Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
Bob Norcross
I began in the forestry industry in either 1950 or 1951.  I was working with my dad falling timber for Don Hayes Sr., he’s retired now, of course.  That Bob Norcrosswas in the summer time when I wasn’t going to school, and I started working steady in 1955 at Caycuse (Camp 6).

My first job when I got out of school was for a gyppo outfit on Mt. Brenton: McDermott, Smith & Hawthorn – we were moving and rigging up a cold deck machine.  I worked there until there was a reduction in crew, and then I went to Caycuse, and stayed there for fourteen months until they shut down for holidays. 

I wasn’t ready to take holidays, so I went over to Gordon River for two months where I worked as a second loader on the skidder. But the woods foreman and I didn’t get along very well, so I quit and went back to Caycuse.  I wasn’t the junior second loader, but he (the woods foreman) wanted me to go setting chokers.  So, I said, “Nope! I’m not the junior second loader.”  And he said, “You’re going to go setting chokers.”  “Oh no!” I said.  So, he asked, “What are you going to do?” and I said, “Just watch me!”  I walked over to the time office and I was gone! I knew I was being treated unfairly, so I did what I had to do, or what I thought I had to do.

Up a Back SparI stayed in Caycuse up until 1979, and then I went over to Renfrew for a year– by that time I was on management. Then, I went back and stayed until they merged the two camps.  I took early retirement at that time, and from there I went into consulting. 

I started off on the bottom of the heap: setting chokers.  My first job, when I went to Caycuse, was working on the bull gang:  we were rigging up spar trees… any kind of wooden tree. I did very little of setting chokers at Caycuse, but I did work a lot as a backrigger… on the back end of the skyline.

When I came back from Gordon River, I worked as a second loader on the skidder.  Then Monte Moser, the second rigger at that time, went up the ladder some more, and so I took his job.  From there, I went onto the slackline, up until 1964, and then went hooking on the slackline until 1974. I became a woods foreman after that, and that’s where I stayed. 

My first experiences in the woods were sometimes terrifying!  The head rigger was a big noisy fellow from New Brunswick: he could swear for half an hour and not repeat himself... kind of an excitable sort of fellow.  So, you learned to stay out of his way, keep your head down, and do what you are told to do… don’t argue with him!  He was one of those guys you didn’t want to argue with.

My dad and uncle were loggers, but they didn’t give me that much advice – just a few choice bits.  It was your immediate boss that you were working with that gave you guidance, you took your orders from them.  At Caycuse, it was the head rigger, a fellow by the name of Al Norman.  I learned a lot from him… he was good at his job!  He wasn’t a big man but he really could do his job well!   His family ancestry was Tree Topping 1Finnish– he was about 5’10 and maybe 160 lbs, but he was very close to a genius at rigging… he was very good at it!  He was a very easy guy to learn from– he was a good teacher and I enjoyed working with him. 

I sort of took a step up the ladder when I worked as a backrigger.  A person could advance through the ranks if they knew anything at all, but they had to be willing to sometimes put a little extra effort into it.  It was a good job… I enjoyed it!

The guys on the crews got along very well, most of the time.  There was the odd time when there was some friction, and harsh words– I think on one occasion there was blows exchanged. I was second rigger at the time, and I said to them, “You boys want to fight you go right ahead, but rest assured I am going to kick the living shit out of the winner!”  So, they decided not to pursue it any further… they weren’t sure if I was bluffing or not, so they quieted down and that was the end of it.   In many cases, it was hard work and, you get tired or cranky or whatever, and things boil up a bit.

Tree Topping 2There were no typical days!  One of the things I enjoyed about working in the woods,  is that no two days were ever the same… there’s always something a little different.  In some cases, a lot different… not like working in the mill. That was one of the perks of the job, there was quite a variation in what you had to do.

If you were at your job for any length of time, you either got good at it, or you weren’t there. It was a pretty severe ‘culling out’ process, due to the nature of the work.  Sometimes there was excessive partying– actually when they did their partying, they were in the public eye, you might say, so they would get a black mark against them… tarnished their image, you might say.

One of the best things they did at Caycuse years ago was that they used to host a ‘ladies day’ once a year.  They would gather up whatever ladies wanted to go, put them on a bus, take them out, and show them around the woods. Some of them were absolutely amazed, and would say, “Oh I didn’t realize that it was like this!” And we would say, “oh yeah?”

Tree Topping 3One time, they were going to have a ‘ladies day’, and it was a terrible day – it was snowing, blowing, and it was really miserable!  The personnel manager was going to cancel it, and I said, “No damn way!  You do not cancel it, you go for it!  You bring the ladies out – the dirtier the day, the better!  Then they’ll realize just what their old man’s got to put up with… maybe his supper will be ready when he gets home.  You keep them coming– get an education into them!”

I lived out in camp when I was single, and stayed in the bunkhouse. It was a very, very good camp to work in, and to live in.  It was almost like one big family.  It was an excellent place to live and work; and beautiful location, too.   After I got married, we moved to Lake Cowichan for three years and then we moved to where we are now. 

The camp had excellent food! It had to– a good cookhouse can make or break an outfit very quickly. You can have the best machinery, and the best conditions in the world; but if you have a poor cookhouse, you’re not going to make it.

Tree Topping 4I was working in Cull Inlet, and I was making my lunch one morning.  The tugboat captain was in there too, and he said something about, “There’s no garlic sausage.”  I said “What!  No garlic sausage! Well we’re going to have to ‘wobble’ her.”  (Now the cook is listening to this.) Then, the tugboat captain says, “We have shut down bigger and better outfits than this one.”  And I said, “Yeah – for a helluva lot less reason too!”  By this time, the poor cook is almost in tears.  She said, “What’s the matter? What’s the matter?”  We were just teasing her.  She was working for a catering outfit that had the cooking contract, but by golly she was good!  She was very well known in the coastal logging camps.

I’ve met many, many characters in the forest industry… guys you write stories about, I guess.  Most of them are average people with a little extra colour, but there’s the odd real unique person.  There was one that just recently passed away… the fellow they called Sticky Sirup. You look in the phone book, and that’s how it’s spelled in the phone book.  He never answered to his original name!  When he arrived in Caycuse in 1947, he just fell into it because of his family name… everybody just called him Sticky.  He was a character!  

Tree Topping 5We did have some fun times, and played practical jokes on each other, but not when it came to power saws.  Sometimes, a person would take his caulk boots off when he got in the crummy, and someone would tie his boot laces to the seat.  He’d be in a rush to get out, and he’d have to untie his boots … minor stuff like that.  Severe horseplay was frowned upon, because it started to get dangerous, so there was a limit to it.  You kind of had to watch it and be careful – if you were the foreman you had to be very careful!  Some things you turned a blind eye to, and then had a quiet chat with the instigators later.
Tree Topping 8One of the things that I learned is this: if you wanted to praise somebody, you praised them, and you made damn sure somebody was listening!  But if you had to give a guy hell, you did it absolutely privately.  That’s one of the things I did learn as a woods foreman.  If someone needed a reprimand, I would take them aside, and say, “Step over to my office,” (which was my pick-up truck), and we would have a little chat.  If you have one particular belly-ache against the crew, and you come in shrieking, yelling, and carrying on… you lose a lot.  So, you give a guy hell in private.    

One of the big things I learned in management, is that you had to be careful– you might be boiling, but don’t let the steam erupt!  If you Tree Topping 7are in management, you had to be fair, but fairness depends on where you are standing.  Some of the management people have never come up through the ranks, you might say, and it becomes obvious.  You don’t have to talk to them for too long, and you know.   It’s pretty hard for an employee to BS you, if you come up through the ranks… but you had to be fair. 

In most cases, I knew what I was doing.  That was one of the reasons I was asked twice, or maybe three times, to advance to a superintendent’s position; but I absolutely detest paperwork, so I refused… I wouldn’t go for it!The main reason was the paperwork: the higher up the ranks, the more the paperwork.  I would have had to sit at a desk, and have more paper to shuffle– I didn’t like it, and I couldn’t do it… so, I refused.  Towards the end of my career, the paper got thicker, and thicker, and thicker– in many cases, I refused to do it!  If I hadn’t been good at what I was doing, I guess I would have been sacked … I’d have been gone!  But they had people in the office who were really good with paper, so I let them do it.  Well, some I had to do, but I didn’t like it. 

One of the things I remember the most from my time in the woods, is some of the close calls that I had:  some of the real squeaky ones.  One that I can recall, is when some fellows, Elwin McDonald and Monte Moser, were topping trees on this slackline setting.  Elwood would go to about the first limb, and take the top off; then Monte would go until he could pretty near break it off with his hands.  So, we had a tall one, a short one, a tall one, a short one, and so on.  I was second riggerrigging the back spar, and it was already topped, of course.  It was one of those real dirty days: snowing, blowing, miserable, and so on, and so forth!  Well, I was going up the tree, and the passline got fouled.  So, I was yelling at the crew to “clear the rope”, but they’re trying to get a fire going because they’re frozen.  So, I’m hollering down, the wind and snow is blowing in my face, and I’m climbing up the tree, not really paying attention to where I’m going.  Well, just as I’m ready to throw the rope, the top of the tree is right there… I’d have thrown the rope over the tree, and I would have been gone!  It was one hundred feet or more down to the ground.  I’ve never forgot that– I still wake up and think ‘Whew!  That was a close Up the Back Sparone!”  I’ve had other close calls, too.

When I was second rigging, one of my backriggers was killed with a fallen tree.  I wasn’t with him– I was walking to the landing with some American fellows that were looking at this slackline machine that I was working on.  This fellow, who was kind of a second rigger himself, got the coils back, and then he turned his back. When he signaled to pick up the skyline, it caught hold of a small hemlock, and dumped it on him… killed him instantly!  That was March 31, 1964.  It takes a little while to get over something like that… you’re really kind of shell shocked. 
When someone did get killed, you stopped work right there. You got the stretcher sent back on the rigging, gathered him up, and then had to wait for the doctor or police officer to arrive.  The next day was an investigation by the WCB, and various other interested parties.  Unless you’re a complete dolt, there’s always something that you don’t see that gets you.  If you see it, then you avoid it– you do whatever you have to do. But, it’s something you don’t see that gets you 99% of the time!
Another close call I had:  I was pulling rigging on a high lead machine just above camp, on what we called ‘garbage dump hill.’  It was fairly steep, there was snow on the ground, and I had sent in this long, slim, buckskin log.  I said to the chokerman, “Be careful with this one, the loaders are liable to lose it, and it will come skittering back down here.”  Sure enough, they lost it!  It came roaring back down the hill, and, of course, by this time, because of where we were right underneath the machine, we were all in its line. My stump was just across this little draw, and I figured I’d be all right… I’d just take a peek and see how this log was doing.  Well, I could hear it rumbling and crashing, so I peeked around behind the stump, and it passed my nose about six inches away!  That was close!

I haven’t fought a lot of forest fires, but I’ve had some interesting moments.  Most of them were slash fires that got away: forestry boys are famous for that!  One was started on a machine I was working on, again, right on the top of ‘garbage dump hill’.  It had been dry for a long time – it was very, very dry.  And, this one particular day, the wind came up:  twenty, or thirty mile an hour wind!  We were on the slackline off a back spar, and we were just letting the carriage run down the skyline– we didn’t have a haul back on.  So, I said to the woods foreman, “Blondie, I’m not going to use the haul back– I’m scared we’re going to get a fire going.” He came up and looked and said, “Well, we’ll put a man on the hose.  Bring the fire hose down and put a man on the hose.”

So, we just got going for an hour, and the haul back rubbed underneath a rock– suddenly there was a sheet of flame … we had a fire, right now!  Unfortunately, he picked the guy who was slowest on the crew to be on the hose: he was fast asleep and the fire jumped right over him.  It was interesting… it was hot!!  The sparks that come off of those lines, you wouldn’t believe it! 

One time, when they were still using one toot to "go-ahead" with the main line, or ‘ahead’ on the skyline; I was second rigging on the slackline. We were using the new-fangled radio whistles, not the whistle punk and the wire whistles – the new radio whistles.  They weren’t perfected, of course.

Caycuse 67So, we got the rigging back and we tight-lined it sideways up the hill. A native guy, Norm Duncan, had set the choker on a big fir log, and he stood on it.  Then, he went to "slack the lines down", so the carriage goes down the hill to get the other two chokers set. 

It was a bit of a side hill, and Norm is standing on the top; the rigging slinger and two more were down below.  So, he went to"slack the lines down", and just one toot went.  Just one, which means ‘pick up the skyline’.  This log was above these three guys, and they were going to get it. They were lucky it didn’t kill all three!  So I panicked and hollered, but they couldn’t hear me above the machine noise.  I will never forget it: Norm Duncan was quite a big heavy fellow, there was quite a bay window on him.  He kind of tucked his belly in, reached down, and unhooked the choker and away it went.  Nothing happened!  It didn’t even seem to bother him– he just leaned down and unhooked the choker. Whew! Really quick thinking!  You think he’s just a big, dumb guy… but he was sharp.  Oh yeah– he was sharp!  I never forgot that… it could have killed three guys right there!

Then the hooktender, a fellow by the name of Lorne Atchison– a very sharp old boy, a real wonderful rigging man. Well, he wrote a real long dissertation to the WCB, and told them all about this.  Within a very short period of time, the whistle system was changed– that incident had a large part in getting it changed.  If my memory serves me right, that was in the fall of 1963, I think.

Al Lundgren had a close call because of the earlier radio whistles, too.  He lucked out and didn’t get hurt; but they had to haul out the whistle wire right after that.  In some cases, you’d have one guy, generally the one who was the most useless, up on a vantagepoint.  He would give the signals from his vantage point; but Al said if you didn’t hold your nose the right way, it just didn’t work. 

Once when I was woods foreman and Mike Paton was loading.  Mike was going to finish this load, and then we were going to get on the low bed and go.  It was a rubber tire machine, but for long moves you used Caycuse 67the low bed.  Well, I had the low bed lined up, the truck lined up, and the pusher lined up; but Mikey, he’s a bit of a perfectionist, has got to make this load look nice and pretty.  Time’s going by, and finally I said, “Mike, we just got a call from Buckingham Palace”, and he says, “What?!”  I said, “The Queen’s not going to get here, and take a picture of this load– so just go ahead and bail 'er on!” Well, he just went straight up and, “You sarcastic bastard!” 

BCFP was a very good company to work for, but it sold in September 1988 to Fletcher Challenge. They kind of juggled the books, and then it was Timber West… which I think it still is. Timber West decided to be just a paper company, so they’ve contracted out their logging.  One of the other fellows has gone broke and sold their machinery.  So there’s uncertainty: who you’re working for, or if your cheque is going to be any good.  The uncertainty of the job now is not a good thing.  That was one of the big ones.

Now there’s the odd small logging outfit: Mount Sicker is one, though they are getting to be a pretty fair size.  They’re still holding on, and they’re still managing.  How long they’re going to be able to keep going is something else.  But, they are largely controlled by major companies: they do work for Timber West and whoever MacMillan Bloedel sold to.  So, they’re still in operation, but they’re few.  Hayes, who was voted among the fifty top companies in Canada two years in a row, are on the block now.  They’re still in operation to a point, but I believe they are going to have an auction sale for most of their equipment in April.

A case in point: this fellow was driving truck for a certain local company.  He looked his truck over, blasted off, and got all the mud off with the fire hose.  He was wandering around with a paint can marking cracks on the bunk… cracks here, there and everywhere!  Up comes one of the management, and he starts giving him hell for Caycuse 67painting the truck.  He says, “You paint my truck, and I’ll paint your car.”  So, the driver says, “You’re kind of a dumb buck, but I’ll explain it to you.  I’ll only explain it once, though, so listen good.  What I’m doing is painting the cracks, so the welder doesn’t have to look all over the place to find them.  He can just see where the line is, and weld it.  Have you got that?”  He said, “Yeah, I got that”.  “Point number two: you paint my car, and you better have your hospital insurance paid up.” 

You see, instead of asking, “Why are you doing this?” that’s the way he came off– you don’t get away with that kind of crap!  If you don’t know something, you should just ask someone who knows, and in most cases they’ll tell you… depending on how you ask!  But,  there are a lot of people in management directing logging programs when they have never worked in the woods.  Well, how the hell would you direct a logging outfit if you had never logged yourself?  That’s part of the problem.
I blame our government a lot, for what’s going on with the logs going out of this country.  The States is doing the milling… it’s against the law in the States for raw logs to go out of the country.  Also in the States, they signed a forestry agreement.  They have these little mills scattered around: these mills have an agreement that they are guaranteed to not lose money.  They still have mills down there that are using equipment that went out years ago up here… oh boy!  That’s how it goes!

When I first went to Caycuse, they were all yapping about sustainable yield… the guys in suits and clean white shirts… saying ‘Forests Forever’, and all this stuff.  I was eighteen years old, and I didn’t know sheep shit from blue clay. I didn’t know anything, except that they’re were lying.  The amount of wood that is going out of this place every day… there is no way that it is going to grow back that fast!  I haven’t changed my mind, there is going to be a severe fall down very quickly.  I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t’ see how it is going to improve in our foreseeable future, unless some drastic changes are made!  Step one is:  don’t export any more raw logs!This ones too heavy  Selling Canadian companies to the Americans is a big part of the problem. MacMillan Bloedel, as you know was a major Canadian company– a BC company, and they sold out to WeyerhaeuserWeyerhaeuser thought they were going to make a big buck in a hurry, but they didn’t.  So they split it off, and now it’s fragmented.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed:  I’ve talked to people since I’ve been out of it, and it’s very rare that you find a person who is happy doing what he is doing.  Most of them are not happy, and that I find is the most radical change… people are not enjoying what they do!

There’s also a lot less people actively employed in the woods– that’s a radical change!  It was more ‘labour intensive’ years ago, and we had more people to do the work.  It was not so much ‘machine driven’, you might say.  Now there are all the feller bunchers, and stuff– when I started there was no such thing!

I enjoyed it… it was a good job!  It was a good way of life.  We never realized how good we had it: we bitched, sniveled and whined… raised all kinds of hell!  “Management don’t know nothin’”, and all the rest. We didn’t realize how good we had it!  It gave me a pretty good living for a lot of years, and I still draw a pension.  That’s part of it– I just hate to see it fall apart, which it has!