Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
 
 
 
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The Normans- Three Generations

HENRY NORMAN

Henry Norman & the Last Steam Skidder at CaycuseHenry emigrated from Finland.  He worked on the skidders, logging large cypress in the Louisiana swamps.   This was likely around 1908.   I believe he was the high rigger and foreman.   They were not the rubber tired machines that are in use today.  They were large steam machines, with five drums on which cables were wound.   About 10,000 feet of steel cable was in use for each machine.  Henry would climb 100 or 180 feet up a tree and chop the top off to use as a spar tree.  If he could not find a tree in the Henry Normanright location he would raise one which had been felled.  He would then support it with ten or more guylines.  The lines (cables) from the skidder passed through blocks on the tree.   A large set of tongs would be attached to the end of the mainline.   Several African Americans would wrestle the tongs through the brush, limbs and mud and attach them to a log.  When a signal was given the engineer on the skidder would pull the log out of the mud and up to the spar tree.   Whenever they had some time off they would party and drink.  Some fighting often started.  Some men from Finland fought with knives.  To avoid killing they would hold the knife about an inch from the end and slash at their opponent.  Henry had three long scars on his back.
  
Around about 1910 a manufacturer in Seattle started building skidders, they were called Ledgerwood Skidders, and were much larger, having seven drums and being able to reach out 1,700 feet.  Henry found his way to Seattle and took charge of a crew using one of the new machines.  They were the ideal machine for logging the steep mountain slopes in BC.  Comox Logging bought one.  Henry and another logger from Finland, Herman Matson were sent there to train a new crew.

Empire Lumber Co. bought one to log their large timber holdings around Cowichan Lake.  It started to log, in or about 1912. The first setting was in the area where the largeYoubou Sawmill was built.  Henry and Herman came down from Courtney to train a crew and introduce skidder logging to loggers around the Lake. About 30,000 feet of steel cable would be in use for each of these new skidders.

Henry married Ester Solmie in 1913.  Ester had lived with her parents in the Chase River Area east of Nanaimo.  Three children were born while they lived in Ladysmith, Letty, Lil & Dorothy.  Henry was rigging on skidders around Cowichan Lake all this time, coming home whenever he could. He bought a float house (a house on a log raft.) and moved his family from Ladysmith into this house.  It was tied up near Youbou.  Henry was working for Jesse James (real name Henry G James) who had started a railway operation up the Cottonwood Creek valley.  Henry could now be home every night.  Two more children were born while the family lived there, Margaret and Al.  Jesse retired and moved to Vancouver; he owed Empire Lumber Co. a large sum of money for the timber he had logged, they assumed control of all of Jesse’s assets.

Steam Skidder at Caycuse 1953In 1926 Gilson & McCoy signed a contract to log in the Nixon Creek valley for Empire Lumber Co. They moved all the buildings that were on log rafts to a sheltered bay, cook-house, offices, company store and bunk-houses. Henry moved their float-house and tied it up alongside the cookhouse; several other families towed their houses there.  Some old bunk- houses were set up on land for families to move into. They called this new community Camp 6,  practically overnight it became a small town.


Three sawmill-men Hartnell, Beban and McIntyre formed a company in 1927.  They bought all of Empire Lumber Company’s Assets.  The new company was called Industrial Timber Mills.  They built a large electrical powered mill.  The stock market crashed on October 29th 1929; this forced the mill and all logging camps to shut down.  They did not open again until 1933.


Henry & Al NormanRussia had started a five year plan to modernize their industries they were advertising for experienced men.  Henry decided to take his family and see what they had to offer.  When they arrived he was very disappointed that he could not introduce modern methods of logging; instead he had to adapt to their antiquated methods. They stayed in Russia one year.  While travelling back, Henry was very nervous that they may be stopped.  They stopped at Leningrad one day and night, while there he wouldn’t let the family out of their hotel.  Everyone on the train ride to Finland were very quiet until they crossed the border, then loud celebrations broke out.  When the family arrived back at Camp 6, their house was still unoccupied and waiting for them.   I was the skidder rigger while Henry was away. He was given this job when he returned and I was promoted to a woods foreman position.  When Henry was close to 65 years old he was taken to the Duncan hospital.  After a short stay there the Doctors advised him that he had only a week or more to live.  He decided to go home and stay there for his last few days. When he died, I along with his son and a couple of friends carried him down to the company boat on a stretcher and we took him to Youbou were a hearse was waiting to take him to Duncan.  I took a bottle of rum along because I knew that would be Henry’s wishes.

by Ken Hallberg

 

AL NORMAN

Al was born Oct.21, 1924 in Ladysmith, he was only there for a short time and spent one year in Russia during the depression when his dad took the family there to find work. He spent much of his growing up in Caycuse on a float house Al Norman 1967along with his four sisters. In those days the school in camp only went to grade 8, it was typical to go to work in the woods after that so on July 4, 1940 at age 15, Al started logging for Industrial Timber Mills until BCFP took over in the late 40’s. Al tried to sign up for the war but was turned away and was told he was too young and his industry needed him.

He worked under many different loggers, and had some good teachers, including Ken Hallberg and Henry Norman - his dad. His first few years were spent second rigging on the skidder and from there he worked his way to head rigger in which he was responsible for raising wood spars then climbing and rigging them. Skidder crews were large in those days, sometimes as many as 20 men. Transportation was crude either on speeders or on canvas topped crummies with wooden seats and no heaters.

Some work years were short. Winter shut down could end in April only to be put out again in July for heat. Al remembered working in Wardroper Valley in the 40’s in waist deep snow when the camp went on early shift for heat. He had some injuries over the years including breaking his nose at the top of the home spar. He like many old timers did not wear rain gear in the early days because they felt it slowed them down but eventually it caught up to them with arthritis, along with many aches and pains. One fatality that occurred during the 40’s, while he was second rigging on the skidder, stuck with him. A guy by the name of Charlie Larmer was learning to load the rail cars, and he heeled a long log and dropped it on himself. Those old loading pots had no protection over head just a thin tin roof. Charlie died shortly there after.

One humorous story that always stuck with him happened when he was working with a guy by the name of Alfie. Al had just finished bragging to Alfie about his piece of homemade apple pie only to have a raven open his lunch bucket and Tupperware container and fly off with his cherished dessert. Alfie had the last laugh on that one!

Wardroper Valley Gas Skidder 1940'sAl saw many changes in the industry including the formation of the union, which was badly needed, not only to fight for better wages but for improved safety conditions (He remembered secret union meetings in the family’s float house) . He saw logging trucks eventually replacing the rail, and the last train load of logs dumped in Caycuse in June of ’54. He saw loading with heel boom that were attached to the wooden home spars replaced by log loaders, many of which were converted grade shovels. By the early 60’s Al saw the wood spar replaced by steel towers Wood Spar at Caycusesuch as 'View Spars' or 'Madill Towers'. This meant a lot of his duties as head rigger would disappear. He, like many old timers felt that steel spars would fall over, because how could a machine with only 6 guylines replace a wooden tree with 16 guylines! They soon changed their minds. By the 80’s Al saw the steel spars being replaced by grapple yarders with fast line speeds and operated on 1 or 2 shifts. These changes are a far cry from the days of steam when he first started.

The big change for Al was when Fletcher Challenge took over. Al did not see this as a positive change from a company like BCFP so he chose to retire early - just 2 years short of the half-century mark in his logging career. Al in later years knew he left at a good time because many more negative changes occurred, including huge downsizing in the industry.

Al cared very much about the industry - logging was in his blood. He had countless stories to share about his own years in the woods and loved to hear others tell their own stories. When hearing talk about new technology such as feller bunchers or log processors Al would just shake his head – he was definitely from the old school. Al’s mind was very sharp up until the end but his body was worn out. Al died May 16, 2006.

by Rob Norman

 

ROB NORMAN

I started logging at Caycuse for BCFP in the summer of 1974 as a third generation logger. My grandfather, Henry Norman, was a pioneer of the skidder method of logging and worked Rob Normanin Caycuse almost until his death in 1953. My dad, Al Norman, was the head rigger on the bull gangs for many years in Caycuse, he retired in 1988 and passed away in May of 2006.

I have good memories of growing up in Caycuse. It was a close knit community consisting of people who not only worked together but developed close friendships and ever lasting memories. I can easily say that some of the finest people around have come out of this camp. With the lake and mountains at your doorstep there was always something to do.  My first job in my teenage years was delivering groceries in Caycuse for Gordie Carlson, the store owner.  At the time my pay was $1.00 per hour and even though math was my weakness in school, I could figure out that at the end of an 8-hour shift my pay was $8.00.
 
The Company at the time was BCFP and I knew it was a good people oriented company. Being a camp kid I was pretty well guaranteed a job so it just seemed natural for me to go from high school to the woods. My plans were to log for only one year, then go off to university, which I never did, probably because the good money won out ($4.90 per hour at the time). My first day on the job was July 17, 1974 and I spent my first twenty six years doing various jobs in the yarding and loading department.  I still work at the same operation (five name changes later) as a logging truck driver, although we merged with the Renfrew division in 1992.

The typical entry-level job in the woods was a chokerman. At the time I was a mere 165lbs. During my first week of setting chokers and carrying coils of strawline some 1200ft up a steep slope in 80 degree weather (at times upchucking). I realized that I was not in as good of shape as I thought I was, although with time my body adjusted to the physical challenges of the job.

Most loggers at Caycuse were very good at their job and had a wealth of logging knowledge. There was always someone, both hourly and on salary, to turn to for instruction and guidance. Most of the old timers were from the old school (some could hardly read or write) and could be very strict, but if you listened to them you would learn your job very well. When I learned how to operate a VIEW SPAR Rob & Buck(which was a big yarding machine with a 120ft tower and a Skagit winch) I was trained by a guy by the name of Armas Matson. He was an excellent operator and my only beef against him was that he smoked Buckingham cigarettes at a rate that no one else could match (I think he created more smoke than a steam locomotive). At the end of a shift, being in the cab with him, I think I had turned green!

The majority of people in the division related well to each other, although at times things could get heated. I remember at the age of 19 or so working with Frank Steeves short yarding with the Washington track loader. The guy down the hill hooking the logs was an ex skidder hooktender by the nick- name of  “Black Steve”. These machines had limited pulling ability, after all they were log loaders, not yarders, and Steve had a habit of hooking on to “half of Vancouver Island ”. Frank attempted to pull one of Steve’s turns and after many fruitless attempts of not budging the logs, I knew he had enough. Frank shut the machine off, exited the cab in a rage, went to the edge of the bank and hollered to Steve “You set a turn that a Ledgerwood skidder wouldn't pull. As a high lead hooker you’re a plumb disgrace!” Steve barked back “Get back in your fuckin' cab and yard some logs!” The battle was on for days.
 
Rob in front of MadillI have a lot of humorous memories, among which involve working with a guy by the name of Alfie. Having grown up on Galliano Island, Alfie went fishing at an early age and eventually logging. I remember one stormy wet winter morning, twenty some odd years ago, when Alfie was a hooktender on a grapple yarder. We were working early shift with the lights on the boom, and Alfie was way up the hill when the lights went out and all he could do was sit on a stump and wait in the cold wet weather until daylight. The only way we knew he was safe was seeing the red glow from the cigarette he was smoking. When Alfie arrived in the landing at lunch time I joked that his tattered and torn rain gear looked like they came out of a skid row dumpster. He replied “They probably did!” When it came to mastering the English language Alfie had a long way to go. One spring day the crew spent the better part of the day cleaning the large wood debris out of a creek in the four-mile area. Being the hooktender Alfie had to fill out the time card, and in the comment section he spelled “KRIK KLENE” instead of “CREEK CLEAN.”

Another story that makes me chuckle involved a guy nicknamed 'Shorty' (for obvious reasons), one winter in the mid seventies on the back end of a slackline setting. We had just returned to work after winter shutdown and there was still alot of snow on the side hill. We were busy packing strawline coils & haulback blocks, and we were trying to get as much work done in the morning while the snow was frozen. As the day wore on and the snow began to melt we would begin to fall through the weakening snow. At one point I fell through the snow up to my shoulders, and after pulling myself out I could hear a great amount of cussing and swearing. I turned around and all I could see was the top of 'Shorty's' hard hat. He had fallen through well above his head!

Rob in front of Big FirRob Norman 2nd from right 1962 in front of big log at CaycuseIn my three plus decades in the industry I have had several scrapes and bruises. But over all only one 'lost time' injury, when two of my fingers were crushed between a guyline and a stump as a result of a communication breakdown. I do, unfortunately, recall two fatalities and both were fallers. I knew these guys, and their loss was very hard to take. It is tragic that in this day and age we are still killing people in this industry! I have seen a lot of changes. I saw the change from tower logging, to grapple yarding, to mechanical harvesting. Sadly, every change meant the employment of fewer people.

When I look back on my years in this industry I would describe most of them as second to none. One could never compare the job and the stories that derive from logging to any other industry. Unfortunately the industry has gone through some massive changes, too many to name. On top of countless sawmill closures and logging downsizing, partly due to the creation of huge parks, (some bigger than certain countries in Europe) there are probably a third employed since I started. Tragically the human element has disappeared and gone are the days when the CEO regarded their employees as their most important asset. It appears that the shareholder carries more weight than a hard working employee that strives to make their company successful. Sadly the morale is as much in the tank as the industry is. I could write a book on my frustrations!

Hopefully this industry will turn around and so once again we can say,  “I am proud to be a logger!”

by Rob Norman