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Ernie Harrison

Ernie HarrisonI started logging in 1956.  I was sixteen, and I worked for Bakey Brothers Logging in Campbell River when they were logging off for the Buttle Lake Dam.  A friend of mine, Alan, and I got a job picking little branches and twigs off the ground.  A great big guy came over to us the first day we were there, and asked, “What are you young buggers doing?”  So, we told him what we were doing, and he said, “This damn job is no good for a couple young buggers like you… come with me!”, and he took us setting chokers behind a Cat.  This is how I was introduced to logging!  The Bakey Brothers were good to work for – they had a nice camp right down on the beach on Upper Campbell Lake.  Alan and I were called ‘the kids’ and everyone watched out for us, so we never got hurt.  I worked for them for about a year, then quit, and went to work at Nanaimo Lakes setting chokers

I worked at different little jobs, then went to work for BCFP (British Columbia Forest Products) at Harris Creek in Port Renfrew in 1958 – I was eighteen years old.  My first job was called a ‘pad man’ – I was swamping on the grade shovel.  I would have to grease the machine, help swing pads, set chokers and tongs so the operator could move logs, pump the hand pump to fuel up the machine, help change cables if one broke.  Basically I was just a ‘joe boy’ – I did everything except run the machine.  After awhile, if I did my job the way they liked, they would teach me how to run the machine.  That is how I got ‘broke’ into running the big machines.  I guess I did my job okay!

Log LoaderI was there for two years, then I quit for two years because we were laid off for the summer due to the hot weather.  So I got a job with a construction outfit.  When BCFP called me back to work, I stayed with the construction outfit because my wife had given birth to our first son.  The construction outfit said they would like me to stay on – they had a lot of work lined up, like the new Nanaimo Hospital … which they never got.  Once the job ran out, I worked for MacMillan Bloedel, logging in Port Hardy.  I put my name in to go back to BCFP– I guess they were hard up for loggers, or they liked me, because I got my job back after being gone for two years!  Shortly after I came back, they moved the camp down to the beach at Port Renfrew – it was called the ‘Beach Camp’.  I lived in the bunk house for about a year.  I didn’t like it because I was only home on the weekends, and I missed my family.  So, I finally bought a ten by forty foot trailer, parked it at Frank Elliots in Port Renfrew, and lived there with my wife and two sons, Leonard and Frankie.  We lived in the trailer until a company home became available – then we sold the trailer and moved into the house in Beach Camp, where our third son, Joey, was born.

Camp life was pretty good at Port Renfrew, though it was kind of ‘clicky’ at times when some people thought they were better than others.  There weren’t that many people living there, and everyone knew everyone else so they stuck up for each other.  We had fun – we’d go down to the beach and have big smelting parties when the smelts were coming in … we would have a big bonfire to keep warm and to roast the smelts on a long stick … and we had lots of cold beer!

The two men, who gave me guidance on the machines when I first started out, were and Ian Briden and Nick Kerluke.  Ian ran a grade shovel, and later he got to be a grade foreman.  Nick was quite an interesting guy!  He was a tank gunner in Italy during World Ernie and a full loadWar II … he would never tell stories about it unless he had had a few drinks!  We have to give people like him lots of thanks for fighting for our freedom.  When he was younger, he ran a trap-line up north, and worked in the gold fields.  He got married, for the first time, when he was fifty years old.  He was a pretty good guy.  In fact, he was the nicest person you’d ever meet! 

If anything went wrong with our equipment, we would get the mechanics to fix it.  The Super Snorkel machine, that I operated, is worth a million bucks! 

Logging was a dangerous job – quite a few people got killed every year in the industry!  In our camp, about ten workers were killed while I was working there.  When we were at Harris Creek Camp, young Harvey Bennett was stamping logs on the front of a loaded logging trailer, and the operator who was running the loader didn’t know he was there!  So, he put a short log on top of the load, and when he pushed it ahead, it pushed another short log off of the load– it fell on Harvey and killed him.  Three rock blasters died the same way when an unstable blasted rock face fell on them.  A North West grade shovel operator was also killed the same way– he was crushed in the cab.  A few fallers got killed too– they have the most dangerous job!

There were quite a few funny things that happened at work!  One time, we were fighting a slash fire that had gotten into the old-growth timber at Hemenson Creek.  We were in the timber trying to stop the fire from advancing any further – it wasn’t burning really bad!  We were on the bottom fighting it, and there was another road higher up the face of the timber.  Bruce Wilson and his crew were up there fighting it from the top, and I thought “Hmmm”… I had an idea!  I would try to scare them.  So, I snuck up through the timber to a small rock bluff above them, where they couldn’t see me – there were about five or six of them.  I thought if I yowled like a cougar, it might work.  So I went, “Yowl, yowl” in Big Machinemy best cougar imitation.  I don’t think I sounded anything like a cougar, but they all stopped what they were doing, and one of them (Wayne Smith, who grew up in Port Renfrew where there are lots of cougars) said, “That’s a cougar!”  So I yowled again, and Wayne grabbed Bruce’s shoulders from behind and hung on to him!  Bruce turned around, with this guy hanging on to him, and said, “Oh, it’s probably just Ernie, and Wayne says it’s a cougar.  I’ve heard them before.”  So I think, “Ah ha!” and I yowled a couple more times.  That did it – they all left the timber in single file, looking over their shoulder.  Jeff Abbott, the mayor of Youbou was in the lead, and Bruce stayed behind – he knew me pretty good! 

Another time, George Phillips, who was one of the mechanics in the shop, was working on this high pressure hose.  He was putting a new fitting on the end of it, and his work bench was in a room off of the crane-way.  It was a long hose, and the other end of it extended quite a ways into the crane-way.  He didn’t see me, so when he wasn’t looking, I grabbed the loose end and hid around the corner where he couldn’t see me.  I cupped my hands around the end, and made a funny tooting noise in it.  Instantly, he dropped the end he was working on, and just stared at it.  He looked at it for quite a while before he picked it up and started working on it again.  I put the end to my mouth again, and made some more squeaky noises in it.  George dropped it again, stared at it for awhile with a funny look on his face, and then walked away … turning to look back at it a couple of times.  I often wondered what he was thinking – I never told him that it was me!

And another time, I was watching from the window of my log loaderBruce Wilson was running the yarder.  Things were a little slow, as the side hill was steep and the logs were a long way out.  So, in-between turns, Bruce was reading a Readers Digest book.  Well, it so happened that the landing man was reading one too, but a different version.  Bruce had finished reading his, so when a turn of logs came in, the landing man carefully laid down his book, with the page he was reading open … then went to the turn of logs to undo the chokers.  This was Bruce’s chance!  He hustled down from the yarder with his book, picked up the chaser's book, and laid his open on the ground where the other book was … then hustled back up into the yardercab without the guy seeing him.  The chaser came back, sat down, and picked up his book – he looked at it, Cherry Pickingturned a couple of pages, and then got a funny look on his face.  He examined the whole book, shook his head, laid the book down, and had a cup of coffee while staring at the book.  To this day he probably thought he was going bonkers!

When they opened the road to Lake Cowichan, I moved out of Port Renfrew, and lived in Duncan.  A typical work day for me started early!  I would get up, and leave the house by at least six o’clock.  I would drive all the way up to Lake Cowichan, pick up a bucker who worked with me, and we would drive out to the job site.  Sometimes I would just pull logs and pile them for the processor, but most of the time we would pull wood in and have the bucker buck it up.  It was a dangerous job – we always had to watch out for the guy on the ground … always! 

Years ago, we had bigger wood – it was always better.  We mostly did ‘right-of-way’, where they would strip them.  We would clean the wood off from the ‘right-of-way’, like after they built the road.  Then they would come in, and fell the trees to where they would reach the road.  Because we had a long snorkel, we would be able to pull them in, so we could always buck up and have enough wood ahead for loads.  We had it pretty easy– we could go looking for deer, or go exploring!  Then when they got into second-growth logs, we had to keep working steady because it took more wood to make loads.  There is a logging show on TV about logging in the States – it’s ridiculous!  We’ve always, always out-produced the Yanks big time!  

They used to waste wood!  When I first started, if there was any log under sixteen feet, you would never load it… no matter what it was like.  So, if a big log was sixteen feet, we would just leave it!  That wasn’t very good.  I’ve got a picture of a cedar tree up at Bugaboo Creek near Port Renfrew.  They did some mining up there at the Bugaboo Mine, and there was some road taken off.  Well, this cedar was huge – like, huge, huge, huge! Anyhow, they could Big Cedarhave left some there.

They used to clear-cut everything!  Select logging is good if they go about it the right way; but when there is a big forest, the wind prevails one way or the other.  Well, they cut these trees down, and they had never been exposed to the wind before – their roots weren’t very deep… so they fell over!  The same with the creeks:  they leave them along the creeks, and the wind blows them over.  It would be okay if they topped them, or if they logged it clear, and then planted willows with alders– but they really should top them.  They would blow over, and the roots would come out, and all the dirt would go into the creek… it would be worse than before! 

Robbie Norman’s grandfather took a picture on the west side of the shores of Lake Cowichan.  I was with Robbie, and we were up on a road just across from there– he brought some pictures, and we looked at them… then we looked across the lake, and there were the same mountains across the lake!  So, we positioned ourselves to see if we could find that site, and he went down there… and he found it! He even found trees growing up with these water pipes– where they tied them to trees to take water down to the boiler, and then the trees grew up and grew around them!  We found that exact site… it was all second growth.

We used to have a lot of fun when we were younger, before Fletcher Challenge took over! Timber West is still the same… they are still owned by Fletcher Challenge.  See, the foreman, or the starter chokerman or whatever, used to come up 10,000 Dollar Sprucethrough the ranks… they knew what they were doing!  Then Fletcher Challenge took over, and they figured that people with an education, like an engineer or something, would be better to run things… and they didn’t know what they were doing!  We had a foreman like that – he had the “little man” syndrome, and he would change his mind all the time!

One time, Robbie Norman and I were starting real early in the morning, and this foreman came up and said, “How’s it going?  You’re starting early!  Good, maybe the truck will get out of here early today!”  We would get three loads a day, sometimes four… some of the wood was bucked, and it was second growth stuff, but we had to buck most of it.  So, three times he came up, “How’s it going?” and we were like, “Oh, good”… but he just always had to say something!  So, we were at home, and he phoned up, and said, “Why don’t you guys come in at the regular time?”  So, we came in at the regular time, which was an hour later.  See, when we came a bit earlier, the truck driver could get out earlier, so with the same truck we could get three loads.  So, we got out there, and I got two loads done, and phoned up the dispatcher.  I said, “Is the truck coming back for the third load?” and they said, “Nope, it’s too late for them to come back.”  So I asked, “Is there another one coming out?” and they said, “Nope, it’s too late.”  So, I said, “Look at that, here’s the damn foreman who knows everything, and the buzzard is only going to release two loads!” 

So the next morning, I march into the yard, and there is the foreman– I said, “Good morning, bonehead!”  He said, “Come on over here a minute… I want to talk to you. “What’s this about being called ‘the brains’?  I don’t like being called that!”  I said, “Oh, I thought you were ‘the brains’, but if you don’t like that I won’t call you that anymore, anybody who comes out three times, and asks how things are going, when we are getting three and four loads out a day… then you comes along and change things, so now we're getting only two loads a day, that makes you a bonehead!”  So, he said, “I’ll have you know I was foreman on the grade!”  Yeah, he was foreman on the grade and they chased him off after two months!  “And I was a bull bucker and a faller…” Yeah, they were ready to kill him, so they took him out of there, and put him with the Y & L… we were a little more lenient, I guess.  So, I said, “You know, you might have been a good engineer, but you are not a good foreman!  You don’t come through the ranks like that.  See those boots and those laces?  You can watch someone for a hundred years do up their laces, but if you have never done it yourself, you won’t be able to do it!”  He said, “First you call me bonehead, Big Firand now you tell me I don’t know how to lace my boots?” They didn’t fire me… I was a ‘high producer’ with the cherry picker– no one else could run it as good!  You know, before the guys used to come up through the ranks, and they knew what they were doing!  Now they make engineers into foremen, and they don’t know what they're doing! 

When it used to be all old growth, they could always reach their quota quite quickly.  I remember two foremen I worked with:  one foreman we called “Puff”, and the other one we called “Poof”!  One little flake of snow would come down, and the one foreman would shut ‘er down; then in the summertime, there would be one little puff of smoke somewhere, and the other one would shut ‘er down!

We fought lots of fires!  One time when we were up in Spurr 19, and Jack Messier was woods foreman… we were on night shift.  I think Bruce Wilson was there too.  I was the ‘pump guy’, because anyone who ran the machinery was generally the pump guy.  We had those big tankers – they are like one of those big railway tanker cars, and they put them on the logging trucks.  They were huge, and they would load them up with water for our water supply.  So, the truck would come up the hill with a loaded tank, and we didn’t need it … I think day shift was coming to relieve us.  So, Jack Messier said, “Dump the fifth wheel on the truck”, and we put some blocking under the leg of the trailer, let it down, and we buggered off for home!  So, the next morning when the crew came out, they drove the truck out from under it.  They were down there fighting fire, and they had a pump running off this big tanker with a hose going down The Bearthe hill – the pump was connected to the tanker by a big hose.  But, I guess we put it a little too close to the edge of the road by the lake, and it sunk down.  So, someone hollered and we looked up, and here this thing is rolling down the hill, and the pump is going around.  They all ran and it missed them, but it burnt up in the fire– they were lucky!

Then when I worked at Nanaimo Lakes setting chokers.  There was a big bluff at the top, and we were working down below, and there were a couple of logs up at the top of the bluff.  So, we grabbed some logs on the side, and then when we tightened the cable… it went underneath the log at the top.  They were big, and some of them started to come down!  We didn’t know what to do… I was just sixteen or seventeen.  Everyone was diving for cover – so this big German guy and I dove into this hole beside this great big fir log… this big log came down and bounced off the top of the fir log!  I thought this German guy would get killed, because his head was sticking out a bit.  That is the closest I came to getting killed!  How were we to know, eh? 

There is a lot of stress running the machine up in the bush!  When you drive a logging truck, it is even worse because the roads get snow and ice on them.  See, when there was old growth; they could get their quotas regularly, so they would shut down when there was a little bit of snow or heat.  But, with second growth they had to keep going!  They worked through deep snow, and hot weather.

I remember one time when Bob Norcross was a foreman at Caycuse, and he came over to the Port Renfrew area, where I was running a snorkelmachine. The machine was on the low bed and we were going to this area that had a steep hill going up to start with, after we got off of the low bed. So Bob went up there, put a block at the top of the hill, ran a line from the line horse  up to this block, and all the way down the hill to where I was to unload off of the low bed… it was almost a quarter of a mile long – it was a lot of line!  When I got off the low bed, they were going to hook it on to the machine, and help me up the hill by pulling … but it’s a pain in the neck having somebody pull you!  So, I just lumbered off the low bed, and I went straight up the hill.  Bob was watching me, and after lunch was over he said, “You are sort of an independent son-of-a-bitch, aren’t you?”

Willie Buck & the BearI think the most memorable, for me, was when we got theMadill snorkel loaderit is a “Super Snorkel”.  It has a steel snorkel that slides in and out, air over hydraulics, and it travels good, and has good brakes … I wasn’t afraid to go down steep hills.  It was made good, and it made life way easier! It was a heavy machine, it weighed 90 tons, you had to make sure you kept it on solid ground. When I first started loading logs, I was working on the Northwest grade shovels converted over to log loaders. You had to pull hand levers, and their travel brakes were almost non existent it was as dangerous as hell!  It was like going from a Model A to a Mercedes Benz. 

The only time my job affected my family, was when I lived in camp… that was the pits!  We had a house in town, so I lived in the bunkhouse during the week.  I was only home on the weekends… I might as well have been in jail!  Shut-downs were another problem– I had to fight to go on U.I., which caused stress at home.  I should have gone to work for the federal government! 

There were good times and bad times … it was just life I guess!  When we got into the second growth, that is where we made the most money.  The 1980’s and the early 1990’s were the best times in the forest industry!  I worked for BCFP, and then they were bought out by Fletcher Challenge. They eventually changed their name to Timber WestBCFP was good, but when they first started out, if you were a chokerman or worked on the rigging, you had to eat your lunch out in the rain, and put your raincoat over your head with your lunch bucket open.  You had to be up there setting chokers at starting time … so it wasn’t that good either!  They would have one bus take you all out to two sides, and the bus would go to the farthest yarded side – so if your side wasn't the farthest away,the bus drop you off at the road into you job site and you,d have to walk in.Some times you had to walk in about a quarter of a mile .You couldn’t walk out until after quitting time… it wasn’t that good! 

When I first started, logging was tough on everybody!  Like, really tough!  They had old power saws, and the first power saws were big and heavy.  Then, things gradually got better and better through technology.  However, as things got better, they brought in these ‘no minds’ for foremen who made it tougher!

Oh yeah … the union changed!  They started out good, but then they started giving in too much, and doing things to make themselves look good to the government.  The union would be better off if they had only a couple of guys in the union office and then instead of our money going to paying to many staff, they could have a couple of good lawyers, and pay them well.  Their excuse was always, “Oh, but they don’t know enough about logging!”  Get a life – lawyers learn quickly!

I care about the forest industry, because it creates lots of jobs– But the government killed our industry!  When we were on our last strike, we had arbitration and we turned it down!  So, we went back to arbitration again, and the Union made it ‘binding arbitration’, so that whatever agreement they came to, we couldn't vote on it… ‘that’s the way it’s gonna be’!   We don’t get to vote the head of the union, only the presidents of each local get too. 

They made it so that there was no more ‘over time’– we used to get ‘over time’ after eight hours!  We also used to get ‘travel time’, and if we drove in a crummy, we would get ‘crummy time’ too, plus ‘travel time’.   So, they made it ‘binding arbitration’, so that we couldn’t get ‘over time’ until we worked over forty hours.  We also couldn’t get ‘crummy time’ and ‘travel time’– we only got one or the other.  There was a whole Ernie Harrisonbunch of shit like that, which took thousands of dollars out of people’s paycheques… like thousands!  It just helped the companies.

I can see them exporting a few logs, but not as much as they do!  The big thing that bugged me, was that before the companies like Timber West and all us guys that worked for them– they had to look after us… they could only have 10% contracters.  Government made it so that they could go all contract.  He wrecked it… he ruined it!  People used to tell me, that they’ve got it like that in the USA. They get contractors… they’ve had it for a long time… like these guys you see on TV. 

What we see now is machinery sitting all over getting rusty, because when the price of wood is good they buy the machinery, and go and log it.  Then, the lumber takes a dip and a dive, and they can’t afford it because they are not making money– so they just shut everything down and walk away!  That is exactly what is happening here!  Guys from here have gone down to the States on a little tour, to different logging places, and they say that these logging places have people working on the rigging, doing the dirty work … and they hardly pay them anything!  So, I blame Campbell for what is happening now!  I’m not fond of the NDP either– they are the ones who let them shut the Youbou Sawmill down, and everything else! I retired in Jan.2005, got out of there just in time before logging went down the tube.