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Al Lundgren

I entered the industry in 1962 fresh out of high school.  My dad was a faller at a camp called Hillcrest Lumber Company up at Mesachie Lake.  I hired Al Lundgrenon as a chokerman and spent my first five years working there before the camp itself shut down in 1968. During that time period, there tended to be a lot of fires every summer, it seemed that every operation had a forest fire of some sort or another. I was essentially hired on as a firefighter when I first came out of school so I got to know what it was like to be dirty, and to work for a change. It was a pretty exciting time when you’re a young kid.  I think I was making 17 dollars a day which was phenomenal wages for the time period. You could buy a car for 100 bucks so this was a pretty good deal.

It was in the fall of 1962 that I became a chokerman.  The fires were basically put out at that point and I always recall the supervisor that had picked me and one other chap, when he said "You guys worked hard, if you keep this up I’m going to make a chokerman out of you".  We weren’t sure whether that was a compliment or not, and as we were to discover at least it was a job. We went onto the rigging then and worked as chokerman for the following year. I think that with a job in any industry it’s always the early years that you sort of recall as grounding you where you’re going to go or what you’re going to become.

I remember starting as a chokerman but every day seemed like a new adventure.  You’re young, you’re eighteen years old, there’s never a moment where there wasn’t something going on that was exciting.  Even the simplest things seemed absolutely hilarious at the time. There was a sense of belonging, of being a part of a team. It was really an enjoyable time period, a time that I don’t think you could ever bring back as you get a little bit older. But, it certainly grounded you in what it took to be a logger. You had to structure your method of work to be safe at all times, to look out for your buddies, constantly aware, planning, you learned how to be a planner.  You couldn’t just run around wildly. You had to plan every move out to ensure that you were fernstruckgonna keep yourself and everyone else safe.

As a young fella, you learned that there were all kinds of rules that nobody had written down or bothered to write down.  It wasn’t just safety, it was methods of work.  You had to learn how to splice line, which I don’t think anyone knows how to do anymore, but in those days we all had to splice line. That was certainly the first goal, to learn how to put in an eye splice. You had to learn the signals, various signals for different parts of the job and you had to have those absolutely ingrained in your head. I was trying different jobs, working in different departments. I worked on the grade for awhile, had an opportunity to play on a Cat while no one was looking, wasn’t particularly successful but it was fun to do. I think that most of the old hands, if you showed any initiative would take you under their wing, and I don’t know if it happens so much anymore today. I think everybody assumes that you can do what you’re gonna do and leave you to it.  In those days, regardless of what your background was, they led you by the hand and you had to follow the way they did things which was quite different.

Hiring on in those days you would have to go in and of course sign up.  We had a fellow that did the sign up who was quite a stutterer with a speech impediment, so it took quite a length of time to get all the pages signed and ready to go.  When I went to go out and introduce myself to one of the supervisors on the front steps of the old place, I got pointed towards 'Side One' crummy. 'Side One'  in those days was the big production machine for the camp. The hooktender was pretty sure of himself and always maintained a really good crew, always tried to get the most logs and best production over everybody else, consequently I was introduced to a real highball bunch.

Getting out there in the morning, I was apprehensive, and worried you know, can you perform? Can you do the job? Arriving on the scene, lacing up the boots, and pretty antsy to get at it. That was in the early fall. It was probably mid-September. I can remember we were working in an area, I guess everywhere was the same in those days, but it was huge, huge timber, Douglas Fir, four, five, six foot in diameter. The camp I worked at generally cut everything around forty feet long, I don’t know why but they did. Big or small, they were all considered, you know, close to the same length. And this particular machine was incredibly powerful so I guess that’s why it was suited for that kind of timber. I had almost got myself killed that first day, which was fairly interesting. They had just invented a new type of signaling device, typically prior to that they used to string out what they called whistle wire, and it was a direct connection to the horn on the machine so when you clicked the bug it would close the circuit and make the horn blast.  Well, they had gone to this electronic method, it was a great big cumbersome device that strapped on the rigging slinger’s hip and you had to push a pre-warn button and then wait for a second and then hit the other button.  And if you did it carefully, and you were angled just right, and held your nose the right way it would work.  Anyway, we were in trying to set this turn of logs, I was underneath the logs trying to get the choker, and couldn’t quite reach it. So he went to slack down the line a little bit more but instead of the signal going in as 'slack the lines down' it came out as three to‘go-ahead’, and I couldn’t move I was stuck underneath there. The rest of the guys jumped to the clear and he finally got everything shut down. And when the guy came in he screamed and hollered and did quite a performance on top of the log and eventually, returned the new signaling device to the landing, pulled out whistle wire and we could finally get logging properly. There were a lot of adventures of a similar vein that went on during that time period, but it was a growth period too because you were learning every day. Everything that happened to you, you’d say, okay well I’ll never allow myself to get into that position again.  Or when you saw something happen to somebody else, you’d say, I’ll never do that or if I did that I’d do it a different way.

It was a beginning. Because, well as an example, that first machine was a wood spar so it had to be rigged and raised. I worked on bull gangs and did that too for awhile, and it’s always exciting when you pull the tree up.  But whenever you got to a guyline, you had to loosen that guyline and go over and that was quite a challenge. Seventeen railway spikes stuck in a stump, and you’d have to move that over so you could Hillcrest new Side Onecarry on logging. It was a big deal not only to move the lines but to move the machine. It was a machine that had been converted from steam, so it sat on a solid steel frame with solid steel wheels to move it with, and it had to be pulled with a Cat, maybe pushed by a Cat and pulled by a truck or maybe two Cats to move this thing, I don’t know how many tons it weighed. It was a humungous machine with a fantastically big motor, and boy it could produce. Conversely when you look at today, with a little hoechucker machine with one person running it, I mean they look like a little bug out there compared to what they had in those days. But, they were efficient, and they logged well, big crews. You’d look at how many people in the landing, one, two, three, five people in the landing, four people in the rigging, and if you had a back end crew there’d be three back there.  So it was a fair sized crew to operate the thing, vastly different from one guy in a little machine today.

So, it’s changed a lot. But, it was just changing and steel spars were, well they had been used way back in the 30’s but they never really got going until an outfit in Nanaimo, Madill, started pumping out their towers. They first came out in old tank bases and eventually graduated into really good machines. And then of course the 70’s came along and then grapple yarders came in and then the transition carried on. But, prior to that, when I started, the machines I worked on were essentially the same machines that had been used way back in the 30’s as steam. So you know that adaptors would be put on a gas motor or a diesel motor or whatever they had when they converted over. All that conversion took place around the early 1950’s. I came in at the tail end of that era.

I started off at Hillcrest, worked at WFI Gordon River for a short period, worked at the BCFP camps, Caycuse and Port Renfrew, and Crown Zellerbach's Camp 3, stressed over the line a bit to Franklin River, so essentially it was in the southern Vancouver Island region that I worked. In those days it was really simple, because I know when I broke in falling, as an example, I had a list at home of all the bull buckers names and phone numbers, and you HBO dry land sortwould essentially hire on over the phone. You would show up at camp, when you got hired, and sign the papers then and go to work. That was changing in the 70’s but prior to that it was easy. It was easy to get a job, there were lots of jobs.
I think to begin with it was a means to an end. I had plans, I was gonna go to school, which I did do for a number of years, but it kept drawing me back. I’d always get my stake for the next year of schooling paid for, and it was great for that. But, then I discovered when things didn’t pan out in my career that I had chosen there were opportunities in the forest industry that were just sitting there and I already had the basic skills, I’d done that as a kid, so I went back into it.  I broke in as a faller and that opened up a whole new world to me. I had a career then at that point, it was far easier to transfer around, and they were always looking for fallers here, there, and everywhere, so even though I ended up working up coast for short periods, by and large I still stayed in the Valley. What was interesting, is that after I completed my career and I had a chance to look back in retrospect at just where I’ve come from and what I’d done. My original choice, was to be a commercial artist. I was going into the advertising world, and I was good at it. I could do the illustrations, and I did all kinds of contract work for some major places. When it didn’t pan out in later years, I was able to use some of that talent with my work experience with WCB (Work Safe BC today), doing some of their safety publications and illustrations. Then I did a number of books for the Ministry of Forests, so it came out in strange ways. In a round-about way I was able to obtain what I was originally working towards.

I think that in looking back, probably more as a faller…there’s something that goes on out in the woods that’s quite unique. I probably knew more about my partner’s problems, whether it’s marriage problems, whether it’s problems with a teenage kid, whether it’s whatever. There was a freedom to be able to discuss things out there in a rational manner and offer advice sometimes, hopefully it was good, I don’t know, but at least to have a chance to vent and to get it out and talk about it. Sometimes it was easier to talk to your partner than to talk with your wife at home because there were no pre-conceived notions of where things were going to go. I think that we all got to know a little bit IWA wood signmore about ourselves just because of what we did. One thing I found really interesting, and I really discovered this after I retired, that all the time that I worked, especially as a faller, that when we had our lunch break, we never talked about the job.  Never once discussed the next tree we were going to fall, what we discussed was whether the hockey team was going to win that night, or what the local politics were, or what was happening on the weekend, or what you were building at home, but we very seldom would discuss the actual work.  However, once that lunch break was over, and as we were getting out of the crummy we got back into work mode again and then we would have a quick discussion about what we were going to do that afternoon, and if there was a problem.

We were very fortunate, most especially from the 70’s on, because of safety work within the IWA, that actually started with a partnership with MacMillan Bloedel even though I didn’t really work there that much. They had a thing called EFAP which was an avenue for people to go to if they had problems that they couldn’t overcome. A lot of people thought oh, it was a drug and alcohol plan program, but it really wasn’t, it was to resolve issues to make things better. And it worked. I know of a number of contemporaries that took that opportunity to go talk, get things out in the open, and come up with a plan that would work for them, and it was successful. But by and large, the industry and union itself was quite unique in that way, and help set the stage for similar EFAP programs that came into being across Canada.

My father was Henry Lundgren. He was born in 1912 in Springdale, Alberta.  His parents were pioneers from Sweden, and basically broke soil and started a homestead in Alberta.  He left home when he was about twelve, and worked on local farms.  He came out to the B.C. coast when he was about 16, I guess.  He walked from Squamish up to Pemberton, along the railroad tracks, which when you think about it was a considerable walk.  He went to work for his step-brother in a tie hewing outfit where they split and made railroad ties.  He eventually left there and broke in as a faller, because he had learned a little bit about falling while he was in that little outfit.  He had come to Vancouver at the beginning of the Great Depression and so work was pretty hard to come by.  He eventually got involved in the union, in its formative days, and became a labour organizer, for the forerunner of the IWA.

His history wasn’t written down so it's really hard to pinpoint exact years, but I think that it was probably in the very early 30’s.  I know that the Lumber Worker's newspaper started being developed around that time period and he was the authorof some of the articles that were written it.  In 1937 when the IWA was officially born, he became second vice president for Local 1-71, and at the same time he was business manager of the BC Lumber Worker as well.  He did that for a year, and then he was seconded as an organizer for The International Union of Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers doing the same type of work as he had been doing for the IWA previously.  He worked in the Nelson/Trail area and helped Henry Lundgrenorganize the Trail smelter in 1938.  Then he left the union and went back to Alberta and tried to be a farmer again for awhile, but that didn’t pan out.  So, he came back as a faller on the West Coast and eventually moved his family out in 1947 to Youbou.  At that point he was basically falling full-time. 

In the early 50’s he got involved in community affairs in Lake Cowichan, and was deeply involved in an organization called United Organizations.  He became chairman of it for many years and really enjoyed that part of his life, I think it was one of his favourite things because he enjoyed being a builder and also enjoyed being involved with the community, so it really fulfilled all of his needs.  It was deeply satisfying to him, I think, to see things like community centres and other projects that were constructed.  He was very community minded, and concerned for the betterment of an area.

That was kind of his focus, and he was that way all of his life.  He seemed to spend most of his time helping people.  It was kind of an interesting time for him, and so it is neat to look back today at people of his type because they left behind real legacies for all of us to enjoy.  You take a drive up to Lake Cowichan and you see the community centre, you see the playgrounds, you see the ice hockey arena, you see all the types of things that probably would not have happened without people like him.  There were so many other folks who were just as key as him in that small community and yet they worked really well together and were able to do things that were really quite astounding, I thought.

He had a hard life as a youngster and as a young man, especially during the “Dirty 30’s” (the Depression era) but even during that period he was deeply influenced by this driving need to do his bit to make things better for others.  In later years, when I thought of him encouraging me to go into the woods for the first time, so that now I was able to walk into an operation with all this union protection, safety committees, and all the types of things that he didn’t build by himself, but that he was a part of when it was starting to be developed way back when.  It was something that I entered that he could only dream of as a young man.  So I think that was pretty satisfying to him too.  As a young man you don’t realize all this stuff, but as I got older and started reflecting back on how he had lived and how I lived in comparison…I am quite sure that he would have much preferred the way that I came through the system than he did.  But he helped build that; he was one of them…an interesting man.

It was interesting in an article that he wrote for the Lumber Worker in 1938, where he writes about the end of the forest industry as they knew it.  What had happened at that time was they were happily logging all the valleys and he foresaw in ten years time there would be no more logging if they carried on the way they were, simply because the technology of that day was rail and it is impossible to build rail lines up steep mountain slopes.  So, as far as he could see, logging was going to die, or stop, if they didn’t get on with reforestation and having some kind of “smarten up” on what they were doing.  I know there was a resolution in 1938 from the IWA at the time to put in, in essence, what we would consider today as a Forest Practices Code. It was really quite interesting to read it because there were some similarities to what became the Forest Practices Code in the 1990’s, maybe not quite the direction it went but close to it.  So I thought that was kind of interesting, that these people could already see that it wasn’t an endless forest, that there would be an end if it wasn’t managed properly.

The CLRS at Mesachie Lake has been around for a long time, and was for replanting.  He took an interest in it, but had no direct connection to it.  Most people realized that the forest was not an endless resource, and yet I don’t think the majority really believed it.  I think they honestly believed the signs that said “Forests Forever”.  There used to be a BCFP sign up by Caycuse that said that, and I remember going by and looking at it everyday.  And yet, when I started in the industry in 1962, I worked around the borders of just about every operation I was employed in.  Something had gone on in the middle of it and it disappeared over the years.  Also, things started to accelerate, technology was changing…you see, when I started, steam was over and everything was running by diesel or gas powered equipment, and the ability to get up on the steep reaches and build roads for truck logging certainly was there.

The logging industry was accelerating at that point, but it just took off at a tremendous rate when the new technology came in with grapple yarding, and different techniques that they used where you could start logging Henry Lundgren Buckingat the end of a valley and be at the other end before you could even catch your breath!  I was just chatting with a friend of mine not too long ago; about one particular area that got opened up in the early 1970’s and by the mid 1990’s the area was gone, and yet it was miles of timber…it was astounding!  There was a point where I felt like I was running a lawnmower rather than a chainsaw…it was just going so quickly! Forest management is a joke today…all you have to do is pick up yesterday’s newspaper and you can read about what they are still doing…they still haven’t got the idea right!  I mean, even though I know that the forest industry is in desperate need, it’s a created situation.  They keep saying “world markets” and they keep telling us all these stories, but the reality is that it has been developing for many, many years and nobody looked at all the warning signs that were already there.

I think the main reason for the decline of the forest industry is greed.  It’s really easy to make big bucks if you can sell raw logs at a profit rather than a finished product.  As an example, my dad’s house was built in 1950 in Lake Cowichan, and everything that went into that house, including the gutters, the stair treads, the trim around the walls, came from the company he worked for at Hillcrest.  They made it all.  They didn’t just make two by fours…they made everything!  And every mill in this area did the same; in fact every mill on the coast did the same!  Today, if you go to a lumber yard and you want a two by four, it comes from the Interior because the coast doesn’t make two by fours; all they make today are logs…a huge difference.  There are a couple of mills, which are down now I guess, which still make export quality wood, but there is no domestic market.  So today if you build a house in the Cowichan Valley, you’re building it out of Williams Lake lumber.

My dad could see that good solid forest management, where as the trees are being harvested, the planting is being done and the nurturing of the new forest is being carried on…you really had to do a job on it.  It’s kind of like operating a farm- if you grow a plant you reach it to maturity, you harvest it, but you replant it right away …you’re looking after what you’ve got.  That sort of happened and sort of didn’t all during his time period.  But, I guess the shock to me, and he didn’t see this because he died in 1978,  was I remember going to a meeting when I worked at MacMillan Bloedel Franklin River Division and the manager was having a meeting with the fallers.  He told us at the time that eventually we would be going in and harvesting second growth timber, and that the maturity date for good second growth timber that was profitable was 70 years.  Well, if you pick up a newspaper today, they say 35 years.  Well, I’m sorry 35 years isn’t enough.  Actually 60-70 years is a pretty nice second growth tree.

There was a huge changeover when they went from creating a product to creating fibre.  Today it’s no longer called a product, it’s just called fibre.  So, when you see loads going down the road and there are logs on it that are maybe eight inches through, that’s fibre.  You don’t know what it’s going to be used for, it might be used for a two by four, it might be used for pulp …who knows?  But, it really has limited value.  And second growth that is immature like that structurally is terrible wood.  As it dries, it warps and twists, and doesn’t hold nails, and all that “good” stuff.  The only old growth that is really left on the coast is probably in the cedar patches here and there, there’s still some up on the north end of the Island, but by and large we’ve pretty well done it.  I get such a kick out of the provincial government that come out and say “Well, we’ve got to start talking about second growth”, well sadly enough; second growth is just about gone.  There’s reaches of land out on the San Juan valley, as an example, and it’s absolutely bare – mechanical falling and high speed harvesting techniques…it goes fast! 

For a time, during the heyday of the Forest Practices Code when it was first came out, there were all kinds of really interesting things going on where they were leaving wildlife corridors that would go from valley floor to mountain top.  All those sorts of things, that really had a handle on biodiversity and all the rest of it…but that doesn’t happen anymore.  In fact, all those areas that were left have been logged…areas where we did partial cut experiments that really were successful, and I was a part of quite a bit of that, you go by there today and there are little 10 year old saplings now…it’s a shame because they sort of lost their way as far as I’m concerned.  Both the need for greed, I guess, by the companies themselves, and the government relaxing on the rules of play.  So, it’s unfortunate, and I’m glad that my dad’s not around to see what’s happened today.  It’s been like a reversal where large companies have broken themselves into small contract units that go out and log so they don’t have the money to put ahead for things like safety and doing the types of things that a large company can afford to write-off, a small company can’t afford to do that.  So, it’s not a good situation.

There is no doubt that Canada’s Free Trade Agreement with the USA had an impact.  But, I think there were a lot of back room deals being made by the American and Canadian governments…I don’t think that any of it has been really put up front.  I think the federal government did not help any, regardless of who was in power during those years…none of them really went that extra step.  I think the encouragement to sell raw logs across the border started off being a loop-hole and became just a normal way of doing business was a huge mistake.  When you go right back to when Japan was buying their squares from Canada, at one point there I know the Youbou Sawmill, for example, when it was still running full tilt …their whole market was based on the Japan market.  There was rather odd sized material coming out of there, mostly hemlock, and it matched a wood that was of particular interest to Japan at the time and they built their homes out of it…and it was a very attractive product.  At least it was a finished product.  So that made sense, and that’s always been the name of the game.  I know there were products, years ago, that were being sold to different places, South America or wherever, that would fit their particular standard, what they wanted so the mills would adjust their saws and planer knives and cut them to that.  But today, they don’t take the time to make a product anymore and I think we are all the losers for it.  It’s not that much different from going to your local store and everything you pick up is made in some other country other than Canada.  So, it is almost a universal problem coming back to haunt us now.

The old man was a pretty cool guy but he was just one of many.  There were lots of folks that were really the driving force behind the union and he was just one of many players.  I’ve never been against capitalism…I think there is nothing wrong with that.  But, I think there is a reasonable profit and I think that everyone has tended to lose their way a bit on that and what Henry & his Accordianis termed reasonable.  Each year everybody has to be making more than previous, I don’t care if you are a bank or what you are…you always have to be making more, and I question that!  Like, when is enough, enough?  Of course you know what is happening in the States, it’s sort of the rise and fall of the American empire, well…it’s falling and I don’t think that they are going to be able to get their way out of that!  The whole world’s going to be dragged down the drain with them, unfortunately, and I don’t think that one man being elected down there’s going to make that much of a difference… they’ve got a hell of a problem, and if they have a problem so do we!  So, regardless of whether they are buying our raw logs or not… it’s serious. 

So, guys like my dad who went through the Depression in the 1930’s and had a huge impact certainly on him, could see that there must be some better way of doing things.  Through that period unions started to grow and get a foothold… I think you may see a start of that again.  In the States, the vast majority of people are unorganized right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that change.  The interesting thing is that what the unions did during my father’s time was to build a middle class, and if you look around today there is no middle class anymore.  And yet, it is the middle class that really drives a country.  So, somewhere along the line, somebody’s going to have to wake up to the idea that “Geez, if we want someone to buy that new car, or build that house, they’ve got to have a reasonable income to do that with.”  And that’s kind of been forgotten in the chase.  I have two daughters that make reasonably good wages and yet they will never be able to buy their own home…it’s kind of sad.  You can be a pessimist and say “That’s the end of theworld, let’s go hide in a hole”, but the reality is, people like my old man and others in that era,could have done the same thing but they didn’t.  So, I think it is up to the younger generation to take a hold of it and say Built form reclaimed wood from an old mill “Okay, this is where we’re at… where do we want to go Hand Craftedand how do we get there?”  It’s a reality check.  It’s a created thing, even though it’s harder to get a loan today…credit is easy.  I mean, hell, anytime you get your mail there’s an application for easy credit.  Yet, when I first started working, I couldn’t go running down to the local bank and borrow a pile of money to go buy a car… they would have laughed at me!  So, rather than spending what you can afford, today we are encouraged to go and spend all kinds of money that we don’t have!  I think it’s a wake-up call to say “Gee, maybe I’ll use cash”.  It’s a whole new concept!