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

Dave AndersonI started in the forest industry in 1941, at the age of eighteen, and retired when I was sixty years old.  I got forty-nine and a half years on my IWA pension.  My dad had thirteen brothers and sisters, and all the males were fallers.  The women were involved too, they cooked in the camps.  In the worst of the depression, my dad was hand-logging up in Elk Bay, just north of Campbell River there.  He was getting five dollars and fifty cents a thousand board feet for number one fir, and it was delivered to Vancouver… if you could sell it. 

It was different in those days, they took the first two cuts off those trees, and that was it!  The rest lay in the bush– if there was a knot showing, they couldn’t give it away.  It had to be suitable for flooring with no knots showing.  So, my dad made five dollars and fifty cents, but he had to pay the towing fee.  There was no stumpage in those days– they paid the government ten cents a thousand board foot for cutting. They never even came to cruise the timber.  It was worth nothing to them!
When I got old enough, I worked all over the Coast.  At that time, they were looking for loggers in the Queen Charlottes for the war effort.  They were logging the Sitka spruce there to make the mosquito bombers.  So I went up there, and right away they put me in with my uncle falling– they were desperate for fallers!  I was only a kid still, but they were desperate for men, so I learned how to pull a hand-saw and a Swedish saw. Anyways, I liked it! 

They had a deal there– if you worked a hundred working days, the government would pay your fare to Vancouver.  It was twenty-five dollars each way on the Union boat, which was a big deal in those days.  Twenty-five bucks was a week’s wages in those days!  So I put in a couple of little stays and went to Vancouver.  I had just turned eighteen. 

I thought that there was no use in going back to camp, because there was conscription at eighteen and a half for the army.  So I went down to the old Vancouver Hotel, and volunteered for active service.  I remember going to the induction center in a big ‘cattle car’.  Most of the young men in it had been out drinking the night before, and were throwing up all over the place.  They were a horrible-looking crew!  As for the cookhouse, compared to the logging camps, they didn’t serve much food for breakfast.   All they gave us was a boiled egg, so I took a taxi into town and ate at a restaurant. They gave us a very thorough medical exam:  this included a complete scrub-down and shower, and then getting checked out all over… including our ears and teeth!  There was no fooling around, I tell you! 

After I had been there for three or four days, they finally called me to the officer’s desk.   He was sitting there with a big pile of papers on his desk while I stood at attention.  Finally I said, “I guess I’m in the army, am I?”  He replied, “Yeah, you’re in the army!”  Then he said, “I’ve got your work record here.  How would you like to go back to the Queen Charlotte Islands, and cut some more Spruce?”   All my friends were going over there, and I really wanted to go too! So I said, “I volunteered for active service.”  He replied, “Active service?  You’re gonna get active service– there are ten thousand Japs on the Aleutians!”  The end of that ‘Little Mountain’ story was that I finally agreed to go back to the Queen Charlottes.  Well, I didn’t really agree… I was basically appointed… sort of compulsory volunteering!  They said, “We’ve got all kinds of guys for the army, but we can’t get people to stay in those float camps.”  I loved the float camps!  So, they told me, “Go back there and work– we’ll call you if we need you.”  They never did call me! They had lots of men for soldiers, but they were desperate for fallers.

So, I got packed up and ready to leave– I was glad too!  I was thinking about going back to camp and getting some good food.  We were issued 30/30 rifles, and put in the Coast Rangers when we got there.  We were taught by a man who was like ‘Rambo’ – he taught us hand-to-hand fighting.  We also learned to keep our hair short, because long hair could get us killed!

Contract falling was the best paying job in the woods!  So as soon as I was big and strong enough to do it, I went right into it!  Those were big logging camps – lots of them had five hundred to six hundred men in them!  I remember Elk River Timber was right in behind Campbell River – they brought two camps together on the railroad Camp 7 & 8 at Quinson.  There were fifty-five gangs of fallers with three and four men gangs.  Now, that’s a lot of fallers! 

It was a shock for me to see how ‘high’ these guys were living when I first came to the logging camps.  I was amazed at the accommodation and grub we got – we had spring-filled mattresses!  We had the very best of board and room – and all for only two dollars and fifty cents a day.   I mean, you can’t even get a cup of coffee for that now!  A lot of the camps competed for who had the best grub, because word would spread. 

When I started out in the woods, it was all hand-falling.  Falling was hard and dangerous work, but at least hand-falling was pleasant because we could talk to each other.  We used a Gilchrest Jack which weighed around eighty-five to ninety pounds, and we had to carry it up the mountain. 

We would usually work a shorter day than the rigging crew– we were only good for about six hours with the hand-falling, and then we had no more to give.  An average day of six hours was hard work!  We couldn’t work eight hours like the rigging crew.  We went right into the shower when we came in from the woods, and got into our camp clothes.  I’ll tell you that work, eat & sleep was just about an average day! 

Sunday was a day of rest.  You didn’t dare make any noise on a Sunday in the faller's bunkhouse!  One Sunday afternoon many years later, when I was working up at the Franklin River camp, we were all sleeping.  There was a creek that ran right by the bunkhouse, and there was a big pool right there.  Well, this Hell’s Angel-type guy came up to the bunkhouse, and was revving the engine on his motorbike.  This faller named Parker was about 6’4’’ with nothing but muscles, and he looked out the window and said, “Get out of here with that thing… we’re sleeping here!” So the guy took off, and we just got back to sleep, when he came back again revving his engine.   Parker warned him again!  The guy took off, but came back again… well! The third time, Parker pulled his pants on, put his shoes on, and went out and picked up the guy and his bike, and went and flung them all in the creek … that was it!

On a typical work day:  we would pick up our sharp saws in the morning, head to the woods, have a cup of coffee, and went at it.  There was a head faller– with big timber we worked in four-man gangs with two fallers and two buckers, but usually it was just three-man gangs.  If we had a two man gang, they did their own bucking.  But the company preferred three men gangs and four men gangs.  Two were falling, and two would come behind in the clear and buck the felled timber into logs.  Then it would be hauled out with steam donkeys

The saw box was on the crummy, and the saws just slid in for safety.  The falling saws were sharpened everyday, because we used the whole length of the saw.  Usually we started out with a seven foot saw, and then when we got into really big timber, we went as far as we could with a seven foot saw.  Then we would put handles on the ten foot saw … that’s about the biggest saw! 

We were using mostly one end on the bucking saw, not pulling the whole length of the saw like the falling one.  So we’d go two days, take the handle off, then turn the saw around for the second day and use the sharp end. So the falling saw went in every night, and the bucking saw every two days.  Gus was the saw sharpener for our crew.  With hand-falling, if we had good timber and a good gang, we would be producing ten thousand board feet to the man… so it was about thirty thousand for a three men gang! 

Power saws came in gradually.  Hand-falling was phased out, but not overnight.  In 1938 I saw the first power saw, but to go back further than that, my father worked on the first power saw at camp… he and Andy Swanson, his falling partner, were at Great Central Lake.  They brought one up in 1937 from Washington State – it weighed seven hundred and fifty pounds, and moved around with three bicycle wheels!  It was a chainsaw with a swiveling bar – you could turn it to falling position or bucking. There was a spring board built on this thing.  There would be two buckers, and four guys would have to get together and lift this thing!  They fell a hundred and twenty thousand board feet with it the first day.  But they were still chopping in the undercuts – nobody thought to make the undercuts with this thing, but it was great for bucking and the big cuts. 

Like I said, 1938 was the first one I saw.  Hitler was getting ready for war– they had all the modern tanks, and he wanted something better for falling timber with because then they could make a landing strip quick.  So, he invented what we called ‘Hitler Saws’… my dad had one.  Industrial Engineering copied them– they came out with the ‘F Model IEL’, but it was really a copy of the German ‘Hitler Saw’.  It was way ahead of its time– there was no other saw like it!  It was really good. Hitler wanted them to have it all – just like he wanted everyone to have a little Volkswagen… it was the same idea.  He modernized everything.  He really was a very clever man– it was too bad that he was nuts, because the whole world was in a deep depression and Germany was booming!  Like most things, I think the war brought it on– look what it did to the aircraft industry during the war.  If it weren’t for the war, we’d still be flying a three wing plane!  War has brought advances in medicine, and everything else.

When the first power saws came out, we spent most of our time packing them into the mechanic to be fixed!  Another problem was that there were so many issues of safety with power saws.  At first, nobody was ready to train us because nobody had ever used them.  So there were a lot of accidents… a lot of guys got cut bad.  Those first saws were operated by two men. There was a machine man, and a head faller on the small end.  In hand-falling, if the saw was jumping off some rough wood or rot, we would put our hand on the saw to steady it… it could be very dangerous!  I remember one guy… it was his first day on the power saw, and he put his hand on the saw to steady it.  The problem is, on a power saw the chain is going around, so he lost his hand!  I got some cuts myself– it’s easy to forget that it’s a chain saw and you put your hand there.  I never did get hurt bad, but I remember packing seven dead men out… I lost track of smashed-up guys!  We always chewed snoose– it was a bit of a tranquilizer!  In those days, we were in for two or three adrenaline rushes a day. 

It actually was a terrible thing for the loggers when the power saws came– each one of those little saws put half a dozen guys out of work!  The only one who benefited from them was some timber baron in New York.  We never really benefited from the power saws… all I got were deaf ears and ‘power saw’ hands!  If I pick up a cold piece of toast, my fingers go white. 

One day my boss, the bull bucker, said, “Dave, I’ve got a rotten job for you.”  So I replied, “That’s good.  I like rotten jobs!  What have you got?”  He said, “Well, I hired a guy this morning– he claimed he was a West Coast faller.  I had to go away somewhere else and look at another job, and I didn’t get back for two hours.  When I came back, he’d gotten six big hemlocks hung up in the trees here, so I canned him!  He’s gone, and now I want you to go get those trees on the ground.”  So I went down there, but by this time, the wind was getting up.  Normally I would have cut that mess off, but because the wind was getting up, I wanted to get it down and out of there before it started to blow too hard.  The reason there was all that stump pull, was that the undercut was too tight.  He didn’t have a proper undercut to give this thing room to close up.  I was always sorry that they took a picture of that mess, because no faller would ever have a stump like that.  My boss said, “Can I stay and film you for awhile?”  I replied, “No– I’m going to drop this cedar over that hang-up, and all hell is going to break loose here!  So, you’re going to have to get out of here.” So… he did!  He just took one picture of me starting the undercut.  There were these big, small-butted cedars that we would put a big undercut in to throw the weight forward.  So I threw the cedar forward, and they all broke off, or the limbs got hung up… they all got on the ground, anyway.  The reason for the mess was that the guy was green… he wasn’t a faller at all!
When we were falling, we started wherever there was a point sticking out.  The tree would either go one way or the other– if it’s really rotten, we would just cut it off and let it go down the hill.  We would do parallel falling, so instead of starting on the point, the faller would go back into the swamp.  They would get banged up– that’s how I got going with safety.

I worked with some interesting fellows!  One of the men I worked with was a faller named John Jansen.  He used to get drunk and sing “my name is Jon Jansen, I live in Wisconsin.” We never got drunk in camp – all the camps were ‘dry’– we would get drunk in town.  Then there was another faller nicknamed ‘Happy’– he used to be an athlete in Sweden. One day he was up at Spence’s Bridge, or somewhere, on a holiday and there was a big crowd there.  So he went to see what all the excitement was about, but he was drunk and on a tear!  He asked, “What’s going on here today?”  They replied, “Believe it or not, there’s an American high diver going to dive into that!”  They were talking about the Fraser River which was boiling with white water and rapids.  Happy said nothing– he just took off his jacket, got up on the rail, and bailed over!  That American diver had an American flag made into a bathing suit, but he just packed up his bag and went home! 

We all had nick names… especially all the old Swedes.  I knew a hundred guys, and I never knew their real names!  ‘Smiling Jesus’ was the spitting image of Jesus with the long hair, but he had fallen on his falling axe and split his face open.  Because he was in a falling camp, he never got proper medical treatment, and it just healed by itself.  So when it healed, the scar pulled his top lip away from his cheek – it looked like he always had this big grin on his face!  So he resembled a smiling Jesus.
Another nick name was ‘Reven Cleat’, which was Swedish for ‘rip and tear’.  Then there was ‘Gramophone’– he would get down to the snaky part of the D.T.’s, and then he would get down on his knees for hours, and be mumbling and singing.  Another one was ‘Jumping Jack’ – he had a nervous disorder of some kind, and when he would get into the booze, he would be sitting at a beer table… suddenly he would go up three or four feet straight up in the air!  There was also ‘Martin on the Flat’ because he couldn’t go up on springboards. 

Down on skid row there were three or five hiring halls– some of them were called Blacks, Hicks and Campbells.  They had big blackboards on the walls with all these jobs, so we would look– if they wanted a left-handed Swede for Kingcom Inlet, we would take it!  It was called skid row, because they skidded the logs down it– in the old days, they used ox teams.  It was a skid road when I was young.  They would lay small logs cross-ways, and grease them so that the logs would slide.  They peeled the big ones so they would slide easy, and then the bull teams would pull them down to the water. 

I remember down at the union dock… we would be out working for three or four months, and then come in… all the girls would be lined up in the taxis saying, “Hi, honey!”  We were ‘honey’ as long as the stakes lasted– they didn’t even know us by our first name then.

I’ve been on all of the union boats, including the Cassiar and Camosun.  The only equipment those guys had was a compass, a watch, and a fog horn… and they never got into any trouble!  Those guys were fantastic!  They used to go into Telegraph Cove, which was just a little hole in the rock, or into Granite Bay in the thick fog.  They would blow the whistle, and count the bounce.  If it took two seconds to come back, they knew they were a certain distance from the shore – that is how they navigated through those narrow places.  Now companies, like BC Ferries, have all kinds of fancy equipment, and they drive straight into an island!
I still wake up at five am, just like I used to when I was a faller.  And I still say, “Don’t talk to me after nine pm!”  So that hasn’t changed from all my years and years of Cedar Undercut, using Springboards and Crosscut Saw. Frank Ross and David Andersongetting up at five am, with ‘lights out’ at nine pm  I still eat like a horse– usually half a dozen eggs for breakfast, with half a pound of bacon and a stack of hotcakes!
There’s a lot of competition in the forest industry now.  Russia is getting into it now… they have so much timber, they don’t even know how much they’ve got!  Sweden is a big competitor, too.  All my life, the forest industry has been the backbone of the economy of the province… now it is nothing!  It was a huge income for the government.  I remember when there were logging camps all along the coast – there was an A-frame set up in every bay.  There were float camps and big camps with lots of men… between four to five hundred men in them!  But it has changed for the worst– the nice logging camps are all gone!  There used to be beautiful logging camps with the best accommodation, lots of grub, showers… everything!  We only had to pay two dollars and fifty cents a day… that’s all gone now.  Now people sleep in the back of vans cooking on a Coleman stove, and they are soaking wet!  I think 1947 was my best year for earning money.  There were very low income taxes then, and I made eighteen to twenty dollars per day, which was big money.  Those were good years– if I was young, I would do it all again.