Wally Knott on saw and his partner Red Meyers at Meades Creek Oct. 1945 by W.H.Gold PhotoMOFM Logo
Thelma Godkin

Thelma GodkinWhen I worked in the bush, most people knew me by my maiden name, Thelma Emblem.  I didn’t want to do girl’s work!  I had worked in the sawmill right out of high school, but I didn’t like it.  So in 1940, when I was about twenty, I went down to the lagoon in Saltair where they had a log dump.  I met Grant Hawthorn, who ran a gyppo outfit, and he asked, “Thelma, would you like to punk whistles for us?”   I said, “You bet!”  

I first had to buy a jacket and a good pair of boots.  I finally found a pair of boots, but we had to have the caulks put on them.  I also found a faded rain hat down in our basement– we didn’t wear hard hats in those days. 

The next morning, I was picked up by the crummy, and away we went down to the lagoon, and up the mountain.  In those days, the bridge over the creek was just two flat logs– we had to make sure we hit the logs just right… my eyes were getting kind of big!  Then we went up into the mountains... oh, I loved the mountains!   I looked back towards Vancouver, and it looked like a sea of clouds.  Finally, we came to the setting where all the machinery was. 

Thelma GodkinI worked for a gyppo outfit, made up of a motley crew of about twenty men.  They only logged where the big outfits didn’t want to log, but they had a wood spar tree and all the equipment needed.  They gave me a ‘bug’, and told me what whistles to blow.  They didn’t give us lessons in those days, we just learned on the job.  I earned only five dollars a day – that is what they paid back then.  I was still living at home, but I paid my parents some money.

I worked on a high lead setting– it was fastened to stumps with blocks, and had a main line, and a strawline.  I had to help pull the strawline, which meant I had to wear gloves because there were sharp ‘jaggers’ on the line which could cut my hands.  I would have to stay with the crew, so by the time I got back; I was pretty well out of whistle wire.  Then I would have to gather it all up, and bring it back down!

It was noisy, but not as noisy as the sawmill!  Sometimes we would get a ‘hang-up’, and have to stop the work.  I remember one time when the engineer reefed on the lines – I blew the whistle, but by that time the whole thing had broken.  They had to be careful out there… there were big trees!  I worked on a steam donkey, and then on a big skidder at the end.  The skidder was one of the biggest machines in the bush… it was huge! 

It was hard work, and could be dangerous.  Sometimes the logs were quite slippery, and I had to be careful not to fall off them – some of the guys had bad falls.  I also had to be alert and watch for the turn coming in.  Sometimes I would switch jobs with the chokerman – he would blow whistles, and I would set chokers.

It was a very responsible job, even though I was just a lowly whistle punk.  I had to listen very carefully, and distinguish between the hooktender's holler, and a raven’s croak.   If I ever got those two sounds confused, and gave a wrong signal… a guy could get killed!  Thankfully, that never happened – no one was ever killed or injured when I worked there.  I don’t think I even missed a day of work!

Copper Canyon CrewIt was dangerous to get caught in the bight – that is the area between the cables.  If a cable ever slipped or broke, and you were in the bight, it would cut you right in half!  I remember when I was in the bight once, and I had my hat knocked off by a cable – I was very fortunate that I didn’t get killed!

Another time as I was sitting on a stump blowing whistles, a log that was being yarded, snaked towards me.  I remember thinking, “By golly, that’s going to land on me!”  So I jumped out of the way, and sure enough, it came down and hit the stump where I had been sitting.  It smashed my lunch kit, but thankfully I didn’t get hurt!    

The hooktender, Jimmy Gammie, would yell the signal and I would blow the whistle for the engineer on the machine.  I remember one time when we were logging at a very low place, and there were some young fellows hooking some logs.  All of a sudden, the log started to move with them on it!  They landed in the creek, and fortunately were all fine – no one got badly hurt.

I remember once when we were cold decking, and some guy unhooked the chokers.  All of a sudden, the logs started to roll… I think he only broke his ankle.  It was horrible, though – he could have been crushed!

Thelma's PaintingAnother time, there was a policeman from Duncan who came to help us log.  We were wrapping a stump to raise the wood spar tree, when the spikes came loose and whacked him right in the stomach.  He got up and said, “My name is Simpson – not Samson!”  It could have penetrated him, though!

One of our crew-members was nicknamed “Feet” because he had such big feet!  He was a black man, and he was our crummy driver.

Our days were long because we had to get up and down the mountain – we were usually gone between ten to twelve hours!  In the summer when it was hot out, we had to get up about three o’clock in the morning to get out there early.  There was more of a chance for a forest fire during the hotter part of the day, because the machinery set off sparks. 

Those forest fires were sure scary!  The trees burning sounded like explosions, and we couldn’t out-run the fire.  I remember ‘Feet’ driving us home – we would go by burning trees, and smoke was everywhere… I don’t know how we survived! 

We didn’t work in the deep snow, so in the winter I usually found other types of work.  Once I worked as a waitress in a café in Victoria, but I didn’t really enjoy it.  Another time, I went to work in the cookhouse at Youbou Sawmill.  I remember the men would come in like a herd of buffalo – we would bring out the food, and it would just disappear!  One day when I was serving, all these crackers fell out all over some guy’s shirt… I didn’t last very long there. 

I stayed with four other girls in a small apartment, and we would have fun going out dancing at night – some of them were good dancers!  I remember one time we went out dancing at Camp 6 – we had to take a boat out there, and we didn’t get back until six in the morning, and had to get dressed for work.  I didn’t go there again!

I saw lots of wildlife out in the woods:  wolves (which I thought were big dogs), bears, deer, and whiskey jacks.  I loved the whiskey jacks!  They would come and steal our food, and then they would hide it and forget where they hid it.  They were entertaining to watch!

Thelma & David GodkinI worked first for a gyppo outfit, then for Kapoor Logging at Shawnigan Lake, and finally at Copper Canyon.  Copper Canyon had a big logging camp at that time!  I helped rig the spar tree at times.  I also used to start a fire in the dead stumps using pitch.  We used to sit around the fire and visit– I remember them talking about heli-logging way back then!
Altogether, I worked as a whistle punk for only four years, and then I got married to David Godkin.  I was twenty-five years old when I got married, and I spent many years helping him build houses.

The most exciting thing that happened to me was after I quit:  I was planning to get married, and Thor Christensen, who was the head of logging at Copper Canyon, asked me, “Thelma, would you come back and punk whistles for us?”  I said, “No, I’m getting married!”  But that was quite an honour to be asked back, because I was the only girl who did that type of work back then.  After that, some other girls started to do that type of work, too. 

I think it is terrible what they are doing to the forest industry now.  But, I was very pleased with my career– I never caused anyone to get killed or injured!