Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission
Sam Churchill

by Dorothy Churchill 2000

     Loggers and Lollygoggers! It is the lollygoggers I have trouble with. I thought it meant wasting time, not paying attention and just drifting. That couldn't relate to loggers - that I know. Now, if lollygogging means having fun and being playful, I can understand.

     What is a woman doing talking about logging? I don't know any female loggers - yet, but my place here is my relation to Sam Churchill, my late husband. He was a logger along side his father for a couple of years but he will be remembered as a writer of old time logging.

     Sam wrote two books about growing up in a logging camp. Big Sam and Don't Call Me Ma. He loved it so much it pulsed through his entire life.

     His big strong, Paul Bunyon father and his delicate Boston-bred big city girl mother are responsible for his love of the woods, and the ability to write about it.

     A peek at the logging camp in 1911, when Sam was born: a remote, isolated strip of logging railroad with shacks along the tracks was home, and house was truly a shack. The stars were their street lights, the clearing was the town square, water came from a stream complete with a frog or two, and there was plenty of wood for the stove. To get there required a launch to Olney and a train for 5 miles. Or you walked.

     Entertainment for the children was easy. Just go outside - there were natural wonders to keep them all excited. Picking the wild flowers, finding the first trillium of spring, riding a sapling as your pal cut it down, or that run across a 90 foot trestle to prove your manhood.

     Sam's mother said, "With God so close, you can feel his presence in the beauty of the wild flowers. How could anyone be lonely or feel isolated?" Living conditions were crude, but even though Caroline came from the big city of Boston where city life was represented by tissue thin china and shiny sterling silver, she would proclaim, "Sam, it's PERFECT."

     With the help of Thorton W. Burgess' bird and animal books, Sam's mother imbedded in him a reverence for nature that served him all his life. Just as she brought culture to the woods, she had to learn the craziness of the loggers' woods words.

     She winced when she learned that: a Hooker was a foreman of a yarding crew, a Gut Wrapper was a chain used to load logs, a Ball and Chain was a wife!!! A Belly Pad was a pancake, a Big Blue Butt was a fine large log, a camp robber was a Canadian Jay Bird, a Choker was a steel cable and a Cruiser was a timber estimator. Caroline learned a lot!

     She heard more swear words than she wanted to hear. Loggers were as husky in their leisure as they were at work in the woods. Bunkhouse floors shook when they got frisky, and the entertainment palaces on Astor Street in Astoria soon were rocking when the loggers came to town. One logger even wrote a poem to swearing:

It's all very well to be profane
When life is as dark as night
But the man worth a fuss
Is the man who can cuss
When everything 'round him is bright

     Words such as environmentalists and conservationists hadn't been mentioned, but I am sure they would have invented some swear words for them.

     The logging camps were the heritage of our Northwest lumber industry. Stewart Holbrook said, "As early as 1631, settlers in present Maine had an authentic sawmill operating by water power. Thus lumbering is an old industry as we have in the United States."

     As people pushed westward, they needed lumber, lumberjacks and sawmills. Tough work to serve tough pioneers. It was a He Man country, all right. The quest for Green Gold was furious. It took giant men to do a giant job in a giant country.

     First came the ox teams, then steam powered donkey engines and steam locomotives to drag the logs out of the woods. Splash dams were used to send logs to the river, and along came Simon Benson who built those famous cigar rafts. His mill was in San Diego, and the cigar rafts was the means of getting them there. They were 1000 feet long and carried 6 million board feet of timber. It took 7 weeks to build one and the trip took 2 weeks. But they were highly successful.

     Everything was big and busy. Clatsop County was Oregon's number one producer in 1920. The county could boost of 15 billion board feet of timber. The Hammond Mill handled 450,000 board feet a day. There was a frenzy of activity to supply the needs.

     Loggers could build their own equipment, too. The sleds, needed to move yarders, were huge. Eighty feet long and 150-200 tons. They designed them, built them and made them suitable to slide through the woods. They sent a 251 foot log to the Pan Pacific Exposition in California.

     In those days, the work was first. Getting the logs out of the woods was urgent. By 1907, the first Board of Forestry was formed. Serious thoughts about safety and protection of the land came about. In 1909, the Oregon Conservation Act came into being and by 1913, the Fire Protection law was passed.

     Controls were needed, but there was no control when the Tillamook Fire took out 2,500 square miles of timber in 1933 and 1939. Many books have been written about it including Ellis Lucia's Tillamook Burn Country.

     The Oregon Historical Society Museum library is rich with information of old time logging, as is the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center at Stevenson, Washington, and the Interpretive Center at The Dallas. I climbed to my feet and looked skyward from the stump of the Big Tree that was no longer there.. It's place in the sky was being filled by the limbs and trunks of younger, more vigorous forest. I had a feeling that the old stump recognized me and remembered those earlier days when it had supported a giant and Mother and I had walked the mile from camp to admire and pay it homage each spring and summer morning.

The tree had served its time and a new generation of trees were taking over.

It was the same with our family. Dad was gone. Mother was gone, and Uncle Marsh was gone. The young hemlock pushing from the wood of the old stump was symbolic of the new breed. Life never really dies. It disappears in one form but reappears in another. Mother and Dad and Uncle Marsh, I was certain, were somewhere nearby, the same as the stump of the Big Tree. They had left me behind to carry on, even as the old stump was giving anchorage, food, and encouragement to the young hemlock.

Years ago I had left the woods and now there was no real desire to go back. I loved coming here; at intervals throughout the year tremendous urges seized me and forced me to return. Sometimes it might be for only a few hours of looking and remembering. It reminds me of the longing that sends the geese heading south for the winter, and north for the summer.

The old Western Cooperage camp will be a part of my life for as long as I live.