VMC LogoFrom Camp to Community: Cowichan Forest Life


Al Lundgren, 1987, faller, Bugabo Creek, Port Renfrew

Al Lundgren, 1987, faller, Bugabo Creek, Port Renfrew
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The forests of coastal British Columbia produce large trees. The temperate rain forest is perfect growing conditions for giant coniferous trees, some of which can live up to 3,500 years! Trees can grow as tall as 77 metres with a diameter of anywhere from three metres to six metres. These trees required experienced men to harvest them; below are a few of the jobs required to do these trees justice.

In the logging operation, the role of the faller was to take down the trees. Fallers often worked in pairs and in the early days used axes, then handsaws and finally chainsaws to get through the wide trees. An experienced pair could fall a three-foot tree in 15 minutes and a nine-foot Douglas fir in four hours. When the yell of "Timber" rang through the forests, it usually came from a faller.

Good fallers, the ones that lived long, learned to predict the fall of the tree and to spot escape routes in the forest. The job of the faller was dangerous. Without the proper skill and judgment, men could get seriously hurt or killed and incompetence could lead to wasted timber and lost profit.

A faller's arsenal would include a whiskey or sake bottle filled with kerosene to lube the saw they were working with so it went smoothly through the wood and kept pitch build-up to a minimum. Each night, the saws or axes would be taken to the filers in the camp who would sharpen the equipment. Loggers were often superstitious and would only take equipment to their favorite filer.

In many camps, fallers were paid in piecework; the harder they worked the more money they made. It was physically demanding work, either with the saw or later the heavy chainsaws. One logger claimed he had never seen a weightlifter or athlete with comparable huge ropes of muscles fallers developed along their back and shoulders.

The faller was partnered with the bucker. When the tree was down, the bucker would go in, measure the log, mark it into sections anywhere from 7 metres to 18 metres and then saw the log apart. The bucker was usually a one-man operation; in most cases there was not a safe spot beside the tree for a second bucket to stand.

Tree feller at the tip of tree

Tree feller at the tip of tree
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After the bucker would come the knotter and sniper who would cut out the knots from the wood, remove the bark and prepare the tree for the skids. In the early camps, workers, known as swampers, were responsible for clearing a path to the skid road.

The high rigger in the camp was a man unafraid of heights. The giants that were too tall for the fallers or to be used as spars were the domains of the riggers. The high rigger would climb the tree with a set of spurs made in the blacksmith shop strapped to his leg and a steel coiled rope. He would chop the branches with a small axe as he climbed. At the 60-centimetre diameter mark, possibly 30 metres in the air, possibly 60, he would use an axe and a small filing saw to take off the top of a tree. The showier of the riggers might stand on the top of the tree hundreds of feet in the air or sit there and have lunch and tea in a little privacy before returning to the ground. It too was a dangerous job and it was not unknown for a high rigger to fall off the tree.

With the advent of the steam donkey in logging sites in the 1880's, came a whole new set of roles for loggers. See the machinery section for information on the machinery used.

The engineer or donkey puncher ran the donkey. In the early days of logging, the donkey was run in response to signals relayed by the whistle punk. The donkey would often be out of sight from the logging area itself and the whistle punk would relay messages to the donkey puncher from the logging site letting them know when the timber was ready to be moved and to where.

The whistle punk was often a youth, possibly a new camp member or sometimes a disabled logger. Whistle punks jerked the whistle wire running from the logging site to the donkey in a combination of long or short blasts based on Morse code. This role changed considerably in the 1920's with the advent of electric whistles.

The hooktender was at the other end from the donkey puncher, in charge of the active logging site. He instructed the chockerman how to hook up the logs and move them to the clear landing and gave orders to the whistle punk. The role of the hooktender required a high degree of skill and some knowledge of physics. Through a complex arrangement of cables and blocks, set up by the hooktender, the donkey moved the logs. Stumps and trees not worth falling presented obstacles that could snap the rigging or cable if the logs caught.

The fallers, buckers, hooktenders and the many more roles men played in the logging company made up the community that lived in the camps.