The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore

‘The Jerk Wire

Whistle – Punk’

....And that’s what he was called. In fact that was probably the best name he was ever called. Maligned, abused and the butt of practical joker loggers all over the coast of B.C., the “whistle-punk” or “punk” around the camp will be a long remembered name by old timers who worked the steam donkeys and the later diesel and gas donkeys. Before the days of electronic signaling devices that flashed the signal to “go ahead” or “stop” or “slack the haul-back,” the whistle-punk was the honorable profession of “signalman.”
....One would think that a person entrusted with the fate of several loggers, such as the signalman was, would naturally command a certain amount of respect—but like the man said on T.V. the other night—“He don’t get no respect.” I have heard the woods ring and tremble with oath after oath as an angry hooktender vented his frustrations on an innocent whistle-punk. For how much nicer to scream at a human being instead of a stump. And as most old time hook-tenders knew—“Punks was put there on earth to scream at.”
....The jerk wire was a mechanical device to remember. At the side of the big old steam donkey, whether it be on a log float or in the felled and bucked timber, the stream whistle from the boiler was tied tautly to a small pole atop the donkey engine. This pole acted as a spring, for when it was pulled the whistle gave a “toot.” Whistle wire was simply a galvanized

THE STEAM donkey — homing ground of the whistle-punk.
clothesline wire, strung out in the woods as far as need be for the “punk” to hear the voice of the “hook-tender” and his commands.
....A good whistle punk was always near at hand to the crew. If he knew his business he had a magical way of being in the right place at the right time and was always ready for a signal.
....By pulling in jerks on the wire in his hand he thereby jerked the spring-pole atop the steam donkey. This activated the stream whistle which told the engineer at the winch drums whether to “come back” or “go ahead.” A series of long and short whistles made up a signaling system that allowed the “punk” to relay the rigging crew’s wishes (screams!). Generally the
screamed-at-one could hear the yells, but at times his crew would get down in a hole or behind a small ridge, making listening very difficult.
....At this precise time, with ears flapping for the voice of a logger—and by standing absolutely still—would descend the inevitable swarm of no-see-ums or mosquitoes or deer flies—or the grand-daddy of them all, the summer horse fly.
....Unable to move for fear of missing a command, our young hero of the signals would blow air, jiggle his pant leg, twitch his collar, blink his eyes and so on until the saving command was hollered.
....For, you see, the rigging crew would be in and around and possibly
British Columbia Lumberman, September, 1974

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under the logs to be hooked onto by the steel 1¼” chokers. The signalman was generally about 100 to 200 ft. away from the crew, and one false whistle could mean serious injury or death to a chokerman or rigging- slinger. So midst the problems of attacking bugs our dauntless fellow stood—ready to toot his tooter. And of course to add to this miserable man’s existence we must consider the weather. To stand still in the summer and be attacked by bugs is one thing—but ‘tis surely likewise uncom-fortable to stand in winter—listening for that insufferable scream—in the snow, in the wind or cool, lashing raindrops keep falling.
....Aw well—it took a special kind of young man to be a whistle punk. For there were two types of such men. The new unused – the “greenhorn,” starting out in the woods with possible aspirations of being a mighty logger. The other was the “professional signalman”—and to this gentleman one did not scream or shout. He did not broach such nonsense. He was a pro and signaling was his livelihood.
....I remember one whistle-punk. At the time a 2,000 ft. skyline was stretched from an A-frame to a big spruce spar tree on top of a hill where logs had been piled from the sur-rounding area. The galvanized jerk wire was also strung the 2,000 ft. from the pile to the steam donkey on the float. It was the custom to break off beer bottle necks and to hang these on little trees with the jerk wire going through all these bottle necks to the steam donkey. Now when the tide came in or went out it made quite a difference with the amount of slack the whistle punk had to gather at his feet before the 2,000 feet of galvanized wire was taut and would toot. It sounds like a strange type of work now when I write about it, and in light of modern day logging—but I pulled a lot of that 2,000 ft. jerk wire—I guess it was a good job.
....Around the camp there was always some joker after the punk. “Get me a left-handed monkey wrench,” or “a handful of nail holes,” and such were the favourite pastime. If the young fellow was good-natured he survived —if not—he left vowing eternal vengeance on all mankind.
....I remember one young jerk-wire whistle-punk—Bob. Now Bob is one of Canada’s top foresters, traveling the world solving forestry problems. He has a sense of humor too—“guess that helped in the punking days, eh Bob?”
....After the jerk wire—when the age of diesel and gas came into in to power the donkey winches—the electric whistle was introduced. A scornful thing this touching of two electric wires together to get a toot (pardon me, a tweet). Gone was the silver puff of steam as the punk snapped the spring pole on top of the steam donkey. A series of short whistles meant “to give slack on the mainline.” The signal shot up a short series of steam puffs. The memory is nice.
Well, nice people—they’ve gone. The steam pots, the old pro signalmen and the young big-eyed jerk-wire whistle- punks.

They have melted into a history of this forest around us—and they are part of its heritage. Think kind thoughts of those whistle punks — (sorry, signalman) you never know, one of them may just be your father-in-law today.
....And a thanks fort their efforts—in the cold—midst the bugs—just standing perfectly still—listening for the holler

........ Keep out of the bight,

British Columbia Lumberman, September, 1974