Columbia Helicopters – Part 3


Back to the Dead End and snuggled up for the long winter nights felt good. We each had headlamps we used for reading and making meals. It was just a short walk to the creek for water.

Then I got word from Louie, who owned the place (and our phone link), that Lew Morgan had called and needed me to run the landing at a job in California. Outside of Fall River Mills there were old growth Sugar Pines on some lava rock strewn flats.

Sugar Pine can get almost 270 feet tall with a diameter of eleven feet. We employed a ripper, who had a saw with a long bar, to cut eight foot logs lengthwise so the ship could lift them. It was a rare site where select cut was possible as the trees were far enough apart that the remaining trees would stay standing without the help of their neighbors against the wind.

Anyway, after an eighteen inch snow overnight it was pouring rain when I left the Dead End. The rickety bridge over the Cabinet Gorge scared the hell out of me (I’ve been a good person ever since) as I traversed the raging torrent. But somehow I got to the motel in Fall River Mills.

As it turned out our usual loader operator was not there. They hired a local. As I mentioned before, our regular guy was a genius and always able to keep the landing clear for the next turn.

These Sugar Pines were magnificent, their sparse shadows adding patterns over the grit and scattered lava rocks. Trees do have a finite existence. The Ash trees in our river bottom here are no longer growing and some of those Sugar Pines were old and diseased. The use of the wood honors their long lives.

The work was a bit slow because the logs were scattered around instead of part of a clear-cut in a moist environment. This should have been an advantage to the loader operator but he couldn’t keep up. Everything centers around keeping the ship going.

The landing became a tangle of logs and chokers ten feet tall. In his frustration the loader carelessly entered the pile at a random place instead of meticulously focusing on the individual logs. (Funny how that works. Ram that grapple into a community, like laws that ignore the individual and…) A long pole flew around and hit my leg.

Even in all the racket, I still remember hearing it snap halfway below my knee. So I’m sitting there, luckily the loader operator removed the log without killing me. My coworker looked at that 90 degree bend in the wrong place and said, “we better straighten that out.” He had been a medic in Vietnam and seen much worse. He grabbed my foot and yanked it straight. It kinda freaks me out to think of it today.

Somebody brought him a couple of big slivers and some duct tape and that was it. We had a little old school bus that we rode up the mountain in and I was put on a stretcher across the seat-backs. Lew rode with me the 60 miles to the hospital. This grizzly old boss was full of motherly love all the way down the mountain.

It was a Friday. I had only worked 2 ½ days there. The doctor was satisfied with the set done on the landing and put a cast on. It was a Friday. 

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