High Rigger


by Bill Moore....

....“No sir, no Ma’am, the High Rigger does not climb up all the trees in the forest and cut off their tops before felling them.”
....If you live on Vancouver Island or along the mainland coast of B.C. or the Queen Charlotte Islands, this statement would seem rather foolish to you. But if you lived in Quebec or Ontario or in Europe or Japan, the question would not be so foolish. The legends of the High Rigger or High Climber cutting off the tops of trees have confused the far away public.
....A few years ago I sat with a federal cabinet minister at a luncheon and was asked the question of the High Rigger topping all the trees. I have also been asked countless other times, in a variety of places and countries.
....We who live on the coastal forests of the Pacific must remember that there are very few other forests like this in the world. Possibly only in parts of Russia. The sizes of trees here, in diameter, heights and weights are unique and have always called for specialized methods of production. Whereas the trees of the interior of B.C. and the rest of Canada are of more uniform smaller size allowing for a simpler method of harvesting.
....The occupation of High Rigger is now pretty well a thing of the past and has been for the past fifteen years. At that time the mobile steel tower took over from the wooden spar tree. But the story of the High rigger is an inter-esting one, and one that played an important part in our logging progress.
....The advent of steam donkey engines and railroads after the turn of the century changed the slow produc-tion methods of the oxen teams and horses. Because of the size of the trees to be handled and pulled through the forest the high lead system came into being.
....This meant in a given forest area of twenty, thirty or forty acres a tall (120-160 ft.) sturdy Douglas Fir or Sitka Spruce tree was picked in a central position as the spar tree. The High Rigger was equipped with climbing

spurs on his legs and a wide belt around his waist with a steel cored rope attached. He simply walked up the tree and held himself close to the tree by means of the rope around the tree.
....After the big tree was chosen the Rigger would climb up the first limbs and chop or saw these off to his desired height. His axe and handsaw were both attached to his belt by small ropes and they dangled, when not in use, well below his feet.
....At his desired height he would size up the leant of the tree top and place an undercut with the lean. He would then begin his back cut, being careful to have himself well adjusted for the moment when the top would fall off.
....When the top finally started its jour-

You’ve gotta
be tough

ney to earth it caused the bare tree to sway quite violently. The rigger, being ready for this, hung on, and waited till the sway settled down. It was a com-mon practice with seasoned climbers to then perch themselves in a sitting position on top of the tree and have a smoke or a chew of Copen-hagen. The odd, very brave Rigger would stand on the top.
....It was not always easy to find a perfect spar that was relatively free of limbs and well tapered to say 150 or 160 feet. I recall one Sitka Spruce tree that had very large iron-like limbs and was a very rough type of tree. It took Pete Talgard, our Rigger, a full day and a half to limb and top this brute. Pete was one of the best, so one is not far wrong in saying – “You’ve Gotta Be Tough In The North.”
....But topping and limbing spars was really only a smaller part of a High rigger’s life. His more constant work was in the “rigging” of a spar. Once the tree was topped and a steam donkey


was moved into place at the tree’s base, the Rigger would again climb the tree, taking with him the end of a long quarter inch manila rope. Upon reaching the top he would keep pulling up the rope and send the loose end over the top of the spar, back down to the ground.
....The loggers on the ground would then attach a small block (pulley, to you non-logger friends) and a wire strap and everyone would pull block and strap up to the Rigger. He would attach the strap around the very top part of the tree and place the block in the two eye-splices of the strap. Now they would pull up the strawlines – a 3/8 inch wire rope cable that when put through the block became the hoist line for sending the “rigging” up the tree. One end of the strawline was attached to a winch drum of the steam donkey.
....Our rigger now has his hoist line ready and his ground crew send up some heavy metal plates that he spikes to the tree a few feet down from the top. Around these protective plates will go the six “top guylines” that, when attached and tightened to tree stumps out about two hundred feet from the tree, form a tent-like support for the spar.
....Once the tree is firmly guyed the big “main-line” block and the “haul-back block” are strapped to the tree at the guyline plate level. The larger main-line block will sit above the haulback block. The mainline and haulback line are then threaded through their res-pective blocks and when pulled out to the felled and bucked trees, everything is ready to log.
....Depending on conditions, and the experience of the rigger, the man will spend the best part of a day up in the spar attaching all the “rigging.” He will be up and down several times, but no longer has to climb as the strawline winch drum pulls him aloft or brings him down as he sits in a small chair attached to the end of the strawline.
growing in the correct place that is .....................(continued on page 60)

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British Columbia Lumberman, March, 1979

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required to log the given area. Quite often there was not a good enough tree on the spot, necessitating the raising of the one desired. A smaller tree was selected as a “gin-pole” or raising tree and rigged as if it were a spar. Then it was used in a high lead method to raise the real spar.
....The Rigger was really a man of all trades in the steam donkey days. Depending on the size of the camp and their method of logging, he had to know how to fasten big weights and heavy tensions securely. A really good High Rigger was the making of a good camp.
....In the large camps High Rigging was a specialty and the man was kept
busy doing various rigging jobs. In the smaller camps the job was generally a combination job of Hooktender and High Rigger – known as Hook and rig. This meant when not High Rigging he was the leader of the rigging crew or even possibly the foreman of the camp.
Old timers are full of stories about the daring–do exploits of their favourite High Rigger. Generally they were incidents that would not be tolerated by safety committees or the W.B.C. today. But they were a part of the makeup of such an occupation years ago. Some were known to climb down a guyline from the top of a tree – or to go hand over hand out on a skyline. The storieswere plentiful, and most of

them true.
....The modern Steel tower and other logging methods have put an end to most High Riggers’ jobs. In a few camps they are still used to top and rig back spars, but generally speaking this work is limited. The glory day of the High Rigger is gone in the big-treed forest around us on the coastal Pacific. And gone with it are a breed of men who knew no fear and were the key men in our West Coast logging camps. May their stories always be legend.

Keep out of the bight,
Bill Moore


British Columbia Lumberman, March, 1979  
page 60