Far From the Thundering Herd

Life was good at “The Dead End.” Louie and Joyce let Mike and Len and me live in this run down shack up Elk Creek from Heron, Montana for free. All we had to do was put plastic on the windows (since they were all broken), install a wood cook-stove and wood heater and find a couple buckets suitable for hauling water up from the creek.

Louie and Joyce had lived there while they built their house after moving from Los Angeles. Louie had a concrete contracting business there and saved enough to buy this little ranch in the Western Montana mountains, not far from Idaho.

It was high praise when Louie said, “you sure you’ve never done concrete work before?” as we finished the footing for his shed.

Coincidentally, Louie and Joyce had Angus cattle, just like Dawn and I do today. Their cows calved in the mountains and brought their calves down when the snow came. Here, we see our cattle every day. Louie even proposed to us that we build a hog confinement building. That’s as far as that went, but a strange sort of hint of things to come for me. The isolation from the hog disease pool would have been amazing. As it turned out, Dawn and my partnership with swine bought us our farm (with the help of three kids). I’ve tried to track Louie down to share where he helped guide me. But to no avail.

As savings started to dwindle, a friend mentioned some good jobs were becoming available working for a helicopter logging company in Idaho. The money was real good and the work was hard, but like a sport; a sport that actually produces something worthwhile.

In an area that rivals Mississippi for low incomes, we were the rich folks. When the weather got cold I left the seat cushion out of my ’59 Bug so I could easily take the battery in the house for the night. Where we were, the moisture that made it past the Cascades was ours. Old timers said if we could see a fence post at Christmas, it was a drought. Fog was a problem too, for the chopper. But with momentum and chains I always made it to work in that Bug. I had it easy compared to the log truck drivers.

They didn’t need OSHA on those jobs. We simply wanted to live. On my first day of work, Lou Morgan (in his red and black checkered shirt and big black beard kinda like…) took my leather gloves and tossed them over the edge of the landing. They wouldn’t tear and your hand would stay in them and leave you if they got caught on something. He made me cut the hem off my jeans for the same reason. The plastic hardhat I got in Sandpoint was soon replaced by an aluminum one with a brim that would keep the rain off my neck. As I look back, I wish they had already found that EPA regulations and legislation could have kept my gloves dry and the rain off my neck. Science is so incredibly wonderful nowadays.

I was so fortunate to have that job working for Columbia Helicopters. The logs were moved out of the woods without tearing up the fragile soil. And we always got the cream because we logged places conventional loggers couldn’t access, like swamps and cliffs. Ironically, cliffs scare the heck out of me today.

If we were in town and saw a truck go by with only one or three logs on it, they came from us. I still see a long straight log as a thing of beauty. And my love for undisturbed soil may be rooted in that six-year career as well.

Then there were those nights in the peace and quiet of The Dead End with Len and Mike as we solved the troubles of the world and listened to the cracking fire.

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