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Rick Phye

Rick PhyeI worked in the forest industry from 1954 to 1998.  I was quite young when I went to work with my Dad.  Those were the days when they were transferring the logs off the logging trucks, and onto the railroad cars.  Dad worked fifty years for Comox Logging & Railway Company, and that’s about all I saw of steam because they had a steam loader there. 

I was eighteen when I went with my brother-in-law over to Saltery Bay.  I got a job right off the start second loading with Dick and Bob McQuinn, and I worked with them for a number of years. I was very lucky; I went straight into a lot of jobs.  I’m not bragging, but I was a good worker!  I second loaded there for quite a while, and then Mauno Pelto who was the push  at that camp, asked me if I wanted to drive his truck.  I was only nineteen years old, and I said, “Yeah!  I’ll drive a logging truck.”  In the meantime, I had been breaking in with my brother-in-law, Stan McLean, on Irvin Olsen’s trucks.  I got a ride in at night, and then would go out in the morning with him, so I was getting experience on my own.  One day, Mauno Pelto came to me and asked me if I wanted to drive that truck.  So, I said “yes”, and was driving truck when I was quite young; but that is the truck that actually damaged my ears.  

It was a Hayes truck with a 275 super-charged motor.  The exhaust pipe went up through the hood, and the exhaust was just above the windshield.  We had a lot of steep ground over there, so we were always in second and third gear.  In the summer time, we had the windows open… I think that’s what actually damaged my hearing.  In those days we never had ear muffs, there was no such thing. 

When I was driving truck, I went steady all the time.  These were off-highway trucks.  The runs varied:  if we were in close to the dump, we got more loads and if we hauled from the back end, we got less.

I drove truck until 1958 over at Saltery Bay, and then we were finishing up over there and Mauno Pelto said that there was talk about the crew going to Nitnat.  So I went with Mauno over to Ladysmith, and he got me on his brother’s logging truck… his name was Esco Pelto.  He sent me to Nitnat, in the spring of 1958, and I worked there about three months until the Fall shutdown.  See, Nitnat was just getting started.  Crown Zellerbach had just taken over, but when I was at Saltery Bay it was Comox Logging & Railway CompanyNitnat shut down for weather conditions, and then the truckers got laid off.  So in the spring, I went back to Saltery Bay and I drove for Joe Bore until 1959. 

I was with him all summer, then I got laid off because of the snow conditions.  So I went to Nitnat on my own to visit all the loggers, because they were all from Saltery Bay.  I had been away from them for a whole year, so I thought I’d go up to Nitnat and visit Archie White and the rest of them.  I went out in the woods with Harold Custison– he was our woods foreman then, and they were short a head loader.  As we were driving out in the woods, he said, “Rick, how about using my boots today and going head loader?”  I said, “Oh no, Custie!  I’m on a holiday… I didn’t come here to work!  I just came here to visit the guys, and then I’m going home.”  But he said, “Come on, I need you!  Put my boots on.”  So I put the boots on, and I got hired on– so I stayed there.

We could drive into the camp at Nitnat then.  When I first went there, the road went into the woods just two or three miles.  So when I went out there that morning on that truck of Pelto's, I just couldn’t believe the size of the logs… they were so big!

At the side there was a mobile machine with a boom on it, and a set of tongs on the end.  The second loaders stayed on the ground, and if the head loader wanted a certain log, or logs, then the second loader would take those tongs and put them on a log, and they would go onto the truck.  The head loader was the guy who was on top of the truck – he was the boss of the two guys, well actually, the engineer too… but lots of engineers didn’t like that.  The head loader used signals to communicate.  When we wanted to log against the stake on a side, we would wait until the operator swung around with a log,  and give a hand signal so he knew right away in his head how we had to put that log– it was all signals.

I was head loader on a Washington Track Loader in Nitnat, and Bob McQuinn was a loader.  I had several second loaders… one was John Miller, and sometimes my brothers.  We were loading a big flat up there, and we had four trucks.  We figured out that those four trucks, on their second trip, had to be out by ten thirty to get back and get loaded for their second round trip by twelve o’clock.  We had it figured out that they would all be out by two thirty for the third trip, and then they could make the next trip back for the fourth trip.  So, that was four trucks, and we used to get sixteen loads a day there!  John McQuinn was a brother to Bob and Dick McQuinn.  He was pushing camp at Nitnat at that time, and he’d walk up there with his hands in his pockets and say to me, “How many loads you got there, Rick?”  I’d say, “Oh, I’ve got twelve.”  He’d say, “You should have had thirteen.”  In that period of time, we did get two days of eighteen and one day of nineteen with the four trucks, but things had to go pretty good to get it!

My brother-in-law, Archie White, was very quick on his feet, and he wasn’t lazy– I learned a lot of it from Archie.  I learned to be quick on my feet, and a good worker also.  I was always very competitive, right up to my very last years in the woods.

We were in good shape!  When we (John Miller, Ralph White, Barry Smith, and I) stayed in the bunkhouse in Nitnat, we used to go down and play badminton in the hall until around 10 p.m..  Then we would come back to the bunkhouse, sit around, and have a coffee or beer… that was our day!  We played lots of cards.

In my life, I had lots of play– I played jokes on a lot of people!  One day, we were having lunch on top of a track loader, and there were a couple of truck drivers there.  Bob McQuinn was there– he had his hat off and he was bald.  I stayed in the bunkhouse, and I was sitting behind him.  I had a big peanut butter and jam sandwich, and I couldn’t help but smack that on top of his head!  At the same time, I jumped from the loader and got the heck out of there!

Nitnat was pretty good for the weather.  There was always a lot of snow, but we worked pretty steady there.  Sometimes we were off for fire season.  I remember once we had a fire there on Branch 2, and we were supposed to go over and fight the fire with the rest of the guys.  Instead, the three of us tied our nozzle to a tree out there, and then we took off, and went down to the Nitinat River – we spent the day fishing!  We had our fishing gear with us… we had planned to take off and go fishing.  Well, we caught a steelhead, and on the way back to the crummy we ran into John McQuinn who was the boss there.  He said, “Where have you guys been all day?”  And we said, “Well, we’ve been busy.”  So, we gave him half the steelhead… he grinned to himself, and never said a thing!

When I went to get married, I was driving a logging truck at Nitnat.  I hauled quite a few poles to the Nanaimo Lakes, and hauled the low bed there quite a few times over the access road to pick up machinery.  It was April 11 when I got married, and that morning I was coming in with a load of logs around noon when John McQuinn phoned me up.  He said, “Hey Rick, hook up to the low bed and go to Nanaimo Lakes and pickup a D8 Cat.”  I said, “No.  Don’t you know?  I’m going to go get married tonight.”  He said, “You get that Cat first before you go.”  I said, “You know John, you can just shove this job up your ass. I’m heading home.”  He pulled that on purpose.  Everybody was listening on the radio, and they all knew what was coming.  I never took any guff from no one!  Like I said, I told John he could have his job, and they all laughed… they thought that was a big joke!

I met my wife in 1961and we got married in 1963.  I had a ‘58 Pontiac with all the chrome on it.  So in 1961, I went to buy another car because the transmission was going on this Pontiac.  So I made a deal with the salesman on a car, and I ended up buying a new ‘61 car.  I had to go in and make payments, because I never hung onto my money.  I noticed this girl behind the counter was always there.  So I asked her if I could take her out for a coffee, and she said, “Nope.”  I asked her quite a few times, and it was always, “No. No.”  But I knew she was going to the Post Office during the day and walking back, so I used to drive and time it to try and pick her up. So time went on and, one day, I went in to make another payment.  I asked her again, “Would you like to go out tonight?”  By God, she said yes!  A year and a half later, we were married, and I’m still with her.  She often came out on the log loader with me.  She’s a good wife!  We have one daughter.

It was over the Easter weekend that we got married, and I was back to work on Tuesday. A similar thing happened over in Saltery Bay: I asked the woods foreman for the weekend off, and he said “Okay”.  Then Friday came along, and he was already gone.  Mauno was there, and I said, “Mauno, I got the afternoon off.”  He said, “No you don’t.  You’re going to go back for another load of logs.”  I said, “No I’m not!”  And he said, “Oh, yes you are, Rick!”
 
So I got dumped; because I already had a load of logs on.  I dumped the truck, and parked it beside where I had my car.  I was cleaning all the tools out of my truck, because I figured I’d have to go look for another job – if I wasn’t going back for another load of logs, he was going to can me.  So, I put my tools in the trunk, but I didn’t notice him walking across the yard until he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Young man, you be back to work here on Tuesday.”  He’d seen me putting my tools away, and figured I’d quit.  So I had a job when I came back!

I saw one guy get killed at Nitnat.  He was a mechanic, and he was operating a crane truck.  I was right there on the ground, and he had just finished putting the logging truck tire onto the deck of the crane truck.  I motioned to him that I was going to disconnect the hook off of that tire, but he said, “No Rick, I’ll get it.”  So he leaned through the cab under the boom, and reached over to disconnect that tire; but he didn’t realize that he pushed the ‘down’ lever of the boom.  The boom came down, and it crushed him right across the back… it almost cut him in half!  He was killed instantly– I heard the boom crunch his back.  It was hydraulic with tons of pressure.  It’s sad because it was preventable!  After that, the company put a wire cage on all the windows, and that started the compensation going for putting guards on all the windows out in the woods, on all the machinery.

There was another time where a faller broke his leg, well I didn’t see him break his leg, but I was there… I was loading logs not far away.  They called for a crew, and so I was involved in that.  The faller was probably only three hundred feet from a road, but over a steep hill.  I would say it took us four or five hours to get that faller out of there on a stretcher.  Some of those places we had to go underneath some big logs that were felled – it actually was a blow-down setting.  So, we had to put the stretcher sometimes underneath, or sometimes up and over – there were six or eight of us guys lifting him up and over logs.  It was a steep side hill, and we had to try and keep the stretcher at half-ass level if we could so the guy wouldn’t be in too much pain.  It took us five hours to get him out of there– nowadays they would just hire a helicopter!

When I was at Nitnat, they got me to run all the equipment in the woods.  I was a spare operator there for quite a few years… I did it all.  So when I went to Eve River, I was quite a ‘handy’ person.  Some days they had me running a logging truck, some days running a grapple yarder, and sometimes running a Cat– I broke all the guys in down at the dry land sort.  I had the seniority, so I went down and ran all the equipment there. Then I stopped doing all those jobs, and went onto a log loader, and that’s where I stayed.  Once in a while they were really short they would come and get me to drive a logging truck.  So I was a pretty handy person to have– I always had a job.  I was at the top of the seniority list, so when it snowed, instead of being laid off, I would drive a Cat, or run a front-end loader, or move equipment.  I even hauled the big grapple yarders around. 

I worked thirty years at Eve River; I went there right at the beginning when MacMillan Bloedel was developing a new Division.  Eve River is out near Sayward, and was owned by MacMillan Bloedel.  I left Nitnat because they said it was going to shut down.  I didn’t want to get involved in going to camp when I just got married with a child.  So I quit and went to Eve River, and I worked Rick Phye designed the block on top to save wear on the cablethere right until the end when I retired in 1998. 

 I worked a total of 44 years with the IWA– that’s what I got my pension for.  There was a year or two that I could have lost because I couldn’t find any slips for it– when I worked for Joe Bore and Esco Pelto, IWA told me to get two employees to sign an affidavit saying that I worked for these fellows and I would get credit for the 2 years, I got two fellows to sign and I collect my full pension without penalty.

I actually had a good life all the way through my logging career. I enjoyed working at Nitnat– we had lots of good guys there!  There were three sets of brothers there.  There were the White brothers:  Archie, Ralph, and Bob.  Archie was more or less always head loading or running machinery. Bob was our yarder operator; he ran the high lead tower.  Ralph spent his life in the woods as a hooker. He hooked at Nitnat for a number of years.  And there was the McQuinn brothers: the youngest was Dick, then Bob, and finally John.  We used to call him ‘no-neck’ because he had no neck!  Then there were the Phye brothers:  Don, Doug, and myself– I’m the oldest.  And you know, we all got along one hundred percent!  We sometimes got into minor trouble playing tricks, but no one usually got too mad.

  I worked forty-four years in the woods and never got hurt, and I never went on compo once.  Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to be able to share my stories with you.