Thursday, May 25, 2006

Forks and Corks

When I logged there, (Which was in the late 70s and early 80s, for a few months here, a few months there over the years...), the logging units were HUGE. This was before environmentalism had hit forest practices, so you would have clearcuts hundreds of acres big. And out there, on the Olympic Peninsula, they were STEEP, too. You can't get roads and machinery all over a big chunk like that, so they had to come up with an alernative to cutting a whole pantload of roads and landings and such - Not out of altruism, mind you, but because it was too damn expensive otherwise. Hence was born High-Line logging, and in particular, the North Bend setup, (So named because it was first devised in North Bend, WA, on the steep east slopes of the Cascades).

Now, before you get to the yarding and hauling point, them trees have to be cut down, right? So your Bushlers go in and fell everything, (You can tell a Bushler 'cause they wear flood pants, logger jeans cut short on the ankles, so there's no loose stuff to trip on, catch a chain with, or get caught in the bush when you're felling trees and need to get outta the way in a hurry...). They fall trees so that they're easy to choke, and so that they don't go sledding downhill after being cut - Far harder a job than it may sound, believe me.

Everbody wears Caulks, or 'Corks', which are logging boots with steel spikes in the soles instead of waffle soles. You can get the spikes in different lengths, depending on how thick the crap is you need to stick to. I got my first pair in 1979, From White's Boots in Spokane, Washington. They measure in 17 places, and build a wooden last of your foot. Any and all boots you order past that are custom made for you. In '79, mine cost $150 - I still have them - the uppers are just about perfect, just a patch or two, though they've been resoled about 6 times...)

So now the trees are down in your unit and you're ready to start haulin'. For a North Bend, you use a big ol' yarding tower, which is a huge, very powerful diesel engine with a bunch of steel cables, and a round steel tower anywhere from 20 to 80 feet tall. You build one road to the top of the unit, and a landing or 2 or 3, depending on how wide that sucker is. You drive that tower up to the top, set the feet and get ready. Now it's time to choose your tower anchors, which would be a few nice, fat trees right up there around the landing, and necessarily situated opposite the main line of force you're planning on hauling up. Now, some idiot climbs them trees, limbing on the way up, and tops 'em, and then drops a line, and a small cable gets tied to that, and hauled up, which leads to a bigger cable, and soon you've got big ol', (As in 1" diameter) cables leading from the tower to the anchor trees, (Yes, I am alluding to the fact that I've done this - I still own my first pair of climbing spikes). Now, your crew head straight down the unit along the main line of hauling, dragging another thin cable. When they get to the bottom, (Which might easily be anywhere between 500 and 1200 feet from the tower), they pick another big ol' set of 2 or 3 trees, and repeat the limb and top routine, and attach cables around them and to all of those goes one big loop with a steel carriage and wheel on it. These loops are set and left maybe 60 to 80 feet up them trees... This is now the anchor for your haul line, and you're about ready to go North Bendin'!

Now what you have is a cable going from the tower to the base anchor, and when the tower operator is ready, he winches that sucker in and the high line goes high and taut, rising up as much as 50 nor 60 feet off the deck. On that cable rides a sled with little wheels that let it run along the haul line; there's a cable back to a big drum on the tower. From the sled hangs another cable, to which Choker setters hook chokers, (Lengths of steel cable between 15 and 50 feet long, and usually 1/2" thick). One end has a steel bell sort of looking thing, and the other end has a steel slug - the slug threads into the bell and then locks with it when you tension the choker. Now, down into the bush goes your crew. You got the highest paid guy on the show in the Tower, your Engineer. Next comes the Side Rod, which is your field Boss, if you will, the top guy down in the bush. Next comes your Whistle Punk, who coordinates between the Engineer and the Choker Setters. Sometimes the smaller outfits will combine the functions of a Side Rod and Whistle Punk, which actually makes sense, since if you ask any Choker Dog out there, they'll tell you that all Whistle Punks are pricks, and Side Rods never do jack shit... (Yeah, I set chokers, too).

OK, so we start out at the bottom, generally, and work up and out from the mainline. Choker Setters head into the bush trailing chokers, unless your Engineer is a good guy and offers to send 'em down on the sled. The rest is easy. The side rod says "Gimme four" or however many trees he thinks the rig can handle, which of course depends on the size of the trees, right? If your trees are real big, you might have had a crew come through and top 'em and limb a little and section 'em a little, but more times than not, you're gonna be hauling the whole damn tree. Choker setters crawl and climb and dig through the brush, and choosing a point more or less at the middle of the tree's length, they throw chokers around them suckers, get the other end however they can, lock up the choker, and bring the bitter end to the crown on the down line from the sled and hook 'em up. Then the Choker Dogs yell, "Good!" or whatever, if they get a chance. The high line, semi-taut, is kinda hovering over wherever it is you're working.

In a perfect world, everybody calmly gets out of the way, and up the logs go - But it never works that way. Time is money, and nobody makes nothin' sittin' around, and the quicker them logs are on a truck headed for the mill, the more money the boss makes, and the happier he is - Happy Boss Good, Unhappy Boss Bad, got it? Whistle Punks are forever calling Choker Setters slug asses, and Choker Setters are forever believing that Whistle Punks are trying to kill them, and Side Rods hate everybody. Engineers don't care, 'cause they're sitting in climate controlled splendor, in a comfy chair, and not crawling through brush on a 40 degree slope, wearing soaked rain gear and boots. God save you all if the boss comes and actually gets out of the truck...

In my day, (Gawd, does that sound like, "Back in Whiskey Whiskey Deuce.."?), the Whistle Punks and Engineers did not have radios, they had a whistle, and that's why them guys got called what they did. One toot means 'Send It', 2 means 'Stop', 3 means 'Pick It Up', 4 means 'Take It', 5 means 'Drop It', and DOOT-DOOT-DOOT-DOOT-DOOT DOOT-DOOT means either lunch or that's all for today, folks!. No, I'm not making this up. So, you're kind of standing there, kind of too close to the log you just got finished choking, and you hear DOOT-DOOT-DOOT! Shit! You run and dive and clamber like a mad man as the donkey winds up and yanks all those many, many thousands of pounds of wood right off the ground and up into a swinging, very heavy, very F'ing dangerous mass over your head... F'ing Punk!! You yell, but he's over there giggling and punching up DOOT-DOOT-DOOT-DOOT, and that load goes winging up the hill. Now, they weren't all psychotic, mind you, but neither were they exactly Rhodes Scholars either, ya know? You can't blame the Engineer, because, well, it's not his fault, and it would be patently foolish maybe fatal, to do so, even if it was, right? Plenty of people got hurt or killed, it happened all the time. I was watching my friend Kevin, with his hand on the crown, (What you hook the choker ends to, the thingy that gets hauled up by the sled), when the whistle blew and he lost 3 fingers, just like that. He got 'em sewed back on, and he even still plays guitar, but that's still no fun, ya know?
Any time the system is under tension, a sensible person wouldn't want to be anywhere near it, because after all, it's a bunch of steel cables anchored to things, put together by a bunch of humans. They can and do break, snap, unravel, or cut loose, and when that happens, well, saying it's not pretty is putting it way lightly, eh? Once you've heard a 1" steel cable break and go snapping through the air and brush like a gaint, very deadly whip, you never, ever forget it, guaranteed...

The logs make their way up toward the landing, and get dropped on or near it. There, Chasers take over. Chasing is usually done by the rookies, the very young, or the very old, because it's a pretty easy job. If you have a Scaler, they come along and measure the logs and spray paint or chop marks where they want them bucked. The Chasers limb 'em and buck 'em. Then either a log loader, (Like a 966 Cat with log loader jaws on it - Great tool, you can do all kinds of damage with one of those!), or a skidder, (Kinda the same thing, but made to hook chokers to and pull the logs around), takes 'em and get's 'em to a waiting truck. If your trucks are self-loaders, they load 'em, if they're not, the 966 does. Now, chasing is generally safer than other loggin jobs, but coming up from the deep one day, I did see a rookie limbing a big ol' log from underneath... Right about the time somebody was yelling at him, the log cut loose and ran his sorry ass over. Fortunately for him, the soil was loose and pretty sandy, and there he was, ground face down into the dirt, with a few nice gouges in his back. The 'Rod ran over and shook him and asked if he was OK. The guy sat up slowly, shook his head, (Eyes as big as saucers), and said, "OK? Hell NO I'm not OK!!!" and got up and ran off. The Rod caught up with him about a quarter mile down the road. The guy told him to screw off, and he didn't want a ride, and kept walking. A truck got him later and took him back to Forks. Next time we saw the guy, he was flagging on a highway work crew. I handed him a beer as we were waiting and told him to be careful....

And that's kinda how it's done. Now keep in mind, it's usually steep, the trees and brush are over-your-head high, it's raining sideways and 42 degrees. Everything is wet, cold, slimy, pointy, or hard. It's steeper than hell and very lousy footing. Your boots and your Helly Hansons will be soaked within 15 minutes of getting out of the crummy. You will be cold, wet, miserable, sore, and in danger pretty much all day, every day. But it's 1979 and you're getting paid $14 an hour, in cash, and you get paid every day, just like clockwork. 9 outfit out of 10 won't rip you off for hours. If you hate the sunufabitch you work for, you can quit, catch a ride on a truck back to town, go to the Vagabond the next morning, and have another job just like that. When you go home at night, you put your boots in your Peet boot dryer, and your Helly's by the fire, and have a few icy cold Rainiers. When your boots dry, you get out the mink oil and poop 'em up, and then, the next morning, you go out and do it again...

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