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.
....Food was generally good, but on occasion some gut robber calling himself a cook, would take over and the result was always trouble. The trouble did not last long, for the boys in camp had a way of dealing with poor cooks.
....As the decades of the twenties, thirties and forties rolled by, the bunkhouse logger, when not out oin the woods, sat on his bunk, played cribbage, thought of far-away towns, went to bed early— got up early — bragged, listened and dozed. He was not in the army — he could quit when he wanted to — but he otherwise led a barrack’s life.
....He was generally cut off from the normal life of his city or town cousin such as the bright lights, the variety of places to go and the privacy of a home or even a hotel room. The normalcy of parties, girl friends, or maybe a wife were cut off for him and as a result the bunkhouse logger found life to be lonely.
....The odd few men could thrive on it, but to the majority no matter how much better became the style of bunkhouses or the better the facilities offered him, the life was lonely. His lifestyle was deeply affected. Many became bitter because of being cut-off. Many became self conscious

....In 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.
....To a public that finds difficulty in sometimes understanding so vast and interwoven an industry as the forest industry, the word “logger” conjures up a host of various images. He is thought of as a “tree-topper,” or a “river-driver”— or a man of iron who tears the town apart on a Saturday night. He has been glorified in the movies as a man who blows up the log-jam with a single stick of dynamite and thereby wins the hand of the boss’s beautiful daughter. Or a man of a family of rough-house bro-hers who fights off the greedy mortgage holder to save the family’s back forty from falling into the hands of the unsc-rupulous gang of eastern land grabbers.
....Well, if this is not a logger, then what is? If the truth were known we might find in the history of this very interesting industry that there have been “tree-toppers” known as high-riggers — the men that climbed tall trees, cut off the limbs and the top and thereby made a spar-tree for the early style of high-lead logging.
....Or he may have been a “river-driver”— a man who literally worked his way across a continent of trees, keeping the floating logs from hanging up on the banks of some river and thus getting them to their destination, the mill. Or he may have been a man of steel that broke up the town on Saturday night after a few months in the logging camp. But then I have known a few lawyers and bricklayers who have tried the same thing over a bottle of demon rum.
....As for the log-jams and dynamite and the family’s back forty being


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 year.
....Yet while the techniques of logging have changed, the logger must still go into the forest wherever that forest may be. In the early days of this industry, the logging camp was instituted to house the loggers. Because transpor-tation was poor and populations were slim and the trees were everywhere. The logging camp, small or large, became the center of logging life. In these logging camps lie the philosophy and make-up of the logger. To understand the logger is to understand his background. Logging camps of the twenties, thirties and forties were not exactly what Mr. Hilton had in mind when he created his places for people to live. They took on a variety of forms, but most were a cluster of wooden buildings not too well protected from the winds and the cold, containing single bunks and a wood heater. Men lived in generally large groups and privacy was found in sleep — if you could out snore the snores and snorts of your fellow logger.
Some buildings were painted dark green and the saying goes that the dark

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