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Reviews

Pigs & Dogs: Yarding Them Logs
The British Columbia coastal forest is a lush and verdant place, wet beneath the coastal rain and mist. Giant firs and Sitka spruce, and smaller hemlock and cedar tower above the ubiquitous fern and brush. In the initial chapter of his history of the BC logging industry, Ken Drushka paints this picture of the forest.

He then begins to tell the story of the technological progressions that allowed the logging industry to take this forest down.

There is a lot to tell in the history of any industry; its origins, its methods, the lives of its people. Drushka acknowledges this in his introduction, but makes clear that his goal is only to explain the evolution of logging methods and especially of the tools and machines that loggers use. He sticks to this aim well.

Loggers first entered the BC woods in the 1860s and their essential problem, as Drushka explains, has always remained constant: once the logger falls a tree, how does he get the log to the mill? The author takes the reader through the different answers: oxen and horses dragging the logs; "donkeys," machines that pulled the logs by cables; railways built into the woods; and trucks barrelling down insanely graded logging roads. Along the way, the reader is introduced to a myriad of machines and devices: skidders and drum loaders, spar trees and skylines, Teller-bunchers, grappling yarders, and more.

Drushka segments his history by subject rather than by chronology. He tells the individual and complete story of yarding, rail trucking, and other mechanizations in single chapters. However, the story progresses through overlaps of chronology as one technology yields to another and falls into disuse. It's a good technique. The reader gets a complete history, but if interested in a specific tacet of the industry, can single out that chapter.

The factual detail is as thick as an oldgrowth fir. Names, places, and dates are everywhere. No technical detail is too small: brake drums or types of wire cable, both are closely examined by the author. . .
-Dan Foulkes, Writer’s NW Spring


Working in the Woods: A History of Logging on the West Coast
The first time I wrote about logging in the Pacific Northwest was when I was working for Allan Nevins on a history of the Weyerhaeuser Company. I had to use my imagination, since all I could see as I was writing was a lonely tree overlooking One-hundred Seventeenth Street in New York. Years later, in reviewing Working in the Woods, by prominent British Columbian forest writer Ken Drushka, I am learning now what I should have known then.

Actually, I am reviewing three books within this one volume. The first is the overall narrative, which I will discuss later. The second is made up of photographs of the logging industry, with brief explanations. And the third involves a host of vignettes from oral histories collected from loggers of British Columbia. One, therefore, needs trifocal glasses as one reads this volume, since each of these segments (which frequently appear three to a page) expand on and sometimes detract from an understanding of the other parts.

The key part of the book, however, is the narrative, which tries to tell the story of "the creative ability required to figure how to move fifty ton logs off remote mountainsides, and the willingness to do it, day after day." The author therefore describes in careful detail the evolution of the techniques and the machines that helped workers in the woods to do their arduous and often dangerous jobs more effectively.

Year after year, innovators developed new machines and techniques to topple the trees and transport them. The story is a fascinating one. The author, however, spends less time on the life-styles of those involved in these tasks and on the economic structure, including the unions, that evolved. Environmental concerns are not often mentioned.

The author, because of the detail of his descriptions, frequently uses terms that are defined once and then repeated often. As a result, there were many terms that this reader did not remember after the initial definition. A glossary would have helped. Sometimes the detail confuses the larger picture. Thus, he describes Paul Bunyan as a Quebecois who fought in the Papineu Rebellion of 1827. Actually, he was used as the Mr. Clean of the logging industry - a myth created by marketers.

And last, the author's sympathies are with the workers and companies in the fight over the environment. He believes that the needed changes in the industry should not come from "those who . . . have never had rain in their lunch baskets. In the end,. . . the only people who can make realistic, environmentally sound decisions are those who know a particular forest and how to work in it without destroying it." I have not had any rainfall in my lunch basket, but I still can offer input about the forest environment, as I hope loggers, who do not have a Ph.D. degree, can express their justifiable concerns about higher education. Each of us can make bad and good decisions about the areas we know and love best.
-Albert A. Blum, New Mexico State University