........Comment by Bill Moore

...The forest around us

A cookhouse Christmas

....Snow began to fall lightly as the cook roused himself from his bunk. He reached for a box of matches and lit the coal oil lamp by his bed. Stretching and yawning he pulled on his white pants. And dressed. It was cold. The kitchen fire must have gone out in the night.
....His little room containing his bunk and a small table and chair was on the other side of a shiplap partition from the wood stove in the kitchen of the cookhouse. Generally if he banked the firebox with sap wood and bark before retiring, the room kept fairly warm ‘til he arose. This night the outside temperature must have drop-ped a bit low.
....He picked up the oil lamp and walked out of his room to the kitchen. Reaching up he took down from the ceiling the Coleman gas lamp. Placing the lamp on the dish-up table, he pumped the tank and lit the silk mantles with a couple of matches. The kitchen lit up with the hiss of the lamp and he placed the lamp back up on a hook in the ceiling. Now with some light to see by he turned to his big black two-oven wood stove and relit the fire with some kindling. Soon the kitchen began to warm up and he began preparing for the loggers who would wander in to make up their lunches.
....The cookhouse building was a one story building about 55 feet long by 20 feet wide. The dining room took up about 35 feet of the length of the overall building. Two long tables with benches down each side ran the length of the dining room near reach wall. They were covered in green oilcloth. There was an even row of set-up for each man in the crew, comprised of a heavy white plate turned upside down


with a cup and saucer on top. For every eight men there was a center setup of salt and pepper and sugar etc.
....The cook lit another Coleman lamp in the dining room for the men to see to
make their lunches up. Here on one of the tables he put platters of meat and cheese and jams for their sandwiches. He had everything ready for the lunch table when the first logger walked in.
....The floor of the cookhouse was well chewed up from the caulk boots the men wore when they came in to eat. The cook always cursed the slivery condition of the floor and the loggers for wearing their caulk boots in the cookhouse. There was little else he could do about it but curse.
....The year was 1936 and the day was Christmas Day, and this little logging camp made up of a few wooden buildings on log floats was one of hundreds on the B.C. coastal inlets. It was not uncommon to find a crew working in the woods as usual on Christmas Day. What else was there to do? Most of the men were glad just to have the job, the way things were in the world in those days.
....The western world was starting to emerge from the Great Depression – The Hungry Thirties. The hit song of a few years ago, “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” had been replaced by a song from the “Gold Diggers of 1937” called “We’re In The Money.” The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco would soon open to its first weekend traffic and 150,000 auto-mobiles would travel over it in three days. Of course the new 1937 Nash LaFayette was selling for $595 and the Hudson for $695 – “We’re In The Money!”
....Dave the cook had worked in this camp for quite a while. He glanced at

his November statement for a minute while waiting for the coffee to boil.
....November 1936:
....Hospital dues ..........................1.00
....Commissary............................. .95
Jones Tax at 1 per cent ...........1.34
....W.C.B. at a cent
....a working day........................... .30
....30 days board
....at $1.30 per day ...................39.00
....19 days wages
....at $4.30 per day
....+ 11 days wages
....at $4.75 per day .................133.95
....Amount owing ......................91.36
....Not bad for a full month’s work considering the times. And just to think that on a 31 day month Dave could make an extra $4.75! His wages had really shot up this year, for he started 1936 at $4.30 a day and the boss had come through with an added 45 cents a day in November.
....Soon the cookhouse lunch table was surrounded by loggers making up their sandwiches for their lunch pails. Food prices were starting to go up. Cloverleaf canned Pink Salmon was now up to nine cents a lb. And Nabob coffee was 20 cents a lb. And look at the T-bone steaks at 23 cents a pound. Who could afford them but the rich?
....Vic and Fred, the two chokermen, quietly made up their lunches. They had both come over from Sweden seven years ago and had taken to the logging camps. They were now damn good loggers. If they stayed with this outfit, in a few years they just might get a chaser’s or rigging slinger’s job.
....It was seven o’clock and Art the flunky rang the triangular bell outside the cookhouse. Vic sat down to eat his breakfast and thought of his choker-man’s statement for last June.
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British Columbia Lumberman, December, 1977

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....Hospital ................................1.00
....Commissary ..........................1.90
....Jones tax................................. .96
....W.C.B.................................... .27
....Board at $1.15 ....................34.50
....27 days worked
....at #3.50 per day ..................94.50
....Amount owing .....................55.88
....Well, it wasn’t much, but then they had raised the board this year by 15 cents a day. And then in October he had bought a new pair of Paris caulk boots for $13.50. It took him four days to pay for those damn boots. Damn the high prices these days.

....Peg Leg Murphy, they called the timekeeper. He didn’t have a peg leg, it was just stiff from an old operation. Murphy didn’t smile much – who would when they had to sit down on the bunk each morning and pull on those caulk boots. Besides woods scaling six hand fallers, he had to run the Fairbanks Morse water pumps for the two stream donkeys. Then when he was finished that, he always spent a few hours in the afternoon helping out on the boom. He’d get to his office before the men came in at night to check their times and serve them their commissary.

....As Murphy poured syrup on his hotcakes he thought of his salary last month. Eighty five dollars a month and free board. With deductions for s couple of tins of Copenhagen snuff and the damned dollar that everyone had to contribute to the local hospital that hardly anyone here used, he cleared $81.40 in November.
....Murphy was an early riser. He liked to get up before six in the morning and read one of the six Vancouver newspapers that came all together by mail once a week. He would read one paper a day – a week late – but he read it thoroughly. He noticed this morning that Edward VIII of England had abdicated his throne. The coronation in London would come about next spring, but his brother George would be in his place. Edward resigned – or as the loggers say – “Bunched it” for the love of a lady. The changing thirties!

....Stan, the hand faller, finished his breakfast, picked up his lunch pail and walked out of the cookhouse. He and his two falling partners had put in a pretty good month in November. Old Peg Leg Murphy had scaled them for over 600,000 board feet of timber felled and bucked. And at 65 cents a

thousand each, one of the fallers had cleared nearly $85. Of course since they had only come to camp on the first of November they had to pay their fare on the Union Steamship from Vancouver to Port Hardy of $8 for second class in the glory hole of the Cardena.

....Stan had wondered whether or not to come out falling as he had been tempted to go to Spain with the Inter-national Brigade and fight for the Spanish Republicans against Franco. A thousand Canadians would go over in what was to be the testing ground for Europe’s new weapons. Stan was just as glad he did not go but he, like many, felt strongly about the issue.
....Jim was the Hook and Rig – the foreman – who topped and rigged the tall wooden spar trees. He’d been at the game for years and knew his stuff. He had come up from the States when he was young to work in the woods of B.C. He still had strong ties to the U.S.A. and was always telling the fellows in the bunkhouse about Roosevelt.
....“Now boys, there’s a man ‘s got guts. He’s all crippled up but he’s got it upstairs. See how he beat Alf

.................Tax problems
......................even then

Landon last month – made him look like an idiot. And he’s put the boys to work down there with that W.P.A. ‘Course the Yanks don’t get much money for their work – but it keeps them in tobacco and grub. And they’re building roads and bridges and all kinds of things – smart guy, that F.D.R.”
....Jim wore a diamond ring and each winter if he went to Vancouver he would trade the ring in on a bigger one. Naturally the boys called him Diamond Jim. He thought of the stake he was piling up on his seven dollars a day. Hell, he’d cleared $145 last month when he put in 29 days. He had all his checks from this outfit stashed away above his bunk in an apple box nailed on the wall. Pretty soon a new diamond ring for old Diamond Jim!
....The cookhouse cleared as the last man left for work. Dave sat down and had a cup of coffee with the flunkey. He picked up last week’s Vancouver Sun to see what movies were on in the big city. When he was in Vancouver staying at the Castle Hotel he loved to go to shows. He noted “The Prince And The Pauper” was on at the Orph-

eum. Admission was 25 cents before one o’clock. The Beacon had a vaudeville show and two feature films for 20 cents before one o’clock. Edward Arnold was starring in “John Meades Woman” and Ralph Bellamy was in “Final Hour.” Well he’d be down there in a month or so at the old Castle to take on a few beers and see a few shows.
....Art the flunkey sat looking out the window near Dave. He was dreaming of baseball – his only love at 19. Art read everything he could about the game. He sure wished he could have seen his idol, ‘ole Dizzy Dean win one of those 24 games this year for the Cardinals. Boy, some day he’d save his money and go down there to St. Louis and see ‘ole Diz. Highest paid pitcher in baseball that year – yes sir, ‘ole Diz got $25,005 in salary that year – five bucks more than ‘ole Lefty Gomez of the Yankees.
....Art was Dave’s helper. He washed the dishes, served the tables, peeled the spuds, cleaned up and took abuse from most of the loggers because he was the youngest in the 25-man camp. Art cleared $$43.66 in November for working 29 days. He was sick one day. His rate was the lowest in camp at $$2.75 a day and, of course, he had to pay his board. Then there was that damn Jones tax – or Working Tax as they called it, that took one percent of his pay. Eighty cents in November. What the heck did the government do with all that money they collected from guys like him!
....Dave sipped his coffee, looked out the window at the snow falling and was glad he was a cook today. He’d have to get busy now and make some pies and bread and get the turkey fixed up for the Christmas dinner for the loggers.
....“Come on kid – forget about that baseball and get your ass out there to the kitchen and start washing them dishes. You gotta earn that two-six-bits if you’re going to stay around here.”
....The above people, rates of pay and events are true. This is what it was really like in December of 1936 on a little float camp in an inlet on the B.C. coast The owner of the camp was getting $7.50 a thousand board feet for booms of logs delivered to the mill.
The times have changed – but the forest around us has really not. Have a Merry 1977 Christmas and –
.........................Keep out of the bight,
..........................................Bill Moore
British Columbia Lumberman, December, 1977  
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