Voices From The Crowd: Just Another Day in the Life of a Timber Faller

I was working for Don Hood back in the early 80’s.  We were on a job off of Keasey Road where we were thinning a fifty year old Douglas Fir stand that had big old growth cedar snags scattered throughout.

One morning my boss led me up to the biggest snag on the claim.  It was situated just below the top of a deep canyon.  There was a skid road pushed to within 100 feet of the snag’s base.  The boss asked me if I thought I could wedge it uphill onto the skid road.

I looked it over pretty carefully, walked around the snag a couple of times, judged it to have only a slight downhill lean and told him I thought I could.

The next morning, with the boss home doing paperwork, I set about to fall that snag.

With the face removed I could see that it was mostly good sound wood with a little rotten hollow in the middle.  So far, so good.

The tree was five foot in diameter so it took a little beavering with the saw held at head height to get the job done.

I cut and wedged and cut and wedged until I reached the point where I feared to cut any more.  There was too much rot in the center to totally trust the strength of the holding wood in the hinge.  By this point I’d lifted the tree with wedges several inches and the downhill lean seemed to be gone, but it showed no inclination to fall either.

I cut a little bit more and drove my wedges in deeper.  Pretty soon I had all my wedges in, stacked on top of each other.  They were in so deep I couldn’t drive them any further.  I ran to the crummy and found a couple more wedges and some broken chunks and drove them in too.

The snag was starting to talk to me, snapping and popping deep inside.

I didn’t know if it was getting ready to fall over backwards, shoot off the stump like a rocket and disappear down into the depths of the canyon or what.

This was all taking too much time.  After more than an hour of beating wedges I was getting exhausted and a little frantic.  If the boss knew how long this had taken and I ended by losing the snag into the hole, he would not be amused.

I slammed on those wedges and cut a tiny bit more.  By this time I’d lifted the back of the tree about eight inches; I didn’t dare cut anymore and my wedges were buried.

The snapping and popping was getting intense when finally, with a groan, the big tree leaned forward into the face and with an incredible crash down through the standing timber, fell into the skid road exactly where I wanted it.

With a huge sense of relief and after a  little bit of rest, I set about measuring and bucking this monster.

The old snag was a little over five feet in diameter with hardly any taper.  It was missing several feet of top but was still well over 200 feet tall.

Right after lunch the cat skinner yarded our prize out to the road.  The next day the boss came back and was he happy!  You could see the dollar signs dancing in his eyes.  We left the job that night with those big logs on the road feeling pretty proud of ourselves.

Monday morning when we came back nothing was left but strips of sawdust in the mud where our old growth cedar bonanza had been.  The cedar thieves had struck.  We were outraged and heartbroken.  The boss was out a lot of money.

In those days old growth cedar for the shake and shingle market was the hottest thing in timber country.  Crummy’s coming out of the woods piled high with shake bolts were as common as loaded log trucks. Thieving was rampant and the roads weren’t gated  like they are now.  I knew guys that made more money stealing cedar at night and on weekends than they did on the day jobs cutting timber or working on the rigging.

After too many big fires the state of California outlawed putting cedar kindling on roofs, most of the old growth cedar was gone, the market petered out and another era in the local economy ended.