A Christmas Memory
by: Bill Moore

....It was Christmas Day, 1939, the time of the “Phoney War.” So called because the battlefronts were quiet, and had been relatively quiet since the declaration of war in Europe in early September.
....A small crew of 25 B.C. coastal loggers were spending their Christmas on a float camp on northern Vancouver Island. They worked Christmas Day. To the loggers it was the same as any other day. If they were out in a godforsaken small camp in a lonely hemlock-lined inlet, they might as well work as lie on their bunks.
....The camp had been closed for over nine months that year until mid-October, as had all the other larger or smaller camps in the vicinity. The pulp mill that chewed up the logs from the camps had lost its Japanese contracts for its production in January ’39 and thus the closure and layoffs of nearly everyone in this tree dependent area.
....Dave the cook, had a good turkey dinner ready for the loggers when they came in from a wet and windy day of logging on that Christmas Day. But it was a silent and tired crew who ate their meal in the cookhouse and went back to their quarters to lie down on their bunks and think of other Christ-mases.
....Most of the crew were still paying off debts – to friends or hotels in the

city – that had staked them to a bit of credit during the long nine months shut-down. No unemployment insurance then – but lots of unemployment. A Great War though, would solve the unemploy-ment problem – but 45 million people around the world would die before the guns were finally quieted!
....A battery radio was giving out the news and most ears were tuned in. What kind of a war was this anyway? It seemed only the Finns and Russians were fighting – and the Finns seemed to be beating their big aggressor. The radio news told of Christmas carols being played from the outposts of the impen-etrable Maginot Line in France. May of 1940 – just a few months away – would see how impenetrable it would be as the German Panzer divisions over-ran France, Holland and Belgium.
....Otto Botel, the young woodsplitter on one of the two steam donkey engines, was going over his November statement from the company. He had worked twenty-three and as half days that month at $4.35 per day. He paid board for the month of $40.50 – that worked out to $1.35 per day. He paid the Workmen’s Compensation Board a penny a day for his days worked. And he paid the Jones Tax of one percent of his total earnings – amounting to $1.02
....But, Otto had been a bit heavy in the commissary  that  month.  Among  other

things he had splurged $1.75 on a good pocket Ben watch, and $14.50 on a new pair of Heads caulk boots. All told he had a cheque for $27.76 for November’s work. Well, it beat doing nothing for all those past nine months.
....Herb Bayes, the head boomman was sitting on his bunk full of turkey and mashed potatoes. He was telling Dave Donahue, the chaser, about the radio report he had heard the other day. It had said that the government was going to put on more taxes – on top of the present Jones Tax!
....“They is talkin’ of chargin’ us another three percent and calling it a National Defense Tax, Dave!”
....From over in the other corner of the eight-man bunkhouse a voice that could be heard clear back to Ottawa answered: “They ain’t gonna get it from me, by God. I didn’t start this damn war, and anyway nobody’s fighting, so what the hell do they need my money for?”
....The two men ranted back and forth about taxes and war on into the quiet of Christmas night. And it would be quiet, for the little two kilowatt Onan light plant would be turned off at 10 o’clock and the still of the night would take over.
....Electric lights were relatively new in these small remote float camps in ’39,

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and they only supplied light bulbs – no toasters or heaters or other fancy do-dads. The bullcook started up the little machine at five in the morning, then gave it a rest around mid-day. Those who wanted light after 10 o’clock at night either had a coal oil lamp or a Coleman mantle gas lamp.
....Bill Boyd was the bullcook and he had worked a full day too, this Christmas Day. Seemed as if there never was enough wood split up for all the stoves in camp. They ranged from small wood heaters to converted 45-gallon drum heaters to the big tow-oven wood fired kitchen range. And it was tough to get good dry wood in the winter time.
....Bill had a pretty fair-sized wood yard at the back of the float camp, with a large sloped cedar shake roof over it. His wood was hemlock as there was no fir in the logging area. This meant there was lots of sapwood and therefore lots of waste. He could only use the inner wood for most of the stoves in camp. Bill spent all morning with an old wooden wheelbarrow,
wheeling his wood to all the bunk-houses, the washhouse, office, boss’s house and the damned kitchen range in the cookhouse.
....Under the dish-up table in front of the range the wood was piled. And if the bullcook left any wood chips on the kitchen floor he sure heard about it from Dave. Bill knew that if the wood was poor the hotcakes would be pale – well!
....Jack Moran, chokerman, was writing a letter to his wife in far off Vancouver. “It was a miserable day in the bush and I miss you and the kids (seven of them), but I’m lucky to have a job. Some of the fellows here have tried to join the army, but they say that unless you’ve got a trade, they don’t want you yet. I wonder if this war will ever amount to anything?”
....Jack Moran would stay on in camp for all that coming year and only leave to go to Vancouver when the camp shut down for snow in early December 1940. He sent every pay cheque – about $65 a month – to his wife. He joined the army soon after arriving off the Union boat in the city. He was killed
in action in Italy.
....Dave, the cook, had just watched Maurice Bailey, the flunkey, leave the cookhouse. Things were all tidied up and ready for morning. It was a long day every day for Dave – up at five a.m. to get his range fired up, set the lunch table up for the loggers’ take-away lunches, then breakfast, and during the later mor-ning make bread and pies and cakes. A little rest after lunch and on to the preparation for dinner. Cleaned up by seven in the evening. A long day for a seven day week. And Christmas Day was no shorter.
....Jim Fishback was the camp fore-man and he had a nice pleasing southern drawl. He was an American who had worked his way up to the B.C. woods through the redwoods and sugar pines of California and Oregon. He liked to drink just about as much as he liked to log. And he was a dandy logger, a high rigger and a fine teacher to young loggers. This Christmas night he was sitting with Gust Johnson, the timekeeper, in their

SCENE ON western arm of Quatsino Sound on northern Vancouver Island portrays a typical small float camp in 1937 alongside an A-frame complete with steam donkey.

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little room they shared in back of the office-commissary. They had just turned off the radio news and were climbing into their single beds.
....“Well, Gust, ah tell ya, we said the last one was the war to end all wars, but ah guess the experts was wrong. Looks like some of them didn’t get enough last time.”
....“Ya, Jim, but this time the last time, by Yeeses! Good night Yim. Merry Christmas.”
....The camp was quiet, a slight northeaster was blowing and a few flakes of snow had begun to fall.
....The quarter-to-ten blink was given by Bill, the bullcook.
....The winter of 1939. Christmas night in a small float camp on a hemlock lined inlet on the coast of British Columbia.

Merry Christmas loggers,
Keep out of the bight

Bill Moore