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Chapter 14 - Sierra Pond Monkey

I (Tom Scribner) wrote this last summer (1965) especially for this book.

So you get tired of running a dinky old newspaper, the Redwood Ripsaw, and you figure you need a "vacation" away from the coastal fog and other frustrations too numerous to mention. So, it came to pass that I wrote a letter to Douglas Lumber Corporation up at Truckee, California for a pond monkey job. The "super", Nate Topal answered by saying, "Come up and go to work." Arrived in Truckee in the midst of a spell of hot weather as its thunder shower time in the Sierra

Monday, 8 AM comes the moment of truth, so grabbing the old "bait can" and cork shoes we head for the mill. Nate showed me the job and says, "Feed the bull chain, break jackpots at the landing so the trucks have room to dump."

"Just a minute Nate," I says, "what do you pay for all this foolishness these days?" (I've been retired for 2 years); and the man said,

"$2.38 per hour, starting." Well, I "started" 50 years ago and this job was possibly, finishing, but I let that go, for the time being, as I went to accumulate $400 in order to publish my book, "Lumberjack", comes winter.

Well, first thing's first, so I better go break that jam at the landing, and she's a lulu with about five or six truck loads piled up and extending about 20 feet out into the pond, and piled half way up the landing. Soyou go out to the face of the jam and look 'er over. Looks easy: Take the old "fool killer" (Peavey) and you get hold of the underwater log out front, twist 'er tail, and the jam gives way, and how! By the Holy old Mackinaw the whole works comes alive under your feet, and starts for the middle of the pond with logs rolling, and under water logs bursting to the surface and the whole thing sounds and feels like an earthquake! This is a time to watch your step boy, or you could fall in between them and became mincemeat!

The last of the logs has rumbled down from the landing so hurry back before they get too far out in the pond, so you can run back over these still rolling logs so you can jump off 'em dry land. About then a glance at the bull chain shows you that the log hungry son-of-a-gun has to be fed, so skip over there and send up some logs. They are running piss fir, and it takes over 100,000 feet per day to keep them going, so it keeps you pretty damn well occupied.

You have a block of wood to sit on, "when you have time". The block is on a big stationary float next to the bull chain. You make out fine and dandy in the AM as the wind doesn't get up until afternoon. The logs just lay in close, and lazy like. The whistle blows so you go up town for dinner. After dinner you come back and discover that the wind has changed and the logs have all drifted across the pond. (Note: the wind ALWAYS blows the wrong way at EVERY sawmill. Seems like they PLAN it that way!)

So grab the old "idiot stick" (16 foot long aluminum pike pole) walk around the edge of the pond until you can get out on some timber. Line up a bunch of these "pecker poles" and then start prying them over to the bull chain. You pry them over by sticking the pike pole down to the bottom of the pond, and then pry them over in the general direction of the bull chain. You better have them lined up evenly, or you can't steer them. Not only that, but the turn could break up, and you would have to line them all up againif you had time. Nothing to it: just watch your step or you will find out the hard way about that old adage, "easy as falling off a log" and the guy that made THAT one up wasn't just bumping his gums, by gum.

You have lots of time to think while you are poling logs across the pond so you remember how it was in 1914. You got 26 bucks per MONTH for a 60 hour week as a swamper in the Minnesota woods for Weyerhauser Timber Company. Way up bear Cloquet. Sawyers and teamsters got a bit more. NOW look: you get near 20 bucks per day, and it's STILL only a living! Well, as the old teamster told me one day, "we don't make MONEY, we make LUMBER. Weyerhauser makes the MONEY!" That is still true!

Well, to hell with that; remember some of those old songs? "We paid our debt to Lafayette, now who in hell do we owe?" "She's true to me, and true to youand true to the rest of the army too, Hinky dinky parley voo." Then there was that damned depression song, "Wolf don't bother any more, he starved to death right by my door." Cops, you know something else you old devil! These here pecker poles gets smaller every year, meaning you have to be more catty on 'em and at the same time you are getting older, and slower, and by God you had better for sure or drown your fool self! Well, I wasn't always a damn pond monkey. Before 1935 I used to be a faller, and bucker, but then I had to go and buck a log from the downhill side like a big Hoosiers, and the log rolled over me and squeezed me out like when you step on a toothpaste tube! God! That was over 30 years ago and you have been a rafter and pond monkey ever since!

Just in case any of you renders should ever want to be a pond monkey, here are a few fool proof rules to go by:

  • Never ride a lone log out beyond reach of other logs as you just might run aground on a sinkerand have to swim back.
  • Always run zig-zag over the logs, and never, never zig when you ought to zag!
  • Keep loose chunks of bark out of your corks, and watch for loose bark on the logs.
  • Always wear wool underwear because no matter how cold and wet you get, you are always warm and dry!
  • Watch your step when a load of logs is dumped into the pondwaves! (Best time to break up a floating jam)
  • If you do fall in, don't try to climb out on the SIDE of a log, as it just keeps turning. Climb out on the END of a log.
  • If you are on nights, don't EVER light a cigarette while on a log as the flash will blind you and you will fall in.

I could go on, and on, but why bother? Automation is doing away with pond monkeys, just like it done away with rafters and doggers and setters, and God knows WHAT they will do away with next!

Bringing in a turn the other day, I just got to thinking about my miserable social security. Lemme see now, I worked fifty years in the timber so that's good for $80 per month. If I work ANOTHER fifty years I should get $160. Oh no, hold on a bit there! Even if you DID work another fifty you would only draw the tops which is $127 per month! There MUST be a better way!

On the other hand there was my old dad. He worked 70 years in the timberand died broke. Frustrating, ain't it?

Well, such is life on a Sierra Log Pond!