An indispensable man . ....

by Bill Moore....


....“Now Burch,” I said in a sotto voce tone so the rest of the Timber Club lunch crowd could not hear me. “I shall tell you the story of the Indispensable Man. ‘Tis a story of learning, of understanding and mostly of “sizing up the situation.”
....“You see, my friend, you are the corporate man – while I am of the inlet logger. Both of us have wandered down the forest path and both have learned to appraise our fellow chaps or “chapesses” – as the case may be. How to tell the person for the right job. Who is the leader? And who follows the leader? Really, old forester, is there an Indispensable Man? Ah, watch the clam chowder–it’s a bit hot today!
....“Twas back in my early days of running a camp–a mere broth of a boy, pink cheeked and crew cut. The camp held 25 tried and true loggers and we logged with steam donkeys and lived on a float camp in a steep-hilled lagoon.
....“Needless to say, the 25 were all older than I – some it seemed, by a century! I believed they were the best 1 and possibly they were. But, amongst them one man stood out as a champion of loggers – Hooktender Fred.
....“Hooktender Fred was a relatively slight man in appearance. Very wiry. He was a Swede from the Aaland Islands in the Baltic and he had come to the logging camps of B.C. in the id ‘20s with the great migration of people from Europe. He was a calm spoken man, a bit stubborn, and on first knowing him, a bit shy. He was, to my young eyes, the complete logger – the Indispensable Man!”
....“Fred came to work for my father at our up-coast camp about 1932. He worked his way up – as men did then – slowly, to the job of Hooktender. Really he was foreman for he was boss in the woods and walked alongside the other men hooking up logs and battling the elements all day.”
....“I worked under Fred a great deal and learned so much from him. He knew the right way to move a donkey sled through the felled and bucked timber – and he knew how to get production. I once spent three months with him when we built our big A-


frame raft. We spliced cables up to one inch and three quarters for two weeks once – till our wrists damn near fell off.”
....“Fred was very sentimental. With a couple of shots of Jockey Cap rye in him he could cry like a baby. His weakness was the Demon Bottle. Once started he could not leave go until the devil was drained. Has it not often been such to so many fine people we learn to like?”
....“Looking back through the mists of years, I remember the crew I worked with in those days as a good bunch – hard working and steady. We had a gang of five or six that played two-bit poker in back of the cookhouse on Saturday nights. The stays were longer in those days for most men – from five months to near a year. It was the way of life on the float camps of coastal B.C.”
....“I liked logging and thought it was fun to work with a good crew. One of the fascinating things about logging is that every day is different. A different hill or valley, different challenges in getting production – and always on the move.”
....“No standing by a greenchain or smelling pulp or gluing plywood. Log-ging is different – each day and all day.”
....“So, good Burch, the fun changed for awhile with the passing of my father. From taking orders to suddenly giving orders can be quite traumatic for a young, wet-behind-the-ears, crew cut lad. But, you do what you have to do.”
....“A lot of ships could be floated on the amount of booze that has been drunk in the bunkhouses up and down this coast. And, one thing about my Indispensable Man – he tried very hard to keep the water level up on those ships. And, for every shot of Jockey Cap rye that Fred would take, he would shed a sentimental tear for the memory of my father. It was a difficult time for he could not get to work for his hangovers and his feeling of the blues.”
....“I knew no one else in camp who could take his place - and no one wanted to. I was not used to hiring men as my father had looked after that. Where in this world was there a man who knew and could do what a sober


Fred could do?”.
“Reasoning was out of the question. And, one didn’t use idle threats on such a man. In desperation one Friday morning when he would not go to work, I picked up his bottle by his bedside and flung it out into the saltchuck. This hurt and he was angry with me and said he would quit. Not really knowing how to follow-up this tender management/labor scene, I went to work.”
....“When I returned to camp that evening, the Indispensable Man was gone. Gone on a hired fish boat to the local loggers’ stronghold – Port Hardy. What to do?”
....“It was obvious even to this tender footed young leader that a New Man had to be found. But where? Well, of course, at the same local loggers’ stronghold – Port Hardy.”
....“It took six hours by gas boat to get to Coal Harbour, 12 miles by road yet to Port Hardy. It was Saturday evening when I docked at Coal Harbour and made arrangements for a car to take me the further 12 miles early next morning.”
....“I had heard that a man that once worked for my father, by name of Fishback, was in Port Hardy. Could it be that he might handle this job? We would interview him in the morning.”
....“So, at seven a.m. on a Sunday I arrived in a very quiet Port Hardy. I went to Nell’s Hotel and inquired of the Chinaman cleaning up in the lobby as to the whereabouts of one Logger Fishback. I was directed to Room Nine and knocked on the door.”
....“Horrendous noises and snores came through the door, so I slowly opened it and midst the rattling and rolling of empty bottles, walked over to the brass bed.”
....“And there, Burch, I learned the fallacy of the Indispensable Man. For there was my idol, Fred – and the to-be-interviewed-man, Fishback – sound asleep, snoring, with clothes on, among empty bottles. A scene most sobering for a young logger.”
....“Well, you do what you have to do.” “I woke Fishback, told him I needed him, and would take him back to camp.”
“He rose from the bed, put on his shoes, threw some clothes in a sack

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British Columbia Lumberman, October, 1979

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and followed me out the door and back to camp. The Indispensable Man was still snoring as we closed the door.”
....“Well, Fishback took over and did a good job for a while, until the Demon Bottle struck again. But, this time I was ready. I had found out there were other chaps in this world who were also good loggers.”
....“A few years later Fred returned to camp. He had not treated himself well, but he promised not to drink in camp – and he kept that promise to the end, 10 years later.”
....“But, to that end, he could still tell young fellows the tricks of logging – the labor savers and the short cuts. He was a complete logger, my Indispen-sable Man. He is the kind of memory that this Forest Around Us is full of.

Keep out of the bight,
Bill Moore

British Columbia Lumberman, October, 1979  
page 37