THE FOREST AROUND US
The bunkhouse logger
green paint salesman who visited the camps made a
bundle. These clustered buildings on a beach shore, or in the forest,
or built on log floats, were always nearby to the cookhouse. Here in
this high spot of any camp were the long tables, long benches, and brief
stopping place of the logger. The law of the cookhouse was to eat quick,
eat quiet, and get back to the bunkhouse.
the forest around us in British Columbia there are machines and people,
working at the jobs of bringing the trees of that forest to market. By
far the most interesting are the people. And amongst those people have
been and still exist a very special type of person — seldom recognized
in the sense I will speak of — the bunkhouse logger.
safe-guarded — they make good movie stories and I don’t
think Hollywood ever claimed it had a priority on facts, just fiction.
A logger has been and still is a man engaged in the forest industry
for the purpose of bringing the trees to the market place, generally
a mill. He may be called a faller, a rigging man such as a chokerman,
a chaser or a hooktender. He may be a log truck driver or a boomman
or a grapple operator. All these are terms of the trade signifying a
job and they make up, along with a dozen or so other names, the men
of the logging industry. It is an industry that has seen vast changes
in the techniques of bringing the logs out of the woods and will no
doubt see many more in the years ahead. Balloon logging, helicopter
logging and partial processing at the site are all in their infancy
and will come as sure as the trees will grow another ring larger each
|British Columbia Lumberman, August, 1972||
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when on their rare outings to the big city and could find release only too often in booze. A four or six month stay in the bunkhouse and a ten day trip to the bright lights meant crowding too few moments into another six month memory. Some, in fact many good men that the woods needed, simply quit in the disgust of being parted from loved ones.
....To a young man the forest was a challenge and a place to earn a stake, but it quite often left some scars that lived on for years. To older men who knew of no other way of making a living, it deprived them of watching their young ones grow up, for there were seldom in those days the family homes that are now seen in camps.
....Camp schools were rare even if you had a home and as school age came in the family would have to break up generally leaving the logger father back in the bunkhouse and the mother and children in a town or city where schools were available. It meant in effect a form of running two homes on the logger’s pocketbook.
....I remember sitting in a long open style bunkhouse, poorly insulated, that was lined with 12 single cots along the walls. A 45 gallon barrel type stove stood in the middle of the building. Apple boxes were a chair and the after dinner conversations were memorable.
....The loggers would darn their own socks, mend their pants, wash their own clothing by hand and tell stories as to who got the biggest and most loads of logs. Some could whittle a piece of cedar wood into a ship or a puzzle. There was nearly always a watch repairer or an amateur barber in the group. They could curse every known word in the devil’s vocabulary and make up a few more. And they could lie about the times they had made a 29 hand at cribbage. Money and Waltham pocket watches lay in a box on the wall above their bunks and their bunks were their kingdoms. No one ever touched the belongings in that wall box, it was a law of the bunkhouse.
....There would be dry rooms in the camp, but many men simply hung their Stanfield underwear and bone-dry clothes up about the 45 gallon stove. The smell was memorable. They came back from dinner in the cookhouse with an apple or an orange for the evening snack, and I often admired the skill of a logger as he carefully peeled an apple as if he were a famed sculptor.
....In the early days of electric light plants in the camps, the lights would
be turned out in the bunkhouses at 10 o’clock in the evening and put back on about 5 in the morning. There wasn’t much else to do but sleep, and the day’s hard work in the woods looked after that. To most men it was a life to cope with not just live it.
....Of course times change and the camps of today are a far cry from the decades I speak of. Possibly only 2,000 still live the bunkhouse life in the more remote camps. Towns and roads have linked up and have in most cases done away with the logging camp. Some camps have large and good quality family style homes. Many men commute to their logging areas from towns and cities and the green paint salesman has gone the way of the “river-driver” or the “tree-topper.”
....So I write of the bunkhouse logger,
and remember him, for those men who lived the past in those lonely buildings remember well. They were and they really still are a mix of the world.
An Irish faller like the “Irish Swede” who could pull a hand falling saw through a six foot diameter Sitka spruce with the ease of a knife slicing off soft butter. Or Joe Charleston, the big burly South African who ran a steam donkey as if he were handling a Rolls Royce. Or “The Big Swiss,” a chokerman of great power who could dig a choker knob out from under a log no matter how tight it lay to the ground. These bunkhouse loggers and thousands like them were a backbone of this forest industry and their lonely times spent sitting about on their bunks in the evenings should be remembered if we are to understand the men very important to our society.
Here’s to you — bunkhouse loggers past and present — in this forest around us.
Keep out of the bight,
|49||British Columbia Lumberman, August, 1972|