Bull of The Woods

By Don Janssen (Copyright Nov. 2017)

We are indebted to Don Janssen of Yreka, CA for sharing this story about his father who was a partner in ownership of Garland Hot Springs Resort in the 1950s when Don was a young boy.

To keep the resort going took a lot of time and money. Dad decided to go to work in the woods as a choker setter. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the mechanics of the timber workers. I understand the choker setter had a very dangerous job. After the fallers went through an area the crew would pull cables out from the drum of cables on a donkey engine and the guys would pull the cables around the tree trunk and fasten the cable tight. Then, when the lead choker setter said everything was set to go, all the crew got out of the area where the downed trees lay. The leader signaled the operator of the donkey who started the engine and high-pitched whistle blew and started the drum turning, pulling the
logs up and out into an area where they were readied to be trucked to the mill.

Dad said cable men and choker setters were experts. Everyone relied on them to do a good job. Somebody could get killed if things weren’t right. Dad said he heard of a guy that got killed by a cable that broke as a log was being dragged out.

Dad wasn’t used to that kind of hard work. He had to drag cables through brush and through vines and Devil’s Club and berry vines and mud and on hands and knees. His first week he thought he was going to die what with the no-see-ums and mosquitoes and yellow jackets. At least there weren’t any rattle snakes on this side of the Cascades! After that week he felt so good and strong that he could take on the world. He never felt so good again.

Each day when he came home Mom would have a tub by the wood stove and every kettle full of water getting warm. Dad would strip down to his shorts and step in the tub and rinse off the surface dirt. He’d step out and Mom and Dick would haul the tub out and dump the water. Then he’d step back in the tub and Mom would pour the warm clear water in over him and give him a good shampoo. Then he’d just lie back in the warm water for a while before a quick rinse and dry and into clean clothes. (I don’t know how Mom kept us in clean clothes.)

Dad could get along with people. He recounted a story: “The crew was working hard to get logs down and out of a difficult piece of ground. Devil’s Club patches, mud holes all over the place. About 10:00 a guy showed up at the high place where the donkey was. It was the boss’ son, Jack. He surveyed the crews as they struggled below and after a time yelled down to the crew leader, “Get those lazy bums to work or I’ll replace the whole lot of ya with some real loggers!”

Everything stopped. The boss’ son’s words were spoken back across the cut over land from man to man all the way to the fringe of uncut trees. The words stopped there, heard by Lars Starker, the bull of the woods. He was 6 foot 8 inches. Solid muscle. Marked with scars from years of working in the woods. Some scars from silly men who tried to knock him down. Bears were known to run away when they saw him coming. And, he had stainless steel teeth.

When Lars heard Jack’s words he jumped straight up onto a great stump and stomped from log to log and ripped through vines and thickets till he arrived where Jack stood quaking. Lars shrieked, “Are you the SOB that’s goin’ to replace this crew, cause if you think you know something, I tell you something. You replace this crew and I fix you so you don’t have to worry no more. Now, you go home to your Papa and don’t come back here no more.”

Lars’ words went out across the forest. All the men heard and watched as Jack climbed away from the donkey and stumbled back to the landing and left in a cloud of dust. The next day the big boss came back to see how things were and we never saw Jack again.”

People who know a trade well are the great ones who make the world a sensible place. If you’re a logger (choker setter) a tree could drop on someone if you didn’t know your job. If you’re an electrician you could burn down a house or electrocute someone. If you’re a plumber someone could end up in deep do-do.

I’ve always had great admiration for loggers. For a time my Dad was one of them.