Gyppo Logger

When the 20th century was was young and timber claims new, Tom Porter split shingle bolts and sled them to the river. At high water, he floated them to mills on the Puget Sound. He felled the old growth firs, selected prime logs. The rest nursed hemlock and maple. Steam-spewing engines tugged and strained mainlines onto drums, skidding each log through underbrush and loading it onto hard-tired trucks on pole roads.

The War is over, now. This quarter section is Dad’s, to grub, to claim, hopefully, to farm.

I’m fourteen, my brother’s ten. We’re gyppo loggers, two boys and their dad, ignoring age and safety laws—equipment scrounged from scrap heaps and abandoned sites.

Valley fog is thick, freezes our limbs and evergreen foliage. We chop and clear decades of roots and decay smothering long butts to salvage one short log. On hands and knees, then bellies, ignoring mud and ice-encrusted clothes, we burrow like jackrabbits until we can stick one arm under a log. With all the strength two kids can muster, we tug on the haulback line, pulling slack in the mainline, trying to get it closer to our log. I unshackle a choker from the buttrigging between mainline and haulback. My soaked gloves stick to the icy steel.

We throw a choker over the log. Push its knob-end into its bell. It slips in my fumbling fingers. We slide the cable a half-turn on the log. Shackle it to the buttrigging.

I climb on the log, stretch to my tiptoes. Signal “Go Ahead!” to Dad standing on a donkey skid at the landing.

He fires up the little Model A engine, shifts into first gear, slowly tightens the mainline. We hold our breath. The log rolls free, inches towards the landing. There’s very little lift from a bullblock halfway up a spar tree.

There’s no romance, no money, no future in gyppo logging. There must be a better job in February.