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

Bob HeyesI was born in 1936 and started working in the sawmill in 1953.  I left in 1992, so I worked in the sawmill for thirty-eight years!

I had just finished high school, and my Father said I wasn’t going to sit around home and live off him, so I had to go out and work!  He was a logger, and had gotten banged up a few times, so he told me he preferred that I not go to work in the woods.  I had thought of long-shoring, because it was good money, but I would have been ‘on call’ every night of the week.  So, I decided to go to work at the mill in Chemainus, which was owned by MacMillan Bloedel.  I lived in Ladysmith – it wasn’t too far away, only around seven miles.

I started in the planer mill, and the foremen were Ted Clayton and Jimmy Arbuthnot.  One of the first jobs I had was picking up trim ends with a wheelbarrow, and taking them to the conveyor.  I decided that I preferred a better job where I made more money.  So, they had grading and tallying classes for the lumber, and I passed those tests and became a PLIB (Pacific Lumber Inspection Bureau) inspector.  I was still an employee with MacMillan Bloedel because the PLIB inspection was part of the company.  Then the company asked me if I wanted to be a Supervisor.  I was probably around twenty-four years old, maybe a little older.  I enjoyed it, and stayed on as Supervisor until I retired! 

Earliest Chemainus MillAfter awhile, they asked me if I wanted to work in the sawmill.  So, I went down there and worked as a foreman on the ‘green chain’.  The green chain is where the lumber comes out of the sawmill, down onto a table, is graded and pulled off into loads according to grades.  It is at the end of the sawmilling process.  I worked mostly graveyard shift, and from there, I became a Senior Foreman so I had my own crew.  The foremen were called the ‘green hats’.

I worked fourteen years at Chemainus, and then I got transferred to Harmac #3 Woodroom, near the Duke Point ferry terminal.   I was fortunate, because both mills were with MacMillan Bloedel, so I was able to maintain my seniority.  I worked at Harmac for seventeen years in the sawmill division, except for one year when I worked in the pulp mill due to cutbacks.  I worked on the Yard Crew during that year at the pulp mill – it was great because I would be outside, and the crew was good.  The Yard Crew serviced the whole complex:  they would work in the warehouse, deliver stuff back and forth, run the Cat and the Chip Supply, maintain the railway, and clean out the lime kilns, which was a dirty job.

When I first started, the crew ‘got’ me with a practical joke:  they greased the inside of my truck… the steering wheel, door, and everything!  I went in and washed up, and asked, “So, what does this mean – am I accepted into the Yard Crew now?”  I never had a problem after that!  They were just testing me to see how I would respond, and it turned out good.

I remember a guy there named Joe who was very ‘pro union’.  So one time, he was trying to hook up a Awardbucket to a machine, and I offered to give him a hand.  He accepted my help, and then said “I hope no one saw us!”  He was afraid that, because I was in management, the union would find out that I had helped him and he would be reprimanded.

One time I helped do a presentation in Toronto on the ‘team’ concept – there were eight of us with about five hundred people attending.  The presentation went well, and I talked about the ‘green chain’.  During the war, women worked on the ‘green chain’; so in my presentation I said, “That’s when men were men, and women were women.”  The place went crazy!  So, the presentation turned out very well.  Someone asked afterwards, “If everyone does so well, what do they need you for?”  My answer to that was, “Well, they do need someone to manage the business, and they need to get paid, so someone has to put their time in.”

When I first went to the sawmill, I didn’t know much about it.  I remember we had one sawyer, named Alec, who operated a double cut saw.  We used to get different sizes of cut wood, and so I asked him about that one day.  So he showed me how it all worked, and I thanked him.  He said, “When you come in and talk to me like you just did, I’ll ‘make’ you.  But if you come in and give me orders, I’ll screw you up!”  So I said, “Okay Alec, you’ve got a deal – let’s ‘make’ me.”  My philosophy was:  the people I was supervising are the ‘professionals’ of their job – so why should I, as their foreman, come up and tell them how to do their job?  Unless they were doing something that was blatantly wrong, I would just leave them alone.

I had the first fatality on my shift at the new Chemainus Mill.  We used to have to run the logs out before the weekend.  We were just about ready to shut things down, when a young employee fell into the conveyor and died of head injuries.  It was very sad.

When I was at Chemainus, we used to have a couple of bowling teams; and when I was at Harmac, we started up a softball tournament with different divisions.  We even had a team from Seattle come up!  It used to just be a one day a year occasion, and then we changed to a mixed league (slow pitch) which was better.  It would be for a weekend, and we would have a dance as well.

The old mill was unprofitable, so they tore it down, and built a new one in 1984 or 1985.  There were about four to six hundred people in the old mill,  Tucker, Kernachan, Bob Heyesand now at the new mill there are only about a hundred and twenty workers.  The new mill is much more efficient – technology has improved things in that there are newer machines that work better.  There isn’t a ‘green chain’ anymore, they have a mechanical sorter.  It’s come a long way! 

I was very fortunate, because my wife didn’t work outside the home, so she stayed home and raised our two children.  I liked working the graveyard shift.  My son works in the new mill, and he is a paramedic as well.

I can truthfully say that my time in the mill was good.  We always had fun together, and we were there for each other.  We worked hard, but we also partied hard too– especially during our softball tournaments!