The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore

“You got one, Sam!”

....There are people and there are machines in the forest around us—and with apologies to the builders of mighty log loaders — I find the people more interesting.
....So let’s talk about the glories of being a cook for the delicate tastes of the west coast logger. For here at the dinner table — with fork, knife and elbows at the ready—sits the worlds’ greatest critic of food – raisin pie to radishes. Never in the history of man, has one man stood alone against overwhelming numbers, protected by only his white cook’s cap, a well drawn apron string and a butcher knife — and said, “Eat it—damn you.”
....And eat it they have — in cookhouses of all shapes and sizes up and down this Pacific coast — served up by cooks of all shapes and sizes, who have stood on their feet from four am to early evening — over a double or triple range, concocting up morsels for the mouths of hungry loggers. The bunkhouse logger, that is the single man who lives in camp, has by his life style always been a critic of cookhouses. For what else is there to do in so many of the lonely camps he has frequented in the inlets and bays of our coastline? The work has always been hard on the hillsides and valleys of our forests—and the appetite of a woodsman is a thing to behold. So in the loneliness of camp life a focal point has always been the cookhouse or grubshack. Where a man would never growl to his wife about the quality of a meal—the single logger in camp can feel free to give vent to the frustrations of his life, at the cookhouse.
....It’s been my good fortune to have known a good many camp cooks — some couldn’t boil water if they really tried — but most have been pretty good cooks and some compete with the best hotel chefs in the country. There was Jack Mack and Dave Dupuis — both passed on now — a co0uple of men who could turn a crew of tired and hungry loggers into a contented and full group of men, who on leaving the cookhouse headed straight for their bunks to ease off their well filled stomachs. Dave used to make a lemon pie with a two inch frosted covering on Sundays that could win a pie contest in Betty Crockers’

own kitchen. They ran a cookhouse with cleanliness, ease and authority — and one of their secrets was never to let the boys know what was for dinner. Keep ‘em guessing — surprise ‘em and none of that “stew every Tuesday and Thursday” stuff.
....It’s not that many years ago when the cook’s range was wood-fired, and heaven help the bullcook who wheeled in wet wood for the firebox. A cook would have to be up in the dark of night, start his wood fire with dry kindling and shiver in a cold cookhouse while the stove warmed up. Some of the cookhouses on our coast have fed several hundred men at a sitting. They were staffed with head cook, second cooks, bakers, dish-washers and flunkeys. The ones I grew up with were eating emporiums that served anywhere from thirty to fifty men. They were generally run by a head cook, a dishwasher and a flunky. They worked seven days a week and took in long hours.
....Sam Parrish has been cooking in camps for more years than he can remember. Sam is now what is known as a relief cook. That is, he takes on two week to one month jobs when some permanent cook wants a holi-day. Sam is still one of the best cooks on the coast at an age long past when most men have hung up their boots and pulled on their slippers. Sam’s short and stocky with a twinkle in his eye and what is known in the camps as an Englishman’s brogue. He’s cooked in darn near every camp on the coast at one time or another and is looking for the first boss to fire him.
....Some cooks are temperamental — some are nervous — some are quiet. Sam is a storyteller — and a good one, and nothing pleases him more than to regale a few of the loggers, in for a cup of coffee, of his exploits in the cookhouses of the coast. He tells a beauty of the time in 1926 when he was serving up dinner in one of the big cookhouses to about two hundred men. The crew had been seated only a few minutes when one of the flunkies came running up to Sam at the dish-up table, and with eyes wide, said — “Sam, you got one!”— Sam looked up from dishing the potatoes and said, “What do you mean I got one?” The


Flunky, ashen-faced, said, “There’s a man dead, just a sitting at the table — You got one Sam!” It later turned out that the man had died of a heart attack.
....I like the one about the time Sam and Bob Glazebrook had gone to George Green’s camp on the west coast of Vancouver Island and were getting the cookhouse ready for an incoming crew from the city. It was Saturday night and the crew wouldn’t arrive until Sunday. They had everything ready and Sam told Bob, seeing as how it was Saturday evening maybe they should take the row-boat and row two and a half miles down the inlet to the beer parlor. So into the rowboat and off they went. After awhile Sam looks at his watch and says to Glazebrook, “Bob, we aint gonna make it on time — that beer parlor will be closed up by the time we get there.” Just then our two lads hear a small aircraft over-head. Sam stands up in the rowboat, waves his arms about, and the small float-plane lands on the water and taxis over to them. The pilot hollered “ are you in trouble Sam?” “You’re damn right I’m in trouble — me and Bob won’t get to the beer parlor on time.” With that the pilot threw them a rope, and with the little rowboat tied to the strut of the pontoon, revved up his propellers and towed the thirsty twosome down the inlet to the frog shop. Sam said afterward that they figured they were goners as the rowboat splashed and swerved along behind the taxiing aircraft. It was a good story and typical of the things that happen in out-lying logging camps.
....Times have changed — and so have cookhouses. Where at one time meals were placed on the table in family style — today the greater percentage of camp eating establish-ments serve their food cafeteria style from steam tables. Where once the crew all came at the same time, at the ring of a bell or the sound of a horn, now the crew can come to the cookhouse between given hours and pick out their food as they would from a city cafeteria. It allows a bit more leisure to the meal for the crew, and most companies seem to prefer this type of operation.

British Columbia Lumberman, September, 1973

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....Younger men are now graduating from vocational schools and bringing to the cookhouses new and different ideas in the arts of cooking. They no doubt will do their job well and the logger will continue to be, as in the past, one of the best fed workmen in the world. But I think the colour and some of the excitement will be gone when the Sam Parrishes put down their mixing spoons and bid farewell to their cookhouses.
....I think of men like Walter Baxter, Nels Wickland, Stan Krawitz, and Freddie Ameter and I think of men of authority in their cookhouses and men who know how to put the finest prepared food in front of a logger. No stew and hash men these—for they and many others like them have pleased the palates of thousands of our coast loggers.
....And Sam – well Sam’s of the same caliber as the men named above, but they will all admit that Sam tells a better story than they do. For you see Sam’s not shy nor does he frighten readily. As he tells it a man would be a nervous wreck if he didn’t keep his head about him in the cookhouse. “Just look at the time I went into Cumshewa camp in the Queen Charlottes for Panicky Bell — why, hell, there was a big crew to feed and hardly any kitchen help — and you know the flunky came to me just as I was getting ready to serve dinner an’ he said he had sprained his wrist peeling potatoes — imagine, peelin’ potatoes he sprained his wrist. An’ then just as the crew sat down the second cook took a fit and fell on the floor and kicked and slithered about like a snake.” Well Sam wasn’t a man to panic in such a situation, he yelled at what was left of his cookhouse crew to “get this damned food served up, an’ don’t forget to step over that second cook on the floor.” The meal was served, the kitchen was cleaned up and Sam calmly told Panicky to get another cook, he was leaving for town.
....Well Sam, and Walter and Nels and Stan, and Freddie — it’s been nice knowing you men and also to remember Dave and Jack. This forest around us has been a better place to be in because of men like you and a lot of loggers join me in saying this. So keep the hotcakes hot, and keep them coming — and Sam, don’t try for another one!

....Keep out of the bight,


British Columbia Lumberman, September, 1973