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

High Rigging 1I started in the forest industry in 1939 at the age of fourteen while on my summer holidays.  I started as a whistle punk at Port McNeill.  It was alright for a young kid – I only made $ .25 an hour and I paid $1.00/day for room and board so that left a buck… then I had to buy a pair of caulk boots and they were $12.00!  As a whistle punk I had to relay signals into the machine. 

George SmartI started working in the Cowichan Valley in 1947 at Hillcrest Lumber Company at Mesachie Lake.  I started as a skidder foreman on the railroad, and then once the railroad disappeared I became a high rigger.  I then became the logging foreman and in 1959 I became the logging manager.  I enjoyed all the positions!
As a skidder foreman, I had a crew of twenty-five and I was in charge of the operation.  Tony Yurkin was the operator and Gus Armand was the fireman.  I had to make sure that everyone knew their job and what they were doing.  The steam skidder was one of the biggest machines in the wood – the skyline went out twenty-five hundred feet.  It was manufactured by Lidgerwood, an American company and was one of many imported from Georgia in the 1930’s. 

At the time we were doing railroad logging…it was interesting!  If one of the crew was doing something wrong I had to let them know or they might get themselves killed… they had to know what the hell they were doing - as long as everybody did their job there were no problems!  There wasn’t really much competition between the sides because we had different kinds of machines – one side had a skidder and one had a high lead…they were different altogether!  A skidder has a skyline with the carriage on the skyline and the high lead line goes out and grabs the logs and drags them on the ground.  The skidder lifts them right up and pulls them in.  You had to be careful – one mistake and that’s it!  I had co-workers who were injured - one guy got crushed with the loader swinging around but it was his own fault really…he wasn’t paying attention.  You have to watch what you are doing!  It is usually the newcomers – you have to watch them, train them, tell them what to do, and what not to do.

Hillcrest used the skidder on the railroad from 1943 to 1948. When the terrain got too rugged for railroad the High Rigging 2truck logging took over.  In 1948 the skidder went to the Hillcrest shop, managed by Andy Klevin and Paul Stone and was converted from steam to diesel.  A Cummins diesel engine was installed - twelve cylinders and six hundred horsepower.  A more powerful logging machine has never been built!  The railroad undercarriage was replaced by solid wheels allowing it to be moved on a logging road.

In 1949, the skidder changed to high lead and I became the high rigger and raised and rigged all the spar trees for the logging operation.  It was interesting but fairly hard work.  I had to climb right up…there was nothing to it as far as I was concerned!  I used a belt and spurs and cut the limbs off as I went.  It might take two and a half to three hours for the real big trees.  I only used an axe, some people used a saw and in later days they used a power saw… but I just used an axe.  One morning I went out and topped five trees – but they were only small ones. I used the gin pole to rig the main tree.  In the busiest year I raised and rigged fifty two spar trees – that is one a week!  I had a good crew so that helped and my second rigger was Joe Bowman.  However, I am now suffering some from my years as a high rigger- my hips have seized up because all my movement was right in one spot.

In 1954 I was promoted to General Logging Foreman, in charge of the logging operation.  The forester was George Forslund, who with his assistant Roger Atchison, laid out all the roads and logging settings. 

In 1959 I was appointed Manager of the Logging Division and held the job until Hillcrest closed in 1968.  My work as a logging manager was a challenge.  Everything was different and you had to do things the right way and teach people to do things the right way.  I never really got involved with the fellows on the job – that was up to the foremen.  The foremen knew what they were doing and knew how to handle the workers – I just worked with the foremen and told them what I wanted.

My wife and I got married in Vancouver in 1947 and the first place we lived was at Hillcrest- eventually we built our own home there.  The company supplied all the lumber…the Stone brothers were the best people in the world to work for!  Hector Stone was the president at the time.  His father, Carlton Stone founded the High Rigging 3company.  They were great people to work for …couldn’t be better!

Living at Hillcrest was just like living in town … it was all company houses.  We had one son and he went to school right in Hillcrest.  The camp had moved from Sahtlam to Mesachie Lake in 1943.  When we moved there in 1947 we didn’t have a car but the bus used to run from Mesachie Lake down to Duncan.  So after a couple of weeks there we thought we would go to Duncan and do a little shopping.  So away we went and got on the bus to Duncan.  Then we asked when the last bus went back to Mesachie and he said “In five minutes”, so we got back on the bus and came right back!  The roads were gravel roads too – rough as hell! 

I ate at the cookhouse every day – I always had breakfast there.  Charlie Monti was the best cook in the world!  It was terrific – you could eat anything you wanted and all you wanted!  Some of them loggers could eat a couple of steaks that would fill their plate up!  They had a women’s club there and had a lot of different events – the men didn’t really get involved too much.  Except for the odd weekend when they would have a real wing-ding … the loggers all got drunk and they got the mill workers drunk too!  There were also sporting events, such as softball, during the spring and summer months.  There were big Chinese and East Indian communities at Hillcrest, and everyone had their own churches and temples.  Everyone got along quite well – there were no problems at all.  They all lived and worked together and were all good people.  I left there in 1967 and the mill shut down in 1968. From then till retirement I worked at various logging outfits in a management capacity.

Rigging CrewI was just talking with Frank Vanyo, a former bulldozer operator at Hillcrest, the other day about the weather and all the damn snow we’ve been having!  I asked him “Remember the first weekend in March years ago?  We had the weekend off and the weather was nice – then we woke up on Monday morning to five feet of snow!”

The main change in the forest industry, that I noticed, was from railroad logging to truck logging.  It was hardly noticeable – all of a sudden the railroad were gone and the trucks were there!  So instead of a train, there would be about a half dozen logging trucks.  It wasn’t really quicker – it was just easier to get up the steep mountains with the trucks.  Madill was coming out with some new equipment – we used their steel spars.  We had our own machines so we added Madill spars to the machine. 

I don’t really know what they are doing now!  I see the odd picture in the paper but I retired from logging back in 1976, and the forest industry was still doing quite well back then. I found my time in the forest industry very interesting!