The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore

Day in the life of a chokerman


....It’s a quarter after six in the morning, in this forest around us, at the Big Timber Logging Company’s camp up the coast of B.C. Let’s say it’s April and the hills surrounding this inlet logging camp are heavy in mist and occasional light rain. The camp employs about 150 men—a little over 100 eat at the company cookhouse and the remainder are family men living in company houses up on a slight hill just behind the single men’s quarters.
....The bunkhouses are of the newer variety—single rooms for a dozen men and a T.V. recreation room in the middle. The cookhouse serves a cafeteria style food and there’s a good sized recreation hall where a pool table and table tennis are set up.

....George Arkin (fictitious) has just been rudely awakened, as only an 18 year old can be rudely awakened, by the sound of the camp horn. Not exactly your average young man’s version of an alarm clock.
....With staggering beginnings he throws on some work clothes—except for his caulk boots—washes up in the communal bathroom and heads for the cookhouse. First he will make his lunch—a couple of sandwiches, piece of pie and cake, a few cookies and an orange, fills his Thermos with coffee, sets his bag lunch down and heads into the cafeteria to eat breakfast. A couple of hotcakes, fried eggs, some bacon

and toast and he’s sitting down with some of the crew mumbling a few words about what a lousy day it looks like.
....George finishes breakfast and goes back to the bunkhouse to put on his caulks, gather up his yellow rain gear, hard hat and with bag of lunch walks over to the assembly area where the crummies are warming up to take their crews to the woods.
....It’s a 10 mile drive to the woods—the first part over pretty good gravel roads, but as the bus gets closer to the mobile spar on which the crew works it gets quite rough. Now the rain is really starting to come down and as the crew alight from the crummie they all curse the day, each in their inimitable way.
....Lunches are put in a safe place from crows and ravens and it’s “out to the weeds” for George, another choker-man, a rigging slinger and their boss, the hooktender. The talk is short and small as they find their way out to where they left off at quitting time yesterday. The engineer on the steel tower revs his engine up and is soon joined by the roar of the log loader alongside, and a logging truck backing into the landing for its first load of the day.
....Here we go boys—you gotta be tough in the north! B.S.—you gotta be nuts to be in this rain-forsaken-place in the north—figures George.
....Eight o’clock—the whistle blows and back come the two chokers looking for some logs. The rigging-slinger stops the chokers over some logs in the bush, by means of his electronic belt signaling device. When the rigging stops swaying about the three young men walk in to the chokers and wrestle with the inch wire line as they fasten them about a couple of logs. They walk out of the way and once in the clear George watches the rigging slinger give the whistle to go ahead on the mainline. The lines tighten and pull the logs toward the steel spar and the rigging slinger sizes up the next “turn” they will hook onto.
George and his buddy talk a bit but the damn weather is just not con-ducive to finding anything too inter-esting to talk about. It’s wet and the brush is wet and George can feel one foot getting wet because he didn’t grease his boots last weekend. The morning wears on—the hooker hollers over to keep farther away from the lines when they’re moving. The three young men glare at him.
....It’s just about noon—it’s still rainy and it’s the last turn of logs before lunch. George’s buddy is talking about quitting if it doesn’t stop raining—is that all it ever does in this damn country? Oh no—it snows, it hails, it blows and it gets hot. What the hell!
....Lunch—the crew walks in from the woods to the spar and all try to find a
British Columbia Lumberman, June, 1975

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dry spot of sorts to sit and eat their gourmet bag of lunch. It’s good food — but. The hooktender, an old timer of 34, holds forth on how a chokerman he worked with at the last camp he was in (a month ago) nearly got his head taken off by a swinging line. The conversation turns from near death to a fantastic rich woman the hooktender used to shack up with on his trips to the big city.
....George listens and looks at the other chokerman to see him listening with half a sandwich in his mouth and his eyes popping at the hooker. It’s near 12:30 and time to get back out to “the weeds.” The rain has stopped and the air smells good of hemlock and balsam.
....The day gets by—somehow—and the crew pile into their small bus and head back for camp. They’re weary — a bit wet and yet feeling better than the outward trip that morning. Sup-per’s ahead of them, some laying around, a bit of T.V. and a lot of shooting the breeze. No accidents that day except the hooktender is com-plaining of a sore back—might have to go to town and have the old sawbones look at it. He’ll see how it feels in the morning.
....Back at camp and off with the damn wet clothes. Into some dry jeans and dry socks. When they get a hole in them you throw them away. At 5:30 George heads for the cookhouse, has a steak and a pile of pretty good food and walks back to the bunkhouse full and burping. He flops on his bed and picks up an old Playboy and skims through it. Let’s see, he’s been at this camp now for five weeks—not a bad outfit—feed’s pretty good — but there’s not a heck of a lot for a fellow to do on the weekends except have a few beers and see a movie on Saturday night. Oh well, maybe a few more weeks and he’d turn in his time and go back to the city. Actually George is just about the senior chokerman in camp as the turnover is heavy with young fellows. He wants to take a course in welding some day. There’s good money in that and no wet brush to struggle through all day.
....He gets up after a while and goes looking for someone to play a game of pool with. Sees the T.V. has Gun-smoke on and the reception is not too bad tonight. Sits in a comfortable chair and watches the good guys get beaten by the bad guys—till near the end.
....George can hear the hooktender across the room holding forth on more stories of daring-do. He gets up and wanders out along in front of the bunkhouses. It’s a nice evening and the camp is quiet except for the steady noise of the generator down the road. He looks up at the family homes

on the hill. He can hear children laughing up there. Must be pretty good to have a house in camp — sure wouldn’t be so lonely. Hell, there’s nothing to do. Wonder what my girl is doing in the city. Guess I better go write her.
....He walks back to the bunkhouse, hears some of the fellows hooting it up in the room next to his. They holler for him to come in and shoot the breeze. Might as well.
....The forest is twilighting. The camp hills are just outlines around the camp. A breeze picks up and the rain starts in a fine mist. The generator noise hums along.
....“Hey George, let’s blow this place in the morning.”


....George, the chokerman thinks for a moment and takes a sip of beer. “Ya, O.K. Sounds good—you got a partner.”
....They’ll tell the timekeeper in the morning and two more chokermen will be ordered from the employment office in the city.
....George walks over to the rain splashed window and looks out on the night and thinks of the city. You gotta be what in the north!

Keep out of the bight,


British Columbia Lumberman, June, 1975