The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore

Walking loggers becoming rare

....We’ve come a long way in the modernization of logging equipment in this forest around us.
....The big yellow, purple and polka-dotted machines that our manufacturers have invented for us have undoubtedly taken much of the muscle fatigue from many of the jobs our loggers used to handle in days gone by.
....I think back on the heavy cable men used to wrestle with, or the long handsaws that were pushed and pulled through the big trees to fall rock hard and buck. There was also the heavy pike pole work in booming before the advent of highly mobile boom-dozer boats. The rigging up of the old wooden spar trees, the hand tong work of loading logs on trucks, and the lifting and exertion of pole cutters, tie cutters, and pulp stackers all contributed to a physical exertion that was exhaustion in years gone by.
....And so it went until today with the introduction of mechanical log loaders, mobile steel spar trees, feller-bunchers, grapples, snorkels and a most curious lot of rig-a-ma-jigs that ease the manpower burden in most jobs. The day of the mechanical, hydraulic assisted logger is here — and has undoubtedly helped our safety factor too. But there are still walking loggers in our woods and I would like to address these remarks to those men who still have to exert; still have to lift and strain; and still have to walk for eight hours a day in pursuit of their jobs.
....On the coast of B.C. in the heavy timbered logging country there is a scarcity of good “walking loggers.” Chokermen, rigging slingers, hook-tenders and chasers are walking loggers. Power saw operators, cat-hookers and swampers are also jobs

that require a maximum of energy and foot work. Ask any camp manager today if he has enough well-trained men in the above categories and my guess is the answer will be nearly 100 per cent negative.
....Well, where have they gone? Why aren’t there replacements, and what is the industry to do about it? It’s fine to think we have all these mechanical marvels running around in our woods doing so much of the old time muscle work. But we have not solved the problem completely and our woods still require the above named categories of loggers to do what loggers have always done—“walk the bush.”
....True, the advent of grapple yarding has somewhat eased the need for some walking loggers, but most high-lead sides on our coast are still operating on the older methods of a rigging crew to hook onto the logs laying in the woods. And it is really doubtful if the grapple can ever completely oust the chokerman from his job. Terrain, snow, and distance will call for a rigging crew for many years to come, even though the grapple yarding system may become more refined.
....The day in, day out work of a rigging crew made up of hooktender, rigging slinger, chokerman and chaser is not much easier now than it was years ago, maybe even tougher. Possibly the cable sizes may be a bit smaller—from inch and a quarter to one inch or inch and an eighth now. But the speed of the mobile yarders is much faster than in older days so there are that many more logs to be hooked. Also yarding distances have tended to shorten in length with the improvement in road building equipment. And, if
anything, the hills are steeper now than they were when only the valley bottoms were being logged.
....So it would seem that the rigging crew’s work load has been speeded up over the years while the going gets tougher for them. This would not tend to encourage most young men to stay with such jobs, and when they look at truck drivers with power steering and loading operators with hydraulic levers there is reason to see envy in their eyes.
....The chokerman or “chokie” is the first job most young men can take on in a logging camp these days. It is the so-called unskilled job of the rigging crew—and yet it is a dangerous nimble footed job. Lucky is the young man who first learns to set chokers at the Logger’s School in Nanaimo or at least have a good intelligent rigging slinger to watch over him on his first job. The rate of turnover in this one category is our highest today in the woods. It just does not lend itself to ideals of owning one’s own forest empire.
....The high turnover causes a definite drop in production, so much so that many firms have had to close down logging sides all over the coast this spring and summer due to lack of qualified rigging crews. The depressed market conditions of lumber may relieve the immediate problem of enough good men for rigging crews, but as the markets improve the shortage of men will again be more noticeable than ever. Therefore now would seem to be the time to face he problem and make sure that when the time comes our logging sites will not lay idle due to a lack of skilled men. What to do to solve the problem?
....First off, are we giving enough
British Columbia Lumberman, November, 1974

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incentive to rigging men to be satisfied in their work and stay on the job? Many good hooktenders have moved over to the falling category where there is more money and shorter hours. We seem to have enough fallers now and it is no doubt due to the fact that with the advent of day rate two years ago the ranks of the fallers have been swelled by men from other categories. Possibly we should take a whole new look at the trade of rigging men and revise the category.
....Let’s just say we classified the individual jobs of hook-tending, rigging slinger, chaser and chokerman, who make up the rigging crew, into the tradesman type of category we use for mechanics, welders and shop people. A hooktender first class would have to prove five years of work in his category to apply for that status. His wage would be the highest. Then a hooktender second class would apply where the man served from two to five years. Below that would be the hooktender apprentice at the present rate of hooktender pay.
....Rigging slinger would necessitate two classes. Those who have two years or more as a rigging crew should fall into the rate of rigging slinger first class and would receive a rate higher than the present rate. Chaser rates would be likewise as his job entails more knowledge than is normally given the occupation.
....In the chokerman category the present rate would hold for a one year period. Then the job would be reclassified as chokerman first class at a higher rate.
....The prime requisite of all hooktenders and rigging slingers, re-gardless of their time spent would be the passing of tests to show they know their signals, know how to splice cable and can pass a set of rules in the safety of handling a rigging crew.
....I believe the broad outlines as mentioned would give a little more status to the jobs so mentioned to encourage young men to stay with the rigging and would recognize their value as they better themselves. This must be done in some manner if we are to gain new recruits and hold onto our present rigging crews.
....It might be a good idea if their clothing were made a mandatory blaze orange color in their jackets and hard hats too. The spotting of these men on brushy hillsides by others could only help our safety records. At present some of the dark clothing worn by rigging crews is an invitation to accidents.
....As a logger I am concerned that we have paid an overdue amount of attention to all our other categories of forest people and have not looked at
the real problem of our “rigging crews.” Possibly it is time these categories of men were looked at and some attention given to their future. It just could be that out people in higher places in union and management have forgotten what it is like to “walk the bush” as our rigging crews do every day in rain, snow and heat. It goes without saying that we need these men for some years to come—so maybe

it’s time to remember their status as men whocontribute to the forest dollar in this forest around us.

Let’s hear it for the “chokie” boys.
And remember you chokies—

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

British Columbia Lumberman, November, 1974