II. Instructions on Becoming a Logger

D. D. Strite, How to Become a Logger: A Complete Treatise in Six Lessons. Portland, Oregon: The Timberman, 1924. pp. 2, 8-13


Written in a spirit of fun under a bunkhouse lamp, this little book by a logger gives an accurate account of the daily life of the men who get out the big logs in the Douglas fir region of Oregon and Washington. It is, we suspect, a few chapters from his own experience in breaking into the game. The author is D. D. Strite, Jr., of Idaville, Ore., the headquarters camp of the Whitney Company, Limited. The cartoon illustrations are by the author.


Lesson II: Acquiring a Vocabulary

In this lesson we intend to instruct you sufficiently in the language of the woods to enable you to carry on an intelligent conversation with the bull cook or other high company officials.

Now bear in mind that the Big Three of logging are donkeys, lines and blocks. When you are able to ‘punch’ a donkey, ‘buck’ 2000 feet of straw-line and ‘hang’ a block you’ll be a man, my son, for a’ of that. To the untutored brain, punching a donkey might seem like a ticklish occupation. However, once that you have discovered that the donkey is not one of the long-eared variety the situation becomes less involved. The much-cussed and discussed species of steam engine known to the profession as a ‘donkey’ is to the logging game as the mainspring is to your dollar watch. It’s the source of power that makes the wheels of industry go ’round and ’round. The important function of the steel cables, called ‘lines’ for short, is the same fishing or logging. The drums on the donkey spool the line like the reel on your fishing pole; the butt rigging represents the spinner with the choker as the hook; and the log, of course, takes the place of the fish. ... To ‘buck’ means to pull, and by the time you’ve bucked a thousand feet of line and given up any hope of there ever being an end to it someone ’way off will yell ‘Line!’ and they’ll stop ‘taking it away.’ Then you’ll try to straighten your back and find that that portion of your anatomy has become petrified. While you are trying to recall the permanent disability clause in your insurance policy, the head rigger will hook on to the haulback and yell, ‘Ahead on the guinea!’ The steel line that has been lying so harmlessly at your feet will become a living thing! It zips past your ear and knocks off your hat! Undoubtedly your recent petrification will be forgotten in the rush to get ‘in the clear.’ A block in civil life is spoken of as a pulley. In the woods it is very often referred to as a ______ ________ __________ ________. The lines from the donkey pass through various kinds of blocks. To ‘hang’ a block doesn’t necessarily incur the liabilities brought about by the ordinary type of lynching. Your boss will point to an object on the side of some distant peak and say, ‘See that hemlock this side of that rain cloud?” You nod and take another pinch of ‘snoose.’ ‘Hang a trip block up there,’ he murmurs gently. The idea is to take your bearings and boost the block up on your back .... If the hill isn’t too steep you should arrive at the designated hemlock by the afternoon of the second day.

“The Golden Rule of the woods is to keep out of ‘the bight of the line.’ The bight of the line is the place you will always find yourself when ‘the rigger gives the punk the highball’ (or, in other words, when the man in direct charge of the crew in the brush signifies to the young man manipulating the whistle wire that he, the rigger, is now prepared to have the donkey haul in the log, untechnically speaking). When the main line tightens up it may sing harmlessly over your head, or again it may sign a different tune about five feet above the soles of your shoes. In the latter case, unless you stand four feet ten and three-quarter inches in your boots, the rigging crew will put in the rest of the afternoon gathering up the pieces. Next day the papers will very simply announce in the death column that ‘Yesterday’s fatalities included one woman, two men and a logger.

“You will find that actual logging operations are carried on by whistle signals relayed over the wire from the ‘whistle punk’ in the brush to the donkey engineer on the landing. The whistle punk is usually about 16 to 18 years old and the hardest boiled egg in the outfit. He is usually deaf, dumb and blind, according to a report in ‘The Hooktenders’ Gazette.’ An important part of your education is to learn the whistle signs. For the present, however, it will suffice to know that a long and a short whistle means quitting time. This is the most important signal.”


“If the ‘push’ (i.e. the camp foreman) should tell you some nice wet morning to ‘chase the swing,’ don’t laugh. He doesn’t intend you to go hunt up a board and some hemp rope to rig up a swing for his little boy to play on. All you have to do is to go down to the landing and unhook the logs when they’re hauled in from the brush. You are then a ‘chaser’ and ‘the swing’ is the name given to the donkey which is used to relay the logs from the yarding donkey over across the river to the landing where they’re loaded on cars.

“It would require a good-sized dictionary to explain all the strange words you will hear in the brush. In time you will acquire the lingo and talk as fluently of these mysterious things as does the young whistle punk in town on Saturday night....”

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Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest