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Dick McQuinn
Dick McQuinnI started in 1955 and retired in 1985.  My father, Jack McQuinn, was the manager of Comox Logging & Railway Company .  It was the largest operation of its kind in the world with sixteen hundred men working there.  My father was an American – he had been brought up by Bob Filberg because my father was a highly experienced logger, so my father became the camp manager.  My dad’s full name was John (Jack) Grover McQuinn but everyone called him “Greasy” because if there was any work to do, he would get in there ‘with all fours’ – he had grease from one end to the other!  That’s the way he worked:  if there was any work to be done, he would do as much as he could himself.

I was brought up by my parents, so there were jobs automatically for us, because my father was the one that designated jobs.  I started out as a chokerman.  When I first started out they used yarders but smaller yarders.  They would have maybe around three guys out there:  two guys setting chokers and a hooker.  I think they still have yarders but mostly now it is machine operated. 

When we came down to Nitnat in 1959, there was still a huge stand of first growth trees… I think it was three billion board feet!  It was beautiful stuff; it wasn’t uncommon to run into fir seven and eight foot through… huge!  I was a machine operator at first, and for the first fifteen years I operated a machine that loaded the logs – the biggest spruce I loaded was fourteen feet through!  Luckily, spruce is considerably lighter than fir or hemlock; the main wood they were after was fir, hemlock, and spruce.

The way they operated at Nitnat, was that they brought the wood down on trucks, and then it was dumped off at the head end of the lake.  It was then towed down to the bottom end of the lake, and then from there it was pulled over and loaded on to railroad flat cars.  Then it was taken from there down to Ladysmith … they did that for years and years.  Finally, they felt it was much cheaper, and of more benefit to them, to go over an access road over the mountain from Nitnat, and down into Nanaimo Lakes.  You see, at that point in time what they were doing, was loading out with a standard cut.  Consequently, all of the logs fit on the trucks, and once they got into a certain area, they had some enormous trucks over there – we had stuff running around with seven hundred horse diesels in them, you know.

We used to have the trucks with fourteen foot bunks, and eight foot stakes… so I’m telling you that you can get a lot of wood on them!  We took all of our loads down and weighed them, and that is how they calculated how much wood was cut – I  put out loads in excess of one hundred tons … that’s a lot of wood!  My best day I had thirty-two loads:  I had been restricted because they couldn’t get enough trucks in for me – I figured I could have gotten in forty loads, but they didn’t have enough trucks.  I pretty well held the daily production record:  weekly and monthly. 
 
We had one hundred and fifty men, so we had different sides.  We would have a yarder with all the men that worked on the yarder, and then they would have another yarder.  At times, they would do quite a bit of 'Cat Walking too, where the Cat would go out and get the logs, or they would have a crew on Dick Loading Logging Truckthe Cat

I was a grapple yarder engineer.  The later machines that I operated were snorkel loaders, so we could reach out one hundred and fifty feet from the base.  The loader itself was originally designed to load from one side, but I would at times load from as many as three sides of the Cat… it kept me moving! 

The machine operator had an important position … you had to watch him like a hawk!  For example, they would get out there and get themselves in what they called a 'bight', a bad spot.  From where we were sitting, we could see that, “Hey, you need to get over”, or you would be standing there holding onto the tongs and say, “Hey, hey, get on the other side of the log, that’s gonna roll over”, so consequently they would move.  We didn’t fight or anything, but I just explained to them where they had to get out of the way… we had good communication, most of the time it was signalling. 

A yarder had a landing on it, so they would have to pick a good spot for the yarder to be set, and then it yarded all the wood and the loader loaded from that.  So, I loaded from as many as three yarders with one Cat, the Cat can get quite a bit of wood too if they have a good crew.  The grapple yarder is a mobile yarder, so it could move to a different section with its lines strung out.  They could go up and down the road at will, but it was very important to remain tied down.  So, wherever they went, they had to have a guyline at the back.  Madill built them – they were a good designer and builder, but it was all experimental.  So, what happened was that they didn’t realize how important it was to get the back up in the air farther.  You see, when they were yarding with a tall spar on the yarder, there was the back guyline to support the back.  The darn thing was like ten feet off the back – so you have a situation where you have eighty or ninety feet over here, and five feet on the back.  You can imagine that it didn’t take much pressure pulling from up here, and it would be a huge pressure pulling from down below.  So … pow!  The next thing you know they snapped that guyline, so they put in another two or three back guyline and it broke them all!  So, they finally realized that they had to get that back guyline up in the air farther.  While I was there, they moved it up into the air considerably three or four times, and it still wasn’t high enough!  Then what happened was that you would get in a real tight spot, where they were yarding up a real steep hill with a big burden, and you would hit something – it would break that guy line and then whoomph!  The grapple yarder would fall over – they dumped more than one completely over.  As time went on, they kept moving that back guyline up so that you would have so much strength holding it. 

My son, John, ran a grapple yarder, and he was a good operator, but he was out there at a time when the machines were very low.  They had two guy lines, and both guylines snapped … the machine went over just like that!  We were on a steep hill, and when it flopped over it would have kept going for two thousand feet, but it hooked onto a great big stump and stayed right there … otherwise I don’t think that kid would have been alive!

We had a guy who was our superintendent out there:  they called him “Scissor Bill” because he was always trying to cut the cost.  Another guy out there, who they called “Vacuum Ed” was a machine engineer loader.  Well, Bill and Ed would be out there on the cherry picker, which was a special machine that went up and down the roads and brought in logs from the sides of the road and loaded them - it was a cheap way of logging.  So, there were the two machines, the Washington Track Loader that my brother was driving was getting twice as much production. 

I remember working with Donny Phye.  Well, Bill, our superintendent, could be quite difficult – anytime someone wanted something… he would want the opposite!  So, Donny had a tough time getting on as a landing bucker, and the guy was a workaholic!  Sometimes you would be out there working three sides, and up he’d go with the power saw over his shoulder.  He would walk down to the next side, maybe about five hundred to a thousand feet away, do some bucking there … walk down to the next one, and when he was finished there he would walk back – he was on the go steady!  Well, he decided that he wanted to become a regular faller,because you made quite a bit more money.  So, he put his name in, went to see Bill and said, “I want to become a faller”.  Bill said, “Absolutely not!  You don’t know what you are doing anyway, and there is no way I’m going to move you up into a faller.”  So, there was only one thing he could do; and that was to make a grievance about it, and see what they would do.   He had been bucking for a long time and was, quite frankly, one of the best buckers we had… I hated to see him leave myself!  Anyway, they got the union in on it and everything else, took him out and said, “Okay, we are going to do a test on it.”  So, they picked a spot, and it just so happened to be a bad side hill – rotten timber and everything…the worst possible!  They said, “Okay, there’s your area – you go out and work for the day there.”  So, that is what Donny did!  When he was done, they sent the bull bucker and everyone else out there to check out what he had done.  Bill was thinking that they would go out and say, “Well, your work was unsatisfactory, and you're canned – you gotta go back to what you were doing before”.  Well, after it was all through, and the guys came back from checking out Donny’s work, they came back with their eyes wide open!  Bill asked them, “So, how did everything go?” and they said “Bill, we hate to tell you this, but he’s the best man you’ve got!”  So, he got the job right away!  He was a very hard worker. 

Donny was a husky kid – before he went landing bucking, he was head loader… he worked for me!  He was probably the best head loader I had - extremely hard working and cooperative.  You had to cooperate with your loader and the engineer, back and forth, to get things done.  There were certain signals that you had to give to indicate what you wanted done.  He was an excellent guy to work with – I was with him for two to three years and I never had a single word of disagreement with him!  Whatever he did, he did very well – he was just that type of guy! 

Archie White was also a very good guy to work with:  an extremely hard worker, and very cooperative.  I had a good time with him, and I don’t have a bad thing in the world to say about him.  Like I say, there are people who go out there and work, and then there were others who put in this extra effort like you wouldn’t believe… they never walked, they ran!  They had good judgement and everything else, and Archie was one of those guys… just as hard working as you could get!  Actually, there were three White brothers:  Archie, Ralph, and Bob – they were all extremely fast and hard working.

Nitnat only lasted about twenty-five years instead of fifty, mostly due to poor planning.  They had a lot of beautiful land, but it was tough on the mountains, and we were sometimes up there in the winter instead of in the summer.  What always got me down was that my dad seemed to work everything down to a science, but at Nitnat they had men in charge who were as green as grass.  They would say, “Oh, we’ll do this and we’ll do that”, well, whether it would be successful or not wasn’t important to them!

The thing is… everything was a joke!  When we came down here, they said “Men, there is at least fifty years of work for you at Nitnat” – we were like, “Oh, that sounds great!”  So, we came down there and they started bringing in gyppo crews, and crews over from Nanaimo Lakes – soon everyone was working there!  They were getting plenty of production, but then it was cutting the time element way down.  Then, later on with it being such a challenge, they did everything they could to cut people’s throat.  For example, when I was there they said, “Okay, everyone has to go way down to the other end of the Island”, which was about a nine hours steady drive.  Then, you had to live in the camp there, and I just couldn’t stand it because there was so much drinking that went on!  I had a rather important job where I had to be accurate, so I couldn’t afford to be staying up until five or six in the morning drinking like a lot of the other guys did.  So, I had to wear ear plugs to bed. 

Another thing that bothered me, was that they got a lot of their equipment built by Skagit, and ninety percent of it was junk… I am absolutely positive that there were kickbacks!  Madill had great stuff, but Washington Ironworks built incredibly good loaders… you couldn’t ask for better ones, but I guess they were a little expensive and didn’t give a kickback.  So, consequently, management kept sticking with Skagit and buying junk – stuff that would break down every second week.  The Washington Track Loader and machines like that which were made farther Load made ready by Dick McQuinndown, were really good equipment… it was very rare for it to break down.  It was extremely well designed; it could pick up the biggest logs, and it was well balanced… it was on tracks of course.  I ran it for a bit, and my brother Bob, who was three years older than me, operated it for years. 

We had some big timber out there, I tell you!  For a long time Nitnat operated as the lowest cost operation anywhere in BC or Canada, we had great production!  Then, they kept getting in men who had no practical logging experience, but yet they were telling us what to do and how to do it! We really couldn’t argue with them because they were the bosses.  It seemed to happen more often once my dad retired and left the woods – all these guys were moving up and going into these top end jobs.  For some reason, I had no desire to become one of the top end men, like a superintendent… I just couldn’t be bothered.  My brother Bob did:  he was born in August and they tend to be leaders.  He did everything he could to try and get ahead in that company, but no way, they wouldn’t let him.  So, he went out and worked for the biggest outfit that we have in BC – Canfor.  They recognized Bob’s experience and, before he was through, he was the Logging Operations Manager, but at Crown Zellerbach they wouldn’t let him move one step ahead!

We worked around yarders, logging trucks, and loaders, and none of them had any mufflers – so I worked for thirty-one years in the woods, and for sixteen of them I didn’t have any ear protection at all!  You should have ear protection at ninety decibels and I was working at one hundred and fifty decibels so that is why my hearing is shot!  I think I only have forty percent  of my hearing and the rest of it is gone.  However, I did have very good cooperation from the Workers Compensation Board; they knew what was going on and treated me like gold.  Anytime something went wrong, they would fix it right away.  A lot of people complain about them, but as far as I was concerned they did nothing but good for me… they are good people to deal with!  As a matter of fact, when I first went in there the guy took measurements and everything and said, “Well, boy, you have got some severe damage here”, so right away the WCB offered me a package of about $13,000 - $14,000.  So, I went back and talked to a man at WBC and he said, “Don’t take it, they are ripping you off… but don’t tell them I said so”!  So, I went back in there, and they ended up giving me about twice what they had first said.  But, with all the damage and the problems I have with my ears, they really should have given me ten times as much!