The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore

Coldecks, A-frames

And memories

....Once upon a time in the forest around us things were different. There were no big fancy tubes mounted on rubber wheels. There were no goliath logging trucks packing half a forest on their backs. Why, even the good old Yellow Traktor Company made only small Traktors in those days. There were big one and three-quarter inch skylines and sledge hammers and double-bitted axes. There were beautiful white puffing stream donkeys and the chokers were stiff enough to defy some of the strongest chokermen.
There were Tyler systems, whips and lifts, southbends and northbends, hand bucking saws and log chutes. Men wore “bone dry” pants that stood up by themselves with nobody in them, and a good foreman was known by the felt hat he wore. There were 14-foot straight grained ash pike poles and strong white porcelain cups with no handles on them.
....The loggers’ world in the evening was lighted by a Coleman gas lamp and Mr. Stanfield’s family made a Black Label underwear you won’t find in a store today. There were woodsplitters and wood-buckers — men who toiled with hand bucking saws, axes and sledges, beside a wood-hungry steam donkey’s firebox. And there were blacksmiths who hammered out every shackle on the claim from their hand-bellowed forge.
....These things and so many more were a part of the heritage of logging on the West Coast of B.C.
....I notice a bit more evidence of attempts to gather the old tools together and preserve them in logging

museums. With thanks to men like Gerry Wellburn of Duncan, and now a new group near Squamish, to name a couple, we can be sure some of this heritage will be seen by our young people.
....For it’s not just where you’re going — it’s where you came from that’s important. We don’t need the hard sweat and toil of those tough logging days. But we must remember there were such days, and for us to have the relative comforts of today someone sweat a brow-full.
....Amongst my memories as a boy and young fellow, growing up on a float camp in Quatsino Sound on the northern end of Vancouver Island, were A-frames and coldecks. Two pieces of the past that are almost, but not quite, extinct from the logging scene today. After the hand loggers had finished picking off the trees that could be felled in to the saltchuck, the A-frame rigs moved in and reached back to yard out the shoreline timber.
....There were hundreds of such log float A-frames with a donkey winch sitting beneath the tall spars that for-med the letter A. They ranged up and down the coast-in all the inlets – and accounted for a lot of logs in their day.
....As the shoreline timber grew more scarce and the logger had to reach back farther, he would send a coldeck donkey on log skids back from the beach about 1,000 feet and rig up a wooden spar tree.
....Then, reaching out for possibly a distance of 800 to 1,000 feet from the spar, the donkey would “high-lead” the logs into the base of the spar. At
times the piles of logs could reach to 2,000 or 3,000 pieces. They were magnificent pyramids when piled by a crew that knew their business. The chaser, or unhook man, held a mighty dangerous job as he climbed about the piles of logs to unhook the chokers. Many a chaser suffered injuries by falling in between the piles of logs.
....Once the surrounding logs from approximately 30 to 40 acres were piled around the spar, an inch and a half or inch and three-quarter cable skyline was run from the top of the A-frame up to the top of the coldeck spar and thence tied down to solid stumps in back of the spar.
....With the donkey winch down at the A-frame and a set of cables running to the pile, up through a pulleyed carriage on the skyline, the logs were ready for swinging to the water. This process was often repeated back to further spars so that although expensive, the logs could be swung from spar to spar and down to the A-frame. Loggers were known to reach up to nearly a mile back from the shoreline with this system.
....They were great days when the systems worked well and no machines were ailing. A good day could see as many as 300 logs hit the salt water—and if the price was right and luck was on his side—a logger could make a buck or two.
....But it was all heavy back breaking work getting everything set yup. There was a never ending amount of cable to roll and attach to stumps and the spar.
Cable was secured to stumps by wrapping the line around the stump
British Columbia Lumberman, April, 1975

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several times and driving large railway spikes into the stump to hold the wrap tight. Nothing was easy and sometimes days could go by on the rig-up alone, with no production of logs.
....Logging roads have pretty well put the coldecks out of business. It is cheaper to build a road to the felled and bucked logs now than to pile up huge pyramids out in the bush. And yet one never knows. What with the rising costs of road-building and environmental protection laws coming into being—it just could be that the old coldeck and skyline systems may stage a comeback. One could see the possibility of using helicopters to place a small donkey winch on mountainous benches of forested land that is too difficult and costly to build road up to.
By piling the surrounding logs up at one central point and then skylining them even up to 2,000 feet to an accessible road, the problems of ecology could be held to a minimum. But the old A-frame, I believe, has seen it’s day.
....So, the old loggers may win one and lose one. And maybe, just maybe, the pyramids of logs could make a return to our scene. In the evolution of a business like logging, you just never know. Sometimes the ideas of the past become the modern ways of the future — with a few innovations. Someone once said there is really nothing new—just a revision of something past. Could be.
....A-frames and coldecks—familiar words to most oldtimers on the coast — but words fast fading from the new loggers’ vocabulary. I think it’s good to be reminded once in awhile of the path we have come down. It makes this forest around us that much more of an interesting place in which to live.

Keep out of the bight,

British Columbia Lumberman, April, 1975