gary there was a pair in camp I could buy. As promised, these boots that would become my home for several months and all my logging after were there when I arrived. For the first few day, the boots and I negotiated who would fit the other first, but they were darn near the right size and broke in fairly well. For the reader, caulk (prounounced cork, the first thing you learn is there is a new word for everything) boots are typically heavy-soled leather boots with small steel spikes about 3/8 inch long driven into the bottom. These steel caulks give a logger the necessary traction to walk on wet logs on a snowy day in a rain forest. No problem. Except if the bark you step onto is loosed from the trunk of the tree and spins away under your weight when you step on it. You learn there are three styles of walking on logs. On the flat and horizontal level log, you walk like on the sidewalks of your home town, a thousand miles from here. On normal logs, the ones at all kinds of angles, you walk splay-footed up, and pigeon-toed coming down. This gives the best bite of the caulks into the bark or wood if the bark has been knocked off. Boommen and boatmen or others who work on the chuck all day sometimes use rubber caulk boots. When I was booming at Port Douglas, I wore my usual boots. Muckamucks from town always wear rubber caulks, because they are easy on, easy off.
In Rennell Sound, we had a couple of steel spars and an A-frame with a stupidly powerful yarder for high lead yarding,and some large cats and a big Kenworth skidder. The skidder was for swinging logs to the beach, the D9 cat was mainly used for road building, and the D8 was used for road work, or with an arch attached for swinging logs, or whatever job you might use a cat for; they are very versatile tools, like very large Swiss army knives, and when you have one around there is no end to the uses you can find for one. Truck logging was still a few years off, as the D9 cat crew and the powder man were building the road the trucks would take to get to the wood in the valleys further out the sound. The camp comprised several industrial-camp triple-wide trailers for crew bunkhouses, a cookhouse, a wash house, an office for the super and the time-keeper and a commissary for gloves, smokes, and razor blades, and a workshop for fixing the stuff that routinely breaks working in rugged country. The camp was right at the head of the sound, nestled at the foot of a mountain.
We worked a six-day a week shift, with time-and-a-half on Saturday, and we put two million board feet of wood in the water in a month, and a self-loading/self-dumping barge would come and take it all away, and next month we would do it again, regular as the rain fall on the west coast of the Charlottes.
I worked the summer of '69 on the A-frame, with my Dad as the yarding engineer. We got along well, though I am sure he took a bit of guff about his young kid who could barely hack it the first couple of weeks.
The A-frame yarder was a true old-style donkey engine, a big yarding engine set on a wooden sleigh, a big set of skids made out of logs, with some crosspieces bolted on to hold it together. It was sitting on a large raft, held out from the shore with a hundred foot stiff-leg made out of several spruce lashed together and had a couple of 80 or 90-foot spruce making the A, which each had a pair of back-guys hooked onto the swifters on the raft. There was a smaller donkey to control the front-guys, which were hooked through blocks on the A-frame to stumps on the shore. These front guys allowed the whole raft to be pivoted around the stiff-leg on the beach. The mainline was bigger than on the steel spars, at 2-1/2 inch, but the drum still had about 1000 feet of the stuff, and we were often flying three 1-3/4 inch chokers.
If you do the math, the chokers could have broken the mainline, but the wood was soft enough that if a turn got hung up, the chokers would just rip right through before the rigging slinger could blow a stop. We also had a set of 1-1/2 inch chokers, in case a WCB inspector ever set foot on the side. This pulling through the wood would leave the choker knob stuck right tight up against the bell, and kink the choker beyond use, or dog-cocked. Don't google that. But, a yarding choker has a knob at each end, one for the butt-rigging, one for the bell. If a choker got dog-cocked, the chaser would replace it on the butt-rigging, and with hammer and marlin spike get the knob loose, and sometime later replace it on the butt-rigging with the kinked end in the butt-hook. Chokers and life go on.
Butt-rigging consists of a shackle throuh an eye in the mainline, followed by two to four barrels or swivels, depending on who you talk to, and a shackle to hook the haulback onto that. There is a shackle and sometimes a few links of chain from the swivel to the butt-hook, and the knob of the choker sits in the butt-hook.
On this side, I learned the joys of pulling strawline, carrying haulback blocks, setting chokers, speaking the language, making Molly Hogans and packing a Tommy Moore up a hillside, how to notch a stump (though that was the hookers job) for a tailblock, listening to the hooker and the rigging slinger B.S., staying out of the bight, getting away a safe distance from the running lines, and then getting that far away again, learning what all the whistles and hand signals mean, and eating lunch on the hillside with the smell of fresh Queen Charlotte gumbo all around. Gumbo is a word for the soil the forest grew in; it probably took a few more thousand years to get that perfect mix of spruce-growing miracle-gro dirt.
We logged some good blue spruce and some decent cedar and hemlock out of that side, the best wood being the spruce. These logs were so light they would float above their centre lines. The cedar was not plentiful in this particular side, but we did get the odd big one. Big Queen Charlotte cedars are stunning trees, and make for nice logs, totem poles or canoes, depending on who is doing the harvesting.
We had one cedar about eight feet at the butt, that we unfortunately had knocked down into a draw as we logged the road before we got to it. In yarding, a road is the current position of the haulback and mainline and a choker width on either side. As you log, you move the tail blocks along the backend to move the road along the hillside, and take every bit of wood above 4 inches to comply with Forestry rules, or take bigger turns over the little pecker poles, to break the little crap up so you don't have to deal with it. This is a form of cherry-picking, taking the best wood. But, an eight-foot cedar at the bottom of a draw has got to be gotten. The lift was not good, as we we already near the back end, and so we were going to have to use some finesse and some brute force to get the log out of there. We had plenty of both of those. The hooker and the rigging slinger decided a bridle and a scab-line would be the best way to go, so they had the chaser remove one choker (there is a whistle for how many chokers you want) and add a scab line (there is a whistle for that). A bridle is made by setting the knob of each choker into the bell of the other. A scab line consists of a block on the haulback, tethered to the butt rigging with a short length of wire rope, to allow tightlining to give more lift than a regular tightline, which is just riding the haulback brake. We set this up, a marvel of rigging once you see it in action, and the hooker gave the go-ahead signal, three shorts whistles - pause - two shorts for mainline, with a tightline. The cedar jumped into the air like a big salmon, and Dad reeled it in, suddenly a small fish on a very big, fast line.
Into this idyll of work-eat-sleep came personal tragedy. I took some time off in early September, and went back to Rennell Sound in early October. I was not happy to go. I had been to town, seen mine friends, got some "hootch, klootch and gramaphone" and was not wanting to get back to the isolation and the rain. I went, unhappily, but that passed after a few days,as there was no point in making life worse by being down.
We worked on one of the steel spar sides for the first week back, which was a novelty for me, and got me into working with some other members of the crew. Russell Brown, the skidder driver, gave me a Haida name, which was fine by me, until a couple of days later he told me what it meant, raven shit, and then he laughed, but it was OK. A few days later, we went back to the A-frame, which had been moved by Roy the boatman to a new location.
It was mid-October, a splendid day, clear, cool, with a hint of overnight frost, but with a late-rising sun driving out some of the chill as we arrived at the float, a perfect day. The mountains looked crystal clear in relief against the western sky, there was a feeling of magic. Perhaps it was some flash back to some hootch, being a generic word for alcohol and in my day extended to most drugs a logger would casually ingest. I was chasing on the A-frame side and Dad was the yarding engineer. The hooker and the rigging slinger and one chokerman were up the hillside. The regular chaser, Johnny Mc, who had a voice like a gravel truck, had a little lean-to on the float so he could sit out of the wind while the rigging was out of the landing. He had a burner in there to make a fire to keep warm and cook donkey dink or horse cock, whichever you call salami. He was out to town for a few days so I was chasing and this was paradise. I even brought an extra thermos of coffee. We got a few turns in and then the rigging stopped. I thought nothing of it for a minute or so, as I figured Dad was probably monkeying with the brakes or something. But, it was odd. I finally got up from the shack and went to the yarder to see what was up. And he was in bad shape. His hands were on the controls, his feet were on the brakes, everything was locked solid, and his eyes did not see me. He did not register me in anyway. I was shocked. I knew enough to shut the machine off, and make sure the brakes were set hard so the lines would not move, and then I moved his hands off the controls, and they simply fell to his lap.
I called for Gene, the hooker, to "come in, Dad's sick" (writing this, all these forty years later, I could not remember the hooker's name until just now as I wrote that). There is a whistle for that, to bring the crew in, but I forgot it in the moment. The rigging crew arrived quickly, we got Dad into the crew boat, but he was not registering anything, or responding to anyone, though he could walk with guidance, but no speech, no recognition, nothing. I sat with him for the half hour (or one eternity ) ride back to camp, with my arm around him, he leaning into me, and my world suddenly changing forever. I remember grabbing a smoke from his shirt pocket, and so began a habit of thirty years.
Fortunately, we had a radio in the crew boat, so a plane had been called for an emergency evac to Queen Charlotte City hospital, and thus, several hours after the onset, Dad was in the air, on the way to medical help. And I was in some kind of shock. A day later, Uncle Ed, the side-rod, and I both went to Charlotte City to see Dad. By now, he had had a tracheotomy, and was fading deeper into the dark of what was later diagnosed as an ruptured aneurysm in the brain. Soon, Mom and Brian and Gary were in Charlotte City with me, and we were loading Dad on a flight to Vancouver, a Viscount instead of the usual 737, and we roared off into the dreary, cloudy, rainy day, and got him to Vancouver and an ambulance took him to Vancouver General Hospital.
He lingered in a coma, wasting away physically to a vague semblance of the man that was, but never came out of the dark, and finally died of pneumonia at the end of January in a old annex of VGH reserved for the terminally ill.
It is a hard life, logging in B.C. or working in the northern mines or fishing in some remote area, hours and sometimes days from medical help. Not that anything could have been done to save Dad. Had his aneurysm occurred in a doctor's office, the outcome would probably been the same. But, it took the lustre off logging.
I went back to Rennell Sound for a month in November and December until Christmas shutdown, and returned in the spring of '70 after Dad died, to work there and with Ed in Peel Inlet, but my heart was not in it.
Roy G., the superintendent at Rennell Sound, died of an asthma attack. He had his inhalers, and suddenly had an attack, but because of the bad weather a plane could not fly the hour from Sandspit, and he died, still waiting for an airplane, a couple of day later, after exhausting what should have been an adequate supply of inhalers.
Hank the bull bucker broke his leg falling the big spruce the eagles nested in after the young had flown, but he was able to get a flight out, had a cast put on, and came back to work a couple of days later. He was skookum. He was working alone, though we could see his boat come in to shore where the big tree was. The tree fell awhile later and I saw his boat leave some time after that. When we got back to camp that night, it turned out he had broken his leg after the tree fell, and he had dragged himself down to the saltchuck, a hundred yards or so, dragged himself up into the boat, and then driven the boat back into camp.
The other two fallers always had some cuts or nicks or bruises, but managed to survive.
I worked on one of the tower sides when I got back to Rennell Sound in the fall of 69, and they one day gave me a whistle to start working as a rigging slinger, though I had a young guy, Dave, as a hooker whom I was supposed to defer to, by tradition. We did not have a chokerman, as either a rigging slinger or a tame ape was coming from town, so my apprenticeship was going to be short if the new guy was a rigging fucking slinger, and extended if a choker boy showed up. This was OK by me as I would get at least a few days of rigging slinger rate, amd some experience.
What we called a whistle was also known as a talkie-tooter, a radio transmitter that sends a signal to a reciever on the yarder that activates a solenoid that blows an air horn. One touch on the whistle, one blast, stop. Three touches, three toots, go ahead on her. To prevent accidental signals, the device had to be tipped up, and the hand had to be inside a guard to squeeze a flexible metal bar that actually activated the signal. You did not ever want an accidental signal while you were working at the butt rigging.
For a couple of days nothing untoward happened, though Dave the hooker was a lot of a dork.
On the third day, all hell was right there to be seen, but everyone survived.
And, it happened like this. We set a turn with a couple of really heavy hemlocks (the hemlock in the show we were working was the heaviest I had ever seen, with some logs barely floating when they hit the saltchuck). We cleared out, gave the yarder the high-ball signal, and watched as both logs simultaneously nosed in behind stumps and stopped cold. I was the rigging slinger, he was the hooker; it was his job to fight the hangup, which involves whistles to the yarder to stop, haulback, tightline, go ahead, do whatever you could with the power of the yarder before you stopped it and the rigging slinger went down and did whatever to free the hang-up. So I watched, and deferred as he had the yarder pull as hard as it could, and then I thought this was going badly and I almost had my whistle tipped up to blow a stop, when the mainline broke, probably two hundred feet from the yarder, and a split second later, all that free line was whipping through the landing coming straight at the chaser, the super, and the yarding engineer, who was not sitting in one of those nice cages, but was on the open deck of one of the early Madills, before the creautre comforts.
Jesus, that was fast. And after all the mainline was already in the landing, I finally had my whistle ready to blow.
Everyone in the landing survived, and it is an ill wind, they say. We spent the rest of the day working with Gene, the other hooker, and another rigging slinger making a common long splice, a fascinating process, and I cannot imagine how Gene kept it in his head to do it, as one should never have to make a long splice. The idea with splicing wire rope is simple, make a join in the rope that is at least as strong as the original rope, and, when splicing a long splice with a mainline or haulback, make it no thicker than the original diameter, else it won't spool properly. But, the devil is the details, especially the 56 steps. could not just discard the couple of hundred feet still attached to the butt rigging, as then there was not enough to yard all the way to the back end so we had to salvage as much as we could. Had it broken close to or at the butt rigging shackle, we would have cut off a few more feet, put in a new mainline eye, and been back in business in no time.
And so Gene had a few of us unwinding strands from here and tucking strands there and overlapping strands elsewhere, and a few hours later, we had a splice, and you could not easily see where it was.
Often at Rennell Sound I would work on Sunday with Russ or Bob, swinging logs to the beach. One Sunday, I rode up with Russell in the morning, and we surprised and scared a bunch of bears out of the landing. I wondered if they would be back, so while Russ was taking the turn to the beach, I sat in the cab of the yarder, this being the new one, with the creature comforts, but not the creatures. The bears did not come back that day, they were probably as surprised at seeing us on a Sunday as we were to see them.
Wildlife was wildly abundant; this was the Queen Charlottes, probably one of the most fertile natural habitats in B.C. Bear and deer were commonly sighted near camp and near the logging sites. The bears were smallish black bears, and the deer were a particulary small breed, probably white-tail. These were too accustomed to humans, and would wander through the camp at any time. There is a picture of Dad feeding them right at the bunkhouse door. Eagles were always in the air. I spotted a whale in the sound on one ocassion. I was standing in the back end, waiting for the rigging to return, and I saw a shape break the surface, rest a moment, then dive again. Sea lions were abundant. There was a small rock visible at low tide on the way to the A-frame, and many mornings as we came around the point we found this rock completely covered with sea lions.
Ever been paralyzed? Me, just the once. I was working with Bob the catskinner, clearing some logs away from the road and a new landing where one of the yarders would be moving to from the other side of the valley. This kind of logging was fun; you, a cat, an arch, a bunch of chokers, and can you load so much on that the cat cannot lift if or move it. With cat logging, you drag some chokers into bush, set them, then drag the cat bullhook out to the chokers, hook them on, and have the catskiner winch them in. Repeat until you get enough logs to send him on his way, then sit back, read a book or wait for the bears to come for you. I had most the turn set, and was dragging the mainline out one last time, when I got a jagger in my thumb. A jagger is a break in one of the small strands of wire that makes up a big strand, they are sharp and somewhat near the thickness of a pencil lead. They are fiendishly sharp, and pierce human flesh with ease, through a glove like it was not there. And this one was all the way into my thumb, so it had stopped on some bone. And I looked at my hand, and found I could not move it. So I waved to the catskinner to come help me, a dangerous thing, because if he misunderstands he may start winching the cable in, but Bob was human, and though he did not like walking on logs, as he wore bedroom slippers instead of caulks, he reluctantly joined me, and simply pulled my hand away. And did not seem to think it odd to be paralyzed thus. So, it happend to him once.
On balance, all of these guys, save one, were decent or OK or tolerable. The one was not. He arrived from town one day, and joined us on the A-frame side, with Gene as the hooker, and the new guy as the rigging slinger. It all got off to a good start, and too quickly turned sour, going way south before first coffee. Gene asked him to do something, and the guy threw an axe at Gene and started screaming at him. So, Gene pulled us all off the hillside, we all got into the crew boat and left the guy on the float by himself. We went back to camp and Gene told Roy or Ed to get rid of the guy. They called a bomber and Ed gathered up the guy's stuff from his room and took it out to the float along with a check and the airplane picked the guy up right from the float.
There was a lot of banal petty criminality out there, guys running from alimony, minor stuff. Every crew had one guy who would head into the weeds whenever a plane flew over, as he would be sure it was the RCMP looking for him.
It was in Rennell Sound that I learned an expression that has stayed with me, and has guided me through
life's crises since. I was riding on the D-9 one day, working with Norm the catskinner, and I looked up and
saw written in the soot on the ceiling of the cab:
When in danger,
When in doubt,
Run in circles,
Scream and shout.
The other bon mot, as they say, I overheard one morning, in that too brief interlude between breakfast in the cookhouse and getting dressed for work in the wash house. I was lying in my bunk for a few moments, and could hear John the beach chaser in his room, rumbling around, while from other rooms came the usual hacks and coughs of guys who smoke too much. And then, clear, like the voice of an angel, I hear John express it all for all of us, on this cold, rainy morning, a thousand miles from home. "Fuck money, eat cunt." Words to live by, if ever there were some.
I am not sure where exactly the camp (marker PI on map) was located in that bunch of inlets and bays in Peel Inlet area.
Peel Inlet was not without its charms. When Ed and I arrived there, with Frank, Red, John and a couple of others soon to arrive, we found a watchman who had been there by himself for the whole winter shutdown. He was quite bushed, though probably not fully and certifiably crazy. I heard voices one day, and went around a corner of the cook house to find him talking to the wind, and talking back to himself in another voice. He was a good cook though, and made a seafood chowder that still ranks as the best I have ever tasted. My wife bristles, so I finally told her her seafood chowder was better than Peel Inlet chowder. Lies sometimes have to be told, my son.
The camp at Peel Inlet was laid out differently than Rennell Sound. Here there were four trailers arranged in a quadrangle, with a roof covering the common area between. This roof was made from semi-translucent green corrugated fibreglass panels, so with the rain, it was rather like being in a dryish aquarium. Ed told me that Rennell Sound camp had been laid out like that, but when the camp burned down one night, the year before I went there, they decided to arrange the new camp with widely separated trailers instead of one burnable mass of aluminum, wood and plastics.
The whole operation had suffered from the winter shutdown, not just the watchman.
Ed was a jack of all trades, as any good long-time logger must be, and he and I worked for several days getting the skidders and boat running after shutdown, he doing the monkey wrenching and me greasing and oiling and fuelling and filling tires and test-driving the things.
To get the yarder running, a 90-foot Madill tower, we had to hoist its on its jacks on wooden blocks, and muck out all the mud that had filled in under it over winter, as the tracks would have broken if we had tried to move it. Frank and I were under the machine with shovels, our lifes depending on the hydraulic hoses not bursting, and I knew about pipes bursting, my dad's vien had burst in his head, or the blocks not splitting, which never happened, except at Roaring Creek that one time, when the yarder tipped, but that was much later.
Peel Inlet operation was in the process of being shut-down; we were there to finish off one small side, move any colddecked logs to the saltchuck and move the equipment to the beach for barging out.
Thus, it had a more relaxed atmosphere. Ed's sons, my cousins Ross and Kenny came to camp and worked for a couple of weeks. But, it got a little too relaxed as Frank and I overdid the hootch, especially the hash brought in by Kenny, who knew his way around a kilo or a gram, and we both slept past the wake up bell one day, only to have Ed charge into our room to tell us "get the hell out of your fuck sacks and get to work, damn it." We deserved it. The whole crew was sitting, waiting, and getting paid while we slept.
Driving skidders was fun, like driving forklifts at the paper mill and steel mill was fun. I drove the Timberjack and the Wagner, both of which were articulated in the middle, with automatic transmissions, and sometimes worked on the rigging crew. I learned how to eye-splice like a pro, but all is forgotten now.
Joe Nugent (*), the other skidder driver, drove the Kenworth, a big one like the one in Rennell Sound, but with the manual shifter. These drove like trucks, with steering front wheels, and probably shared a lot of their design with a Kenworth logging truck, except for the five foot tires. One day we were all riding down with the last turn of the day, and just as we crossed the top of the steepest incline on the road, passing through a fairly deep cut, the incline with a sheer drop at the end if you missed the turn, Pete yells "I can't get it in back in gear", and so we had several tons of machine being pushed down a hill by several tons of logs, all riding over a nice slick of mud and water. Full of danger and doubt, I leapt from the skidder, and grabbed the bank and then thought that wasn't smart as the turn of logs thundered past behind me. But Pete got the machine back in gear and brought it to a stop, and he survived, and I survived, and Frank, who had jumped the other way, survived, and Red, who stayed on the machine, laughed at us both. But, he survived that, too.
(* When I first wrote the above paragraph, I could not remember his name, but I figured it would come back from the murk of nearly 40 years. A couple of day later, his name popped into my head, while I was doing some work around the house. Memory is a weird thing.)
Joe drowned in Queen Charlotte City harbour. He fell off a boat at night when he was drunk, which could happen to anyone, anywhere. So, not a logging accident.
The Queen Charlottes experience ended around May of '70. I had come out for a holiday in April, and barely got back in time for the operation to be shut down due to a tow-boat operators strike. I loafed away the summer, burning some of the cash I had banked, and then started university. I had made fairly good money. I was a member of the IWA, Loggers Local 1-71, which represented most of the coastal logging operations. Starting pay for chokerman was low by today's standard but I recall it was around $4.50 an hour. Because we worked Saturday at time-and-a-half and double-time-and-a-half for any stat holidays we worked, I managed to make about a $1000 bucks a month, and had no where to spend it in camp. There were lots of places to spend it at home, and I did.
Roaring Creek (marker RC) can be found at the north end of Stave Lake in this map. It was a long time ago that I worked there; I do not recall whether it was a 5-day show (five days in camp, and a weekend at home in town) or a ten and four show (ten days in camp, four days out). I think it was a five-day show. I flew in some times and took the crew boat on other occassions.
As with everywhere on the Coast, the flight was spectacular from Pitt Meadows airport, around the Golden Ears, up Alouette Lake, and then over to Stave Lake and down onto a rough landing strip. One could always find the odd flash of surprising white against the grey rock of the mountains, a mountain goat picking its way along. At the right season, dogwood trees, the floral emblem of B.C. could be spotted, brilliant against the grey and green.
The crew boat left the south end of the lake early Monday morning. We arrived a couple of hours into the work day, but worked an extra hour each day to make the 40 hour week by shut-down on Friday. The boat ride was usually pretty quiet; a thermos of coffee was essential.
There was always a colourful character in each logging camp, maybe several but at least one. At Roaring Creek, it was Sam, a chaser, who had the best sayings. It was from Sam that I picked up a couple of life-long useful sayings:
Sam had other sayings, but I would probably lose my domain if I quoted them, as the language was a trifle salty, even for loggers.
Initially I worked there with the Christensen brothers of Maple Ridge, who operated a Caterpillar D6 with integrated arch. One brother did the falling, the other was the cat skinner. I was hooktender for them for several weeks, until the main operation needed a chokerman on one of the yarding crews. I was lucky (truly), as I drew Mike's side. Mike was a classic of the B.C. words, a (red)dyed-in-the-wool Communist, whose main complaint was the coupon-clippers in town. You had to like these guys. Most camps were too small to dislike anyone much, as avoidance was difficult.
It was on Mike's side that I witnessed the most ignominious steel spar raising ever. We managed to put the yarder on its side, and had to enlist the aid of the other hooker and the Christensen brothers' cat to help right it.
I also had my all-time bar-none worst day of work ever on Mike's side (barring Dad going blank in Rennell Sound, which was not a real work day, but a surreal work day). Something in my lunch disagreed with me, and I spent a whole afternoon literally under a rock, running at both ends. I could not work due to the gastro-intestinal upset, so I asked Mike to let me off. He took one look, and agreed, but I was not deemed sick enough to take all the trouble to go back to camp. I moved away from the logging, found a cave formed by several large boulders, and whiled away the afternoon, at least out of the rain, puking and pooing by turns. After a day like that, it takes a lot to faze one at work. Software development sometimes comes close, but it cannot find a nadir lower than that day.
I worked a summer at Port Douglas (marker PD on map), working on the booming grounds with Floyd. Gary was head mechanic at Port Douglas, Bob Koga's dad worked there, it was pratically like being home, except I missed my girl friend D. something fierce. But, a man has to work. Floyd Tottenham was the boomman, and did not like me much at first sight, but I got the work done, did not fall in, and finally he got civil. When he saw that I could run across a boom like a pro, something learned at Read Island as a kid, then it was OK between us, long hair and all. This was the only time I worked with truck-logging instead of skidders.
One of these truck drivers was pretty quiet, the other, Pete, loved to talk, and most of his talk was stories from the past, told over coffee at mug-up in the evening. It soon became apparent these stories would shift over time, as new details were remembered (or invented, it was hard to say), and old elements were dropped. Randy, the bull cook, whose claim to fame at the time was he was the largest student to ever suit up for a B.C. high school football game, caught the gist, and began influencing the flow of the stories. He would suggest a detail from another of Pete's stories, while Pete was regaling us with, for example, the yarn about the time an electric cable going to a house get snagged on the top log on the load on his bunk, and soon the new detail would be in place, and darned if he hadn't pulled the TV right out of the guy's house, and the guy came running out, real mad, because he missed the Leafs winning goal.
Not a word of a lie.
I hurt my knee like a bastard there one day, cutting boom chain plugs, when the axe handle came up and caught that tendon right at the lower side of the knee-cap. You are wincing, you know the one. That was good for a couple of days of light work on the booms, no running across the logs, but I could still drill boom chain holes, and run the dump for the trucks, so I did not have to go to town. I was a member of the walking wounded, the great corps of workers who never show up on an injury report, because we don't take the day off.
Every occupation has its jargon which you have to master. In logging, what you don't understand can kill you. Especially if it is a "bight".
My time in the woods was at the very end of the wooden spar era, used by my dad on Read Island, and well into the steel spar era, and even that technology was in flux, as grapple yarding would be the next thing, with even more mobility for the yarder. So my jargon is flavoured by the era I was in, the early 70s.
Ken Drushka's books have helped me in later years understand the changes in logging practices in B.C. that forced my father out of running his own logging operation. "Stumped: The Forest Industry in Transition" published in 1985 and "In the Bight: The BC Forest Industry Today" (1999)which covers a lot of the same ground with important updates some 15 years later, give a good synopsis of those issues that changed the availability of lumber in the 60s and early 70s.Some Drushka