Logging Operation during Christmas 1975.
I was in the woods the other day. The cold wind throughout the trees carries the sound of winter and triggered some great memories of days gone by when my father and I worked in the the woods. Day after day, month after month dad made his way to the woods and worked in the wind, snow and cold of winter and the heat and flies of summer all to make a living to feed 11 kids. His tools included a skittish work horse, a bob sleigh, which he constructed from a big maple tree, an axe, a broken down truck, and an old heavy Partner power saw that you nearly had to wear out a pull cord to get started. On one occasion the poorly designed chain and bar caused the power saw to kick back and badly cut Dad’s fingers. He wrapped his badly cut fingers in a rag and continue working the rest of the day. To most sane men this was a brutal way to make a living and todays youth would never consider putting themselves through such punishment. But Dad never did complain because logging was in his blood as it is mine.
Most of his work days in the woods was spent alone with the exception of when high school was on break which is when I would be with him. On a few occasions, he had a worker which he always paid to much and work to little. Around 1970 one guy my father had working for him was Dan Seemore. I am not sure of the spelling of his name but I am sure that Dan was short and stout and was well up in age. Despite his appearance, he was a good pulp peeler. Mr Seemore was proud that he was saved and was guaranteed a place in heaven. He was an honest man which was the most important thing to my father. I think dad figured that Dan’s pulp peeling made him an extra $10 a day.
Around that years of 1970 we would be cutting and peeling 4 foot pulp and hauling it to Simpson’s pulp yard. Philip MacEachern would scale the wood on the truck, then we would hand bomb the big heavy 4 foot sticks onto the huge piles of wood. Once or twice a year the huge pulp ship would come to the wharf. For a week straight, most of the logging guys would hand bomb the pulp back onto their trucks and make repeated trips to the wharf where the big ugly rusted pulp ships awaited their load. The ships had over-head cranes that would reach out over the side and lower a cable. We would attach a cable around the pulp and the cranes would hoist it high over the sides of the ship. After a week or more, the 10 or so trucks hauled enough pulp to fully load the boat. For that week dad made pretty decent money for hauling the pulp. If memory serves me correctly it paid $6.00 for a 2 cord load. At 4 to 5 loads a day that was around $24 to $30 a day. Gas was .25 cents a gallon then. The pulp boats don’t come anymore. If memory serves me correctly, It was the mids 1970 when they stopped.
At 14 years old, heaving the heavy pulp blocks high onto the trucks was not my favour thing to do. I liked cutting and being in the woods better especially after Dad bought me my own little Oregon power saw. My saw had a manual oiler which I had to press a button to get the oil to squirt on the chain. I liked my little saw but the horse hauling was even more of an attraction especially after Dad let me drive the horse with fully loaded sleigh out the logging trail. The horse was a beautiful big chestnut work horse named Major. The horses light coloured mane, his huge hairy feet, his stately appearance was a symbol of strength. His handsome looks, my respect for his strength and his kind manors caused a love affair. Gentle but skittish and it wasn’t a good idea to stand in front of him because if something startled him he would take a jump and not meaning to could run you over. At about 6 hands high to the shoulder and weighting about 1800 hundred pounds, dad repeatedly assured me that he had to be respected and always be approached from the side where he could see me but not directly in front of him. Another rule was never reach down to adjust the harness before speaking to him and slapping him on the back to let him know you were there.
Major never like to walk. He like to pull and pull fast which wasn’t really a good thing in the woods. Mid 1970, when school was out for Christmas, I was in the woods with Dad. After we harnessed Major, we broke trail through the deep snow with a couple of small loads of pulp. After the trail was broken and the going was better, we loaded the sleigh up to the hilt. It was a very heavy load and as strong as Major was he was going to work to get this twitch out. Dad told me you take this twitch out. It was my first twitch or second twitch I had ever taken and certain was the biggest load. Being 14 years old It was a big moment for me. Dad gave instruction to make the turn wide so the sleigh would not get hooked up on that big old stump. I climbed up on top of the sleigh piled high with wood. I gently slapped the rains onto Major’s muscled back and Major responded by starting down the trail. I made the turn as wide as I could. It was a bit to wide because the home made shaft, being longer than they should of been, stuck out to the left as I made the sharp right hand turn. Didn’t the dam shaft get hooked up in a tree. The shaft broke with a loud snap and Major being skittish took a jump and started to run. I hauled on the rains and yelled “WOO WOO” Surprisingly, Major stopped. Dad shook his head in disbelief. After we got the horse calmed down I was wondering if Dad was disappointed in me. He looked at me and said “when I said make the turn wide I meant to keep the horse and the shaft on the same side of the tree. I said “dad, your lucky I didn’t put half the horse on one side of the tree and half the horse on the other”. There was then a short moment of silence, which seem like eternity, then the uncomfortable silence was broken when Dad, shaking his head, took laughing. Being a loving father he seem to understand my predicament and said you did good to get the horse stopped. We made a new make shift shaft and we were back on the trail within an hour or so. I was a bit rattled over the incident so dad said, “ get back up there on that sleigh and take this load out”. He new I had a new found self doubt and wanted me to regain my confidence. I took out the big twitch, unloaded the sleigh then turned the horse around to get another load.
The evening came and as usual we went down to Gramme’s. Gramme’s was a place where family gathered every night. And Gramme’s was a place where we watched Ed Skeleton on T.V. And Gramme’s was a place where after the Ed Skeleton show, the T.V. was turned off and we laughed, told stories and talked about the bible. And Gramme’s was a place, at least on that cold December night, Dad had the best story to tell about the broken shaft and my comment about putting half the horse on one side of the tree and half on the other. The next day came and it was back to the woods again. It was a great work day as usual. All was well. Both Dad and Major had completely forgiven me.
I am not sure how such a small thing as the cold wind whistling through the trees could trigger such a flood of memories but God I miss my old man.