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

I was born in Chatham, Ontario, and we moved to Duncan in 1952 when I was three years old.  My Mom and Dad were Bill Routleyboth Pentecostal Ministers, but eventually bought a rest home for seniors in Esquimalt when I was fifteen.  My Mom also ran a day care in Victoria.  I grew up here on Dingwall Street, not far from where I live now.  We had a nice big chunk of land with a big garden, chickens, and all that stuff.  We weren’t wealthy by any means, but I didn’t complain because I had a happy childhood.  I had these awesome, loving parents – my Dad was a great hugger! 

After high school, I worked for a time at a shoe repair shop in Victoria.  However, I didn’t have a very good boss – he often would mistreat his employees, particularly those from other countries.  He had very little patience, and would just throw the shoes at us.  I didn’t know it then, but this experience prepared me for my future job as a trade unionist.

I finally decided that I didn’t enjoy working in the shoe repair business, and I was told there were lots of jobs up at Youbou.  My wife and I were getting married in November of 1970, so in September of 1970, I went up to Youbou and camped in a cabin in Gold’s Park.   I went to the Industrial Relations office every day for a week, and I was finally hired at the Youbou Sawmill on September 16, 1970. 

I started in the Chip Plant, which was an entirely separate building where they received all the wood waste from the A-Mill, B-Mill and also from the #1 and #2 Planer conveyors.  The A-Mill and B-Mill had a series of waste conveyors which flowed into one main conveyor.  This included every bit of junk wood, which could be as much as fifty percent of the log.   

The first station on the main waste conveyor was the block saw, where a ‘block puller’ would pull big blocks out.  Feeding the Chipper was quite a job!  We had these two pipes for controls right above our knees… it was like doing a hula.  We would be moving our hips back and forth to turn the conveyor on and off.  So as we moved forward, it would turn the conveyor on, and when we moved back, it would turn off.  This was the ‘Incline Conveyor’ that was coming straight at our face… really good planning!  Thankfully, they gave us face shields that helped protect us. 

We ran Fir, Cedar, and Hemlock on specific runs.  We would run only Cedar for a few days or weeks, and then only Fir or Hemlock.  Cedar had the highest value most of the time, but there were other times when Fir was very valuable as well.  There used to be a lot of stringy bark on the Cedar, and it would clog up the machines… especially the conveyors.  Some of the guys were actually allergic to it.  We had a charge hand, Rudy, who was very allergic to Cedar and so had to go off work with ‘Cedar Asthma’.  A Mill Head RifHemlock, on the other hand, was a nice clean wood to work with – it is a white wood, so it required less bleaching at the pulp mill.  However, we didn’t like it when they would spray the chemical, Pentachlorophenol, all over it.

After working in the Chip Plant, I eventually went to work in the planer mill for awhile.  The Planer was one of the primary break-down units – it would basically take green lumber, and plane all four sides.  There were actually two Planer Mills:  #1 and #2 Planer Mills.  Next to the #2 Planer was where they used to dry kiln lumber.  Using a dry kiln increased the shelf life of the wood tremendously, but it was the most costly way to do it. The other way to preserve wood that they used to use and it was cheaper, was using Pentachlorophenol on green lumber.  It would preserve it for up to ten years by spraying this wood preservative on it, but then they would ship it as ‘green lumber’.

After the lumber was planed, there would be people marking the lumber as to grade.  Utility grade was the lowest grade, and we made construction and clear grades.  Grading decisions were based on the quality or appearance of each piece of lumber – sometimes they would mark a piece to trim an end off.  Sometimes a piece had a knot at one end, so by trimming it off, it made it clear.  Often, we would take a foot or two off a board if it meant that we were upgrading the value significantly.
I crushed one of my fingers on my first day in the planer mill trying to learn how to pull random length lumber or a ‘Tally Load’, and there were posts right there where we were pulling lumber.  Again, I put it down to a lack of proper training, so that experience also got me involved later in Safety Training.  Once I healed from my injuries, I was moved to pulling lumber on the green chain in the A-Mill.

The ‘green chain’, or ‘planer chain’, is essentially three or four chains about five feet apart that the lumber would go out on – they were long chains anywhere from several hundred feet in length to even longer than that.  I think we had one chain that was an eighth of a mile long!  The chains were put into wooden channels, and the chain was above the channel so the lumber would sit on the top of these box chain links, and B Mill Barkerit would effectively move the lumber along.  Sometimes we would have so much lumber piled up on the green chain that it would be a foot deep in lumber!  When we pulled on the green chain, we used a ‘Crane Way’ to move the lumber – it was one of the longest Crane Ways in the world!  It was a quarter mile long with an overhead bridge Crane, and it was about eighty feet in the air.  The Crane had these great big hooks that would come down over an entire load.  The Crane operator could then manipulate the tongs to go in underneath the load, lift it up, take it and park the load in a storage area.  Or, they could put it right into the other Planers … whatever they wanted to do with it.

We also had an A-Mill and a B-Mill:  The A-Mill took up to a sixty-five inch log through the Barker, and the B-Mill took up to a thirty-five inch log.  Before the mechanical Barker went in, they took even bigger logs than that!  We’d take a huge flare butt, trim it off, and it all went down to the Waste Conveyor and then came up to us at the Chip Plant.  We used a picaroon, or Block Puller, to pull the blocks out of the conveyor.  The B-mill was a separate mill – it could have run as a separate ‘stand alone’ business, but it was right next door to the A-Mill.  Instead of a Head Rig, there was what was called a Double-Cut Band Saw in the early years (70’s and 80’s) – the logs could be cut going both ways, while moving forward and backwards.  That was something to watch – like slicing up cheese … “zing, zing, zing”! 

The ‘Primary Breakdown Unit’ is that first saw or machine that takes the log and breaks it down into lumber.  In the A-Mill and B-Mill, the log first went to the Head Rig, and then it went to the Edger.  In the old days, an Edger would cut the log into slabs.  When we were cutting the slabs off a log, we would cut huge slabs … anywhere from six inch to twelve inch slabs.  We would ‘break down’ the slab of wood in the Edger.  The Edger operators were very skilled – it was almost like playing a piano! In later years the Edger was optimized, and the operator became just a lug feeder with very little actual decision making as it was mostly all computers making the decisions.

Back when I worked at Youbou, there was a big Steam Head Rig in the A-Mill.  The steam from the Power Plant that ran great big steam cylinders, just like a steam engine, would drive that thing back and forth.  It was quite something to see guys like Benny Irving, who I think was the best Sawyer that we had… it was like art in motion watching him!  I still wish we could go back to those days, and photograph him cutting a great big log. 

Back in the old days, there used to be a guy that would stand and direct the wood to the Edger, and he was called the Tail Sawyer… it was a really dangerous job!  He wasn’t really sawing anything, so I don’t know why they called him a Tail “sawyer “, his job was to make sure the wood flow was not interrupted.  Then the wood would go into the Edger, and from the Edger it would go to the Trim Saws to be trimmed.  After the wood got trimmed, all the trims would go down into Waste Conveyors and on to the Chip Plant.   The Edger Tailer would use a pike pole, to push the sides off the slabs and they would go through the Slasher Saws and get cut into about four foot lengths.  They would then go into the Waste Conveyor towards the Chip Plant. The good pieces they would trim into boards, and then the finished board would go from there to the Green Chain, or to the Vertical Re-Saw, or to the 'B' Mill Peco Hoist Prentice CraneHorizontal Re-Saw for further manufacturing.  The Graders would mark the board as to whether it was for the Horizontal or the Vertical Re-Saw, or if it was a finished product.  After the trim, there was a ‘Drop Sorter Operator’ who ran the ‘Drop Gate’ that would divert the lumber to either the Horizontal Re-Saw, or Vertical Re-Saw, or to the green chain based on what the piece of wood needed.  That was also an interesting job!

Back in the ‘70’s, the Youbou Sawmill had many men working there in all the different plants.  The green chain had the largest number of crew working piling lumber.  The Veneer Plant and the sawmills, with all three shifts running, employed approximately five hundred and fifty to six hundred guys.  The Veneer Plant and Power Plants had quite large crews of guys, and then there was the A-Mill, and the B-Mill – they all employed a lot of people back in the seventies and eighties.  However, when the Youbou Sawmill closed they were down to two hundred and twenty mill workers.

The Veneer Plant was a totally separate business; that was where we peeled the great big Fir Peeler logs.  Veneer to make plywood is what we peeled off a log.  Its like an apple peeler – the knife cuts exactly the same depth of veneer.  The veneer traveled on ‘trays’ which were about ten feet wide, and had wide belts.  So, an eighth of an inch or so of veneer would come onto the belts, and fill up the trays. When the wood reached the Whisker Wands, the Tipple Table would automatically move between Tray 1 and Tray 2.  The trays would go right up – they were about sixteen feet in the air, but were only a few feet between trays. The veneer was moving on these different trays.  The Tipple Table was moving between the trays of veneer. There were eight different trays, so when we would be peeling the veneer, it came 'B' Mill Peco Hoist Prentice Craneoff really quick and it would peel off and fill the whole tray.  Then it moved to another tray, and laid more veneer down – there were eight trays altogether.  The Clipper Operator down at the other end could maneuver the Tipple Table.  He would start at Tray 1, and all the veneer would come off.  Then he would clip it into a typical four by eight foot piece of plywood at four foot lengths.  Anything that didn’t make a four foot piece he would chop, then that would go into the ‘sandwich’ that would become the piece of plywood.  In the Plywood Plant, they would put the full sheets on either side and then layer all this ‘junk’, or the shorter pieces, in between – some of the shorter pieces were called ‘Fish Tails’.

The mills were very dangerous places to work in those days; there were a lot of things that we eventually learned to do that made the job safer. When I was on the Safety Committee, young Patrick was killed on the job… that was a sad day.  He got caught in the 2 ½ ton Tipple Table, which was a huge hinged steel table, in the Veneer Plant.  He went in on the night shift with just a rake, and a wheelbarrow … the place would have been totally quiet.  He went into this area where, we later learned; they hadn’t put a shackle and tied up the Tipple Table.  Well, he accidentally hit the Whisker Switch, which was a bit bigger than a pencil and is what the veneer would hit, and it controlled the Tipple Table.  So just imagine this young ‘clean-up’ kid coming in on the graveyard shift with his rake, broom, shovel and wheelbarrow.  He accidentally hits the Whisker Switch, and this 2 ½ ton table comes down on top of him!  There was only about a quarter inch between the table and the steel trays, so he got pinned and squashed … it was just awful!  I was mad at the Superintendent, because the Safety Committee had already said that this area was a problem.  They had just put in a new tray system, and we had said they had to make sure the Lock-Out Procedures are written and well-understood.  Well, he hadn’t done that, and I remember that he felt awful about this young man’s death.  The real tragedy was that it could have been prevented.

I remember another accident with a fellow that was killed on the Out-Feed of the #2 Planer.  He was killed by his own watch, as he was using a Micrometer to measure the depth of the lumber.  The proper protocol was to turn the switch off, and to lock it out or tag it out – to literally ‘throw the switch’.  It was all right there, and he could have done that.  What used to happen was that the lumber went through the planer – they were running two by six, and there are these power rolls.  Once the board gets through the last set of rolls, it just kind of sits there.  So, it takes another piece of lumber to come through and drive it through the Planer.  Well, the planer had stopped, so he took a second to reach over and measure the other side of the board.  It was a piece of two by J-Bar Systemsix, and the Planer Feeder fed the next two by six.  So it started out, and caught his watch by just a sliver, then dragged his arm, and the next two by six caught him right on his neck.  When we opened up the machine, we found that the two by six, and the great big power roller, had pushed the two by six right up against his neck. I think it broke his neck, and he was killed instantly. 

Another fatality was a guy who fell off the Crane Way about eighty feet to his death.  There were lots more, but I just remember the ones where I was directly involved in the investigations, or that I am aware of.  Those were, obviously, difficult issues to be involved in.  Most of the WCB regulations are literally ‘written in blood’; at least that is my belief.  One of the reasons that I am running in politics, is that we actually have a government that bragged about having a Minister of De-Regulation!  They even allowed de-regulation to the point where they virtually ripped pages out of our WCB Handbook … and people died for those regulations!  So, I am really angry about some of these outrageous things going on in government.

There used to be three guys named ‘Bill’ when I worked on the green chain, and so we all had different nicknames.  I was ‘Wild Bill’ because I used to pull lumber like a wild man… boy did I sweat!  I was one hundred and sixty pounds when I started, and I lost fifteen pounds; so I was down to one hundred and forty-five pounds at that time.  Then there was ‘Lightening Bill’ who, ironically, was really slow; and finally, there was ‘Buffalo Bill’, because he looked liked a Buffalo Bill.  So, we knew from our nicknames who they were calling.

I went from there to the Chip Plant again, and I got the job of feeding the Chipper – my job was to try to get a huge volume of waste wood from the mills into a twelve by twelve inch hole, which was the ‘throat’ of the J-Bar SystemChipper.  It was quite a challenge … there was a lot of pounding, cursing, and carrying on!  We used to have to take these big power saws, and cut the oversized big slabs up.  We made some of the best chips – Crofton used to love the chips from the Chip Plant at Youbou.  They had, side by side, #1 and #2 Chippers – I ran the #1 Chipper.  It was a real challenge when they cut twelve by twelve’s in the mill, because even a small piece of wood could jam things up pretty good. 

I worked in the Chip Plant for probably three years or more, and that’s where I was working when I started to get involved on the Safety Committee.  I remember hearing about Pentachlorophenol, a wood preservative, and that was really my first major involvement with union activism.  That was when I discovered what they were putting on the lumber.  They would tell me that if you took a load of lumber, dropped it in this vat with the chemical in it, and pulled it out with the crane, you would increase its shelf life by ten years.  So when I first became aware of this chemical (Pentachlorophenol), I was getting it sprayed in a mist up in my face all the time.  It used to run down, and I would get rashes all over my legs and arms.  My wife and I lived at Marble Bay, near Lake Cowichan, at the time.  We bought property there right on the lake, and we would take our water out of the lake.  We had a pipe going out into the lake with this filter on the end of it, out in the middle of Marble Bay. 

What I discovered was that they used to take a fire hose pump, and pump out the dip tank right into the lake.  From dumping these lumber loads in the vat, they would have pieces break off, and after awhile it would fill up.  Well, they would hire a kid off the street to climb inside of this with hip waders on, and shovel all the stuff J-Bar Systemout onto the land.  Then they would pump the remaining dredges, the water, and the chemical into the lake.  I first went to the company and said, “You shouldn’t be doing that!” as a result of what I’d learned and read about the chemical.  I really had to search for the material first from Agricultural Canada, and then from the Environmental Protection Agency in the States – they sent me a huge bundle of material! 

I finally realized that management wouldn’t do anything, so I came down to the Federal Fisheries Office here in Duncan and the Federal Fisheries officer (Trevor), came up to the mill.  I told him, “Look they are pumping this chemical into the lake – you can catch them red handed!”  He said, “They can’t do that.  This is a lake with fish in it, and under the fisheries act we can charge them.” 

It’s actually kind of a funny story; because when we got to the mill, I had a couple of the Safety Committee guys watching this pump going.  So we got down there, and the Maintenance Superintendent met us at the First Aid shack and said, “Oh no, you can’t go in the mill without first getting your vest and hard hat on.  You also need to sign in here.”  Then he ran up, got on the phone, and told the Mill Foreman to run downstairs and unplug the pump.  So Dennis, one of the Safety Committee guys, watched this.  He saw the Foreman run down, unplug the pump, roll the hose up, and put the cover over it.  He even took a handful of sawdust and threw it over the pump cover.  So when the Foreman ran back up, Dennis went and uncovered it, rolled the hose back out, and plugged the pump back in.  Then when we got down there, the Maintenance Superintendent said, “There’s been some shenanigans here!” and he looked at me.  I said, “There certainly has!”  I wasn’t too worried, because we all knew that he was trying to cover it up.  Anyway, it took a long time, but finally the Federal Fisheries Officers took some samples in plastic bottles, which was a ‘no-no’ I found out in court later.  Of course, they had the lawyers from BCFP at the time, and there was little old me and the Fisheries Officer trying to defend the lake and the fishery.  The company just got a slap on the hand!

What was interesting, is that I ran into the mill manager on the ferry years later.  He said, “You know it cost us eighty thousand dollars to put in a proper filtering and recycling system, and the thing paid for itself in the first three years!”  They ended up building a cement retaining wall, and putting in filters, pumps, and all to recycle the material.  He said, “We had no idea we were losing that much chemical!”

The one thing that I really worry about is the long-term impact that the exposure to the chemicals may have had on me, and the rest of the crew.  There were an extraordinary number of cancers… I know guys that ran the crane that had throat cancer!  I remember one guy that literally used to walk in the chemical down in the basement, and he got some kind of rare cancer in his feet.  However, we couldn’t get a doctor to say that the cancer had anything to do with the exposure to the Pentachlorophenol.  Instead they would say, “It’s environmental”, so that could be many things.  I visited one of the maintenance guys in the hospital, and the doctors said “Look, there are so many things that he could have come into contact with in his life, including smoking.  So to try to pin it on the exposure to the chemical just isn’t possible.”  But what was interesting in the material I read, was that it said that you couldn’t use any sawdust that had anything that was related to Pentachlorophenol under the Canada Agriculture Act.  You couldn’t use it for chicken bedding, because of the mortality studies done with chickens.  So, they couldn’t use it for bedding for chickens, but we were allowed to have it dripping all over us and have people right in it!  They eventually changed to Copper Quinolate and other wood Quad in B Millpreservatives, and I don’t know what they are using now; but there ought to have been way more training on chemicals like there is today with the WHIMIS program.  I remember asking at Safety Committee meetings, “What is in this stuff?  What do you know about it?”  And they would say, “Oh, its safe, its safe.  You can wash your hands in it!” 

I was very involved in helping improve safety in work, but I don’t take credit alone.  There was the whole Safety Committee that was aware of it, and I was Chairman at the time so I was certainly involved in pushing the envelope on that.  I remember the Manager at the time was quoted in the Lake News saying that I was a ‘disgruntled employee’. 

In those days it was fine, because the Union had a lot of support among the crew.  When I was working in the Chip Plant, I remember that I led an uprising.  The Union Committee had just discussed the problem of working Foremen, and I had a young Foreman come over from the B-mill.  His name is Gord, and he’s still around in town … he doesn’t live far away from me.  Anyways, he grabbed the picaroon out of my hand and started feeding the chipper.  Well, I had just been appointed committee person on the Plant Committee, and we had about five hundred guys or so working in the mills at that time, and we had quite a militant Union Plant Chairman, named Bob McPhee, who was a Scotchman.  So I phoned Bob and said, “Bob, we have a working Foreman down here.  What do we do?”  So Bob says, “Well, how long was he working?”  I said, “Oh, about ten minutes.”  The crew was at the Chip Plant, and there were only seven of us, so he said, “Well, you tell the crew that they are going to stand by – they are to sit in the lunch room after the whistle blows to go back to work, and they are to stay in there for ten minutes.  Then when the Foreman comes looking for them, you tell him that it is because he was working.  We are going to teach these guys a lesson!”  So I told the crew, “Okay guys, we are going to sit in the lunchroom.”  So everybody did it, and the Foreman threw open the door and said, “What the hell is going on?!”  I stood up and said, “Well you are a working Foreman, and so we’re going to sit in here in protest.”  He said, “Well you are all Quad in B Millsuspended!  How do like that?”  I said, “Well, that’s fine too, I guess.”  So I went over and got on the phone to Bob McPhee – he walked out on the catwalk in the mill, and went down and told the crew what was going on.  So the whole mill walked out!  That was my first ‘wildcat’ Strike.  I can still remember how mad Gord was… he was just livid!  He was really mad at me, but we had a long meeting and we got things straightened out… those were the good old days! 

Finally Management said, “We can’t have the whole mill going down like this… what’s the problem?”  I remember that Bob went after them and said, “Look, if the Foremen are Management, they are supposed to manage.  They can’t be managing, and doing the workers’ job at the same time.  So let’s get this straight:  they are either a worker or a Manager, they can’t be both.”  So then the manager shot back, “Well, that’s fine.  The next time somebody’s wife phones and says they have a problem with little Johnny, we’ll just tell them that her husband is working, and the Union has instructed us that they can’t be interrupted.”  So we had a big caucus, and we said, “Whoa!  What do we do now?”  We finally came up with a compromise that Foremen wouldn’t work, except for training and emergency relief purposes.  So they had to qualify it by saying that they were actually doing some training, or if there was some emergency situation and there was no other crew member available that could fill in.  Those were interesting times! 

We were a wild bunch back then!  Les Klughart was instrumental in getting me to join the Union Committee.  Bob McPhee was another major part of the Union… there are a million Bob McPhee stories!

There were also a couple of guys who I looked to for guidance in the Chip Plant.  One of them was Mel Dexter, who was an older fellow that was good at training.  He was mostly deaf, but he would show you how to do things, and so he was a great guy. Dennis LaForge was another – he had a brother that worked in the woods.  Roland Desrocher was viewed by the bunch of us as one of the best Chipper Feeders, because he could really pour the wood through there. There were some people that were better at mentoring and training than others.  I tried to be one of those too, because I believe that if a guy is going to have a chance to go home with all his fingers and toes, he’s got to get trained.  I know that I really resented it when I started on the job and didn’t get trained… I thought it was awful!  I crushed the end of one of my fingers, because nobody told me something as simple as, “Keep your hand off the end of a two by six.”   If I had grabbed it by the side, I would have been fine. But again, that got me involved in the Safety Committee, so I look back at these branches in the trail of my life, and they all led somewhere. 

We had some very humorous times!   One that I will tell you about happened when I was working on the boom.  We were out on Cowichan Lake, and I was working with the tugboat captain of the ‘Cowichan Prince’.  His last Quad in B Millname was Davis, but we called him ‘Captain Crunch’.  By then, I had worked on the booms for quite awhile.  To be a boomman at that time, we had to work in the ‘Well’, which involved dragging logs into the mill, and loading the logs that went in.  There were these big cables coming from the ceiling, and they came down about thirty-five feet to the water.  Then we would drag these logs onto these three cables, and the Hoist Man would lift these cables up.  They would then drop onto this storage area going into the Head Rig. That was the first job that we trained on.  Then we would feed the logs out at the Water Barker, and after that it was working on the tug as a Deckhand.  It was great in the summer!

So, this one time I was out on the tug with Davis.  There was a bag of Pony Mill wood, or B-Mill logs, and it was real junk… real small stuff.  It was anywhere from eight to ten inch tops on this stuff, and there were two bigger chunks.  Well, it had started to snow, and I was running to the middle of this Boom.  So because of this skiff of snow, I thought, “I’m going to run like crazy over this small stuff, and I’ll just take a break when I get to the middle of the big log.”  So I was running, but I had some hesitation on these two chunks… well, it turned out it was two small chunks, not a big log.  I fell down right in the middle of a boom of real small logs!  None of those single logs were big enough for me to get up on – there was nothing around me but the smallest of logs… junk, really!  Davis thought it was real funny, because here it is snowing and I’m in the freezing water.  I remember looking out through the snow – I had my sou’wester hat on, and I was bogged down by my raingear and all that.  It was freezing cold water, and it just took my breath away!  Thankfully, I had on my floatation vest and that was keeping me up.  Then Davis came out with a bar of soap, and he was laughing and holding the soap while waving it around.  I yelled, “Get me out of here!”  So he put the bow of the tugboat up against the boom, and started pushing on the logs.  I thought, “Wait a minute. I’m in the middle of this and he’s pushing on it.”  But what else was he going to do?  I didn’t know how he was going to get me out of there.  As he pushed, the logs got tighter and tighter, until he came close enough and I was able to grab the sixteen foot Pike Pole.  I pushed down on it, and the wood started to come tight.  The logs almost caught my leg as they came tighter; but I managed to get going by crawling across the logs, and then got out of there!
I have another funny story that also happened out on the Boom.  I was working on the Graveyard Shift with Les Klughart, the guy I was telling you about was on the Plant Committee.  There was also a guy named Tom Clarkson, who was really good at walking on the logs – he was just like a gazelle … he would go bouncing across them!  So this one day, Lester says to him, “You know what Tom; I think you are so good that you could probably put that boom chain around your neck, and run across that boom of Pony Mill logs (B-mill logs).”  So he did – he put the boom chain around his neck, and he almost made it too, but … man!  When he went down, he went straight to the bottom… good thing it was only twelve to fourteen feet deep there!  Fortunately, he managed to get that boom chain off his neck, and we were all glad to see him pop to the surface – it was a good thing that he had his life jacket on!

I worked in all of the different positions in the mill:  on the Planer, in the Chip Plant, on the Booms, and running the Barker. My last job in the Mill was on the dozer boat.  I had a close call there one time while driving the dozer boat. They made the mistake of telling me that dozer boats, or side-winders, are unsinkable.  So this one time I was on the ‘Hemlock Prince’, and I was pushing a bag of Pony Mill logs into the B-mill, and the tug (the ‘Nitnat Prince’ was pulling).  We were opening up the boom and pulling it into the Mill Pocket, and I was behind pushing with the ‘Hemlock Prince’.  Normally the steering wheel has a knob on it:  when you crank the knob forward, you go backwards; and when you pull it towards you, you go forwards.  So I was pushing the boom with the side of the dozer boat, and I started to go over further and further.  All of a sudden I realized, “This is not right… I’m leaning way too far over!”  So I pushed the throttle full, and cranked it around, and it should have popped up – normally it would pop right up.  But it wasn’t popping up, so I got on the radio and said, “I’ve got a problem here!”  By then I could hear this gurgling coming from the back.  Well, the Nitnat Prince boat Captain just dropped everything immediately – he was less than a minute or two away, and came to where I was.  I jumped off the bow of the boat, Dozer Boat photographed by Al Harvey www.slidefarm.comand took a ten foot to three quarter inch cable with a hook on the end of it – I was going to hook that to the front of the tug.  So I was pulling for all I was worth, because I was thinking I would tow the dozer boat to shore, and then we would pump it out.  I soon found out that it was a very bad plan!  Here I was pulling like crazy, and it was like six inches away.  So I said, “Man!  That last little bit just won’t come!”  All of a sudden, the hook got pulled out of my hand … fortunately, I had the hook facing up, so my hand wasn’t anywhere near it.  The sinking boat had pulled it right out of my hand – I saw the window blow out of the Hemlock Prince, and then sink straight to the bottom in about fifty-five feet of water in about two seconds! 

I remember that the Manager and Boom Foreman (Bill Thompson) had seen the commotion from the office.  They had their office right across from where we were working, so they came down.  I always thought that the best defense is an attack, so as soon as I got off the tug I started yelling at the Foreman, “You could have killed me with that piece of junk!”  Apparently the other operator had reported that there was some water, but when I started the shift, I had looked in and there was nothing.  So I thought I’d check at noontime, and this was about ten minutes before twelve … maybe fifteen minutes before that we were pulling this ‘bag’ (log boom) in.  We were just going to tie it in and go for lunch, and then this happened!  There was a crack in the hull – just a hairline crack, but it was enough to let water start coming in and as I was pushing it, more and more water got in. So, once it got low enough that water was coming in the Exhaust Manifold, I was in trouble.  I was very lucky that I wasn’t successful in hooking that cable to the tug, or we may have both gone to the bottom! 

I also ran the Barker.  It wasn’t my posted job, but we used to trade around with the Dozer Operator and the Barker Operator. So, I ran the dozer, the barker, and the Prentice Crane.  The Crane was on tracks, and was like a big Hydraulic Loader… like one of these loaders that you see in the woods.  The Prentice Crane was like that – it had a grapple on the end of it.  The operator would maneuver the grapple, and we’d cut the bands on the bundles of logs.

Flat Booms were logs that weren’t bundled.  I saw the transition from Flat Booms (loose logs) to bundled booms, because when I first started on the booms, there were Flat Booms all over Cowichan Lake.  They said we used to have as much as an eight percent loss of logs when we had the Flat Booms, if you can imagine that!  That’s a lot of wood sinking to the bottom of the lake every year– there were huge volumes of wood sunk in the lake.

Therefore, if you had a sappy sinky Hemlock, it would just up-end and become a dead-head… it would sink to the bottom eventually.  Actually, there was a log recovery operation going on at one point – Al Nichols was picking logs up out of the bottom of the lake for a long time.  He had one of those machines that had cable grapples that went down to the bottom of the lake and dragged logs up.  The bottom of Lake Cowichan was like a forest – we lost so much wood!  Some of those trees were just as good as ever. 

One of my favorite jobs was working on the tug – it was a wonderful job.  We used to go up to Hawes Bay and Caycuse, at the end of the lake, and hook onto four or five Booms and tow them to the mill.  The lake is twenty-six miles long, so it was about a five hour tow… it was kind of fun!  Don Davis was pretty good at running that tug.  I remember going out with him in the fog, and he would just use the compass for direction.  We didn’t have depth sounders or computer navigation in those days, and he couldn’t see a thing; but we would end up at the other end of the lake right on the money where we were supposed to be!

The mills around Cowichan Lake were not on tide-water, so it meant that trucking and shipping the logs were a major issue.  There used to be a lot of mills on Cowichan Lake: at one time we had the Honeymoon Bay Mill, the Island Shake & Shingle Mill, the Hillcrest Mill, and the Youbou Sawmill.  Unfortunately, they are all closed and gone now. It is outrageous really; a community surrounded by timber, and yet the logs pretty well all head out of town… or worse yet, are exported out of BC!

I also worked on the Pond Saw cutting the great big Fir peelers for the Veneer Plant.  I really enjoyed that job too, although you had to be half-chimpanzee to do it!  On the Booming Grounds, we used to have what we Youbou Lumber Yardcalled ‘Dolphins’, which were three upright pilings tied together.  The Booming Grounds were connected together, by using single Boom Sticks between the Dolphins to make a pocket or Booming Ground area.  The tug would bring in these great big Fir logs, and I used the ropes strung between the pilings or the ‘Dolphins’.  You have to imagine these ropes – they were strung like telephone lines, but a bit lower down.  They would be about ten feet off the water, and I could reach up with a sixteen foot Pike Pole, hook up on it, and use my legs to pull these logs into the pocket.  If you can imagine pulling the logs toward the Pond Saw and I would get ten or so of them all going at the same time; and I would hang onto the rope and pull with my legs – I could turn all ten logs at the same time!  It was kind of like choreography.  The Pond Saw was on a float, and it had great big hydraulic chainsaws – one saw was about eleven feet six inches!  It was like a regular chainsaw, only much bigger.  So we used to cut those great big logs that were bigger than a table.  We had huge fir logs for the Veneer Plant, and we used to go and cut them one hundred and one inches to make the eight foot sheets of veneer. 

We were cutting them into lengths and bucking them, but in the water.  We had the Pond Saw, if you can imagine this floating wharf with big chainsaws, and it was connected to a series of pilings and boom sticks.  Then there was a ramp up, or a Jack Ladder which would take the logs on chains up to the Veneer Plant Lathe to be peeled into veneer to make plywood.  So there were these great big Pond Saws with a rope hanging above them.  So I would bring the logs in, and bring one under the saw.  The Pond Saw had a little tiny bumper that I would bring the front end of the log right up to, then cut the logs with these two Pond Saws, which were powered by a great big Youbou LumberYardHydraulic Cylinder.  I was able to cut two blocks (logs) at the same time.  Underneath the wharf, they had a pump with channels; so as we were cutting, the wet chips would get sucked in by the water, and into the Sawdust Cyclone.  Then the Cyclone would pick them up, and throw them onto the shore… it was quite the deal! 

So I would cut up all these logs, and we had what we called ‘Raceways’, or log storage areas.  They were wide enough to have a walkway for us to walk on, and we would fill these up with logs.  The ‘Jack Ladder Man’ would feed the logs to the Plant.  I was able to cut enough logs to fill the Raceways.  I would go like crazy for the first hour and a half or so, and then I could walk around the Veneer Plant for an hour.  I would put on some rubber slippers that went over my caulk boots, and I used to go tromping around and chatting with all the guys.  It was really good because I was on the Union Committee then, so I would wander around all over the place.  Management used to say to me, “Routley, if you’re not trying to solve problems, you’re creating them!”

We were cutting the blocks for the Veneer Plant, and then the blocks would be loaded into the Veneer Lathe where we would peel and clip the veneer.  Then they would be shipped to the plywood division in Victoria where they were turned into plywood.  We just did the green veneer, so we would peel Youbou Lumber Yardthese great big Fir peelers … mostly Fir, and some Balsam.  I didn’t have much boat work with that job, but I had great leg muscles… I was in great shape in those days!  I went from that job to the dozer boat, and I was doing a dozer boat job before I went to the union position. 

Actually I had been on the Plant Committee, and I remember that the Union Plant Chairman, Bob McPhee, knew how to work me pretty good.  He said, “Routley, you’d be a really good Plant Chairman, but I’m not sure you’ve got the guts for the job.”  So I said, “Well I think maybe I do!”  And he said, “I don’t know.”  So I ran for Plant Chairman just to prove I could do it, and I was Plant Chairman for I think about eight years! 

We went through some difficult times in the eighties:  we had all kinds of cutbacks and technological changes, and we went through a transition where we combined the A-mill and the B-mill jobs because of a technological change – that was difficult!  Anyways, we went through all of that, and that was quite an event … it was a lot of hard work to bring that all about!  I always viewed my job as an opportunity for ‘problem solving’ – whenever I had an issue, I would talk to the crew to try and define what the problem was.  Then I would see if we could come up with a solution, innovative or otherwise.  I always tried to be fair – my up-bringing had taught me basic principles of fairness, and trying to help my fellow man.  My Mother and Father had instilled in me that if I was going to ‘do’ life, I might as well ‘do’ it in a way that helps other people.  It’s not all about me, and I am more rewarded as a human being when I am in service to others … I really believe that!  I know I am happier when I am doing something that involves helping other people in some way… whether it was through the issue of safety at work, helping to bring in the safety lockout procedures for example or working with the Union. 

I remember being unpopular at times, because I had to go around and tell the Millwrights that they had to lock the equipment out – there were occasions where people literally lost eyesight, fingers, or even their lives because they didn’t lock out equipment.  But it was something that was not very popular when we first brought it in.  It was like when the Fallers first learned that they would have to wear hard hats, screens, and Fallers Pants.  No faller would think of going out and falling trees without his bucking pants on, because the special material in the pants stops a saw and keeps him from cutting his leg off!  So, a lot of that safety stuff is a ‘no-brainer’, but there were a fair amount of workers who said, “Oh, I don’t need that stuff!”  Nonetheless, I always supported safety, and so when I got involved in problem-solving with the union, it just came naturally to me. 

I worked in the forest industry at the Youbou Sawmill from 1970, until I went into the union office part time in 1985 for ‘a few months’.  Then in 1986, I got elected as the first Vice-President of the Union.  It was right in the middle of a four and a half month strike.  So because I was elected as a Union Rep, I had no pay when the Protesting the Mill Closurestrike was on; there were no Union Dues coming in, so we didn’t get paid until the strike was over.  It was one of these ‘philosophical’ strikes that was over contracting-out our jobs.  Basically, what it meant was that if I was a Dozer Boat Operator, for example; and I quit, died or retired; they could replace me with a contractor instead of hiring an employee to do the job.  The company could then sell the boat to ‘Joe’s Dozer Boat Company’, and the contractor would then take on all the liability for safety or the equipment.  It was a huge philosophical strike – that was the 1986 strike, and it was a key turning point that we still talk about today.  In fact, we still have the Article 25 which protects the jobs that existed as of December 5, 1986… that’s still in the contract even now.

I was Vice-President of the IWA Local 1-80 at the time, which has been around since August 1937.  Most people know about Jack Munroe’s era: Jack was President of Region 1of the IWA when we were an International Union, and he was our leader when I started in the Union.  Jack was there when we broke away from the old International Union in 1987.  Anyway, a lot happened after I was elected first Vice-President.  We broke away from the International Union, and created the IWA Canada.  In other words, we weren’t the International Wood Workers anymore… we broke away from our American counterparts. However, since everybody knew us as the IWA, we just took the dots away and called ourselves IWA Canada.  We transitioned in 2004 to the Steelworkers – the Steelworkers are actually made up of more than nine different unions.  There are actually more forest workers in the Steelworkers Union than there are steelworkers.  Currently there are a number of pulp mill down in the United States, so there are all kinds of pulp workers, as well as logging and sawmilling involved now though the Steelworkers.  There are over eight hundred thousand members of the steelworkers, and I think there are about one hundred thousand logging, sawmilling, and pulp workers, which I believe is the largest group of a specific type of worker in the Union.  There are also rubber workers, public sector, mining and lots of other industries involved and part of the Steelworkers Union.

I became President of the Union in 1990, which wasn’t something I planned to do.  Roger Stanyer, who was our President, was elected to be fourth Vice-President of the National Union at the time, and then he moved on to work for Forest Renewal BC.  So when he moved on, I became the President in 1990.  I was re-elected a number of times and, lo and behold, time flies… here we are nineteen years later!
It was a wonderful opportunity for a guy who, in my youth, was a wild and crazy guy who was a bit rebellious.  I think this was a result of being brought up going to church three times a week.  So, I ended up going to go through this rebellious period for awhile, and working in the Union really ground off the rough edges.  If you want to take on a job that really challenges you, try working as a Union President!  I was responsible for all the workers, and if any issue came up, I was expected to get involved in it and find a solution… or at least try to.  I was basically responsible for representing the workers to the best of my ability. 

I look back very fondly on my time in the mills.  I had great people to work with, and I admire and remember well so many of the hard-working individuals and their families.  I was glad to be there when women first started returning to the workplace, and there was a battle over that.  Jeanette Foster was called too short, and the company said that we couldn’t hire women… they had to meet the height and weight requirements.  The only problem was that they had already hired a guy that was shorter and weighed less than Foster.  That was in the seventies, and Bill & Noah Routleythere was a big ‘to-do’, and the BC Human Rights Commission got involved.  She was one of the first brave women that got hired and there were a lot more to follow thanks to Janet.  I remember Sandy who also worked in the mill – she sells real estate in Lake Cowichan now.  She was one of the first brave souls that went in and worked in a mill environment where she was surrounded by mostly men.  She worked on the booms, so she was very brave!

Anyways, they were all really good, hard-working people that understood the value of hard work.  Most of us just wanted to do a good job, and I think there was a certain amount of pride.  Whether you were a logger, or a sawmill worker… 99.99% of them are just hard-working!  They go to work and are proud of what they do… they do a good days work, and are risking life and limb for what they do!  I really enjoyed all those years:  both working in the saw mill and with the union… basically problem-solving and doing my best to represent the workers, our members.  I always remembered where I came from.  I think any success I have had comes down to one thing: the reason I was the longest-standing president was because I never did forget my roots, and what it was like down on the plant floor, working hard and getting the job done!