Winter logging in the Slocan Valley in the 1940s and 50s

George Doi talks about the hardships of logging in deep snow when he was a young man.

Burns Lumber & Coal Co. on Baker Street

Burns Lumber & Coal Co. on Baker Street

by George Doi

George Doi, a retired forester who grew up on the Slocan Valley, writes occasional pieces for the Star about life in the Valley in the 1940s and 50s.

Truthfully, I don’t often think about logging any more because it has been many years since I left the job. But from time to time I do think about those days when we were logging in the winter.

I don’t know how cold it gets or how much snow you get nowadays up in the mountains in the West Kootenay but over half a century ago sometimes it got so cold that trucks were kept running and skirts like blankets were wrapped around the jammers (skidding machine) with kerosene lamps lit and put under the oil pan.

As a faller, I would put on my snowshoes to move from tree to tree.

We used shovels to dig down to the ground to keep the stumps low, and made steps to get out safely. The exhaust from the power saw would be so overwhelming at times that you had to come out for fresh air. Any disturbance of a tree that was loaded with snow and ice would bring it crashing down.

You can’t run away from it. What I did was cling tightly to the trunk, hold on to my hardhat, cringe, and as I heard the roar of snow and debris falling, I took a deep breathe of oxygen and prayed that nothing big would hit me. As hundreds of pounds of snow and ice came crashing down you could hear a loud “Whoosh!” sound.

That pushed out the oxygen in the well and left you gasping for air. If all you endured was snow inside your shirt melting down your back, you were lucky.

Out in the open, the snowpack would be seven feet and sometimes smaller trees wouldn’t fall, propped up by the wall of hard snow.

I’m sure fallers Nick Evdokimoff and Jim Varney would have interesting stories to tell as well.

In the 1940s, I wore ‘bone-dry’ pants and jacket that were made from very coarse canvas by Jones Tent & Awning in Vancouver.

They were common logger’s wear on the coast, just as was Stanfield’s woolen two-piece underwear that was made in Nova Scotia. My I.E.L. (Industrial Engineer Limited) power saw was manufactured in Vancouver and also my Pierre Paris caulked boots that were popular with loggers.

Old Billy Carter in Lardeau Valley made my bear paw snowshoes. And the trees we were cutting were all native species to British Columbia. Truly all made in Canada. A great country then and it still is!

I was glad that woolen pants like the Humphrey brand and mackinaw jackets replaced bone dries. When the wet canvas jacket and pants dried they got so stiff that they would stand upright on their own and when wearing them you were as stiff as a robot until the outside moist air softened the canvas.

The chokerman’s job was no easier. He had to wade through deep snow and get down on hands and knees, wrap the choker cable around each log then go back to the cat and pull out the cable and connect all the chokers on to the bull hook.

All cat drivers were aware of the difficulties and they helped to make it easier by backing up their dozers as close to the logs as possible, so there would be less line for the chokerman to drag out.

One winter nearing Christmas I joined the skidding crew having lunch by the bonfire. We huddled around the fire toasting our sandwiches and turning our bodies every so often to keep warm.

We were working in five feet of snow and about minus 20 Fahrenheit. With the air quiet it seemed we were the only ones working in the remote mountain. We all talked about Christmas shopping in Nelson.

I wanted to add a bit of Christmas for the crew. With my power saw I carved out a ‘Merry Christmas’ on a log then sawed off the slab. Casey Obara helped me set it up on the snow bank beside our lunch fire.

That day at quitting time I noticed the Christmas sign gone. Casey told me that John Popoff, the logging truck driver, liked it so much that he tied it to the front of the load and took it down. He also took the two chairs that I made earlier with the saw.

Gordon Burns, the Passmore Lumber Company owner, liked it too and took it to Nelson, touched it up with varnish and with Christmas ornaments and tinsels, and displayed it in the front window at their Burns Lumber and Coal Company retail store.

I heard that for several years they won first prize in best-decorated show window. As for the two high backed chairs, Casey said that he saw them on Gordon Burns’ lawn on the North Shore. I was very pleased to hear that.

Mr. Burns and his son Bob were well liked by the workers. They were friendly and talked to everybody.

My younger brother, James, told me that Bob gave him many job opportunities like bucking on the landing instead of falling, and operating the company’s new Allis Chalmers automatic dozer.

And the other person that he praised was John Kinakin, a bulldozer operator. During lunch hours John would say, “Hey, Jim, why don’t you get on my cat and push the logs up on the pile.” And John would teach him the finer points like picking up the rocks with the blade instead of pushing them. “So John and Bob really helped me out.”

Yes, I knew John Kinakin well and I remember many other cat operators like Ray Kosiancic, John Chernoff, Pete Rilkoff, Johnny Lucas, Kenney Lipsack, Sam Mackie, Bill Majelski, Pete Sherstobitoff, Jimmy Jardine and Bud Browell. I wonder how they are doing.

Years ago I visited a real estate office in the Okanagan and the young lady I talked to was the daughter of Fred Kazakoff. I knew Fred quite well and often wondered how he was doing, moving from Winlaw to Penticton. He was a log scaler at Passmore Lumber.

Court Tarr from Kaslo and Fred Fomonoff were also scalers that I knew. Fred and I got our Interior Scalers License the same year, in 1953.

There were so many fellow workers I knew but the ones that I often think of are those that were slogging it out in deep snow and subzero temperature. Brrr!

George Doi’s previous columns:

Remembering Nelson in the 1950s

Slocan Valley logging in the 1940s