The Logger's Hiring Slip
What was it like, kid?
I'll tell you what it was like.
And – it wasn't all good
And – it wasn't all bad.
It was men and trees – and sidehills, and snow,
And rain, and mud – and heat – and
Salal brush up to your eyeballs.
It was a time before slick talking men, who sit in a tube,
Telling you about the smell of your mouth
Or your armpits.
And it was a time where men were what they originally
set out to be – men.
Do I remember the old days, kid?
You bet your sweet life I do.
Cause I go back, boy – a long way back.
Back from where we come from in these trees around us.
I hopped a freight in Timmins and saw Canada first class –
Between the slits of a box car door – right from
Ontario to Carrol street.
And there was lots like me, kid,
We'd heard about the big trees
And the loggers that was needed out here
To get them blue butts to the blue pacific.
I remember them trains, boy, and I remember
A flat fence post prairie that
Seemed a million miles across.
With a clickity – clack ribbon of steel
That said – go back – go back – go back.
But we hit this big town called Vancouver
And I walked the streets – like in a dream.
Things were different then, kid –
Street cars, the Globe theatre, big Swede immigrants,
And a West Vancouver ferry boast that rocked
And bounced its way through a no –bridged
Narrows to a tree lined shore over there.
Sawmills everywhere, ripping up the big trees into sweet
Smelling lumber piles.
Not much diesel or gas then, kid.
Steam was king and white exhaust hissed at you like
A cat on the fence.
This guy told me to go down to the loggers employment
Agency, Black was running it, and he scared the Jesus out of
Punks like me from the east.
But he pulled out a hiring slip and he said –
"Ontario, we'll ship you out tomorrow night
For Kelleys' in the Charlottes.
Sign this here hiring slip, and we'll see if Paniky Bell
Can make a Logger out of that skinny frame
I clutched that hiring slip, kid, and I never slept a wink
Till I got on the Old Venture the next night.
God, what a night that was.
Down there at that union steamship dock there was steam
Winches loading, deckhands yelling, loggers
Staggering out of taxicabs, howling kids
Saying goodbye to their fathers – and beer
Parlour queens with tears in their eyes
Telling their broken down winter time daddies
They'd be waiting for them in the fall.
That was a time, boy, when the logger's steamer – a chunk
Of iron they called, the Venture, left for
The up coast camps.
Loaded with hind quarters of beef, Standfields red label
Underwear, steam donkey boiler tubes and
I got on that old oil burning steamer – scared, boney
And in a dream.
We took five days that March to get to the Charlottes
And I bellied up everything I had ever eaten since
I was born.
And I swore if I ever got to Cumshewaw, I'd never come
Back through those seas again.
We got there – to that fog whisped inlet
And I sees Paniky giving the new crew the green-eyed
Once over as we staggered down the gangplank.
He says, with his old felt hat pulled down over his bald spot,
"you – and you – and you,
Back up the gangplank.
And the next time you sign one of those
God damned hiring slips and ship out as a logger
Throw away your rat-tailed comb and get rid of that
Well I got by old Paniky ,
And you know, boy, he made a logger out of me.
I pulled jerk wire whistles on an old 11 x 13 Willamete
For a hooktender that screamed for my blood.
I worked the booms on the big Davis rafts and pulled line
Till my fingers cracked and bled and stung
With the salt chuck.
I felled spruce trees that looked the size of the
Tower of Babel.
And I topped spars that reached up into the heavens and swayed
Like a leaf in the wind when the top came off.
I worked with Roughouse Pete, Highball Slim, Bullshit Bill
And Moses Dean and every other mean, ornery
Son of a bitch of a real man that ever called
Himself a logger.
And the bosses – I hired out to them all- old man Allison,
Morgan, Kelly – P.B. and his boys –
Matt Hemmingson and the grand daddy of them
All – H.R.
It wasn't all good, kid,
And it wasn't all bad.
And a man was judged by the hunger he had for logs.
And we had hunger, boy,and we got logs.
I wouldn't have traded one minute of that life –
The smell of new felled Balsam, or Spruce in an early
Or the clang of that old cookhouse bell,
Or the feeling of putting a choker 'round a big Spruce
Or listening to the bunkhouse diplomats as they sat
On their bunks at night, sizing up the situation.
The memories of those damn tough men,
From bullcooks to presidents,
They are part of your heritage, kid,
And their muscle and savvy gave you what you
And it may not be all good, boy –
But it sure as hell ain't all bad.
"keep out of the bight"