Small Frye Episodes

Old Time Logging - Part Two

Leonard Lea Frazer

Mike gets his dream ‘yob,’ learns to skid poles down a steep mountain trail, avoids making jokes around Dave Henry and his six- shooter and manufactures tail-dogs from scratch.

The two Swedes were both large men and as we sat down to the meal of chicken stew, I learned they had sub-contracted the cutting and skidding of two thousand cedar poles from Jim Burgoyne.

Jim had built the pole camp, supplied all the equipment that was needed to get the poles to the railway siding and had paid the CNR to build the siding for him. It was ten rails long; enough room to load three flat cars at one time. The siding was known as Burgoyne’s Spur, Mile 86.

I watched the Swedes tie into that mulligan and after they had cleaned it up, they got up from the bench and, as the shack was so hot and it seemed as if all the flies in the world came in to get a feed, we left the door open and sat outside on the grass.

A set of ‘tail-dogs’ – courtesy of Jules Frye – L. L. Frazer Photo
A set of ‘tail-dogs’ – courtesy of Jules Frye – L. L. Frazer Photo

One of the Swedes was named Olie Poison. He looked at me, taking a box of Copenhagen out of his hip pocket, and putting a big load of it under his upper lip, he spoke, "So you vant a yob, vat, vel, vel. Have you effer made a cedar pole before?"

"No," was my answer, "but I am sure I can soon learn and I want to get back to work."


He looked at me and let out a spurt of snoose at a bunch of houseflies on the garbage pile just outside the door. "By gar, you don't look too big to cut poles but ve skol sure give you a yob of some kind. As any vun dat can cook and clean up der joint like you have, should learn to be a goot pole maker. So, I tell you vat ve skol do. I vill giff you a yob as camp tender and cook for von veek. Den iff you like it, ve skol make a pole maker out of you." Handing me his box of snuff, he continued, "Vat do you think of dat, young man?"

I took a pinch of his snuff, but could not hold it very long. "Well, Olie, I'll take it. What will you pay for a week’s cooking and camp tending? I'll take care of the horses, feed and harness them and clean the barn." Drowning another bunch of houseflies with a second spurt of snoose he smiled. "Dot's von vay of getting rid of dem darn flies." Then peering at me, he said, "Vat about ten bucks a veek?"

I was quite anxious to get a job so I accepted it. "Now, where do I throw my bedroll?"

 ‘Tail-dogs’ set in place on the end of a log. – L. L. Frazer Photo
‘Tail-dogs’ set in place on the end of a log. – L. L. Frazer Photo

As the little shack was so crowded, I told them I'd sleep in the hay barn and it was settled. I washed up the dishes and, after feeding the horses I made up my bed behind the barn on the hay (and I slept like a bear hibernating).

I was up early and had breakfast ready before daylight - hotcakes, bacon and eggs and all the time I was making breakfast, the two Swedes shook the shack with their snoring. But, as soon as the coffee started to boil, they came to and, snorting a few times, they climbed out, ducking their heads at the low door, both went outside but were soon back.

"By gar, Mike, you sure can get up in the morning," Olie said, as he got himself a hot cup of coffee from the big black pot I had boiling on the stove. "And dem hotcakes smell real good. Let us try dem."

With that, he climbed over onto the bench and seemed to enjoy the food. Both men complimented me on my cooking and commented that I would make a good addition to their camp.

They finished the meal, then they made up their own lunch out of what was left of the hotcakes and eggs and putting it in a five-pound lard pail that they had cleaned out, they turned to me and the other man (I learned his name was Sven Olson) and said, "Now Mike, just take it easy. Look after the horses and look the place over and we sure are happy to have someone to cook for us and next veek ve skol see about you making poles or skidding."

The two Swedes headed out across the creek to the pole limit. After they were gone, I watered both horses and gave them a bit of oats and then washed up the dishes and spent most of the day making a lean-to out of poles and boughs for me to sleep in. Now, I'd be quite comfortable. I then took the gun and got enough grouse for another mulligan and did my best to make the cook shack liveable and made supper. A week later, I was a pole maker.

One night, as I tried my best to sleep, I could hear Dave (Henry) and the two Swedes as they cleaned up the rot-gut whiskey that Olie had brought back with him from Swift Creek. They sang and raised Cain all night long and I knew none of them would be worth a darn the next day. About two in the morning, things got quiet enough for me to get to sleep. I awoke to find the cook shack and bunkhouse in one terrible mess. Broken bottles and dishes were all over the floor. There was dust from the dirt floor in everything that I touched.

I tell you it was a mess! Sven was on the floor under the table and Olie half on the pole bunk. Dave had made it onto one of the bunks and was snoring like a locomotive. They were a very sorry looking three men.

The place looked like a pigpen; slop all over the floor. It was too dirty for me to make a meal so I took a frying pan and a pail and made a fire outside. I made a bannock and some coffee and this was my breakfast.

I had enough bannock for my dinner and making a sandwich of bannock and some deer meat fried in the pan, I took my tea billy and lunch and watered the two horses. I knew I had to make enough poles to make a dollar to pay for my board so I took off up the hill to where I had a tree felled ready to make a good forty-foot cedar pole. I would get sixty cents if I could make a forty-foot pole that was straight enough so that a line extending from the centre of the top to the centre of the butt, would show that the pole was straight. There could be no rot at either end, and was thirty-eight inches around, six feet up from the butt and twenty-four inches around the top. I carried a small tape with me called by pole makers a ‘choker.’ This I used to measure the top. I also cut a small pole out of a straight dry fir and cut it off so it was five feet long. I peeled it, and then cut grooves in it every foot. This I used to measure the length of the poles.

So, as I worked from tree to tree, I had to pack my peavey, sharp double-bitted axe, my 513 Royal Chinook falling saw, measuring pole and, in my pocket, on a small piece of paper, I had my specifications to show me how large the top and butt would have to be for a certain pole. I very nearly had to know what a tree would make even before I fell it as each pole had to have a different size to it according to length. My back was still darn stiff and sore from peeling poles the day before but I went right at it and soon had my board paid for the day.

As I worked, I wondered just how would they get these poles moved down that steep hill to the railway and my little beetle brain worked overtime trying to figure out some way to do this and make money at it.

The cogs and bearings in my noggin at last came up with the only way to skid on a steep side hill and they came up with ‘tail-dogging’ them one behind the other in strings instead of one or two poles at a time. I figured I could skid ten to fifteen poles with one horse. If I could only come up with some way of keeping the poles hooked together till I got them to the skid way at the tracks.

I made five cedar poles that day which netted me $4.60. “Well,” I thought to myself, “that is better than being sick from drink any day.”

When I got in that night, the Swedes had the place liveable again but they were not feeling too good. Dave had a fair supper ready. I saw he was wearing his huge six-gun in a holster under his white cook’s apron so I did not joke with him at all as I knew he was good with that gun. I had seen him use it before on targets.

I said nothing to them about skidding but I asked Olie to get Jim Burgoyne to find us some sort of a blacksmith shop as soon as he could and I would be their blacksmith. This way we could repair our logging chains and other things such as shoeing the horses.

Sven looked at me and smiled, "You a blacksmith? Vel now I've really heard it! A cook, a pole maker, and a blacksmith. You sure are going to come in mighty handy!"

I added, "Sure Sven, I know how to weld chains and other iron. And, I’ve watched my dad shoe horses."

Sven wanted a trip to Swift Creek, as he was ready for a good drunk, so he volunteered to go see Burgoyne.

He was gone for three days but came back and said the blacksmith outfit would be shipped up by C.N.R. to our siding the next day. And, sure enough, it was on the way-freight the next morning. It was the first stop at our spur and the delivery also contained a big order of food for the camp. Burgoyne sent us a forge, anvil and all the long-handled pliers and tools that I would need to set up shop at once. This I at once proceeded to do. Olie helped me to build a lean-to under a huge spruce tree and that evening saw me putting in the first fire made out of fir bark. That is when I first invented the tail-dogs to haul one pole behind the other. I made half a set that same evening. I had picked up several pieces of hard steel clips that I found along the railway; hard steel that had been used to hold the rail steady but had been abandoned and thrown away.

Next morning, I was up at daylight and had the horses fed and had the rest of the first set made and was ready to try it out.

I hooked Queen on and threw a snub line around a stump. I quietly spoke to Queen, "Alright, old girl, you are going to make history today, so take it easy." And I eased up on the snub line, she looked back at me, "O.K. girl, take them to the skid way at the railway." She put her shoulders to the load and took off very gently. I snubbed the load any place that it seemed to get to running up on her heels and let off slightly when we came to a flat. Coming to the end of the snub line, I hollered "whoa" and tightened up on the line. She stopped at once and as she reached a small flat area, the entire load stopped and I came up and slipping the line over a stump again, we took off.

We worked our way down to the railway and as we passed where the Swedes were cutting poles, they came out onto the trail and stood there with their mouths open.

I stopped Queen and we sat down and talked a few minutes, giving the big horse a well earned rest. I told the Swedes, next day we would haul three poles and add to that one pole everyday till we were hauling twenty poles at a time.

Sven looked at me as if I were a bit queer, "I've heard and seen everything now. If dot vorks, you vill sure be our number vun skidder!" I assured him it would work.

It worked alright for the first trip anyway, except I found out I had to have a swivel between the two sets of chains on the dogs so if the pole hit a rock or a root in the trail, it would roll over it. The way it was, it would stop the horse with a jerk and I would have to pry the top up with the peavey to release it.

So after work that night, I made another set of dogs, but with a swivel in them and the next day I took four poles at a time, trailed two and had two hooked in the chain.

Every night I would make another set of dogs and haul an additional pole the next day till I was able to haul ten poles at a time. It was not too much for the horse as I built my loads so all she had to do was start the string of poles and I would then guide them in the trail. I skidded my poles then I cleaned up what poles the other pole cutters had made and Burgoyne was quite happy with my work. I made more money in a week there than I did in two at Lindsey's Spur and Mill.

When I had all the poles skidded and caught up to the cutters, I went back making more poles again and I did wonderfully. I never lost relations with Queen. I fed her and King, curried them and loved them up every time I had the time to do so and they showed their love to me. I've never been more close to a living animal than those two huge Clydesdales. Queen weighed in at 2,100 pounds and King was just under that at 1,900; huge animals but as gentle as kittens and twice as lovable. You would think that I was some sort of a God to them but I was with them whenever I had the chance.

I spent a lot of time trying to perfect my timber dogs and kept at it till I had twenty sets made. This would be all I would need to skid twenty-one poles at a time.

I also put in a lot of time figuring how to improve my skid trail. I tried to get the right grade so that the poles behind would help to keep the ones ahead going down the hill and at the steeper parts, help to hold the load back. All my horse had to do was steer the first pole. My surveying of the skid road made for a smoother operation.

… to be continued in next issue