RIGGING SHACK "CLASSIC"

(This column originally appeared in the November 1974 edition of Loggers World.)

Otto is a logger who falls timber. He works for Weyerhaeuser, Grays River. He lives at Cathlamet. He is a Finn.

Recently I received a book about Finnish people and gave it to Otto. He was very interested in the book. He heaped praise on author Walter Mattila.

Somewhere the phrase, “Finns are glum” came up. Otto wrote me a letter and talked about this. The letter is gone-so I’m talking from memory, which is always dangerous. Otto said that the appearance of certain people may be glum but that doesn’t mean they are glum inside. These serious-faced people may be very happy, self-confident people who don’t feel as though it must show on the outside. They hold themselves in. They are more humorous, friendlier and more outgoing than you would judge from their normal expression. When you are talking to this serious man all this good stuff comes out. He doesn’t give out the same material when in a crowd of people.

I agree. Many years ago I had to work with a man who wore a serious, glum expression. Wore it all the time. Looked the same asleep as he did awake. A man would think that he worried a lot, didn’t have a sense of humor and was pretty miserable. This was not true. The exact opposite was true. This man was interesting, full of humor and had a fresh grasp on things. A pleasure to work with. He had developed a poker face and never played poker. But you couldn’t find these prizes of personality without digging for them. The rewards were worth three times the effort.
Back to Otto. To me Otto Oja has a grasp on life and living that is rare and realistic. He knows what he wants to do. He has much freedom. You can disagree with him and he allows you that without personally changing his feelings about the disagreement or you.

I first met this talented logging man 14 years ago. Since then he and I have exchanged at least one letter a week. Letters of freedom. We don’t need to answer each other. We don’t need to talk about what the other man talks about.

From these letters I discovered Otto is a fine writer. He says things simply and plainly and clearly. He doesn’t need to re-write because he writes right the first time.

I like the way he looks at things. I like Otto Oja.

“The thing I admire most is people who face life with courage, loyalty, and have a sense of humor.”

 - Hal Boyle

One of the first things I remember is my father as a young man clearing some land so we could raise a garden. It boggled my young mind to watch him carry and pile and burn large chunks. He was working in the woods out of Granite Falls, Washington. I was maybe six years old at the time.

Hal Boyle could have been talking about my dad. He had a family to raise in a damned tough time, and he raised a tough family. That took courage. Loyalty? Dad has the same friends and the same loyalties he has always had. He has been consistent to himself and to others. Sense of humor? He had that, he had to. Without a sense of humor any of us would go mad.

He knew more songs and stories to tickle, inform and entertain us than can be believed. It used to be a rare and wonderful evening when he and other loggers would exchange stories. Some of those stories, most of them, are locked in my memory bank yet.

There are thousands of men, maybe millions, like my dad. They go out and work-work every day-and they work for others, for their families. Year after year they put in their time and they share everything they make with others. Shoes, dentist bills, groceries, clothing and dozens of other things they give to their mates and their young.

It will continue to amaze me that this is done. That sharing is so commonplace. That people can take the constant whipping they do and come back grinning, and full of hope, for more.

Bravery is so commonplace that we don’t even notice it. People are hit hard and sudden by accidents and bad luck. They heal up, come back and are better than before.

Amazing. Hopeful. I agree with Hal Boyle, “The thing I admire most is people who face life with courage, loyalty and a sense of humor.”
When I was young we entertained ourselves-and did rather well at it too. When my dad and other loggers would get together they would tell the most exciting stories. I couldn’t wait until I was big enough to be a logger. My desire to be a logger probably started then and there.
Two of those stories stick in my mind.

One Saturday the super of the outfit came to the bunkhouse and told the donkey puncher that he’d have to stay in camp another day. The next day, the super, Charley, and the donkey puncher, Jim, would have to tear the fire brick out of the boiler and put in new brick.

This wasn’t good news to Jim, but jobs were scarce and he stayed over. Next day Jim was in the firebox and prying the old brick loose. Charley was outside and helping from there. Charley was constantly giving orders and urging Jim to hurry-hurry-hurry. Soon Charley and Jim changed places. Charley was in the firebox and putting in the new brick. Jim was outside mixing mortar, handing in brick and doing other things.

Charley was still ordering and urging and talking. This was getting on Jim’s nerves.

Finally he had enough of all this B.S. he could stand.

He reached over and slammed the firebox door shut and popped shut the latch. He hollered in and told Charley that he quit. He was going to camp and he’d send someone back later to let Charley out.

Jim got to camp and stuffed his pack sack full of his belongings. He slid into the pack and went by the shop and told one of the shop men. “You’d better go up to Yarder Seven as soon as you can. You’ll find Charley locked in the firebox of the yarder. Be sure to go up and let him out but don’t be in too much of a hurry. I want to be long gone before he gets loose.”

The other story had to do with Ben McClure. Ben was tending hook for an outfit out of Alger. It was haywire from the cook house to the tail block. Good crew and Ben was one of the best hook-tenders of all times and all places. The mainline was rotten and before when Ben had asked for a new mainline he was told, “Make it last a little longer, Ben. We’ll get you a new one. Just be patient.”

So there they were. Ben and his crew working with that rotten mainline. Break it and splice it about three times a day. Finally one day along in mid-afternoon the mainline broke again, and at the same time Ben’s temper snapped. He let out a squawl and grabbed that line and wrapped it around a stump four times. Had the punk blow it ahead and the mainline broke again. Ben did this again and again, all the way from the back end to the landing. He broke the mainline into about six chunks.

When he got to the landing he said, “I’m quitting this haywire outfit. But I bet that the next hook-tender will have a new mainline to work with.”
Is it any wonder that a boy raised on stories like this couldn’t wait till he grew up to join such a brand of men as these?