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When the bullwhacker reigned supreme.

If you were to mention "old-growth"to a Pacific Northwest logger around the turn of the century, he might have assumed you were referring to the luxuriant mustache that was a hallmark of his trade-along with "tin pants" held up by galluses (suspenders to city folk), and calk (spiked) boots. As for spotted owls, they were just a part of the regional fauna--along with bears, elk, deer, cougars, and bobcats--that far outnumbered the human population in those endless, towering forests.

That forest, which ranges for a thousand miles in a narrow band of 50 to 150 miles between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains, was then and still is the richest timber zone in the world. The trees are huge, and they grow very fast. Fifty years ago, the Washington State Guide estimated the timber resources of that one state at 578 billion board-feet, about 19 percent of the nation's total softwood supply.

But the loggers who came west around the turn of the century didn't bother their heads with such figures. All they saw were trees so tall they claimed it took two men and a boy to see the tops, with underbrush so thick you had to swamp out a path to the tree before you could swing an ax.

The first outfit to start logging these virgin stands was the ubiquitous Hudson's Bay Company at its Fort Vancouver trading post on the Columbia River. There in 1820 the post's factor, Dr. John McLoughlin, established a little sawmill operated by two white men and 25 Sandwich Islanders.

It was this same company that discovered the most prized tree of the Northwest forests. This came about in 1825 when the Royal Horticultural Society of London sent a young Scottish botanist named David Douglas out to this remote wilderness outpost (see "The Biggest Sugar Pine" on page 32). Traveling alone through Indian country with a backpack, a gun on his shoulder, and a terrier at his heels, he is credited with giving the Cascade Mountains their name; but more importantly for our story, when he returned to London he took along a sprig from one of these great trees he had discovered. So his name is immortalized by the Douglas-fir-not a true fir but a "false" hemlock.

When the first emigrants lurched over the Oregon Trail and finally settled in the lush Willamette Valley, they regarded the great conifers as just nuisances that had to be cleared off to make farmland. Logging as an industry got its kick-start in the Northwest from the California gold rush, which generated a new market for timber. According to author Stewart Holbrook, Douglas-fir logging began with one Clement Adams Bradbury, a native of Saco, Maine, who on January 15, 1847, spat on his hands, grabbed his double-bitted ax, and took his first whack at the biggest tree he had ever seen, a fir eight feet in diameter near Astoria, Oregon.

But it remained for other capitalists, the "timber barons" from the East Coast and later the upper Midwest, to envision the enormous potential of these fantastic timber stands. Two of these men, Andrew J. Pope and William Talbot from East Machias, Maine, began the great logging migration in 1853 when they sailed into Puget Sound aboard the schooner julius Pringle. They selected a deep-water site near the mouth of Hood Canal, bordered by an endless forest of huge trees, and set up a sawmill that a year later shipped off a cargo of lumber to Australia. That was the first lumber exported from what is now the state's oldest continuously operated sawmill, still run by Pope & Talbot. And the picture-postcard village of Port Gamble is today a delightful replica of its Maine heritage.

In 1880 Thomas Merrill Jr., whose father had let daylight into the Maine and Michigan woods, came west to scout out the best timber in the Puget Sound area, bringing to the Northwest a logging firm that still operates on the Olympic Peninsula, Merrill & Ring. From Quebec came another timber baron, Sol Simpson, whose Simpson Logging Company at Shelton expanded into California's redwood forests. And from Nova Scotia came the Polson brothers, Alex and Robert, whose Polson Logging Company would dominate the Grays Harbor area.

Most famous of the eastern timber lords who migrated to the Northwest was Frederick Weyerhaeuser, born in Germany in 1834. He went to work in a sawmill at Rock Island, Illinois, in 1852, and then moved on to Wisconsin's Chippewa River country, where for nearly half a century his saw-mills and logging operations prospered.

But by the turn of the century Weyerhaeuser could see the end coming on the upper Mississippi, so with his friend James J. Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railway, he went west for a looksee at these great forests Hill kept talking about. He liked what he saw so well that he promptly bought 900,000 acres of it, and on January 18, 1900, incorporated Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, with an office in Tacoma consisting of two men and a secretary. "Timber" was dropped from the title in 1959, but the company still owns 5.6 million acres of it, making Weyerhaeuser one of the largest landowners in the U.S.

By 1900, every westbound train brought more loggers, mostly Scandinavians, to start whacking down the forests their bosses had purchased. They had dismissed tales of the area's 250-foot trees with 12-foot trunks as Paul Bunyan stuff, but the reality was overwhelming. It would take more than a team of horses to work with these monstrous logs. Sleighs couldn't handle them, and there was seldom enough snow anyway; and the streams were too rocky and powerful for river driving. Thus the origin of the famous "skid road" (not row," as some urbanites term their down-at-the-heels areas).

First the loggers had to clear a path through the voluminous underbrush into the cutting area. Along this path they felled the smaller trees, limbed them, and buried them half-deep in the soft ground, roughly resembling the ties of a railroad line. To "skid" the logs along these rough trails required more than horsepower; it took oxen, or "the bulls" in logger lingo-five, six, maybe 10 yokes of them.

This new practice brought upon the scene the bullwhacker, whose job it was to get these powerful animals to obey his commands. His badge of office was the goadstick, a stout club about five feet long with a steel brad embedded in its end. With this, and legendary profanity said to make the bark of adjoining fir trees sizzle into smoking wisps and fall to the ground, he steered his log train along the skid road. If all else failed, he might leap onto the back of the last animal in the hitch and walk the length of the team in his calk boots, howling like a banshee.

Such a man was Whispering Thompson, an Oregon bullwhacker so named because it was said that loggers working on hillsides a mile or two distant stopped to listen when he cut loose.

The bullwhacker and his sturdy team reigned supreme in the Northwest woods until 1881, when a logger in Eureka, California, named John Dolbeer invented the steam-powered donkey engine, from which a cable could be run out to the logs to yard, or gather, them in. At that point the oxen turned into steaks and hamburger. And the bullwhacker was succeeded by the hooker as the most feared man in the woods.

"Hooktender" was the proper word, dating to the time when someone had to hook the logs together for their skid-road Journey, but in the steam-donkey era the hooker was the boss of the yarding crew, and therefore the toughest. "When I hollers go ahead,' " boasted Highball Anderson of Grays Harbor, "the hemlocks bend double and the clams go down a foot.

In this "ground-lead" process, logs were dragged over the ground to the yarding spot by a cable run out from the steam donkey engine. Later logging progressed to the "high-lead" stage, which required hanging block and tackle from a tall, delimbed "spar" tree so that logs could be yarded in aerially without hanging up on stumps and underbrush.

This process brought on the most dramatic of all the loggers, the high rigger. It was his job to shinny up the proposed spar tree, whacking off limbs as he went, ax and saw dangling from his belt, until maybe 150 to 200 feet up he would saw off the upper part of the tree-taking care not to saw through the safety belt that was his only "platform"-then brace himself as the severed tree swung in a vicious arc as it was relieved of its load. Some high climbers might then, as a curtain call, roll a cigarette or even stand on their heads atop the spar, or relieve themselves on the upturned faces of unwary crewmen below.

Such a one was Haywire Tom Newton, a 20-year-old Norwegian who became the stuff of legend after he arrived on the Olympic Peninsula in 1914. Scorning a safety belt, he once fell 120 feet to the ground, landing in the mud feet first. Grinning and waving to his horrified fellow loggers, he was driven off to the hospital, where the doctors found nothing wrong with him, so he went back to work. For relaxation he liked to run through blackberry bushes barefooted, or go hand-over-hand up a 125-foot guy wire rigged to a spar tree.

Cutting trees down was the job of the fallers. First they axed out a notch as high as they could reach, learning by experience that they could be deluged by pitch if they started too low. Into this notch they rammed a springboard, about the size of a two-by-six with an iron-shod end, one on each side of the tree. They cut a starting notch across the trunk, often big enough for a logger to lie prone in it and not reach either side. Then, teetering on the springboards, they whipped a crosscut saw back and forth as another crewman drove wedges into the cut to guide the tree's fall. Once the tree was on the ground, the bucker took over, sawing through a fallen log that often towered over him.

These husky loggers were probably the most colorful workers the West has ever known, but their work became ever more destructive of the old-growth forests. High-lead logging yanked the huge sticks" so roughly that they were virtual battering rams, knocking down everything before them.

That kind of destructive clearcutting ended because it had to. Weyerhaeuser, always a leader in the industry, began hand-planting new trees on clearcuts in 1938, and a half century ago established the first tree farm, a move that would have been greeted with hoots of derision by those early loggers, who saw no end to the timber supply.

The bullwhackers, the hookers, the high riggers are long gone, replaced by sophisticated (and labor-saving) machinery created to maximize the cut and reduce damage to the environment. Logging is still one of the Northwest's most hazardous occupations, but the bunkhouses are gone and loggers are family men and homeowners now. Even so, today's woodsmen carry on a tradition which, though it may be less colorful than in the glory days, still upholds its reputation for individual brawn and endurance.

Those great trees that the midwesterners marveled at a century ago are still there-some of them. Just how many remain and what we should do with them is what today's argument is all about. If the loggers had their way, there might be none left in a few more years, gone the way of the ox teams. But as many a homesteader learned to his sorrow, the one thing the Northwest grows best is trees, so the potential for a bright future for both trees and people is there.

Politicians will almost certainly determine how the old-growth controversy is resolved. But whatever the outcome, the legendary nature of these magnificent trees and the men who first came to cut them down will always be part of the fabric of this unique land.
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Title Annotation:logging equipment
Author:Clark, Earl
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:The bird of contention.
Next Article:"Destructive recreation" on our public forests.

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