Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
Nels Olson
I started working in the forest industry as a faller when I was twenty-three.  I worked from 1946 to 1983… almost forty years!    In the late 1940’s, I Nels Olsonworked as a scaler at Meade Creek and Gordon River logging camps.  I then worked at Hillcrest on Mesachie Lake for sixteen years, until 1968 when they shut down.  I was injured in an accident in 1983, so I decided it was finally time to get out of it.

My dad and brother were fallers– my dad was falling since 1924, and my brother started falling once he got out of the air force in 1945.  Then he went to work with my dad, and I started soon after.  My brother was running a two-man saw, called a ‘machine’, and I carried the ‘head end’.  We didn’t have the endless bar then, where you could take the head end off – it was just a round bar chain. 

So when we got finished with that, we went to the one-man bucking machine.  I was a bucker in the 1950’s, and I was working with my brother-in-law who was a big, husky guy.  Scaling involved measuring the logs, and then totalling up how many logs were cut into lengths. 

My dad taught me and my brother how to be fallers.  He also taught me how to hand buck.  There were times where there were two logs lying next to each other, and he couldn’t get underneath.  So, he would chop his axe edgewise, put the saw on the handle, and go back and forth until finally he got the whole saw underneath.  This was called ‘underbucking’.  He taught me that I should never hurry – if I did something wrong, I shouldn’t try to catch up … just work the day!  I always found that if I tried to hurry, I would do something wrong, get stuck and lose time. 

Nels Felling TreeI worked with my dad four or five years, and then he decided to retire early.  He was working as a pit man on a shovel, like a backhoe, and that is how he ended his working life.  He was sixty-one when he passed away from a brain tumour.  They operated on him in Victoria, but he never came out of it.  It was probably just as well, because they said that if he had survived, he wouldn’t be the same man as before… he was very happy-go-lucky.

Our crew consisted of four men when I first started, and then shortly after, it went to three men – so, there were two men that were bucking.  One time, I was with another brother-in-law of mine – we were both falling, and we had a couple of guys behind us that were bucking.  Finally, one of them quit, so we went on with just one bucker.  We used to buck a lot with the big saw – we would go out and take off the first cuts, so the bucker only had to take off the smaller ends.  Later on, of course, that was gone too because we used our own saws, and would just get one man to a set.  A ‘set’ was a crew of men – we first started with three or four men. 

Once we got out on the job, it was quite interesting... every tree was different!  I think that was one of the main things that attracted us to the job – it was supposed to be the money, but it wasn’t that much better than a mill worker …when you consider the fact that the mill worker worked twelve months of the year, and we were lucky to get eight (because of the summer heat and the winter snow)! 

We had bad places, and good places to work – we were lucky at that stage of the game, because the timber was still down quite low when we were first learning.  What I felt was wrong with the industry, at that time, is that some guys would start falling with no experience at all – they would just learn on the job, and we would have to teach them.  That is probably why, for many years, there were so many accidents in the bush!  We tried to start training people on the job, when I was working for Caycuse in the 1970’s; but they wanted us to train people who had been laid off, but had more seniority at working other jobs.  So, if there was a lay-off, we would be called back to go falling, and we wouldn’t be working.  So, we said, “No, that’s not going to work!  We won’t do that, unless you can guarantee that there is a falling department, and you go by seniority when the person started falling in that department.”  That way, the senior people wouldn’t always be working.

The biggest saw that I worked with was one hundred and forty-three pounds!  I worked for a short time falling dead trees(snags) that they would leave standing among live trees – it was crazy!  So, I started falling with the people who had the contract for the snag falling– they had small saws, and then big saws for when we worked in the bigger timber.  The small saws, at that time, weighed around one hundred pounds; and the big ones were from there on up.  When we used the small saws, we would leave all the big snags; so when the small saw would break down, we would go grab a big saw and fall all the big stuff.  The first time I went falling, smart aleck little me had just come out of the air force, and ‘knew everything’!  So, I tried to pick up a big saw by the side of the road, and I couldn’t get it off the ground – it weighed more than I did!  But, six months later, we were cutting shake bolts, and I was running that saw … I got into shape! 

They still had steam donkeys when I first started in the industry, in fact, I worked for an outfit here as a whistle punk.  The steam skidder had a tight line that ran across the valley, around a thousand feet, and they wouldpull the log straight up, and onto the landing.  They would have maybe four or five logs hanging in the air, and then bring them onto the landing.  They were big machines:  maybe five hundred to Timber!!six hundred horsepower steam machines.  They had to have a man on the landing that was bucking logs all the time, and then cutting them up to keep the boilers going to produce the steam.  But, later on, they took the motors out of a lot of them, and put in the big diesel motors; so, they were running four hundred to five hundred horsepower diesel motors.  They had them until the late 1940’s, when they started getting into the smaller high lead machines that they used later on. High lead machines were just average spar trees that reached out into the bush where the chokerman set the leads, and then they were dragged over the top of everything else.  The skidder was a much more ‘environmentally friendly’ machine, because it lifted the logs up, and didn’t scour the land at all.  Later on, when they were doing high lead, of course they dragged dirt, branches and you name it, over the logs!

They had Chinese sets at Hillcrest when they were based down near Duncan.  They had Chinese fallers and buckers, but they had their own camp and only worked amongst themselves, so we didn’t ever work with them; although, I’ve worked near them, and they are good workers.  At that time, they were just switching from the hand falling to the machines, and a lot of them couldn’t take the noise from the saws, so they quit.  A lot of white people, really good older fallers who couldn’t make that changeover, quit too. 

My dad, fortunately, didn’t have a problem at all – he had a bucking machine, and a hand bucking saw when my brother and I were working with him.  He would take out his power saw and start cutting logs, and then he would take out his bucking saw and buck a little bit, so they wouldn’t smash the machines.  I don’t think we went through three or four days without him knowing where that saw was!  He was bucking all these big logs with his machine, but then he had a lot of experience.

If there was too much snow, you couldn’t get to where the timber was, and if it was too hot, there was a danger of fires, so we couldn’t work!  One time, we worked for six weeks, and it was raining all the time – we just automatically put on our rain clothes, and went to work… we didn’t even notice it was raining!  Light rain didn’t bother us – it was all part of the deal, and we didn’t know any better.  It wasn’t until I retired, that I thought, “Gee, I don’t have to go out there anymore!”  We didn’t have too much mud, that I can remember… we were usually up high, and on a slope; so the water would run off quite quickly. 

I had some close calls while working, but most guys did at some time or another.  My partner and I were working right next to two other guys, because we had two-man sets at that time.   So, we had just finished our ‘end’ up, and were going to move on to another one farther over.  So, we were packing our machines up the hill, and there was a young man falling next to us.  What we used to do, if we had a big tree, was push it over with something else.  So, he was trying to push the tree, and the tree came down that he was trying to push with, and it wound up falling where we were walking up.  My partner was a little ahead of me, so it missed him; but I wound up in the hospital for awhile… I got smashed up a bit!  I got hit by a limb, and when they dug me out from the brush, I was in a bit of a hole. 

There was always something funny going on at work!  For instance, one day I was working with Gordie Knott, and I think it was Henry Lundgren … we had all gathered to have dinner together.  Well, this one day, Gordie snuck away, went over to Henry’s saw, and reversed the chain (put it on backwards).  So, when Henry went to work, he couldn’t figure what the heck was wrong with his saw!  So, he looked at it, and here the teeth were on backwards … it took him a long time to figure that out!  Another time, Gordie had a partner, Earl LaForge, who was a big, husky guy.  So, Gordie filled his packsack with rocks, and Earl dragged it all the way home … only to find it was full of rocks! 

We saw quite a bit of wildlife out in the woods!  One day, there was a bear sitting in the middle of the road, and we had to go out and chase him away so we could get to work!  Another time, a mother deer and her faun stood in the middle of the road, so we had to wait for them to move … we couldn’t touch these animals, you know.  We also saw a blue grouse standing out on the road all ruffled up – it was mating season, and he was going to tackle the crummy… it was quite humorous!  I also saw a wolf run across the road once, but I never saw a cougar.  So, I finally thought that I should pack a camera, but all the years that I packed a camera, I never saw a darn thing!

It was tough on my family when I had to leave home for work.  My wife’s family was in the forest industry as well:  she had two brothers who were fallers, her other brother was a truck driver, her older sister was married to a truck driver, and her dad ran a grader.  We went to school together – she was three years younger, but we were in the same group.  Her oldest brother used to play the accordion in a band.  They were a strong union family.    

The first time we first really got together with the rest of the union organizers, was during the big strike in 1935 or 1936 … I can’t quite remember what year it was.  There was a building downtown in Lake Cowichan that we used to call “Picket Camp”, because that is where all the picketers were staying during the strike.  After the strike was over, they would have dances there on Saturday nights, so this is where I learned to dance!  That is where I got into meeting people – my wife used to go there with her family, and we would have a potluck.  She said that I gave her her first necklace!  I don’t think that our lives impacted the union that much, we were quite young at the time, but we supported everything that went on … there was no question about that.  My wife was in the Ladies Auxiliary then, and they went down to Oregon for conventions – they would hold dances to raise money for the union.  So, both of us were involved in that end of the union.
Nels Packing his sawThe unions actually started between 1935 and 1937.  Myrtle Bergren, who helped write “Tough Timber”, was married to one of the union organizers.  She wrote about how they used to walk the rails, from Youbou to Camp 3, in the evening to talk to the guys in the bunkhouses – it was a good twelve to fifteen miles!  If the camp boss found them there, they called the police to chase them out.  They suffered greatly … they really did.  A lot of them used to stay at my parent’s place in the area; they would be gone for a day or two, and then come back.  They used to hike down to Port Renfrew, which is a long ways away.  They would hide out in the woods during the day, and then come to the bunkhouses at night to organize the men.  

Working in the forest industry was enjoyable – I liked the job I was doing!  As I got older, I thought about retiring earlier, but I needed the money for the lifestyle we led.  My wife went to work in the school with handicapped children, slow learners, and people like that.  She worked there for a couple of years after I retired, so I looked after the house and did some of the cooking.  That experience really helped me out once she passed away – I just took over!  I was a faller my whole life – I didn’t really know anything else.  I worked a little bit on the rigging when I first started in the bush, but most of the time I was a faller.  It was a good life, because nobody bothered us when we were out on the job, so we were our own boss, more or less.  I was fortunate that way, because I always had really good people for bosses.  They were called bull buckers, and they were good guys.