Sunday, March 22, 2009

AX-MEN

AX MEN....indeed...

Never figured loggers would be so popular. Following is my Oregon logging years, 1974 thru 1983.

To enlarge any photo just double click on it then click the return arrow to get back to the blog.

This was taken at a small time local logging competition. A local newspaper took this picture along with a shot of me in the ax throwing competition. I was the 2nd or 3rd guy to throw the ax and got the first bulls-eye. The picture of me in the ax throw made the local paper, this one didn't! Can't seem to find the clipping of the ax throw.
I guess you can see where my baseball experience helped me in this event.
Summer of 1974. My dad took the picture below. My younger brothers are flanking me: Paul and Gary.
My Dad worked in Prentice, WI at a factory called Prentice Hydraulics. They made hydraulic log handling equipment and one of his jobs had been to run the new loader for a certain amount of time for quality control purposes. When I was a senior in high school, he moved to Oregon, following a lead to run a loader for a company that had a unit made in Prentice.
After graduation, I made plans to drive out to see him and he was able to land me a job. The economy was bad. Much worse than it is now, contrary to what some politicians may want you to believe, so any job was something to take a look at. Our family grew up logging in WI so logging in OR didn't seem like a bad deal. I could run a chainsaw, pretty much the only requirement needed.
The logging company was called Pee-Wee Logging. The owners, Larry and Marvin, were two South Dakota guys that moved to OR and got into logging. They were involved in a new way of logging, called thinning or select cutting. They got started with small equipment and only handled small trees so were considered a peewee operation, hence the name.
Long story short, Lynn came out in October and we stayed 9 years, after which, in the middle of another recession we moved to northern MN, where the last photos of this blog were taken. But, back to OR.
Be careful when you travel "to visit" and take a job just for the summer, you may just decide to stay!

I started out working on the landing in a job they called a Chaser. Could also have been called a Gopher! It was the lowest level job with corresponding pay. I think I started at $4.35 an hr. Decent money at that time. Normally lots of over-time. Couple all that with being able to work outside, two moonlit rides with a picnic lunch every day and scenic views people use their weekends to find, what more could any young 18 year old want? You can see the attraction to logging, right?
Summer was fun, no bugs to deal with like in WI. But when fall and then winter came and it started to rain and rain and rain, that outside job didn't seem as much fun as it used to. In WI whenever it rained we stopped working in the woods and came back the next day. In OR if you didn't work in the rain, you didn't work. The only time we'd stop in OR was if there was lightning involved. High steel booms and metal towers on exposed hillsides were not the best things to be around during an electrical storm. Only bad part, in OR lightning very seldom came with the rain. Sometimes the snow got too deep, but not usually. Low elevation jobs were saved for winter.
After a couple of months with Dad, they put me to chase with a guy named Roy Davis. He was the quintessential logger type. He looked and acted like John Wayne. A real Bull of the Woods. Although he was in his late 50's or early 60's and ran a log loader so was not really associated with the actual logging, every guy on the crew looked up to him. He had come up through the ranks and knew his stuff.
We had a great time together. It took him awhile to get to know and trust me, but when he did he welcomed Lynn and I into his life with his wife Blanche. They had a small peach orchard that produced the most amazing fruit....but back to logging!
We always had at least an hour or more drive to and from the job every day. Roy always had a bottle in the pickup glove box to take a few pulls from after the job. In the beginning, he always had me get "the jug" for him, but he never offered me a drink. After a few weeks he said, "go ahead, take a pull." I did and made the usual "bitter beer/strong whiskey face" after a straight chug of the contents. He bellowed at me in the pick-up, "gimme that, if you hate it that much don't drink any of it" and he then proceeded to finish off the pint in one long pull. The next day when we piled in the pickup to head home, the same routine, he asked for his jug. He nodded to it for me to take a pull. This time no face or any form of expression or reaction as I pulled it from my lips except a long aahhh and handed it to Roy. He laughed so hard he started crying and had to stop the PU till he could see through his tears.
We got to talk in those rides and shared some stories. He had a lot more stories than I did, obviously, and it was a great time with him.
Once when we got back to the shop after work the guys were all standing around having the usual beer; some getting plastered as they did every evening after work. After Roy and I walked up to them one guy mentioned that a few guys for a different logging outfit from a nearby town took a chain saw after a kid in the woods and gave him a much needed, from their perspective, haircut. Well, they all started looking at me and as the beer and whiskey flowed they started thinking maybe I needed a little trim. I didn't really know what to think, some of these guys would do something like that just for the hell of it. A couple guys started walking around me, kinda flipping my longer locks around with their beer cans. One guy went and got a chain saw from a pickup and they started talking about who'd cut and who'd hold me down. I tried to act cool, not knowing if they were serious or not and didn't want to chicken-out if indeed they were bluffing, but also wasn't too excited to have a chain saw buzzing around my ears ripping out my hair, either.
About that time Roy took a long pull of his pint and kinda cocked his head back and asked, "tell me, does that long hair get you any more women?" (ok, he didn't say women, but who knows who'll read this blog) I looked quickly into Roy's eyes, trying to figure out what the correct answer was....should I say "yes" and risk the guys getting pissed and jealous and then want to cut my hair all the more, or say "no" and risk someone saying "well, you don't need it then anyway" Roy just gave me that John Wayne look of the half crocked, sideways smile, his eyes twinkling. I felt he was giving me a way out, but I had to answer the right way.
I shifted my weight on one leg, took a long lazy drink from my beer can, acting as cool as the other side of the pillow, then lowered my drinking arm and in my most manly and devil may care voice said, "yeah, the gals like long hair, you all outta try it".
Roy stared at me for a second as everyone shifted their gaze from me to him and he said, "well, that's as good as any reason in my book to have long hair" and turned and walked away. The rest of the guys just stood there and after a couple seconds one guy chirped up with something in the vein of "hey, how about those Mets" although it was more like, "hey what about that stupid truck driver today" or something as OR didn't have a pro team, but you get the idea. Tense situation over. Roy and I laughed about that one the next morning heading up to work.

Talking about truck drivers, they were pretty much despised by the logging crews. One old guy I worked with said, over and over, like it was the first time he ever said it "I'd rather have a sister in a whore house than a brother driving a truck." He got really offended if you didn't laugh like it was the first time you ever heard it every time he spit it out.

After working a year or so on the landing with my Dad and Roy (Roy never let me run the loader) I was able to land a job with a couple guys I had worked with who had struck out on their own. I was fortunate that my Dad let me run the loader during dead time to get some training and they hired me as the Loader/Shovel Operator.
WoW! a cab...and more pay!

The owners of my new company were Duwayne Dickinson and Mike McDowell: D&M Logging.
Below are shots of the logging operation. We logged using the High-Lead method. A large 1" or better diameter cable was strung out to the end of the fallen timber, usually secured to a large stump, if the land was steep enough. This was called the Sky Line. It ran from the yarder drum down through the block on the tail stump and connected to the back of the carriage. The high tower gave the needed lift to get the logs to the landing without the front, or leading edge, coming up against stumps or other obstacles.

Logs were fastened to cables called chokers by Choker Setters. That's Chuck giving me the finger, he's what they called the Riggin' Slinger. In the "hole" or down in the fallen timber off the landing, there was normally a crew of 2-3 guys, depending on the density of the timber and the size of the logs, as the amount of weight the Yarder could handle for each turn was critical. The Riggin' Slinger was the foreman or boss in the hole. He decided what logs were selected for each turn, based on weight and proximity to each other. The ends, or "eyes" of the chokers all had to meet, so that when the carriage came back from a turn to the landing, the next turn was ready to be attached. Each "row" that ran from the yarder to the tail stump that held the sky line had to be well planned out. The Hook Tender had to setup each row to be close enough to the past one so as to make sure the chokers, usually 20 feet long or so, could reach all the logs. Closer to the landing it was no problem, but the further out one got the more critical it got. Taking too big a jump to the next row could mean stringing chokers together to reach a log left from the last row.
The carriage had a couple pulleys connected to the top and it rode on the sky line. Also, two cables/lines connected to the inside of the carriage via two pulleys inside the carriage. One line ran over one pulley and one ran under the other pulley. The yarder had 3 drums in it. One for the sky line. This lifted and dropped the whole carriage and could also pull the carriage in reverse down the hill. The other two drums ran the lines feeding into the carriage. The yarder operator could run these 2 drums independently of each other or together. When he wanted to lower just the sky hook and not the carriage, he'd run the 2 drums opposite of each other and the hook would drop, reverse the drums and the hook would lift. Lock both drums together and they pulled the carriage in.

The drop line was lowered by the carriage with the empty chokers from the last turn and the "sky hook" was cleared and the new turn was hooked up and sent on it's way to the landing. Normally, you had 2-3 minutes between turns. So one had to hustle.
The Riggin' Slinger had a device called a talky-tooter. It hung from one's belt and was squeezed to send signals to a radio controlled whistle, or speaker, mounted on the boom of the yarder. They sent signals similar to Morse code to tell the Yarder Operator what to do, sometimes a quarter mile away. Lift the drop line, lower the drop line, lift the sky line, pull back, pull ahead and the all familiar TOOOT TOOOT after negotiating the next turn out of the maze of logs and debris, which was the "hup-ho" meaning " take 'er in full speed". When the riggin' crew was a long way out, speed getting the turn in and the empty carriage back out was where the money was made. The saying was "never say whoa on a hard pull" and when the hup-ho was given the yarder operator never questioned it. The riggin' slinger had the best view and if the order was given to pull, you pulled. If you didn't and chickened out, you normally got your ass chewed because the situation called for it and you don't have the authority to back off till told to do so.

In the pictures below, the carriage is going out for a turn of logs below upper right. The Yarder and Shovel are on the landing, more times than not the landing being just the width of the dirt road. The Yarder brought the turn in and swung to drop the load on the road between the yarder and shovel/loader. Sometimes swinging was not possible in thinning operations as there were too many trees close by so then they dropped on the steep shoulder. Always fun for the chaser to climb in there to unhook a turn. Sometimes the loader operator had to hold the logs so they could be unhooked. It was a dangerous affair, and trust and responsibility were not taken for granted. Below is a photo of a clear-cut site.
The tall trees left standing in the lower left picture was used to get lift. Mike, part owner and the Hook Tender (boss of the job) climbed up 30 or 40 feet, hung a "block" or pulley to run the sky line through to get lift, as the ground was too flat to get enough by just tying off to a notched stump. Normally, this is not a problem.
Sometimes we logged flat ground because the Forest Service decided that the land could not be cat- or skidder-logged for environmental reasons. Ground equipment causes erosion, so if we were close to a trout stream, buffer zones were left and we yarder-logged it, as high-lead logging didn't cause much, if any, erosion. Also, in thinning jobs it was tough for the ground equipment to get between the trees.
Thinning was sometimes interesting. We'd thin the job in the summer and when the soaking rain and high winds came in the winter, the trees with their root structures based on a high density forest and hence less wind per tree area, as each tree broke the wind for the next one, couldn't handle the wind and soft soil and every tree we had left in the summer would get blown over in the winter. We'd go back in and log the job all over again. Clear-cutting was the most cost effective at times and typically a lot less dangerous for fallers/cutters and the logging crews.

The Hook Tender really had to know his shit and not make any mistakes in judgment. A sky line coming off a stump would bring all the riggin' crashing to the earth and if the riggin' crew was anywhere near it, those logs being 3-4 feet through or better and 20-30 feet in length, could do some serious damage.


The landing and some of the duties of the Chaser were to unhook the turn and limb the logs coming in.
Accidents were common place. Once we had 2 guys in the hole and the front edge of a log hit something and the whole log swung around. The crew was close to the turn as was usual. It was just impractical to always go too far away because as soon as the turn left you had to get in there and set the chokers for the next turn. You always played the odds, but sometimes accidents happened.
Although one guy saw the log flying through the air at them and was able to jump down out of the way, the 2nd guy got hit in the face with it. He had leaned back behind a tree when he saw it coming, but just wasn't fast enough and still got hit about the same time the tree right beside his face got hit or he would have died instantly.
We ended up carrying him out on a stretcher as he was unconscious. I walked beside him in order to keep his face turned so that the blood would run out, frequently having to swipe my finger in his mouth to keep the clotting blood and chucks of teeth and bone from plugging up and preventing him from breathing. Sad to report that he died the next day from massive head trauma.


These pictures show a few old growth coming in. These were normally trees that were left from 50-60 years ago when the land was originally logged off. We logged on the Coast Range and our equipment was primarily designed for second growth timber. It was always a big deal when we got to wrestle with some old growth timber.
The grapple on the shovel could not reach around far enough to grip the large guys, so we wrapped a choker around it, got it in front of the shovel, lifted it high enough to clear the bunks of the truck, blew the horn once for the truck to back up, normally quite fast as the loader would be straining and tipped up on the back stabilizers or outriggers. As the loader operator, I'd blow the horn once more to stop the truck when he was in the correct position, then drop the log on the load. Sometimes the log was so heavy only one end at a time could be lifted. Made things interesting, for sure.

That's Duwayne in the lower left. He filled in as the Hooker for Mike at times, but actually, he was the brains behind the operation. For our crew, he was the Bull of the Woods. Mike tried to think he was and Duwayne let him think so, but being younger and in better physical shape, he was really the brawn to Duwayne's brains. They worked good together, normally, until Mike got too big for his britches, then Duwayne would kinda put him back in his place. Mike didn't really like me much. Since I was a "non-native" of Oregon, Mike always had a little problem with that.

This is the landing with some second growth timber. That's Mike and Scott, the Yarder Operator, both standing on the stump of a tree that Mike just felled.

The truck below is called an off road truck. At the time, Boise Cascade owned a huge tract of land and could run offroad rigs as it was all private roads. These trucks had no weight limits or load size limits, whatever we could get on, it took. Bunks were 12 feet wide vs. 8 feet on a hi-way rig.


Terry, the guy on my right upper left below, wasn't a tall guy, but it was still kinda neat that he could almost walk under the load, upper right. The guy lower right we called preacher. Had fun with him...wouldn't swear and talk trashy at lunch or have a beverage on the ride home.


The truck on the left has a load of poles, used as utility poles for power lines. The Fallers (cutters) started the process by recognizing that certain trees fit the required dimensions and bucked them accordingly to length. The choker setters had to be careful not to hook them in such a way that they got caught sideways when yarding them in and break or scab them.
Then the shovel operator had to make sure he didn't damage, break or scab them while getting them on the truck. The grapple could easily damage them if it wasn't completely around the diameter. It was painstaking work, but the extra price that was paid for them was worth it. Sometimes the poles were so long a special truck came up with a steering trailer to get the logs out of the woods.

The off-road rig on the right was called a mule train. This was one of my biggest loads.
This was my loader after Duwayne rolled it. It happened at times.....
A load dumping at a mill pond.

After D&M I went to work for a couple young guys, Dave and Boyd McKibben. Their company was called Two-Mck Logging. The shovel on the upper left was what I started with for them. It was old and a beast to run. The next year, I got to run a brand new one. That's son Chris playing on the catwalk.

Upper left is me on cat side landing. In the summer we did cat/skidder logging.

Lower left if you blow up the pic you'll see our 1977 Olds Omega. I left it running one day when I went to the shop and jumped out to get something. Chris threw it in gear and it ran it into another vehicle and we had to take the Omega to the body shop. A rather young driver, Chris......My brother Gary remembers the story of how when we went to pick it up after the body work we were racing side by side through Salem and I had to run it off the street to avoid a bus, coming to rest just shy of hitting a light standard....and another trip to the body shop. Lynn would not have been happy!


I almost bought the farm on this one. I was trying to get away from the guy cutting the tree down, but just didn't have enough time. When the tree hit the cab, I was jumping out the door. Broken glass cut my hand as I lept at the same time the tree hit. I was running down the road with the loader coming after me until the tree across the boom came up against a standing tree and brought it to a stop. Then next day we went out there and tied the loader off tight to a couple bulldozers (cats) and I got up in the cab. A guy cut the tree away and the cats pulled while I ran the lower unit (the lower had its own engine to drive the wheels) and I also swung the boom around and planted the grapple in the ground to help push and we got it out. Crazy shit, but it went on all the time like this. We'd get trucks stuck, loaders stuck, skidders hung up, you name it we buried it and then jerked them all out.
One loader accident that I don't have pictures of is one I rolled completely over. It was Valentine's Day night and Dave McKibben and I were taking the loader to a new job site after a normal day's work, so we'd be ready to start there first thing in the morning. It had been raining hard for days and the roads were soft. Dave was out front with a pickup flagging so nobody would come around a hairpin corner and run into a massive loader taking up the whole road, which normally is only 10-12 feet wide anyway.
I started to make a tight left hand turn. The boom was out and down to my left, normal travel mode. I couldn't see the road to my left and based my left side position on the road from where I was based on my right side position. As I got deeper into the highly banked tight left turn I started to lean to the left, as was usual.
The lower unit started to rev faster and faster. I realized too late what was happening. I had gotten too far to the left and the soft, narrow road was giving way to the weight of the loader and sinking and was also pulling me to the left. I cranked the steering wheel all the way to the right to no avail.
The right side wheels were lifting off the ground and the engine was racing as I started to roll over. It was completely dark and I had no idea how steep the hillside was or how many times I might roll or how far I'd go before the full weight of the loader would come to a rest. (There were no seat belts in this equipment either.)
They say your life flashes before you in times like this and it's true. Things slowed down and different images passed before me. I guess my mind instinctively knew the odds of me coming out of this were slim.
Suddenly, the cab glass blew out and I was drenched in water. The loader rolled but luckily came to a rest after only one revolution. I escaped all injuries due to the cab being in just the perfect location/position in that when the loader went over, the cab rolled in a small stream bed that was in the exact middle of the hairpin corner which was hollowed out deep enough to allow the cab to not get crushed as the loader boom on the front and the engine in the rear supported the loader as it made a 3/4 revolution and settled on its side. The indentation of the stream bed allowed the unit to roll without crushing the highest part of the loader, the cab. It was perfect timing and position to be lined up in the 4-5 foot wide stream bed.

There was another one of these episodes that put me in the center of a life and death situation.
Two guys were in the hole, both young and inexperienced, which wasn't unusual. It was a steep drop and we could not see the guys working far below us, about 200-300 yards out. Working 100% by talky-tooter signals was not unusual. The guys were having a tough time freeing a turn as they were having the yarder jack the turn back and forth before we finally heard the hup-ho. Don (the yarder operator) gave full throttle as he was easily frustrated and this turn had gotten the best of him. It turns out it was a massive turn, maybe too much weight.
The turn was coming in as the yarder was screaming and the cables/lines were singing from the tautness. The skyline got real tight and the yarder started to lean down the hill as the load began to slow down due to resistence building. Don could not see what was happening, but as per normal operating procedure, he didn't back off. Pretty soon things began to tighten even more and the yarder began to labor. What was happening was that from the weight the leading edge of one log was not up off the ground and it was plowing the hillside coming up to the landing. All of a sudden the yarder got pulled even further forward and it was almost ready to leave the road to meet the turn.
The yarder is held back by guy lines to prevent it from being pulled over. But it was becoming obvious something was going to have to give. A guy line breaking was super dangerous. It could pop free and swing around the landing cutting a chaser in half or even slicing through the cab of either the loader or yarder. We had to trust the guys in the hole and not give up.
Suddenly the skyline broke and it came flying up to the yarder swinging madly before it coiled up harmlessly on the landing. By this time the chaser had buried himself in a log pile anticipating a dangerous situation and shit flying everywhere. This is a very dangerous situation especially on a steep bank. The turn of logs would have dropped from the sky when the sky line broke and depending where the riggin' crew was they could be in real danger. Further, the turn is free to tumble down the hill unencumbered. With 20-30 foot logs flying down the hill it is possible they could easily bring the whole hillside of logs down on the crew, similar to an avalanche.
Don and I shut off all the equipment to be able to hear. As we strained to listen we were able to barely hear the word "help" come through the speaker mounted on the yarder boom. I immediately jumped off the loader and started running down the hill. I told the chaser to stay there in case I needed something brought down. As I flailed through the brush to get to the riggin' crew I saw the riggin' slinger come up out of the 2-3 foot diameter logs criss-crossed like Lincoln logs. He looked dazed but seemed ok. We couldn't find the choker setter, then we spotted him, his chest pinched between to massive logs. He was already turning blue. I can't remember if he was breathing or not, it didn't matter. I yelled to Gordy, the slinger, to call up and have the chaser start bringing a chainsaw down as I raced back up through the jumble of logs to meet him. In 2-3 minutes I had met the chaser and was on my way back down. When I got to the choker setter with the saw, he was turning purple and drooling some god-awful looking stuff. I started the saw and began cutting him out. Luckily, I had enough experience cutting or was just lucky to not pinch the saw when the top log began to move. As I finished the cut, the top log sprung up and the choker setter (Jeff) fell from the log that had him pinched from below and he started breathing on his own. Mouth to mouth wasn't needed, thank God.
Gordy (the riggin' slinger) just figured the yarder had the power to keep pulling and hoped the leading edge would somehow spring free if he kept with the hard pull. Another mistake in a job that just doesn't have any hard and fast rules on what to do for every situation.
Jeff had some rib injuries but the biggest issue was that he had just gone too long without oxygen. He was never really the same after that, always a little slow, but at least he was alive. Dave and Boyd kept him on as a shop employee, doing odd jobs that always needed being done.

There were many other accidents I witnessed and many guys I drove to the hospital, so when the chance came, I left my ax-man days behind me and moved on to the pole yard.

These next pics are from a logging competition that was held when I worked for D&M. It was part of the story above about the ax throwing and block chopping pictures. The block chop took me 4 minutes, the winner did it in 2, it was Duwayne.
Below is Mike in the high climb. He won that, climbing and decending 55 ft. in 33 seconds, it took me 49 seconds. It was the 8th time I had ever climbed. We also had a choker setting course, where you started on a big 3-4 foot log and had to jump down with a large choker, fight through some brush and set a choker and climb back up on a different log.
Also, below is the falling/tree cutting competition. A beer can was placed out about 30 feet from the "trees" you see planted in the ground and the guy who cut the tree down the fastest and the closest to the can won. I can't remember who won, but I have noted on the back of the original picture I had the best score of anyone who worked for D&M, that included the guys who cut trees down for a living. Some bragging rights. They stopped teasing me that I "cut like a farmer" after that. That's me cutting below.

These are just shots of me cleaning up after the logging show. Lifting a trailer off a truck and loading the trees from the cutting competition.

Mike McDowell.....and me.

Below is a picture of a big tree that Lynn and I hiked to. It was in southern OR, near Klamath Falls, I believe.
My first and only Steelhead. Caught in the Salmon River near Lincoln City.
A U-Haul I used to deliver firewood in. I had a side business selling firewood. Sold scrapes that were left on the landings. Made $1,000 one year. At $25 a face cord or so that came to 40 face cords....that's a lot of wood to cut, split and transport.

From all of the pictures, it appears I only had one shirt!! Lynn had a tight budget, it would appear. She even reported my firewood cash business on our taxes. Good taxpayers.


Lynn at the Two-Mck shop. Smitty drove this truck, with a bragging-rights load I threw on.

An opportunity came up to get out of the woods. I figured my luck had held so far, but why push it?
I got a job offer to work at the Boise Pole Yard and leave my Ax Man days behind. Bob, a truck driver who took a liking to me and who I had loaded with poles in the woods, recommended me for the opening. These poles ran from 25 to 135 feet long.
The Pole Yard was located near a parachute jump center and once we came to work and found a "snow angel" in the yard. Too bad there wasn't any snow, just packed clay. Once I also found a knife that is used to cut primary chutes free. One day a guy landed in the yard on top of a pile of poles and broke an ankle.
Further, up the hill aways, was a former monastery that the Church of Scientology took over. The locals weren't too sure about that group.


1983, Cook, MN. Back in the midwest, unloading log trucks at a mill instead of loading then in the woods.


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