By Lloyd Jeck
By 1950, the piercing bark of the chainsaw had replaced the singing-saw, better known as a crosscut saw. The crosscut saw now hung contentedly on a wall. The slight curve of the teeth expressed a confident grin of satisfaction for a job well done. As an honourable recognition of the long ruling crosscut saw, horses now refused to snake logs from the stump to the landing site. Internal combustion engines now ruled the forest.
Hand-knit, wool liners inside of soft leather outer mitts protected my hands from the bitter cold. Those hands flitted from lever to lever in the frigid air that drifted through the open-air canopy of the 1938 Caterpillar D4 crawler tractor. I hooked the D4 to a drag of trees, which it pulled snuggly against the Hyster winch in the operator’s attempt to keep the trees out of the tractor’s rotating tracks. The operator addressed this maneuver as they broke over the crest of the 18 per cent downgrade. The 1950s logging site was on a mountain slope south-east of McBride. The logging process required moving the trees from stump to mill-site beside the railway tracks. The standard policy was to deck trees by the sawmill during the winter and, when spring conditions were right, we hired a small crew, and the logs were turned into lumber.
This was a small operation, quite a common occurrence during that decade in time. The operators were the chainsaw operator, my brother Cyril, and me as the cat operator. We were both single when we purchased the outfit, including the sawmill, from our father at the end of 1952. Our bachelor cabin, and the machine shed for the tractor, sat beside a small stream that passed beneath the railway near to our door. We brothers had an agreement on how camp chores would be carried out. I rolled out early and made breakfast, we each packed our own mid-day lunch, and Cyril prepared the evening meal. While the repast took shape, I serviced the tractor for the next day’s work. One other freezing weather rule was that we did not go to the bush if the temperature fell below minus 40 F degrees.
One other habit, which we considered to be a luxury, was that at noon time, when Cyril heard the tractor coming back, he would light a campfire and have a couple of block-chairs to sit on. We often toasted our sandwich and used up a half of an hour commiserating the feeling of cold fingers and toes. The skid distance was over one mile long and, after that long cold riding in the heatless operator’s seat, I appreciated that campfire. In December 1956, we traded the old D4 off on a new Oliver OC12 which provided more horses under the hood and did create a bit of engine heat back to the operator. One other appreciated asset of the OC12 was that it was 60-inch gauge, rather than the 48-inch gauge of the D4, providing greater stability on the mountain slopes.
Necessary repairs in the bush were problematic. Cyril made general chainsaw repairs on top of a stump. The starter coil spring sometimes required Cyril to shape a new end on a steel coil spring. So, he would heat the spring in the campfire and use pliers to shape the new end. Tractor repairs did at times require me to hand-lug a 30-ton jack up that steep hill. We survived this type of operation for nine years. Our lumber products, and cedar and pine telephone poles, found their way eastward and south to Canadian and US destinations.