Forest Around Us
is a true story. It happened in the logging camp I call home—or
Downtown Winter Harbour. And this is the way it was—just a short
twenty years ago in 1955.
....It was the year of the mice. Thousands
and thousands of little bush mice invaded the camp. It was a summer
of no wild berries in the woods. There was some form of imbalance in
old Mother Nature and I suppose because the forest yielded no huckleberries
or salmonberries the little fellows turned to anything else they could
find to eat.
....I can remember back porches just crawling
with mice in the evenings — garbage cans with 30 or 40 mice in
them in the morning. One fellow set up a 45 gallon barrel with no top
on it as a trap for them and would catch a few hundred each night. Traps,
mouside, guns, sticks -everything was used to kill them, but on they
came. The camp swarmed with them.
....We had a whistle punk (pardon me—I
should say signalman) in camp. Sluggo was his name—loved baseball,
and was always up to practical jokes. He was an avid trout fisherman
and was always talking about the St. Louis Cardinals or some old trout
hole he knew. Kids liked Sluggo and he always had a couple trail-ing
along behind him on Sunday when he’d try the trout creek near
the camp. But he was known as a practical joker.
....This all sets up the rather strange
set of circumstances known around camp as the “Button Thief Caper.”
a caper it was for the loggers in the bunkhouses.
....We had a large washroom and dry house
where the men would change from their work clothes and caulk boots into
their camp clothes. Around the big heater and water tank the fellows
would hang their wet clothes to dry after work and put them on again
in the morning before they left for the woods in pickups and crummies.
morning, I guess it was in mid-June, a couple of the fellows com-plained
about buttons missing from their work shirts that had been left hanging
in the dry room. We didn’t think too much of it until the next morning
when several more men stated the same thing. In a few days the loggers
were getting really an-noyed as more and more buttons were missing from
shirts, pants and clothing.
....Somebody was pulling a fast one. Somebody
was sneaking into the dry house at night and cutting buttons off the clothes.
It was a strange sight to see men coming out of the dry house in the morning
with shirts wide open—with no buttons on their pants for suspenders
to hold onto. What the hell was going on? Who was the button thief—and
where were all the damned buttons going? For none could be found.
....It must be Sluggo—who else was
a practical joker in camp? Just because he had buttons missing too didn’t
mean a thing. He was taking his own off to cover up. All eyes turned to
this man—Sluggo has got to be the “Button Thief.” You
could not find a more angry lot of loggers on the coast. We had fears
he just might not live through it.
....Well the situation got worse and worse.
Finally someone said he would climb into the rafters of the building with
a gun and spend the night there waiting and watching for the “Button
Thief.” The night long vigil took place. No one entered the building
British Columbia Lumberman,
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - (. page
but buttons were still missing the next morning. So the mystery deepened.
....At this height of events the police
patrol boat arrived on its monthly tour of the area. The two officers
were well known to us and generally stayed the night and visited. After
supper I told them the story of the “Button Thief” and they
of course enjoyed the story. It was humorous until you saw the faces
of the loggers as they dressed for work in the morning.
....So we had a thief and we had the police—and
we had an unsolved crime. Why not enlist the good officers’ detection
powers to crack the case of this crime of the century—and on loggers
yet! We marched up to the dry house—men gathered behind us telling
of the various sizes and colors of the buttons stolen from their property.
Sluggo’s name was dropped several times. Non baseball lovers and
non fishermen were eager to have this rascal carried off by the police
and brought to trial.
....The delegation arrived at the dry-house.
One officer covered the back door while the other bravely opened the
front door and with hand on the ready scanned the room. Unfor-tunately
there was no butler! Just a few mice scurrying across the floor.
....The officer investigated the various
clothes hanging about. Ah—ha, a button is missing off this pair
of Stanfield drawers. And two more off a work shirt. And very carefully
he pulled down a pair of work pants and the fly buttons were gone. Now
look for clues.
....What’s this? Along this board
on the wall where the coat hooks are driven in appeared tiny little
pellets. Could a Sluggo do this? Never! No, it was not human. It was
the work of — all eyes were on the policeman. The officer looked
about the room—his eyes fell on the big 90-gallon hot water tank
on its boxed stand. Quietly he walked over to it and knelt down. He
tugged at a board and it came loose. He reached for his flashlight and
put the beam through the crack under the tank. It was a historic moment—like
one giant step for man. He told us to see what he had found. We were
down on our knees all trying to look in at once. And like Tutkanhamen’s
tomb when the archeologist gazed in through the hole—there was
....A pile—a bunch—a whole
lot of buttons! Big ones, small ones, coloured ones. Buttons and buttons
and buttons. And there in the corner was the thief—or should I
say one of the gang of thieves—bush mice.
....They had fooled us. We had thought
of pack rats but knew there were none here. But who ever heard of pack-mice
that took a liking to
buttons and clipped them
off loggers’ clothes like a pair of scissors and carried them off
to their vlair beneath the water tank?
....The case was cracked. By gosh that cop
knew his business. Men smiled once more. Sluggo would not be carted off
in handcuffs Loggers could once more stand erect without fear of their
pants falling off! The “Button Thief” was apprehended. Calm
fell on the camp once more.
....And strangely as the mice came so suddenly
so they disappeared. A few diehards said it was because the buttons ran
out. And one or two non St. Louis Cardinals fans still kept a close eye
on dear old Sluggo. Could it have been a hoax — could Sluggo have
this ingenious logging camp
caper? In the annals of crime strange things have happened.
....We thanked the two visiting policemen.
The Mounties had got their man again. Or I should say their mice.
....Yes, faithful reader of the Forest Around
Us—this really happened. If you don’t believe me — ask
the loggers — or gently ask the next fan you meet of the St. Louis
Cardinals — it may be Sluggo himself.
Keep out of the bight,
|British Columbia Lumberman,