by Bill Moore
pencil pusher had to take on other duties in such small logging camps.
....Murphy’s first woods job in the morning was as a log scaler, scaling the couple of sets of three man hand fallers. Generally Swedes, these lads felt they deserved an honest appraisal of their day’s work and were not adverse to relating this information to the scaler.
a-half Phelps and George “Paniky” Bell have been well chronicled through the years.
....Haywire whistle punks, cranky hooktenders and big mean fallers have sooner or later been put to ink by journalists in search of “a colorful chap of the forest industry.” I confess that, on occasion, this humble writer has penned a few words about such notor-ious characters. One wonders how the television media would feature such lads today!
....All this is by way of bringing to its rightful light the unheard, unsung, and silent man of the logging camps that has always been passed by. He was neither regarded as a logger nor really as a participant to logger deeds, and yet he carved his niche in camps everywhere.
....I speak of the much maligned and seldom praised timekeeper. Or as he was sometimes known – the pencil pusher. In the fables of logging lore it is said – but don’t quote me – that Paul Bunyan’s timekeeper used a peavey handle for a pen holder!
....Now this very special strain of log-ging camp person in our older coastal camps was far removed from the vest and white shirt variety of “figures manipulator” we encounter in the richly silk curtained, oak paneled offices up and down our coast from Blow Hole Bay to Naden Harbour. So I shall write here of some of the chaps I met along the way in this forest around us.
...One beauty that I shall always remember was Peg-leg Murphy, a
crusty Irishman who kept the books for my father in the early thirties. There were about thirty men in that small float camp and Murphy looked after their paycheques with one little entry book – four by eight inches in size. No fancy computers or calcu-lators or nonsense like that. And no foreman’s time cards or punch out clocks.
....Murphy just knew how many hours a man worked in a day because no one came back to camp early from the woods unless he was on a stretcher.
....If a stretcher did appear, then Mur-phy would know about it because he was also the first aid man. By this I mean that he kept a pretty mean sized tool box under his desk for his feet to rest on – that was the first aid kit. He had bandages, iodine, Eno’s Fruit Salts and a green salve in the tool kit. I believe the green salve was used for some unmentionable trouble that log-gers got into when they went to the big city.
....Murphy and the High Rigger lived in a tiny shiplap shack that was part office and part sleeping quarters. Each man had a wooden Pacific Milk box nailed above their bunk to keep their valuables, crib board, and odds and ends in.
....As a youngster I used to be fasci-nated watching old Murphy put his caulk boots on as he sat on his bunk, with his stiff leg out, he would somehow reach its end with his big boot and then fasten up the hooks and eyes and be ready for his bush work. For you see, in those lovely days the
....Murphy did not hear them, so I suppose they did not bother him as he went about their felled and bucked with his gyp-stick – that’s a scale rule for you young fellows.
....On his way to his scaling job he might have to check out the Fairbanks-Morse water pump that was often used to fill the water tank of the steam cold deck donkey engine. They were quite faithful pumps but on occasion could make one a bit arm-weary of cranking.
....Well, with pump a running and cranky Swedes all scaled up by lunch, our Irishman would stiff-leggedly head for the saltchuck and put in the after-noon on the booming grounds. When you see a stiff-legged cranky Irishman walking a lonely boomstick on the saltchuck you know you are looking at a very determined man.
....He operated the Wee McGregor float drag saw, bucking up full length trees into log lengths. Then he would take his 14 foot ash pike pole (no gentleman’s aluminum pole in those days) and push his logs into the sluicing pocket for the boomman to stow up into a boom.
....By four o’clock Murphy would head into camp to get into his office-commissary before the crew arrived. His little store was small – a few short shelves – stocked with the likes of Ogden’s Pipe Tobacco, Copenhagen snuff, a few five cent candy bars, and, you guessed it, Eno’s Fruit Salts. He would enter the logger’s time in the little book and wait for the triangle bell
|British Columbia Lumberman November, 1986 A11|
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pushers . . .
(Cont’d from pg. A11)
to ring for supper.
So with goggled helmet and silk scarf flying, his stories were endless and we grinned and winked at each other as we walked out of the office.
....It was some years later, after the Colonel had passed away, in a chance conversation with an elder First world War army captain that I learned our Colonel’s stories were all based in fact. The captain had served in the Middle East with Colonel Rourke and remem-bered also of the Colonel’s flying days with the RAF.
....Possibly a little colour had been added, but Lt. Colonel Douglas M. Rourke was for real – desert soldier with Lawrence of Arabia, fighter pilot over the battlefields of France – and logging camp timekeeper-raconteur in a small coastal logging camp. An interesting life for a chap.
.... Then there was little
Mr. Fenn, who had spent a good part of his early life as an assistant
purser on the CPR Empress Liners that plied between Vancouver and Shanghai
before the Second World War. These ships were among the classiest liners
afloat in the 1920s, loaded with wealthy first class passengers and on
the run from China, with bales of raw silk for the markets of New York
Whether they were mulligan stew camp cooks or tough high riggers, they all played a part in the early difficult years of “getting out the wood.” I’m glad I knew some of the beauties – ‘specially a few of the pencil pushers.
Keep out of the bight,
|A12 British Columbia Lumberman November, 1986|