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June 9, 2013
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Publisher's Notebook: There's no air-conditioned lunchroom on a logging landing

So I was out on a block cut Wednesday with a bucker and watched a butt cut resulting from some impressive butt rigging while chokers and a chaser danced around and under the landing, counting the hours until the crummy finally took them down the mountain.

Welcome to the world of logging, a profession I would not recommend to the faint-of-heart, or air-conditioned desk jockeys such as yours truly. My ankles broke just watching the chokers hop from log to log.

There is a reason I went into journalism and one of them is comfort. There is no lunchroom on a landing.

I’ve been here almost a year now and figured it was about time I learned a thing or two about the timber industry, which has carried our economic water bucket since pretty much Day One. The only thing I really knew about logging was what I watched on the Discovery Channel. I am a faithful follower of Deadliest Catch and Ax Men, which details the plight of small Northwest logging companies who battle to see who can pull the most logs with mostly dysfunctional loggers.

As you can imagine, most loggers don’t much care for Ax Men because there is a heck of a lot more to it than TV producers can squeeze into 30 minutes of entertainment.

Bob Ragon and Audrey Barnes from the Douglas Timber Operators group coordinated the tour. Retired forester and logger Rod Greene also helped explain the industry during the daylong trip to the woods.

Rod learned about the forest in college classrooms on the East Coast (he is a native New Yorker) and at Oregon State University. Then he went to the school of hard knocks, working for various local timber companies in almost every capacity.

He is also a history buff. Diaries from early settlers indicate that we have a lot more trees today than we had in the 1800s. In his book, “Early Days In Oregon,” George Riddle wrote, “At the time (1851) Cow Creek Valley looked like a great wheat field.” He recalled that “the fires set by the Indians prevented young growth of timber,” and that they were fortunate to find a grove of pine trees they could use to build houses.

The federal government might learn a lesson on forest management from our own Native Americans. Duane Grant from Lone Rock Timber Co. met us at the bottom of the Adams Creek logging site above Yoncalla. Duane has been a logger for 37 years and he looks like you’d expect a logger to look — complete with suspenders and a pair of caulk boots, a logger’s classic high-top, steel-spiked boot designed to provide steady footing. Think golf shoes on steroids.

He gave us our hard hats and led us to the landing, where the yarder (it powers the mainline that is used to pull the fallen timber up the hill) and a nasty-looking machine called a stroke delimber worked side-by-side to haul, prepare and load the wood for the ride to various mills.

I climbed up to the cab of the delimber and was surprised to see the operator (19-year veteran Bill Thorp) looking at a computer screen. It’s designed to help measure the length and circumference of the logs as the mechanical arms grab it off the landing and run it through the machine’s teeth, peeling off much of the bark and limbs before cutting them to proper length.

It might be good to pause here for some translation:

Choker setters are the guys down the hill (usually a VERY steep hill) hopping from felled tree to felled tree attaching the chokers to the logs. The yarder can’t pull the logs up the hill unless the chokers set them correctly. This is not a job for newspaper guys (like me) with pins and screws in their ankles. In fact, this is not a job for newspaper guys who are healthy. I’ve never met one I would recommend as a choker setter and I’ve known a lot of newspaper guys.

A chaser is the guy on the landing who has to unhook the choker (a piece of cable with a knob and fitting bell used to attach the logs to the butt rigging of the skidders). I watched the chaser from the cab of the yarder and quickly determined that they would have kicked my skinny butt off the landing my first morning on the job. It’s a safe bet that chasers and choker setters probably don’t have gym memberships.

A crummy is what transports the loggers to the job site and back. It originated from the notion that the vehicles and the drivers were generally — there is no nice way to say this — crummy.

The logging site was privately owned (Lone Rock manages and maintains 115,000 acres of timberland). Most of the logging today is on private land because the government and the courts can’t get out of each other’s way when it comes to forest management on public land. That’s why most of our government-owned forest (which makes up 55 percent of Douglas County) will eventually burn, taking the spotted owl with it, unless the barred owl takes it first.

The second toughest job in a timber company is reforestation. For every felled tree we passed on the tour I saw where they had planted many more (if you can see a new tree from a distance it’s probably at least three years old). Imagine what goes into planting hundreds of baby fir trees maybe 6 feet apart over a couple of hundred steep-sloped acres.

Imagine, too, how many miles of roads these private timber companies have built in our forests and then ask yourself how we’d fight a forest fire without them.

All in all it was a great day to get out of the office. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the buckers and bull cooks, chasers, chokers, gut robbers, high-ballers and hook tenders who live and work in the woods. We enjoy the fruits of their labors every day.

Postscript: Last week I wrote about the planned parole of a guy named Sydney Dean Porter, who was scheduled to be released today after serving 21 years for killing a John Day police officer named Frank Ward. Porter was sentenced to 30 years to life for the murder, so his early release angered Ward’s friends and family and many law enforcement officials. The governor this week canceled that parole and ordered a new hearing in September.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or

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The News-Review Updated Jun 9, 2013 12:04AM Published Jun 9, 2013 12:04AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.