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Jim Shillito

Jim ShillitoI worked forty-six years in the forest industry in total.  Thirty-eight of those years I worked for MacMillan Bloedel. I’ve worked at all the different jobs in the industry, within that company. 

In 1972 I went on staff.  Prior to that, I worked as a head rigger at Franklin River Division, which was the largest camp in the world at that time.  We had seven hundred and thirty-five men there, and I seem to recollect about a hundred and twenty-four buses in the marshalling yard in the morning.  It was a very active area!

My dad worked at Hillcrest when it was at Mesachie Lake.  I was six, so I remember going to school there.  I remember there were a lot of East Indian and Chinese people that lived in the community.  But they had their own area that they lived in, it was segregated.  The Chinese group was mostly hand fallers– they felled timber, or they worked on the railway grades.  They always had someone who was the ‘boss man’, who would speak for them… same with the East Indians.  The ‘boss man’ was the head of the family, so to speak.  I remember my father saying that Hillcrest was one of the finest companies that was ever on the Island.  He always made reference to Hillcrest as being a wonderful place to work for!  They had issues, of course, mostly union issues over the buses, etc.  But it was a wonderful company to work for… it was like a big family!  

I started working with my father– it was the summer before my thirteenth birthday, 1953.  I was punking whistles, and chasing on a trackside tree.  A trackside tree is a wood spar that would be anywhere from a hundred and twenty to two hundred feet high, and was supported by a series of guylines.  The guylines had to be moved around from stump to stump on the forest floor, depending on where we were yarding the wood from, so that they didn’t interfere with the yarding process.  And then of course, there were lots of blocks and tackle and stuff hanging off the tree… it was basically a spar tree!

The first day of punking whistles, I can tell you I was absolutely terrified and intimidated by these old Finn and Swede loggers yelling at me!  The language is what was most intimidating to me.

We didn’t use steam whistles– it was actually in the forties when they were using them.  We used electronic bugs in the early fifties.  Originally, on the steam units, they used to have what they called a ‘jerk line’, which was a thin cable suspended by a spring system.  They would pull it up taut, so we would just start to hear the whistle hiss on top of the boiler.  Then they would relax the string, pull it again, set it with springs, and tie it.  Of course, several years later, they started using the electric whistle wires.  The purpose of the whistle was to give signals between the crew that worked out in the woods, and the engineer that ran the big yarder, to pull the logs in.  The crew had a series of signals they hollered to the whistle punk.  For instance, it could have been ‘slack the lines down’, which was a series of short toots; or ‘ho’, which was one signal whistle; or ‘slack the haulback’, which was two and a bunch of shorts.  They would yell ‘ho’ again for ‘stop’.  So this is how they conveyed the messages back and forth. 

Jim Shillito 13yrs. oldEverything was done by whistle– it could reach from out there on the forest floor up to a thousand feet away.  On the skidders, it could reach even farther… we were out twenty-five hundred feet!  So the signals were relayed, and we had to progressively move with the crew.  I had coils of wire stringing out that I had to keep connecting up and then moving back in the settings. 

If the signals got mixed up, it could be very hazardous!  A friend of mine was killed at Franklin in the early sixties because of a signal that was missed.  The operator got the signal, and he started the machine up immediately.  The unfortunate fellow was in the ‘bight’, and the log swung around and squashed him between a rock bluff and a log arching.  There was tremendous power and speed behind those machines, so there was no room for error!  It was an important job– we really had to have our wits about us!  We had to pay attention, because those people relied on us to give correct signals.  We had to be there all the time, but the main thing was that we had to pay attention.

The weather played havoc with us, too. Sometimes we would be trying to light a fire in poor weather– we used to use a metal bucket with a bit of diesel fuel in it.  It would give us a little bit of heat, because we would be standing there for eight hours a day… sometimes in a couple of feet of snow!  It was a good enough job, but if you were on the low end of the pay scale at that time, it wasn’t very much. 

I blew whistles and set chokers for a couple of years. Generally, you went from punking whistles to setting chokers.  As a chokerman, we had choker ropes that were twenty-one to twenty-four feet long, and they had knobs and bells.  So we had to set those around the logs, and then they would be pulled back to the position where the logs were.  So we’d walk in, take the chokers back, take them over top of the logs, fasten the knob into the bell, and move out into the clear and holler to the whistle punk.   Actually, by that time, we had the radio-controlled remote radios, and we would send our own signals.  Then the yarder operator would pull those logs, from where they were out there, to the roadside.  Then we packed blocks, pulled strawline, and helped rig up the trees.  They would pick a tree on site which would work out quite well for size and position as a trackside (or spar) tree.  It would then have to be limbed and topped, which was part of my job at that time… that was High Rigging.

There were lots of different responsibilities that were part of the job.  You might become a rigging slinger, or you might go in as a chaser, or a landing bucker!  Some people started out punking whistles, setting chokers, and maybe pulling rigging… then they never did that again.  They might have moved onto something else, perhaps driving a gravel truck, or operating a yarder, or a dozer boat, or falling trees.  They had to train for the different job positions. 

I was a faller for a short period of time… about six months.  It was right after a large fire that we had on the West Coast.  We went in and were falling snags.  I was going to go work as a full-time contract faller at Franklin River, but Karen’s father was a bull bucker who had been in the forest industry for years, and he advised me against it.  He said, “I don’t think that’s what you want to do.”  He thought I had a better opportunity for advancement to stay on the rigging.  It was sort of a given – if you were a rigger then you went onto staff.  There were different opportunities.

So, I pulled rigging, chased, second loaded, and head loaded.  The head loader was responsible for the placement, and the loading of the logs on the truck.  The second loader is the one who puts the tongs onto the log, and the head loader has the decision of where to put that log on the truck.  I was also a hooktender.  I was probably one of the only rigging supervisors on the coast… there were very few of us.  Although the union frowned on staff taking on hourly paid jobs, that didn’t happen with me.  I think probably because of the experience that I had, and I was willing to train people for job advancement.

Lots of people moved from different careers.  They had maybe two, three, or five years at a job, and then all of a sudden they might be faced with some physical limitations.  So they were no longer able to be a faller, but they could go into a dry land sort as a dry land sort bucker. Or they could go into a landing, and work as a landing bucker, which they did in later years.  Because of what they were Jim Shillito Winter 1990 Copper Canyon First Snowfall, Bob Veydoing in the industry, they were pulling more full-length wood to the roadside.  So we could stay at the roadside, and the log loader would place the logs out on the road.  We would measure, tape off, and buck it up into lengths. Then they would pick it all up, stack it, and get it ready for the trucks.

So it was a good-paying job– some places had overtime, and we didn’t have to run around on the hillside, we could stay at the roadside.  We also had the opportunity to have a mug-up in the dry, and things like that.

I worked directly with my father for quite a few years.  It was difficult working with my dad, because I had to always perform.  So, if there was anything to be done, I was the first person to be yelled at, and I had to get in there and get the job done.  But, once I established my credibility, that I was a good worker and knew what I was doing, people didn’t bother me.  We worked as a team, but there was a trial period that I went through. 

Sometimes we would almost come to ‘fisticuffs’!  I can remember one time in 1959 when we were sorting logs at that time for M&B (MacMillan Bloedel) at Franklin River.  There were certain sizes we had to select out and isolate, so we would have pure loads of Cedar, Hemlock, Spruce, Fir, or whatever.  They were all diameter-driven.  You couldn’t have anything going in at fourteen and a half inches… even if it was clear and with no knots.  It was the size, and the dimension that was important! 

At that time I was loading, and I was slipping the odd one in.  My father was the hooktender on the side.  He was responsible because he was also the ‘side rod’ for the company.  So he was standing there having a cup of coffee, and looked at the load and said, “Those logs are undersized– take them off!”  I said, “They’re not undersized!”  Of course, that was the start of it, I couldn’t back down now because everyone was watching.  So I made the statement, “If you want them off of here, you’ve got to take them off yourself.”  Well, he was a big guy – he was almost six foot five!  So, he stepped from the yarder bulkhead over to the truck very quickly, and he was up on the load... and I was running off the end of it!  The fellow who was running the machine was blowing the whistle and hollering, “You better run punk!  The old man’s right behind you!”  I got lifted with a size thirteen Dayton right off the end of the load! I was nineteen… it was one of the things I remember that stays with me until now. 

My father was from the ‘old school’– he was born right after the First World War, and came through the Depression years.  Jobs were very hard to find– they would walk for miles looking for work!  He was raised in Chemainus, and they would walk all the way down to the Red Rooster, and then walk up the mountain on the incline there looking for work.   Sometimes they would walk five miles to work in the morning, work for a small gyppo outfit, and then walk home at night in the dark. 

He worked with a lot of the same fellows that I worked with out of Lake Cowichan.  He worked out of there in 1946, but historically, there were a lot of fellows that worked in Lake Cowichan in the early 1920’s and 1930’s.  They moved to other operations like Crown Zellerbach, and MacMillan Bloedel, companies like that… but mostly Crown Zellerbach.  They were one of the companies that employed a lot of Italians, Finns and Swedes.  Those were interesting times! 

My father had some very strong values about life.  He had a real thirst for information– there were always lots of books beside his chair.  He wanted to know everything that was going on in the world.  One of his sayings was, “If you don’t have time to do a job right, when are you going to find time to fix it?”  That was one of the things that he always brought up.  And we had to put a good day’s work in… there was no doubt about it!  There was no sloughing off… we worked hard!   He was a good teacher.  I worked a long time with my father, and that’s really where I got my start in the industry.  I remember a lot of years working at Franklin River and different operations with him.  My dad and I also worked at a gyppo camp directly out of Port Alberni. We drove down and stayed in camps all week, but we worked ten hours a day in the summer months. We worked half a day (four hours) on Franklin River BCFP 1967Fridays; then we could drive home on Friday and come back on Sunday night.

In 1962 I branched out on my own.  I actually had been injured while working for my dad, and so I was off work for three months with a back injury.  So I went to Franklin River, because they had the facilities to shower and cleanse my operation.

They didn’t have showers in some of these isolated, ‘gyppo camps’, as they called them.  They were pretty rugged.  We worked on float camps, and some of them had no bathrooms on the floats.  We had to walk stiff-legged, on two or three logs lashed together, and tied to the shore.  There was a sapling nailed between two trees and that was where the bathroom was. You took a flashlight with you to get to the shore at night. 

In the early fifties, the bunks still had the straw pallets to sleep on a cable support system and steel bed frames.  However, the Franklin River camp had nice dry rooms and a great cook house.  The rooms were nice, and were well-heated.  It was quite a difference!

Gyppo camps were generally non-union camps, so we didn’t have the support of the union, which was well in place by then.  There were some camps that were union.  However, there were a lot of camps that were in isolated areas, so we hired on and stayed there.  We referred to ourselves as ‘camp inspectors’– we  might go to a camp for two, three, maybe six months, or a year… then we’d move on.  We usually didn’t stay a long time at the camps.  It would only be for several months, and then we’d move onto another camp. 

In those years, you got known fairly quickly in the industry… especially in those years that were before my career.  If you were a good hooktender, yarding operator, or loader operator, word got around.   “Hey this guy is worth hiring.  So if he ever puts his name in here, grab him up because he’s valuable to us.”  So often we had to fly into these camps, or boat into them.  I can remember working over sixty days in a camp on a float, called Andrews Sing, down the Alberni Canal.  The bunkhouse was right on the float– it was moored in a small little inlet for protection from the storms and the wind.  We’d run a hose from the float up to an upper creek somewhere to get our fresh water.  There was no dry room, the bathroom was on shore, and all we had was a stainless steel sluice box which was on an angle.  So, the cold water was piped into that, and it ran steady all the time. 

At some places there was a ‘dry room’ that we hung our clothes up in to dry.  Of course, if we wanted to wash them, we had a scrub board.  But we’d have to boil the kettle on top of the cook stove, and that’s where we would hang our Stanfield’s shirts to dry overnight. The windows in the bunkhouse were always open because of the smell of body odors… Stanfield shirts and bone-dried pants!  Literally, they hung them, in this particular camp, over the cook stove.   In the morning when the cook was up at four thirty or quarter to five, he would have to push everything off to one end.  Then he would proceed to cook!  In some small camps they would have women cooks. They did at Esperanza with Robbie Hansen– out there they had six or seven men, and they had a woman cook.  It’s quite common on the coast today to have woman cooks. 

So we could be in a place like that for a month, three months, or whatever; then we came to town for our days off.  Depending on what the other crews were doing, we had to cut it short or stay a bit longer.

My dad wanted me to go down to Hillcrest and work for them in 1964.  But my father-in-law had been with MacMillan Bloedel for a long time, and he said that I had a better chance for advancement if I stayed with MacMillan Bloedel.  There was a huge opportunity to go on staff then if you wanted to advance within the company. It was a big company, and it was a good place to work!  I worked for twenty-eight years with the company, when I had an opportunity to go to Australia and Tasmania for a couple of years to install the long-line logging systems.  That was right around the beginning of the 1980’s, but things weren’t that stable then in the forest industry.  I decided that since I had so much time in, Naniamo River 1996 Snorkelthat it really wasn’t that good an idea to go down there, so I didn’t bother.  I stayed here and moved around within MacMillan Bloedel.  They were based out of Vancouver, but I was always on the Island.  They had large camps all over: Campbell River, Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Eves River, Sprout Lake Division, Franklin, Cameron, and Sarita.  I worked at all the divisions, with the exception of Eves River and Kelsey.  I worked at Kelsey Bay when I first started, but it wasn’t for MacMillan Bloedel… it was for a small gyppo

I didn’t work right at Franklin, but our area extended south– we were right at the back end of Lake Cowichan.  Our boundary came right down almost right into Lake Cowichan.  Historically, the railroads came right through the back end from either way.  It wasn’t like there was a great Fraser Canyon that we could go through to access it– it was all level road… from Franklin River camp and right down through the Valley.  We could look right at Crown Zellerbach from our operations; we had common boundaries.  Sometimes when we were falling new settings, the first man in was right on the boundary line; then it could be six months, or six years later that the other company was in there taking out that valley. 

They had a picture the other day in the Times Colonist of a tree– they’re calling it one of the largest Spruce trees.  It was actually two or three trunks that had grown together.  We had a Spruce in Sarita River and the Nitinat River (that was all Spruce bog through there and large Douglas Fir): but in Sarita we had Spruce that were over seventeen feet on the stump.  That was where, what they call the ‘germination point’– where the undercut would go in.  So at the germination point, the trunk would be fifteen and a half to sixteen feet in diameter, and then it swooped in very quickly.  I specifically remember these measurements on Spruce trees:  they were over ten feet wide in diameter at that first log cut, and seventeen feet nine inches in length. 

Those trees were so big that, down on the Nitinat River at the back end right outside of Lake Cowichan, some of the large trees that fell went right into the Nitinat River and we couldn’t pull them out with the yarder!  The limbs were huge… they were massive in size!  So what we had to do, which was really difficult, was get the tree to fall across into the river.  Well, the tree would hit and roll.  Now the weight of the river in flood would push against these branches.  So what we had to do was take a pike pole and a strawline and we would go underneath with a cable.  Then the cable would come through a block and we would put a block purchase on it; actually, put on what they called a ‘roll system’ to try and heave that full length tree out of the water.  We did it on the end of the tree because we could never do it in the middle: we’d never lift it out. So we had to go to the butt-end and gradually it would pull and turn.  As we pulled it out, we had to be standing there; we’d pull it part-way, and then we’d nip all these big branches off as it kept coming around. We would then take it to roadside and load it out.  We could work a couple hours on one single tree! 

With a tree, we would actually lift it with the spar tree, because some of them were so big that the log loader couldn’t even lift one end.  That’s how big they were! It took a lot of manpower and was very time-consuming.  It’s important to realize that some of those large Spruce trees had probably anywhere from forty-two to fifty thousand MFBM in one tree.  That’s massive in size!  It’s hard to put value on something like that from so long ago, but in today’s market they would be worth thousands of dollars.  Back then, it was worth only hundreds of dollars. 

Cathedral Grove has some large Douglas Fir, but there were other areas here on Vancouver Island that had larger Douglas Fir than Cathedral Grove ever had.  I have seen those trees!  Franklin River was one place, and the other place was Copper Canyon.  Back in the 1940’s, Copper Canyon had a logging camp that was seventeen to eighteen miles up an old logging road at the lights into Chemainus. 

When my Uncle Bill got out of the air force in 1946, he was a log scaler.   He scaled three large Douglas Fir:  the smallest one was about forty-four thousand board feet, and over fifty thousand in the largest one!  They fell those trees right beside the road… by the old watchmen’s shack in Copper Canyon.  He and I used to hunt, and we would talk about the size of some of those trees.  He remembered working in Copper Canyon in the 1940’s, and he told me that in a log average, one log would have a twenty-four hundred board foot average. That’s huge… that’s a big log!  

There were massive Cedar!  The largest Cedar tree that I know of was felled at what was then called Camp 5 for MacMillan Bloedel, where their railroad came in over top of the old Salmon River logging railroad.  I walked there with a hunting party: my dad and the Peltos, who were old Finnish loggers from Lake Cowichan.  Those railroad tracks were four hundred feet apart when they came in and ended, and it was right there that one Cedar tree was more than twenty-four feet in diameter.  That is one that I remember specifically as being one of the largest that I had ever seen on the Island.  On the west coast there were massive Cedars!  I don’t Loading with Snorkelkeep up with it that closely, but I know that Cedar is a very high-end product even now, although it has dropped off some.  However, as late as six to eight months ago, Cedar was left on the ground.  They had felled it, but they had a flood of Cedar on the market which drove the prices crazy… so they didn’t take it out.  But on the South Coast, right from the south to the north, there are tremendous reserves – Gold River, Nootka Island, Esperanza, and Tahsis have a lot of Cedar in those areas still. 

Of course, there was Spruce as well.  Spruce is usually associated with large river systems going down to the salt water.  Well that’s not entirely true, because we had Spruce settings that were at higher elevations, too.  At Franklin, more towards Lake Cowichan, they were actually up on a twelve hundred to fifteen hundred foot elevation.

We liked to have fun when we were working!  I think one of the funniest instances, was when we had a fresh new forester here at Shawnigan operations, although this happened a little past the time you’re looking for… it happened between 1972 and 1974.  Our forester at that time was just out of university.  Well, one of the family members had taken a tree home at Christmas time, and had cut it down and then they had sprayed it with the fake white ‘snow’.  So they had it through the Christmas season, and when they were done with it, they threw it in the back of their pick-up truck.  Then they took it out into the woods, and he deposited it on the Shawnigan operations… right on the juncture of a road system which was called C &C1, where the big power lines run.  Well, someone got the bright idea that we should phone up this forester, and tell him that there was an infestation of Balsa Wooly Aphid, which was down in the Klanawa  area of Sarita Logging years ago.  There were four of us, so we put the tree there and then called him up and said, “You’d better get up here to C & C1.  We’re pretty sure there’s an infestation of Balsa Wooly Aphid here, and you should have a look at it.”  Well, there was a little tiny spur that sort of went up on a little mound.  So us guys went up there, took our thermoses out, poured ourselves our coffee on the hood of our truck and were watching at the juncture.  Pretty soon, we could hear the tailgate on his pick-up come rattling on the chain, and the forester came flying in!  He came to a sliding halt, bailed out of the truck, and came running over.  We could see that he was going right for this tree, because it was right at the juncture.  So he went over there, grabbed a hold of it, and we could see him gesturing.  But, the look on his face… it was just like, “Those buggers are watching me!”  We were all laughing, and saying, “Gotcha!”

At Franklin River, because the crews were so large there, the mornings were just havoc!  People didn’t know where their buses were, so they would be walking back and forth looking for their bus.  It was especially difficult for new employees, because they knew that they had to report to the supervisors at the steps in the front of the marshalling building.  The buses were all in lines, so the supervisor would say, “You see that line over there?  Well, go down that line to bus K202”, or whatever.  (The buses always had a ‘K’ on them for crummy.)  Sometimes one of the crews would be short a crew member; and being a hooktender in those days, we were responsible for our crews.  So, if we were short a crew member, and we had a specific job that required additional help, we had to leave with whoever we could get.  The new kid would often have a little piece of perforated paper on the time card, and the boss would have taken that and put the bus number on it.  So we would say, “Oh, you don’t need that.  I just talked to your foreman, and he knows you’re coming with me.”  So we’d put them on our bus, and steal them right out of the marshalling yard! Once in a while, we’d have to resort to those measures to get extra guys out there, you know. 

We had a lot of problems with bears at the camp– the garbage dump was a mile down from camp, and we once we counted fifty bears in there!  Anways, at the camp there was a big deck at the back of the cookhouse where they kept all the garbage cans.  The truck would back up, they would slide the cans over, and take them down to the garbage dump.  There were large bunkhouses there with two men to a room, and there would be eight rooms.  Often at night, we would be going for our coffee at the coffee shop, and we would come around the corner of the bunkhouse, and be faced with a big black bear standing there… or they would be milling around on the deck of the cookhouse.  So the bull cook he decided he was going to do something about it!  So he got a big steel plate, and he put the garbage cans on top of it.  Then he filled the cans with water, and anything that came out of the cookhouse at all.  So the cook would be standing there, watching. The bear would come, stand on the plate, put its paws on the cans, and shove its nose in them.  Then, the cans were wired so that the cook would throw the switch, and it would blow the bear right over backwards!  One time, a little Italian fellow who worked on the grade there, was coming around the corner of the bunkhouse heading for his coffee, and this big black bear hit him right head on!  It practically destroyed him, and he went rolling off to the side.

Moving Grapple Yarder, Robbie RobsonThe food at the cookhouse was unbelievable!  There were big serving trays just loaded with all kinds of food:  steak, potatoes, vegetables, etc.  There would be nowhere to put any plates because the table was so full!  Everyone would be just wolfing the food down, and then someone would try to get rid of a plate, so they would say, “Pass this down to Harry.”  So someone else would grab the plate to pass it to Harry, only to find out that Harry didn’t want it, so they’d be stuck with the plate!

There was a lot of waste that went on too.  Some of those big fallers would take two, three, or four steaks– they would cut out and eat the eye of the steak (the best part) and push the rest off to the side!  The cook would put some of the food back into the coolers, and then they would bring it out for lunches.  But, we had to be really careful about that because I’ve seen some food that was pretty green-looking… we could have gotten salmonella poisoning!  The problem was that they would keep pushing the food to the back of the fridge, and they would sometimes miss the ‘due date’.  I’ve seen food put out that shouldn’t have been on the table really; but it was put there for lunches the next day.

The lunch room was open from about four forty-five to five a.m., so before breakfast we would go over and make our lunch.  Or we might go have a shower, and then go over and make it.  There would be big long tables – they were wide, and they were loaded with all kinds of sliced cheese, meats, lettuce, pies, cakes, and loaf cakes… huge loaf cakes!   The food was unbelievable!  So we would go in and make our lunch, and then we would have our breakfast.  It is absolutely amazing– I have seen fellows there that didn’t weigh any more than a hundred and forty pounds, but they could eat an enormous amount of food!  I have seen guys that could consume, without a doubt:  six eggs, a dozen strips of bacon, half a dozen sausages, four pieces of toast, sliced fruit, a bowl of porridge, coffee, milk and juice… that would be for breakfast!  Then they would make themselves four sandwiches: two meat sandwiches with lettuce, cheese, mustard, etc., a peanut butter and jam sandwich, and then maybe a lettuce and tomato sandwich, or something like that.  Then they would have two pieces of pie, four pieces of cake, an apple and an orange.  At least that is what I used to pack in my lunch, and I would devour that whole thing!  I was head rigging then, and I would literally burn it off.  I was six feet two inches, and weighed a hundred and sixty-seven pounds, and it was non-stop running.  So I could eat all that food, and think nothing of it!  Some of the men ate less, of course, but those of us that worked exceptionally hard, ate more.  The hand-fallers worked hard, and the rigging guys worked hard too… especially when we were packing coils on the long liners.  We would put a hundred pounds on our back, and we were running up and down the twenty five hundred foot spar all day long!

When we were on the rig-up crew, we had to be in a certain position.  By that I mean, the structure of the rigging that we did required that we had to be in a certain place everyday.  By the second day, we would be finished that job, and so we would move onto the next one, which was identically the same.  Well, the basic procedure was the same, but the tree would be a different size and in a different location.  Of course, the geography was also different wherever we went.  Some areas have more cedar, fir, hemlock, spruce, or whatever; and some areas are flatter, and some are steeper country… but we always did the same job.  If we succeeded, and had a very good day… we would shut down that part of it, and then we could tinker.  We would file axes, paint blocks up, or just do something that was light to finish the day off.  We might grease all the blocks up – it was a maintenance thing that we did at the end of the day.  We would also put all the railroad spikes into the buckets for the next day, for when we would go to the next machine– that had to be done every day.  Sometimes, we would just stand there and have a cup of coffee or tea, and a piece of pie… we were allowed to do that.  That was our ‘reward’ for getting things ready for the next day… but we always worked very hard! 

As far as our family life went:  we lived in isolation, so we didn’t have a lot of the ‘in-town’ things, such as fresh vegetables and milk.  I remember that we had to improvise as a young family, like when Karen was raised in a logging family.  She lived in out-of- the- way logging camps that were serviced by locomotives and speeders.  They have the speeders on display at the Forest Museum– crews used to ride with them from Port Alberni out to Franklin River camp.  My parents were also a part of a logging family – my sister and I were raised in isolation, and we moved about to all these different camps, including float camps.

I remember on Saturday mornings, we had to be up early and bundle up our babies and children.  If we had to travel, and do some shopping, we had a day to do that and then come back into camp.  So we would drive out from Port Hardy on a Friday night, and stay overnight at Karen’s parent’s home in Nanaimo.  Then we’d have to leave for Victoria for something, and then come home by late Sunday night. 

So we didn’t take things for granted, and we lived differently.  For example, we had to buy everything in bulk, and we still do that.  Strangely enough, even though we are in town, we still do Bernie LeBlanc & John "FISH" Salmonbulk shopping… we’re just used it.  I remember when we were living out in Franklin River camp for six and a half years, we had a big sawdust cooler, and the walls were almost two feet thick, and were full of sawdust.  So we would keep our potatoes and apples in the cooler.  Then we had a big chest freezer for meat, fish, fowl, and anything like that… other things we purchased.   We had to freeze our milk and vegetables, and we bought canned goods.  So for that part of it, we had to go to town. 

I worked hard!  The first six months of our marriage, I hardly saw Karen!  I worked so much overtime because, with it being the largest camp on the coast, there was a lot of rigging.  We had twenty-four track sides, and so I was required to work a lot on evenings and weekends.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to have two to four hours overtime everyday through the week.  Then on Friday night, I would have to do the maintenance on the lift and lower A-frames.  We would have to lift the whole truck up, and then they swing it up and over the water.  Those A-frames had to be maintained, and that maintenance was done on Saturdays and Sundays.  Sometimes, we had to go from Franklin River camp into Port Alberni to do our shopping for a month, because my agenda was fully clear that I was going to be working for a month without any time off!  We had our two babies then, and they lived in camp with us. 

Our children were always with us, and we always traveled on our holidays.  We would just bundle up the children, and away we would go!  We drove back to Ontario, as well as through the United States to California.  I got two weeks off a year at first, but it got progressively more as I put my years in.  To this day, we don’t hesitate to jump in the car, and go somewhere. Karen and I will say, on a Saturday morning, “What do we have going on today?  Let’s drive up to Campbell River”, or “Let’s pop up and visit some of our friends in Port Alberni for the day”, or “Let’s go to Coombs for an ice cream cone.” 

I was also very involved in logger sports for years.  I used to compete at the PNE, Prince George, Sooke, and Squamish… all those places.  I also traveled to Australia, down into the States, and all through British Columbia with loggers sports.  I represented Canada in 1972 and 1973 in Australia.  Karen went with me, and her mother stayed home and looked after our children.  That was the one time we didn’t take the children with us. 

The summer months were very active with forest fires, and fire patrols.  The forest would be tinder dry throughout July, August, and even September.  Of course, we would have to take immediate action if there was a fire.  Often, we would have someone invited in for dinner, and we would get a call at, say, three in the afternoon… they didn’t even give us time to get ready!  It could be in the middle of the day– we would get a ‘fire call’, and they’d pick us up right here (at Boat Land in Duncan) with the helicopter.  That was our ‘pick-up’ place; they would fly in and set down.  We would get someone to give us a ride down or we would take the company truck down there and jump on the helicopter and away we’d go.  We’d have to go right away out to where the hotspot or fire had started.

Many times, into July and August and even into September, the forest was so tinder-dry that you had to take immediate action.  So there were weekly fire patrols which we shared, and I wasn’t home most of the summer.  Saturdays and Sundays we’d take a full weekend, and then the next weekend somebody else would take it.  When we were short-staffed, it didn’t get spread out so far.  Every third or fourth week, we had to be back out on patrol for the weekend, so we were not spending that time with our family.  However, in the winter months, we had snow patrols.  So, we had to have a call in by five a.m., at the latest, because we had people traveling from Victoria who worked here, or in Chemainus, or even back in Copper Canyon.  They clearly had an hour-and-a-half, or three quarters travel time to their work site.  So they had to know that there was no work that day, and that there was a ‘call-off’ because of weather conditions.  This was the way it was in summer or winter.  It would take about a week, so I would do my regular shift, plus that added three hours in the morning.  I was usually up by about two a.m., because I had to go out to camp and drive the roads.  We also had to call out the sanding trucks– they were always on call.  They knew that they could receive a call at four a.m., because we needed one hour of lead time with our sanding crews to prepare the roads for the crews when they came out. 

That was part of my duty as a supervisor, but it wasn’t just the supervisors, it was the people that ran the graders and other machines.  If someone were hourly, then we would have them booked to come on their regular shift; but now they would be starting at five a.m. because they had to be out there plowing snow with the Cat or grader.  They knew what pre-arranged areas to go into – they might have two or three of them.  I would set my crews to go out there automatically at four a.m., so there were always two of them that arrived and left camp at the same time on their graders.  They would keep in touch by radio, so they didn’t need our coverage.  I would leave at five fifteen a.m., which was my regular time to leave in the morning– most times I didn’t get home until six thirty p.m.  As soon as I stepped out the door, I had thirteen hours.  If they had their radios on, I’d put a call in and ask them if everything was going okay.  Now, if I was doing the snow patrol, I’d be out there at two forty-five a.m.  Then I would have to be back at camp, and phone those people prior to five a.m., because of their travel time.  This was done on a regular basis.  Once we started on that program, it continued from late October, or the first week of November, right through until March. 

I also worked as a woods foreman.  I was, what they called, a hooktender and high rigger. Then they put me on what they called a ‘production trainee’– we actually spent time in dry land sort, in the falling and bucking, in the shop, in engineering, and then in the position that we were used to.  We then went back strictly for the training in the position as a supervisor.  When I went on as a production trainee, I was placed on staff.  So I was placed in those positions within my own structure for training purposes only, so that I communicate and learn what the other people were doing. 

I was very, very experienced, and I really enjoyed my job!  I used to do a lot of training for other divisions of MacMillan Bloedel in Qualicum, Parksville and Cameron Division.  Sometimes I would spend two or three months going into another division.  I’d leave home on Sunday nights, and go to Port Alberni for the week– my family would stay at home, and I would come home on the weekend… I would do that for two or three months. If I wasn’t training hourly people in their jobs, I was training supervisors in the art of logging– there was an exchange there. 

Aside from the training, there were a lot of courses that we attended.  We took quite a few different courses in developing interpersonal skills.  There were five and seven day courses where we learned public speaking, letter writing, etc.  The company spent a lot of money putting us through these courses.  There were also courses on fire-fighting training, and we went to different divisions.

We also had to do staff reviews every year, too.  We had to sit down, write a form letter out about where we wanted to go for our advancements, and what we wanted to do.  We also had to note what our accomplishments in the year were, what things we wanted to change, and what we had achieved in monitoring.  If we had given a goal of what we wanted to achieve in any given year, at the end of the year… where were we?  Was there seventy-five percent attainment, or did we drop it because of circumstances? Or did we excel in that area?  So these were all of the things that they did for us to prepare us for being a supervisor.  So we would write our own goals out– what we wanted to achieve, and where we were against that.  Then our immediate supervisor, who they referred to as being the Department Head, would take us in for an interview.  Then they would go through that letter that we had written up. 

There were a lot of initial adjustments to being on staff– things that we didn’t understand, and we weren’t used to setting goals and guidelines.  Also, now that we were supervisors, we had a lot of people that we were responsible for.  That’s a huge change from having five or six people that you are responsible for!  We now had the power to hire and fire a person– that was a big weight on our shoulders!  We had people that just want to be very good employees– they work hard, they’re there all the time, and they’re very successful.  In their own personal lives they’re very successful, and they’ve always had a very good career.  So, they weren’t the problem– it was the people that were ‘off-sided’.  They didn’t like the structure, and they didn’t like what the company stood for, so some of them could be very nasty with things.  We also had a period of time in the industry where there was a lot of involvement with drugs and alcohol.  I’m not happy to say this, but I had to terminate those people.  You can’t have them on your work crew, because the people that are straight don’t want that environment. They can’t work in that environment, and you have to make it safe for them. 

I was a member of EFAP (Employee and Family Assistance Program) for about eighteen years.  I was very, very involved.  I started when I was at Shawnigan operations, and then worked right through until I retired. In fact, I stayed on for about another two years after I retired.

So, what I did was approach those people, who were involved in drugs or alcohol, and let them know that I was quite aware of what their activities were and it had to stop.  Instead of just firing them, we could put them through the program. We could just go out, take that person in the truck with us, and the other employees didn’t know what it was about.  They suspected of course, but they didn’t know.  

There’s that social contact that’s always there between fellow workers.  They know if the son or the daughter or wife is having problems with alcohol or drugs, or whatever.  They need that support, and they search it out in their buddies, their friends, and their workmates.  That support is huge!  I saw it all the time.  We had the program in place that enabled me to go and set it up, where there was help available, and it was funded.  It was a wonderful program, and we had a very high success rate.  I was very, very proud to be a part of that!  I have some very fond memories of situations that took place, but it was starting to change– when Weyerhaeuser came in they didn’t support it the same way that MacMillan Bloedel did, which was unfortunate.  I haven’t talked to anybody, but I don’t think it even exists now. 

Although I’ve been retired for eleven years, I have had two or three things happen in the last three months, which have reminded me that I am still a part of their lives.  I still phone them up, talk to them, and reassure them that there is help out there!  I remind them to go and spend time with their family.  It’s tough when they are losing their loved ones to cancer, and things like that… it’s quite a change from my beginnings as a logger.  I guess it stems from my personality– I have always been a caregiver.  I have a lot of very close friends– people I’ve kept in touch with over the years.  Some of them have been friends with me for over fifty years!  We were always very close growing up– we went through high school together, and we’ve holidayed together.  Some of my friends shared a bunkhouse with me back in 1962… that is forty-six years ago! 

About ten or twelve years ago, I worked with someone just before I retired.  I heard that they’d had a bad accident.  So I called them up, and asked how they were making out… like how were they financially?  I feel almost like a dad, or a grandfather, in that sense. 

Just recently, a fellow that I worked with for five years prior to my retirement, has gone through three very serious back surgeries… he spent ten hours on the operating table in Victoria.  I’m still very concerned about him, so I’m in touch with him, just trying to find out if he’s okay, and if there was anything I could do for him.  I’ve also been able to give letters of employment or recommendation.  I’ve had people, over the years, that wanted to go out and start their own businesses; so I write a letter, and they take it with them to the bank.  That way, they can have enough money to buy heavy duty equipment.  My experience with that individual was a very solid experience, and I feel that they would be a good risk to give an advance of up to a million dollars.  So, now they will be able to go out and buy a million dollar piece of equipment in order to start their business! It’s a nice feeling to help people– I’ve always been like that… I’m very much in contact with people. 

I tried very hard to be fair, and we weren’t on our own.  There was an Assessment Referral Service that was in place, and a fellow by the name of John Wheaton was a part of it.  When we did our part of the EFAP process, the next level was the Assessment Referral Service.  John worked with all the union employees when I was on staff at MacMillan Bloedel.  So, when things got really out of hand and it came to termination of an employee, I would always phone John up.  This guy had gone through life, and he knew what life was about!  He called a spade, a spade.  In order to make sure that I wasn’t doing something wrong, or for my own personal reasons, I had to look at the big perspective.  So I would go and sit down with John, or I would call him up, and he was always there.  Sometimes I would call him up at six p.m. as I was coming home from work.  I would Never Chop Your Rope (Jim Shililito on tree)get off a half-hour early, and I would go and sit and talk with him for half or three quarters of an hour.  I would even sometimes to go the IWA reps or the camp chairman.  I always included the camp chairman to make sure that we both knew what the problem was.  I can’t get into particular things, but I can say that working together with those reps was a great and wonderful thing! We knew, at the end, if we had to terminate somebody, we were doing it for the right reasons.  I think that’s very important to do that.

Before I retired, MacMillan Bloedel was still a great company.  It’s hard to put a time frame on when things changed so drastically, but I definitely felt that I worked at the best time!

Working in the forest industry was one of the best experiences in my life!  There was so much that we did– both with my friend and best companion, my wife, and in the same industry where I first experienced it as a young man of thirteen years old.  I worked all of those years, and can see the changes that have happened in the forest industry. One of them being the availability of help for people… working to make it a better place.  I really liked and enjoyed the people that I worked with! 

I think it’s pretty hard not to have loved it, when you’ve had the exposure and experience that I’ve had.  It was my livelihood– my life!  There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done for the forest industry.  I liked who I was, and I was proud of my fellow workers… I loved being a logger