Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
Al Margetish

Al MargetishI started working steady in the forest industry in 1960, and I retired in 2007. My first job was punking whistles on the skidder, but I had worked the summer before that spark-chasing.  I also set chokers on a cold decker in 1959.

I grew up in Caycuse.  It was good– there were about a hundred families that lived there, so there were lots of kids around.  We were even closer than a small town, because it was so small.  We couldn’t get away with anything!  We had to behave ourselves all the time, because everyone was like our mom and dad – they were always looking out for us.

I was fifteen when I started working as a spark-chaser… you had to be fifteen to start, and in later years you had to be eighteen.  The odd time we would go out with my dad on the weekends, but besides that, we used to get firewood.  So we had access to all the logging equipment, so to speak.  We didn’t have access to the trucks, but my dad was a loader-operator and he could take a gravel truck out and load it up with wood; so we got used to using tongs, chokers, and that sort of thing. 

I was a whistle punk for three to four months, and then I went on the bull gang.  That used to be the crew they had with Al Norman.  He was an excellent guy – he really knew what he was doing!  He was quite a quiet fellow; but when he said something, you knew he was the boss… but he wasn’t harsh.  The bull gang raised and rigged trees ahead of time on the new settingsCaycuse still had all wood trees at that time.  In 1960 they still had all wood trees, but they had one steel spar at Camp 3.  It was a homemade one… it Cold Deck Pilewasn’t one of the commercially built ones like Madill or Viewspar.

My job on the bull gang was pulling line and pounding spikes.  Wherever the guyline stumps were, they had an old fellow there… they didn’t use power saws then for some reason, at Caycuse anyways.  It was his job to ‘notch’ the stumps; then when it was ready we would run the guy lines out.  We had to pack what they called a ‘pass block’ out near the stump– we pulled the guyline out, and got it all ready to wrap around the stump.  We would get it ready for when it went up the tree, and then once it was up the tree, we had to go back with a bucket full of spikes.  We would put three wraps on each guyline stump– that was rough, heavy work!  We were always pulling straw line.

We worked hard– I thought I was a tough little kid, but when I got out there and worked… it was really tough!  When I was at play, say even in the camp doing stuff, we worked hard for a couple of hours, and then we went to rest.  When I was on the bull gang, especially if they were in a hurry for a tree, we didn’t get many breaks.  We had to have breaks, but there wasn’t a lot of stopping, and the strawline seemed like it weighed a ton after a while!  It wasn’t just pulling strawline; there were all kinds of stuff that we were doing.  I guess they pushed us because we were young, and could run up and down a side hill, or whatever.  They weren’t slave drivers or anything, but they expected us to work. I expected that I would be working, because I grew up in the logging environment, and I heard all the guys talking.  We knew we couldn’t be lazy, or we knew damn well that we were not going to get on!  I wasn’t a lazy type anyways.

The bull gang was kind of an ‘off and on’ job.  I don’t think there were too many people that stayed on the bull gang steady, other than the riggers… like Al Norman and one of the operators who had worked with Al quite a bit:  Cecil Gilchrist.  He was an old guy that notched the stumps– he worked there pretty much steady, unless the bull gang was out of work, and then they’d put him to work doing other things.  His nickname was ‘horse cock’ for some reason… I think it was because he liked to eat garlic sausage. 

After working on the bull gang, I went setting chokers on the skidder from 1960 to 1961.  Then I went from the skidder to the slackline blowing whistles.  I was getting up in years then… I was about seventeen or eighteen.  After that I went to work on the back end of the slackline, and that was a good job.  So, my main job on the slackline was notching the tail bolts – I did all that by hand.

Most of the time, on a slackline, they would wrap a tree and then they’d ‘tail bolt’ another one.  So on the wrapped tree, they would start real low on one side, and then make a notch all the way around.  Then they would go back to the tree behind it… well, as relatively straight behind as they could.  When it came time to change roads, it was also my job to knock the ‘tail bolt’ loose.  We always had to make sure that we were on the right side, because if it was a steep downhill, as soon as we knocked that pin off the cable, it would take off and come whipping around!  So we had to make sure it was well chopped out, especially on the wrap tree. After it was finished logging, sometimes the cable would bite into the notch where we knocked it loose… the cable bit in and wouldn’t let go!  Now, if there was a great big tail behind that wrap tree, and it was coming from the choke tree, we couldn’t chop it safely.  If we chopped it and it started going, there would be twenty to thirty feet of cable that would come whipping around there– it would take your bloody head off if it ever hit you!  So, we had to make sure that thing was free on the wrap tree especially.  On the choke tree, we could just chop your way around it if it didn’t let go when we knocked the pin out.  Usually when we knocked the pin out… away it went!  Unless we didn’t have it notched out right. 

I did that for probably six months, maybe a year, and then I quit Caycuse and went up the coast to Holberg, on the north end of the island up past Port Hardy.  It’s the most northern camp on the Island, and it’s still going.  There used to be an air force base just up the road from us.  Caycuse had a real good name for people coming out of there, so I immediately was working pulling rigging, hook tending, loading or something.  I was in Holberg for a year, then I went back to Caycuse where I worked for a contractor off and on… just part-time, and then I went to June Landing in 1964. 

Tom's CreekWhen I came back to Camp 6, I worked for Tommy Michaels… MTM Logging, it was called.  He was a salvage guy, and he had his own little gyppo in a big camp.  He was a heck of a good guy to work for – he was a lot of fun!  He was a real comical guy, but he could be serious at work at times… especially if things started to screw up.  He had all kinds of stories from when he was a spitfire pilot in the Second World War.  He’d be driving down the road in his pickup truck making machine gun fire noises.  But he was a good guy to work for. 

I was there for only a year and a half, running a little Cat to begin with, and then he bought a little ‘Tree Farmer’.  That was when Tree Farmers were hardly on Vancouver Island.  A Tree Farmer is an early rubber-tired skidder.  The one that I was on was a ‘C5 Garrett’, but they were all called Tree Farmers.  They were already well-used in the interior– the terrain is too steep around here, so there wasn’t much they did.  They hadn’t got around to logging second growth yet, that was around 1965.  So we just went up the hill, and followed the Cats around.  It took awhile to get used to it, because it had an articulated frame so that it could swivel. So when they started to tip, the back end would go, and of course the driver was sitting on the back end of it, so it felt like it was going over… until it hit where the front wheel was, and then it would stop.  They would flip at times, and it took me awhile to get used to that so I wouldn’t be jumping off it all the time!  We had to be careful pulling sideways, especially on those big logs going around a switchback on a Cat road.  The logs would hang up, and then all of a sudden they would let loose and go shooting by us!  So, we had to let the slack out real quick, or else over we would go – they would flip us over like nothing, and so fast too!

Everything seemed to fall into place.  When I was working on that Tree Farmer for Tommy Michaels, it was an experience!  I remember thinking, ‘Now a rubber tired skidder… what the hell is this?” I had never seen one before, and I got on that thing and it wasn’t automatic – it was a standard shift, even the winch was standard shift. Anyways, I got on there and I didn’t know how to adjust the damn thing or anything.  So, we took it across the lake to where we were going to work it, and it wouldn’t pull worth nothing!  Then Tommy said, “There must be a way to set that winch up so it will pull something.”  It was all discs, and it was slipping.  So I said, “Yes, there is a way, but we don’t have the book and I don’t know how to do it.”  Well, just about that time, the guy from Finning showed up.  He waded across Shaw Creek, where we were working, and I was proud of that.  He asked Tommy, “Where did you find this operator? You must have gone up to the Interior!”  And he said, “No, no – he’s just a local guy here.”  I felt good about that!  But I said, “There’s only one big problem, I can’t make this damn winch pull.”  So he said, “Oh, that’s very simple.”  There were pins on the side of it, and if you pulled them out, and turned the plate around … it was just like on a big screw!  As soon as it started to tighten up a bit, we would just pop the pins, let the pins go, and then all of a sudden … “poof!”  That’s when I found out we could tip those things over just with the winch… they had lots of power, and they were fast!  We went from two loads a day of chunks with that little Cat, to about six loads a day for the chunk truck, and a couple of log loads for the self loading log truck.  So, we were actually producing something there, as we putted down the road with the old Cat, with the track sliding off it all the time.  There weren’t any fenders on the first ones, so guys were getting killed left and right up in the Interior.  A little log would get up on the wheel, and there was nothing there to stop it– it would throw it right into the cab, and kill the driver. 

One of my memories is of Easter 1965:  I was up on top of a mountain, and WCB said that they would put those big steel fenders on.  So, here I was up there all by myself with this portable drill… boring holes to bolt these big fenders on.  It was blowing snow, so I finally went home – here were the rest of my buddies at home sitting there drinking and partying it up with the girls!  There wasn’t a mechanic there to do it and the owner, Tommy, had gone home.  Before he left, he said, “You can do that, can’t you?”  And I said, “Oh yeah.”  But I wasn’t expecting the snow storm!  I was up there freezing while all my friends came up from Victoria to have a party!   

There was a big strike in 1962 or 1963… somewhere around there.  I wasn’t around here at the time; I was working up-coast.  But it was a big deal to get the buses going.  Even the camps up-coast, unless they were really remote, shut all their camps down.  Like at Juskatla, they had just built a million dollar camp there and they shut it down… same with Port Hardy.  There was a beautiful camp they had there, and the town was only a five minute drive away; but they had their own bunk houses, and that kind of stuff.  I kind of blame the men themselves, you know.  It was two dollars and fifty cents a day to stay in the bunkhouse… that included the food in the cookhouse.  But, every time the company would say, “We’ve got to charge more than that.” Oh, there was a great ‘to-do’ about that!  So, if they had been a little more flexible, maybe they wouldn’t have been so quick to shut those camps down.  A number of years later, I went up to Prince George– there was a camp out there called Macgregor… it was a new camp actually.  I was looking to get a falling contract up that way– one of the deals was that they had a cookhouse, and a bunkhouse set up there, but it was fifteen dollars per day.  I thought, “Well, that’s fair.”  This was in the eighties already… 1985 or something like that.

 McClure River at CaycuseI didn’t get married until I was way into my thirties. I would be working up and down the coast, and I would have one girlfriend, and then I’d go to Vancouver and party it up!I met my wife through my brother’s wife, actually.  We went over there, and she had this girl babysitting for her.  I’d made a date with this other woman to go to a wedding, and at the last minute she couldn’t make it.  So she said, “Why don’t you take this girl?  She wants to go.”  So I did, and we ended up staying together.  So, I finally got married in 1975 when I was thirty-three.  My dad didn’t get married until he was thirty-seven.  My wife and I have two boys. 

The forest industry has been my whole life!  All my good friends have been loggers and worked in the industry, or at least been associated with the forestry industry in one way or another.  It’s just been a way of life that has supported all these communities, and it’s sad to see them all.  It was like they were all going to die at one time, but now they are coming back, with some tourism and different things.  In the eighties, it looked like Chemainus was almost a dead ghost town, and Ladysmith didn’t look much better.  But look at them now… they are doing quite well!