John and I were going to cut up a madrona log off Pillsbury Road, South of Burton. I was telling him about working for Bill Poderenko up the Yahk River valley in B.C., next to the border with Alberta. Bill had a crew of five and we were working a small mill on a side hill, cutting railroad ties to be loaded onto railroad cars on a siding near the town of Yahk. Bill ran the mill and we either supplied the saw with logs or pulled the cut ties on six inches of ice, using a picaroon to stack them for the loader to haul to the truck. The truck would then take the ties to the siding in Yahk where we would load and stack them on the railroad cars. The ties were nine feet long and could weigh 250 pounds or more. You had no footing with which to drag the ties off the green chain and onto the ice as they constantly tried to get away from you on the slippery side hill.Asthe afternoon wore on, Bill asked us to work overtime at the railroad siding to load the gondola. His way of paying for the overtime was to beer us up at the Yahk tavern before sending us home with no money to show for the time. I had a wife and two small children to support at the time and commuted 90 miles in an old flatbed farm truck on roads that were covered with snow and ice. The second time Bill asked us to work overtime for beer, I quit and Bill’s response was, “Go wait in the truck.”
As we worked to get the log out, John and I started trading wood cutting adventures. It was a way of life up in Ferry County where it could go 40 degrees below zero. In the 1980’s, wood went for $35 a cord, that’s 128 cubic feet. John was the county assessor and ran a small beef ranch and I cut and sold firewood year-round.
Mr. Hauglund lived up Swamp Creek where I sold him wood from year to year. I pulled up to his shack one day and got out to unload. “That’s a good load of wood,” was Mr. Hauglund’s observation. “I asked him how he knew it was a good load? “ “It’s flat across the back,” was his reply. Now, old man Hauglund had worked in the mines all his life and owned a few “glory holes” that hadn’t been mined yet. He had a lot of experience with wood as a lot of the early mine equipment was steam driven with wood fired boilers. A flat rear end of the pickup load proved that all the pieces of wood had been cut to the same length and that there were no grouse holes, the space between pieces of wood that a grouse could get through. If there were no holes between the pieces that a squirrel could get through, then it was a tight load and up to the unwritten rules of the life of a serious woodcutter in Ferry County.”
At that time in Ferry County,1980, old Fred Citi pretty well set the price of wood at $35 a cord because he and his brother Pete had been cutting wood the longest of anybody in the county. If the woodcutter pulled up to the Brown brother’s landing, where they were sawing logs to be cut into lumber, and if you were lucky and the brothers in a generous mood, Jim or one of his brothers might yard you out a wood log or two.
John tells the story of he and a mutual friend, Frank delivering a prime load of firewood….
“When we had unloaded..a cord of prime buckskin tamarak, .. the expected payment was to be laid in cash on the truck tailgate. Instead of cash, some feeble excuse for the lack of payment was offered along with a vague promise to ‘pay’ later.
The result of this failure of promised payment was predictable.
I had helped Frank when he would ask because not only were we good friends, but in his day job as a professional faller, he would every so often knock down a prime ‘pumpkin’ tamarack or fir and have it skidded down to the uphill side of a road. He would then tell me where I could cut and split up the log for my own use.
Frank just gave me a look and a slow nod after hearing the story and receiving no cash. He slowly picked up a round of wood and placed it back in the truck-bed.. I nodded back and followed by picking up another round and placing it back in the truck, knowing exactly what we were doing and why.
No words were spoken as we understood the business..
In the truck as we drove off, Frank just said, ‘never leave the wood till until the customer shows the money, never unload until the customer sees the wood ‘. I nodded in agreement.
John related another story; “It was back in maybe 1980…
“my friend , jim had negotiated a load of wood from someone we knew .. ‘knew’ as in he was a regular at Cassels Tavern in Republic and Jim would stop by for a beer after work. The load of wood was outside the tavern. He took a look at it and made a deal, as it was decent buckskin tamarac and pretty much a full cord in an overloaded ford f250.
Delivery was to be the next day and Jim being a good hearted but gullible soul with an actual regular paycheck, which was somewhat unusual in Ferry County at that time, paid cash in advance . Cash money on the bar counter. He later recruited me to help unload and stack the wood..the next day, when delivery was promised.. i would have done this for nothing but he also claimed to have a decent amount of beer and the delivery was conveniently on the night of our monthly poker game up at his place.
Delivery was to to be at four giving plenty of time for unloading and beginning the usual game at six. The usual poker group of four arrived more or less on time and the game began.
It was about eight when we noticed we were out of beer, had consumed the usual fare of venison sausage… and no wood had appeared. At that time, that jim passed on the fact that he had also given the wood guy money to buy beer and to bring a case with the wood.
The wood and the beer were to be brought up together.
Later, with the maturity that comes with age and making bad judgements.. we came to realize paying in advance for beer or wood and especially both was probably not a good judgement call..
The card game went on nevertheless, as jim found some beer stashed below a part of his unfinished floor. . A lot of nickels..dimes .. and quarters passed across the table into later hours.
Around midnight.. a low growling of a truck coming up a steep winding dirt driveway was heard..
The game being pretty much over with the losers vowing revenge.. the winners smiling smugly..we all got out to see what was coming up the road…
Sure enough.. it was the woodcutter.. and he appeared to be in poor shape to drive as he came up to a rise in the road and crashed into the chicken shed… bringing down a post and scattering the chickens into the night.. We left the cabin and gathered around..
True to his promise he had bought a case of beer but he had somehow managed to consume most of it on his way from town up the hill.
When we inspected the load of wood we found not only different and inferior wood that had been purchased.. but only half a load. That was explained by the truck tailgate that had fallen off halfway up the hill, scattering crappy wood all over the road.
Some discussion occurred. Not all of the discussion was gently done..
It turned out that after Jim had paid for the wood, another person at the bar had asked about the load… bought it and unloaded it off the truck that night.
The woodseller.., cash rich but wood poor, just went out to a slash pile the next day and quickly cut crappy wood. Delivering it at night was a way to hide the devious deed.
There is a lesson here.. somewhere.. maybe it is to never ask someone to deliver your poker beer and wood in the same load.
You had to keep cutting wood whether you had a customer or not and if you needed money right away, say for groceries or gas, you parked outside the tavern, walked inside and ordered a beer at the bar. Once warmly enjoying a beer you looked aroundfor a likely customer.
Another story resulted from a combination of wood cutting, wood selling, poaching and just plain bad judgement.
This particular story resulted as the woodcutter had also taken the opportunity to poach a deer at the landing where he cut wood and cleverly wrapped the deer in canvas and covered it with wood.
Things started to go wrong as he parked in front of the tavern on a slightly uphill slope and carcass blood eventually trailed over the tailgate. The other major misstep was that he approached several people trying to sell the load, but the one that was most interested happened to be a local game agent who had not been in the area long enough for everyone to know him.
The inspection of the load was made by Rod, the game agent and one thing led to another. Rod quickly put the circumstances together and after congratulating the miscreant woodcutter on the stacking of the load, issued him a game violation ticket. Others from the tavern came out and out and inspected the truck and congratulated the woodcutter on the size of the whitetail.
We never really knew what happened to the load of wood, but the woodcutters name appeared in the police blotter a few weeks later. Coincidentally and maybe not related to these events a pile of nice tamarack appeared in the game agents woodshed and the local Eagles Airie 68 served a special on venison chili for two weeks.
Woodcutting can be brutal and even deadly as our friend Frank found out when he was hit by a log from behind, he didn’t see it coming.
The wonderful log of Madrona up Pillsbury road was waiting for us and getting wet. John wanted to use a snatch block to put an angle in the pull and I would hear none of it. I wasn’t going to use a snatchblock, period. And proceeded to haul the winch cable up the steep hill to the snout of the log. John had already dished out the front of the log to make it look like a sled runner so the log would ride up over the brush on its way down the hill. I choked the log and headed down hill to the winch to guide the log down. The log was moving, but too slow, so I locked up the winch and started to back the truck down the hill when John cried out: “The log is going to roll;” as I tromped on the gas trying to get the log to jump the ditch and land on the road. It didn’t stop and kept on spinning across the road and down onto John Ernest’s back porch, inflicting some damage to it. Sometimes even the best intentions, “Gang aft agley.”