Del Norte People: Old-time logging experience with Big Slam at stake

By Chuck Blackburn September 16, 2011 05:06 pm

Editor’s note: Longtime Del Norte County resident Chuck Blackburn’s column appears every fourth Thursday.

As a young boy who ended up in Klamath, I was always amazed at the number of large logging trucks transporting their huge loads to the mills. As I spent the summer of 1949 at Shorty’s Camp with my father, I became aware of the number of mills just in that area.

The Robinet Mill was just east of us at Shorty’s Camp. The large Simpson Timber Redwood Mill was just east of town on the north side. The Cedar Mill was along Hwy. 101 North just west of town and there was also a small mill next to the lagoon at Wilson Creek.

I remember when I was dating my first wife Dort that her father and mother were living in a Clear Creek logging operation up the Klamath at Pecwan and Johnsons. Clear Creek was logging on the mountain above Johnsons and George Clark, who later became my father-in-law, was driving an off-road logging truck. Glee Clark was teaching at Pecwan School on the reservation.

I went up to visit the family for a couple of days and George invited me to join him in his log haul from high up on the mountain down a steep gravel road to a landing on the river where a crew cabled these logs together into a large raft. This raft was towed by a tug boat to a loading station below the town of Klamath.

We climbed the mountain early in the morning and arrived at the loading landing about five miles above the Klamath. The loader placed the logs in a safe and secure way on the truck. George tied down the load with cables and connectors. We stopped once to fill the piggyback water tank on the truck, which dispensed this water to the breaks to cool them down.

It was great to listen to the sound of the “jake brake” on George’s truck, which assists in slowing down this truck and its huge load. I will always remember that day with George as he safely negotiated that steep country.

During my college career I worked part-time at McNamara-Peepe Lumber with Jordan Kekry who was my boss. At Humboldt State I worked nights at Simpson Timber Remanufacturing Plant and learned many things. These experiences gave me a great foundation in work ethic which helped me be who I am today. My father Wes taught me how to fall oaks and madrones safely and how to buck them up and split with a maul. Loading and unloading many cords of wood with my dad became a part of my life. I, like many others, love cutting wood.

Missy and I were married in 1994 and a couple of years later we bought an old cabin on six acres north of our home and its property. I approached a good friend, Bob Stevens, who logged for Miller-Rellim Timber, to see if we could log three small plots on our upper property. Bob had his own cat and it was run by Mark Robson. We employed a forester from Miller-Rellim to put together the logging permit. We made a logging deal verbally and with a handshake.

Part of the deal was that I would help buck and limb the fallen timber for no pay. Bob knew why I wanted to be a part of this operation. Bob and Mark worked really well together and both of us watched the “Old Pro” sight out each fir tree to lay that tree right on a mark. Mark and I would quickly jump on a fallen log and delimb the tree from opposite ends. Bob would work with Mark on the proper length of logs that would later be loaded on a truck. We mainly logged on weekends when Bob and Mark were not working for the timber company.

We were logging a small area at the top of a steep hill behind our newly purchased upper cabin. Bob laid out a plan to fall about a dozen trees. He laid down in a pattern side hill and all in the same pattern. There was one tree remaining, about two feet in diameter. Mark looked at the tree and told Bob that he couldn’t fall it in that same line. Bob told Mark he was wrong and Mark responded, “I’ll bet a Big Slam that you can’t fall that tree on that line.” Bob said, “You’re on.” A Big Slam was a soda pop-type drink.

Bob sighted the tree with his “Plum Bob” and started his undercut. He stopped and looked and changed the undercut a little. Bob went to the backside and started the falling cut. He stopped and grabbed a plastic wedge and pounded it into the cut. Bob cut in short bursts, and pounding the wedge continued.

Mark was looking at me and laughing at Bob and said, “No way, Bob, Big Slam for me.” Bob was wringing wet on this hot day and sighted the tree again. He grabbed the chain saw and went straight in with the end of the saw right next to the wedge.

The tree shuddered slightly and Bob smiled. Another touch of the saw and the tree shook, then tipped side-hill right in line with the other fallen trees. Mark gasped and bumped Bob in the shoulder out of respect and friendship and told him he would buy him a Big Slam. We all took a short break and sat on several stumps and talked “logger talk.” It was fun to be with these two great Del Norters.

What an experience for me to be a part of our logging heritage. There are so many of these stories out there and I hope that many of our legends will share their logging tales.

Thanks, Bob and Mark, for sharing with me.

Chuck Blackburn can be reached at  954-7121.