Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
 
 
 
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Gordy Knott
I started in the forest industry between 1959 to 1960.  My dad and my brother Ted were already in it , so I went into it also. 

Gordy KnottThe first job I ever had was picking cones on Hill 60. Everyplace had a forestry station in those days. We had one right here in Lake Cowichan where the main store was in town and it was run out of there. I think there were probably ten or twelve of us young guys, about fifteen who were hired. I had to climb up and pick the cones to get the seed out.  They just took a bunch of us young guys from town and said we could do this… it was the worst job I ever had in my life! We were up early and went up in the back of this old three ton truck, and up Hill 60 to pick cones all day, I would get so much pitch on my hands I couldn’t even move my fingers, and the gloves were absolutely useless.  And of course pitch was in your hair…it was everywhere! We were on a steep hillside, so we would climb up a tree and look down the steep side and it looked five times as high! Guys were falling out of the trees – it was a bizarre introduction to the forest industry!  They raise them now.  I imagine all those trees are probably felled now – they were a pretty good size… I remember guys falling out of them and hurting themselves!  You’d climb up through the branches with a little belt on, and you’d clip your belt around - you were paid by the bushel so it was pretty interesting.  I went back to school, and the next year I was setting chokers in the summer. 

I started at Hillcrest, and worked for the summer there.  Ted and my dad were both falling there, and I guess that opened the door for me: I got a job setting bead and I worked on a sideCal Traer was the woods foreman there at that time and Pete Thomassen was the hooker… I always remember that because he was an old-timer here.  Mike Maars was the rigging slinger– same as Ted was describing there were three chokerman and I was with Mike on the front choker.  I just worked there three or four months and then I went to the Navy and had a short career. 

I was kicked out of the Navy because they thought that my dad was a Communist.  He wasn’t actually, but we had the same last name as Ernie Knott who lived in Victoria – he ran politically for the Communist party.  So, I was in the Navy for four or five months, and then came back and went to Gordon River.  I was honourably discharged:  they just shoved me out the door and didn’t really tell the reason it could be anything, but one of the old timers in the Navy told me, “You’ve got a Commie in the closet”!  Finally, it came out, and they admitted they had made a mistake… I actually went to the House of Parliament.  The guys that won it for us were Colin Cameron and Tommy Douglas, the NDP guys.  They said the only reason it came out was there was a change in the Ministry of Defence.  I think the change came  when Lionel Chevalier went out and Douglas Harkness came in.  Harkness just wanted to get his name in, so they admitted they had made a mistake and that was it… I was cleared.  By that time, I was very happy to go logging

I started out as a chokerman, that’s where most of us started.  The odd guy started out padding the shovel on the grade or, like Ted said, packing stumping powder.   When you started, out the first thing you did was chokers, normally; then it was pulling rigging, and if you were lucky you got in the landing, and you were either a chaser or a second loader.  I did all those jobs!  I never was a head loader; in Big Buttthose days the head loader was a very important job because the logging trucks had short stakes, and the head loader would build enormously high loads which with a big peak log on top.  He would point to what log he wanted and he would call the log, and up it would go!

When I was in the bush, whistle punk were guys who had been injured, and couldn’t do the physical work.  When you were pulling rigging you’d holler “stop”, then you’d holler “three” to go ahead, and “whooo”, the guy would click on the thing.  It was an electric current, so all he did was make a connection.  He had all these extension cords to the yarder– it was kind of a bizarre system!  I can remember them getting shocks when it was raining, and so they had it inside their clothes to keep it dry. 

It was a job, like all the jobs in that industry, if you weren’t on top of things people could get hurt … lots of people did get hurt!  You had to listen to exactly what the guy hollered; like if he hollered ' slack the haulback', and the chokers would get slack.  If they were over a rise, and you couldn’t see them, you’d have to know if they were saying “three” to 'go-ahead', or 'slack the haulback', or “yo yo” to come back, or whatever it was.  Guys would be hollering this stuff out, and there would be creaks and wind and machinery… it was a hairy business, you know! 

It used to be “one” to go ahead and “one” to stop, and then they switched it to “three” to 'go-ahead'.  Then, in the mid 60’s, they had these first ones here – I actually wore one that was in a hard hat, and I used to press the bottom side with my thumb and the top side to do the whistles… they would pay you a little extra a day.  I can remember doing that:  you’d have to stand there in the mud, and it would be running off your hands and down your face, because you’d have to have your hands on it… it was stupid!

A lot of times when you had those first radios, you’d just go over a little rise into a hollow behind, and they wouldn’t work!  So, you’d have to either get a whistle punk out, or send somebody on top of the knoll – you almost had to see where that thing was going to work!  They were horrible… it’s hard to believe that they have come so far!

The whistle punks were good – they’d always have our lunches, and they would move all the lunches along.  They may get you, as a young guy, to help the whistle punk get a fire going.  You would have that half hour lunch time, and they would have a roaring fire there… it was kind of nice, especially on a cold day setting bead

The rigging was tougher for me – I enjoyed the falling more.  On the rigging, your hands were cold and wet from handling the lines – it was hard to stay warm!  When you ran a power saw, you were warm because you were working all the time.  On the rigging there would be lots of “down” time. 

In the summer, the flies and mosquitoes were just horrible on the rigging!  I was always on early shift, and the flies would be on me so bad in the morning; then it was so hot in the afternoon… I was all chewed up!  But, when I was falling the saw kept them away.  I remember sitting there with branches, and swishing just to keep them away.  The only time it got really bad when I was falling, was when I had to ‘monkey-wrench my saw or file a chain … then they’d be on me!  It seemed like when I’d sweat that would really attract them.  We used everything to try to keep them off us!  I can remember these guys taking off their shirts, and spraying their shirts with OFF; because when it got hot in the summer in those days, the big horseflies used to come out.  I can remember seeing them bite right through those big thick shirts – they bite you when you’re bent over!

Gordy Knott FallingIn the industry when I broke in falling, I was really young… like eighteen.  I would come back, and I’d always get a job at Gordon River – they’d just phone me up and I’d go to work there.  So, I’d come back and I’d always learn new tricks.  One trick we used to pull on the new guys:  they would always have their own axe for notching their stumps, and so we would make a mark with an axe.  Then, we would talk the guy into making a mark, and say, “Well, you make a mark this way, then you go over here, and I bet you can’t hit that five times in a row with your eyes closed.”  

There was Hank Fitzpatrick and his second rigger was a guy named Reid Stevens.  So, I talked them into doing this – I’d seen the trick done up close and these guys, I couldn’t believe it, they hadn’t seen it and they were older than I am and I was very junior to them.  So, I talked Reid into doing it, and just before he was going to do it I said, “Reid, you’ve got to have your gloves off so you can get the proper feel on the axe”.  The trick is then you throw the guys gloves in there and he chops the fingers off the gloves!  Well, I looked down and got Reid Stephens gloves!  He was a second rigger so he’s got leather gloves – I mean, we’re not talking ‘monkey face’… these leather gloves were probably $6 or $7 a pair then!  So, I threw them in and he chopped the fingers off!  He was insanely mad, but Hank Fitzpatrick was laughing so hard that Gordy Knott BuckingReid didn’t do anything… he just yelled at us as much as he could!

There were so many stories in the bush!  I remember another time when the scaler, Walter Cook, was lighting a fire for me, and this old guy… Lyle McKenzie was his name.  Walter was up on this big rock trying to light a fire using power saw gas, and the can caught on fire.  So, he throws it over the rock pile.  Lyle’s down there bucking right below him, and this gas can hits and just explodes!  This was during the 60’s when they were bombing Vietnam, and we used to see it every night on the news.  Well, old Lyle came running out of there, and goes, “God, I thought I was in Vietnam … with all the flames!” 

I started out living at home, and working for three years.  I then had an opportunity to go away and break into falling, and that was all up Coast.  I was away for three or four months at a stretch, and I had some great, great times up on the Coast working in small, individual logging camps. 

I worked for a guy named Joe DeMaars.  There used to be a hiring agency down on East Hastings called “DeMaars Hiring Agency” – that is where all the loggers went to get placed.  So, we went to work for him one year up there, and we got a fire going up there that we couldn’t get out!  This was before helicopters and water bombers.  There were about four stations that used to pump up to get on top of the mountain to spray it with water … they couldn’t get any volume up there!  So, Joe was mad, and we were all mad because we were getting paid nine to ten dollars a day to fight fires in the forest!  So, one night at the supper table, he jumps the ranger that was in charge about why the hell we weren’t getting this fire out.  The guy says, “Well, we don’t have big enough pumps, Joe”, and Joe says, “Get bigger pumps!”  He said, “They don’t make them”, so Joe says, “If they can pump oil from Calgary to Vancouver, I’m sure you can pump it up that hill!”  The cookhouse just exploded in laughter!

We lived in the camps a great deal of the time.  I remember telling them about a day where there was all this fresh snow.  I was sitting with a great big guy who was a hooker.  We were b.s.ing as we ate our supper, and all the guys were looking over at him, and laughing and pointing at him.  I asked, “What the hell is going on there?” and he goes, “Oh, I really got all those young guys”, it was all young guys sitting there. “It was an early December day”, he said, “and it was snowing like this.  I’m pulling the strawline out, and I rustle up a big black bear!  I’m over a hill and I’m the only one to see this big black bear, and it has a huge crap!  So, I pull the strawline up there, and I take out some toilet paper and throw it down, and holler at the guys, ‘I have to go to the bathroom!’  So, the next thing, I look back as I’m going up the hill with the straw line, and the first guy comes along, looks, and says ‘You’ve got to see this – there’s a mountain!’”  That’s why they were all pointing at him in the cookhouse – the guys never did see the bear, so they thought it belonged to the hooker.  It was still fresh and steaming!  It was, “All good”, he said.  There was lots of humour like that – somebody putting somebody down.

I was at Franklin River when my brother Ted and I were a falling a setting – there were eighty-four or eighty-five fallers there!  When we worked there it was pretty good – we used to drive in the back way and go in Sunday night, work Monday and Tuesday, and go home on Wednesday.  My wife would always offer to make breakfast and lunch and I’d say, “Oh no, I’ll catch something at camp.”  When we were at camp, there was just any amount of food to eat there!  I remember one time they used to give us hot cakes, then mid-way through the breakfast they would change the hotcakes and throw them all in the saltchuck.  So, there would be seagulls just going crazy out there – fighting and pulling over them!  There was a tremendous amount of waste there. 

I remember watching a guy up close – like they would have hard boiled eggs everyday, so a guy would pull an egg out and the cooks would have that flipper.  So, he would knock the thing off to see how runny it was, and throw it in the garbage!  They would go through five of them before they would pull the eggs out at the right time.  Lots of times the foremen, they liked food as much as anyone else, would lead the revolts – “ We’ve got to get rid of that guy… he’s a 'Greasy Greek'!” 

Our transportation to camp was interesting, Gordon River is the one I remember best:  they had some old 1939 Fords… 'cattle cars' we used to call them!  Once you got inside, there was a row of planks on each side and one down the middle.  I was always kind of screwed because where I lived and got on the bus, the Duncan crew was already on there so a lot of times the side seats would be all gone.  If you had to sit in the middle, you didn’t have a back rest, and that’s where everybody walked with their caulk boots.  Everyone in those days put their caulk boots on when they left their house, so you’d have slivers up your butt… it was horrible!  It was cold:  the heater, if there was one, didn’t seem to work.  It was right up front but it never went more than five or six feet back… it was awful!  That was the crummy– just these old Fords.  But, it was amazing; guys would get in it and fall asleep right away, because it was a half hour to three quarters of an hour drive.  It would be slow because it would be stopping to pick guys up – every time somebody would come in, they would fall all over everybody, and then the crummy driver would take off early and speed them to the back!  I don’t miss those days at all… they were pretty primitive conditions.  Just like the logging camps – they were pretty primitive… I remember the generators running.  Everyone smoked in those days…smoked or chewed.  When you opened the door, blue smoke would come billowing out! 

When I was falling at Gordon River, we would all go over to the power saw shop, and get whatever we needed.  If you were moving that day, you would just line up all your gas and oil – that was your responsibility.  There would be a bunch of larks going on – there was always somebody fooling around with somebody or stealing someone’s equipment… it was just constantly like that – never a dull moment!  If it was a Friday and Pay Day, you were looking to get blown out and go home – I can remember lots of talk about that.  We would all kind of hope the bull bucker was going somewhere else so we could radio in and say, “Its way too windy today – we’re going home!”  There was lots of that!

I was lucky –I worked for forty-five years, and I didn’t get all busted up… I felled longer than my dad and Ted!  I got a bad back now, but I didn’t get busted up… I was just lucky, and I was lighter.  We have good friends who had two knees and a shoulder operated on.  When Ted and I started, we didn’t wear any hearing protection.  Everything that ever came in, I think most of us were against.  Like everyone said, “Oh, the hearing muffs are no good… you won’t be able to hear the tree” – there were certain sounds, but we got used to it.  It was the same with the pants, everybody said, “Oh, who’s gonna wear those bucking pads on it?” but they saved a lot of people cuts and injuries.  Muffs kept our ears nice and warm, but when we weren’t wearing them, and we would get whacked on the ear when our ears were bright red cold… god, there’s nothing that stings worse when you hit a branch on it! 

We had lots of forest fires, but the forest fires in those days seemed like more of a fun time than a serious time.  When they started logging at night, you’d see the lines at night and the amount of sparks that came off them was incredible… you wouldn’t see it during the day.  It was no wonder we started so many fires!

One of my first years at Hillcrest, when I’d go home for the summer, they had an Oriental crew from China.  They’d come out just as we were going home, and they’d sit there and watch all the lines to see if there were any fires.  They got a big fire out at Hillcrest one year:  one of the Chinese guys couldn’t speak English, all he could say was, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” on the radio. So they’d ask, “Where’s the fire?” and he’d just say, “Fire! Fire! Fire!”  But it was sure a big mushroom cloud of smoke… I was there at the end. 

Nobody liked fires, but everybody liked fire season where they didn’t work – it was nice for swimming, boating and fishing in the summer.  The fires are a lot more controlled out there now… the last few years I worked.  They don’t burn those big slash fires now, but they had this belief that fir would only grow where it had been burnt, so they had all these big slash fires.  At Gordon River they probably burned as much timber as they logged… it was ridiculous! 

I remember fatalities… you never forget them.  I was in the bush with, I don’t know how many guys… probably four or five that we packed out.  It is vivid in my memory – there’s nothing worse than seeing your fellow worker gone. 

We had lots of good experiences too… payday was always good!  That was before direct deposit… I sure enjoyed those paydays!  I also enjoyed the Christmas shutdowns:  there would be some alcohol on the jobsite, and you couldn’t get a seat at the old Riverside Hotel on the last day of work in December.  The guys would be on a runaway! 

Our days off would vary a lot… we used to go away if you were down too long.  I remember in 1968, I went up to Gold River because there was four or five feet of snow here, and that was my first trip up there.  They gave me a power saw and a snow shovel, because we had to dig all these big fir trees down to the bottom… it was just horrible hard work! 

We never had anyone over Wednesday night for supper or drinks, because we had to go to work the next day.  I didn’t always toe the line – I played hockey, and would sometimes get carried away on a Monday night… but it was generally an early shut-down, and by 9:30 we were in bed.  Then we were up, and on the road by 5:30 the next morning!  We were kind of tired raising kids, but we didn’t know anything else.  We never did much… I know I didn’t anyway.  A lot of times I had the heating pad on my back, because my back was sore, and that is when I retired… that is why I quit.  My wife asked, “What are you doing?  You’re sitting on your heating pad all night, go to work the next day, come home and eat supper, and sit on your heating pad!”  I said, “Yeah, good point!” 

When I first started at Pacific Logging, they took over from where Hillcrest was, and they said there was thirty years of logging… and there is still timber there.  They weren’t even counting second growth at that time!  I The Woodsremember talking to the survey crews when we first started falling the second growth.  They were saying there is more per acre there now than there was originally, because it was so closely grown together, beautiful second growth! 

It just depends where it is, because if you go on the north side of the lake above Youbou there, just by Cottonwood Creek… there is nothing growing there!  But if you go over on this side here, by the fair service, I’ve seen them take these thirty-six inch trees in the middle of the old railroad bridge.  I don’t think there is any simple answer to it, I think it is just prime growing area.  They didn’t do any silviculture or anything like that – they just grew on their own!  I don’t know if spacing ever really panned out, because I’ve seen it done when we felled trees that had been spaced.  I can remember looking with guys, and we’d look at the growth rings – the way they explained it was that there was going to be a huge increase in their growth after they spaced … and there wasn’t.  They just made a mess!  They leave it there, and create a fire hazard that is tough on wildlife. 

The government never created any secondary industry to anything here, it was always worked out with figures:  how many board feet in Sweden provided so many jobs, and how many board feet in Canada… we were always at the bottom.  When you think about it, there was never any finger joint plant on the coast for making 2x4's, like studs… there was never one here!  I knew some fellas that I grew up with, and all got into the industry, and they said that there were glues that they could glue green and they could make them.  Yet there was never even one put in here for making studs or anything – it was all interior screws and stuff like that.  Ours was just pulped and made into diapers! They didn’t really look for the uses and they didn’t keep the technology up in the sawmills.

One time we were having lunch with the foreman, and this hippie guy came along and asked “Who can I get permission from to take these yew wood limbs?”  This guy wanted all the limbs to cut and make buttons out of them!  We were wondering “Are you out of your mind?  Go get a real job!”  But, he had been somewhere and that is what they did – people made a living making buttons out of yew limbs! 

The governments haven’t kept up with the forest industry, all the governments that have been elected have dropped the ball on it… including the ones that we’ve supported!  They didn’t do a very good job of the tree farm license in Youbou. 

Packing FuelI mean, we had good lives too – we had the best of times:  we made good money so we could afford to give our kids lots that our parents couldn’t.  So we appreciated that about it!  I had two children - a boy and a girl.  We took the kids everywhere and my daughter skated so I paid lots of money for skating lessons, and my son played hockey and all the different sports … we could afford it.  He worked in a sawmill for a little while but didn’t like it. I could never interest him in falling – I asked him to go falling with me but he didn’t.  I had a friend who took his son with him falling and he became a faller and got killed.  I felt bad about that and am glad my son chose another direction.

I think we always have a tendency to remember the good times – but there were some bad times… lots of guys were injured and killed that I knew.  It was kind of a wild life when I first started in it – most loggers lived hard and drank hard… it was a fast life!  I enjoyed that part of it too, it was a good time. 

The forest industry has been a part of our family for so long and has provided a good living for us – I just wish it could do the same for other people.  I see where we were in the 90’s, the guys today would kill to be in our position because they don’t have the conditions that we had.  The money may be a little better, but I mean, there are twelve and fourteen hours and working Saturdays which my dad went on strike for… and these guys gave it up!  It was all because they had to give it up so that the companies could make it and in the end the companies were bid so low that they couldn’t make it – and that seemed to screw everybody!