Columbia Helicopters (early 70s)

Working for a gippo logger can be off and on. My retirement account was not growing working for Charlie Veach, and a friend said there were some really good jobs to be had out of Clark Fork (Idaho) logging with helicopters.

I went to town and bought some new leather gloves and a plastic hardhat with a bill. Up the mountain I went to meet my new boss, Lew Morgan. He looked like Paul Bunyan; black beard, suspenders, and a red and black plaid shirt.

He said, “Good, you’re hired.” and threw my gloves and hardhat off the edge of the landing. “Get a tin hat that will keep stuff off your neck and cloth gloves. They need to tear if you’re in trouble. And cut that hem off your jeans so a stick doesn’t hang you up.” I was like, “Okay.”

We were logging cliffs and other hard to reach places because the chopper didn’t care. The timber we took was rare because of that. All the other log trucks through town were loaded with pecker poles. Ours often had a full load of only three logs. The Boeing Vertol could make a round trip in a minute and a half if we were close.

I set chokers, which means putting cables around logs. The chokers had eyes on the end that were grasped by an electric hook. We had to estimate the weight and pair up the logs to maximize the efficiency of each trip, the opposite of a housewife driving a Cadillac Escalade. We put the eyes together so the hooker could put them in the hook when the pilot lowered it to him. The hook weighed 150 pounds and swung on the end of a 150-foot cable.

Mostly I worked on the landing. We had to remove the chokers from the logs and coil them in piles of ten to send back up the mountain. Any logs that aren’t limbed and bucked to suit the mill have to be taken care of between turns or later in a separate deck from the ones ready to load on a truck. I can’t remember the name of the loader operator but he was a master at his craft. He also taught young newbies a lesson about gambling.

When we were done around Clark Fork we traveled and lived in motels. That loader operator held crap games and cleaned out some paychecks in a lesson cheaper than school.

I got pretty good with a chainsaw cleaning up tree-length and brushy logs. Usually we had two guys on the landing. Retrieving and coiling three chokers in a minute and a half was good sport. Doing that and running the saw was extreme. One day Lew came up in his pickup and found the guy I was working with swearing at the saw. He looked at it and the chain was in backwards. Haha. Lew fumed like there was smoke coming out the collar of his shirt and grabbed a double bitted axe. The loader was waiting on us, but not yet the ship. Lew ran down a brushy fir log with that axe and it looked like an old Disney cartoon, with limbs flying all over.

We stared in awe. Then I turned the chain around.

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