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Alaskan Loggers

In the darkness of Alaskan mornings in the relative quiet of Scow Bay an odd alarm clock woke the residents each morning. The crunch of sheet ice as it shattered beneath the crew boat going out to the logging show at Tonka. Back in the day loggers played a large role in Petersburg.  

In case you don’t recall, loggers wore  pinned stripped “Hickory Shirts” zipped halfway down their chests, black jeans with the cuffs hacked off so they wouldn’t snag on a stob and trip while limbing a tree, heavy tall lace up boots with spikes on the soles called corks and once bright, colored suspenders and if they were actually cutters, a bar-pad on their right shoulder for carrying the saw and a round-brim Bullard hard hat.

They colonized all over Southeast Alaska.  Locally for example; Portage Bay just 30 minutes north as the crow flies.  Storied Saginaw Bay to the west of that.  Sunny Hobart Bay on the mainland north of Petersburg. Rowan Bay far to the west where the fog rolling in from Japan arrives first.  Probably three camps on Zarembo Island, including St. Johns which is literally a stones throw from Mitkof Island. The float camp at Anita Bay just south of Wrangell, which the interpreters on the ferry called Starfish Cove for some reason. And a little further out on Dahl Island.

Not all loggers were cutters.  Some worked heavy equipment in the sort yard.  Some drove logging trucks.  Some set chokers.  Some skippered those little Boom Boats that formed the log rafts.  Regardless they all dressed like loggers.

It was dangerous work.  One day at the log transfer facility I saw a young logger with his bloody Hickory shirt pulled off, bandaging up his upper arm with black electrical tape.  It was a recognizable injury. When a cutter walks out of a unit he doffs his chaps and wraps them around the bar of his chainsaw,  then hoist the saw upon his padded right shoulder.  Sounds safe enough.  But one stumble and the load falls off his shoulder, the chaps shift and leave the upper arm exposed to the pointed dawgs and sharp chain.

Another young logger told of starting his career at 14 with his dad. (Hey, same with my dad.) His dad drove off to camp for some lame reason, leaving him to limb up some fallen trees. He tripped and fell back onto a stob that plunged into his thigh.  He realized his dad wouldn’t be back any time soon.  So he picked himself up, bandaged himself the best he could and walked towards camp until he found it help.  (The scar looked like a zipper. )

Some would-be-loggers might drop a tree on their brand new chainsaw the very first day. Others drop a tree on themselves, the medivac helicopter waited for one such  logger on the road above the unit.  From below came the usual noise of revving chainsaws hence the inevitable crash of fallen trees.  But no anticipatory silence preceded the fall. They worked fast.  Several saws serenaded the injured man. A small army battled their way up slope through the forest. With helmets strapped to day packs, measuring tapes banging, boot-laces whipping, eight loggers, some still carrying their chainsaws in their free hands, carried a man-mountain to the ship.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though.  The boats that carried loggers to work at Tonka across the ice of Scow Bay in the winter, were replaced by the large live aboard boat called “Integrity” come spring.  The loggers even had a wedding there.  The work boats brought towns people to the wedding.  One guest arrived in his own skiff wearing a three piece suit under his rain gear.  The skipper of the ship married the lucky couple, then everyone boated to the Moose Club for the reception.

It was an Alaskan style open bar.  Every time the groom and his buddies got thirsty the bride would “ring the bell” affectively buying a round for the house! A tradition which is pretty much extinct.  As are the loggers.


Author - William Moulton