This is one of the most interesting guest posts I’ve posted. Most people don’t think of logging when they think of agriculture, but sure enough, it’s part of it. The small community, where we summer our cattle, used to depend on logging and timber. When I was a little girl I remember the mill, the logging trucks and all the activity that came with it. In fact, for a time, my Dad even worked in the mill, and occasionally will tell very interesting stories about it. Anyway I met William M. Hopkins, the author of this post, because of my Throwback Thursday posts. I asked him if he’d be willing to let me post a little something on this blog and he was gracious enough to share this. I hope you enjoy it and learn as much as I did.
Jack Hopkins, Plumas County Logger
by William M. Hopkins
My father, Jack Hopkins sailed in the U.S. Merchant Marine in the final year of World War II and for a year and half following the conclusion of the war. Before the age of nineteen, he had sailed around the world on merchant ships. Coming ashore in early 1947, he began his logging career in the redwoods near Orick, California as a whistle punk under a spar tree on a high-lead logging job. This led to his learning how to fall giant redwood trees with a two-man Gypo Woodsman drag saw with his brother-in-law, Lloyd Wheeler. During this time, Jack came down with polio, ending his redwood timber falling days. Luckily, he recovered from the debilitating disease. Lloyd convinced Jack and my mother, Evelyn (Wheeler) Hopkins, to relocate to Greenville in Plumas County, where Evelyn’s mother and father owned a dairy/ranch in Indian Valley. Jack and Evelyn brought their redwood-falling drag saw with them and began logging in the high Sierras.
L-R- Lloyd Wheeler, with long-handled sx, and Jack Hopkins with Woodsman Gypo drag saw as redwood timber fallers. Orick, CA. c. 1947.
Jack and Evelyn always had a way of living in very beautiful places. They were only three miles from the Wheeler Ranch, purchasing a place just west of Greenville along the right-of-way of the Western Pacific Railroad on Forest Lodge Road, adjacent to the Frontier Motel, and below Earl Pedersen’s beautiful Forest Lodge, in a part of town known as the Landon Addition. The area was locally named “Okie Flats” for the Oklahomans who had fled the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and settled here to work in Greenville’s flourishing sawmills, especially the Setzer Box mill. “These were good people and we were glad to have them,” adds Nansi (Wattenburg) Bohne (KQNY).
L-R: jack on far right sets up the drag saw for the back cut while Lloyd and another logger work on the undercut of a Genesee Valley Ponderosa pine. c. 1949.
“I had a timber falling contract for Lilburn Hue “Si” (pronounced as “Cy,” not as “see”) Brand in the Genesee Valley to the east of Taylorsville and Indian Valley,” said Lloyd Wheeler. “I was paid by the thousand board feet for timber fallen, making $120.00 per day and paid the buckers $30.00 per day. I made lots of money, six times more than a person working for wages.
Jack with the “Evey” with a three-log load of sugar pine at Greenville, CA. c. 1950.
“I convinced Jack and Evelyn to relocate to Greenville from Orick after Jack had made a fortunate escape from the ravages of polio,” said Lloyd. The two men began a working partnership again falling timber with a heavy two-man Woodsman Gypo air-cooled drag saw, sometimes for Si Brand, and at other times for a timber-falling contractor named W. T. “Mack” McCoy.
“During the WWII, hundreds of thousands of American troops were introduced to California on their way to battle overseas. The lumber mills in Greenville operated 24/7,” remembered Tommy Collins. “Indian Valley never saw the clarity of the atmosphere because it was filled with smoke from the burning of scrap bark and lumber trimmings. One thousand Americans per day were migrating from the eastern states to live in California. The demand for lumber was unlimited. I can remember seeing long train loads of lumber loading at the railroad yards in Greenville and trains were passing through Greenville on their way south from the Chester area. In the midst of all this, Lloyd and Jack were eventually to form the Wheeler – Hopkins Logging Company.”
“We fell Ponderosa and sugar pines in the Genesee Valley that were 8- to 10-feet in diameter at the stump using the drag saw,” explained Lloyd. “These large trees grew along the edge of the valley floor or on flat bench land above the valley floor because flat ground holds more water and the trees can grow larger.” This was the last time they used the Woodsman Gypo drag saw and just before the advent of the McCulloch lightweight power chain saw.
Lloyd shows off their handiwork as my dad adjusts the drag saw.
A drag saw’s heavy weight had made them impractical. C. H. Wendel, in an interview with Douglas Merrill, one of the original makers of the Woodsman Gypo drag saw, states, “Production finished in 1952. The chain saw made our machine obsolete (Wendel 1989).” Jack Hopkins’ Woodsman Gypo drag saw was kept in the attic of his Greenville woodshed, undercover and out of the weather, from 1950 until 1969, when he donated it to the Indian Valley Museum at Taylorsville, California where it remains on display today.
On November 4, 1949 at the age of 20, while chopping a limb from a fallen tree, the ax blade hit the tip of another limb and glanced downward at a steep angle of deflection to slice directly into Jack’s left foot, severing his third, fourth, fifth toes at the proximal joints, and causing a fifty per cent loss of flexion of the middle joint of the second toe.
“I was there,” said Jack’s timber-falling partner, Lloyd Wheeler. “His ax bumped a limb and deflected, hitting his left foot. Jack hollered loudly in pain and rolled off the log to the ground. Bleeding badly, I unlaced his cork boot. I had to cut some of the boot away, and was able to pull the boot off his foot. Jack was in a lot of pain; the ax had gone clear through his foot and the boot. I wrapped it up as best I could and then helped Jack to a truck and drove him to Greenville’s Dr. Wilbur Batson for emergency medical treatment.”
Greenville’s Jake Jenner with the Plumas Queen. Swain Mountain c. 1965.
Jack was out of work while he healed, but received nineteen weeks of disability payments from the State of California in the amount of $30.00 per week. In a later report to the California Industrial Accident Commission, Jack wrote, “The work I do is cutting the limbs from a felled tree with an ax, marking the tree in lengths required by the mill, and then sawing the tree into those lengths with a power operated saw. After the lengths are sawed, these then become the logs that eventually find their way to the mill.
“This operation is repeated on each tree felled by the fallers, and as each felled tree is bucked into logs, I move onto the next felled tree and repeat the operation.
“This kind of work requires a careful sense of balance, and firm footing must be maintained while cutting the limbs from the tree. It also requires firm footing when sawing so that the saw makes a clean cut, and work without binding. Sometimes the saw has to cut from the bottom up, as well as from the top surface down. There are usually many loose branches around any fallen tree that makes good footing difficult. I have found that this matter of firm footing is much more difficult with the three toes off, and my sense of balance is not as good as before the accident. It takes me longer now to do the same job, and as a result, I do not turn out the same amount of logs. In comparing my work with that of others working with me, I can cut three trees to the other’s four trees.
“I notice that I tire more easily than before, which may also account for the additional slowness. How long this condition will continue, I do not know. I wish I had my three toes that were cut off.”
In 1950, Jack and Evelyn were looking ahead and purchased their first logging truck in Arcata, California. Perhaps due to his injured foot, they may have been following the advice of his logging truck-driving uncle, Ryle Hopkins. Their new logging truck was an International Harvester and Jack named it “Evey,” painting the name prominently on the front bumper. In purchasing his first logging truck, Jack stepped away from being an ordinary logger on the ground and became a logging businessman hauling logs from the surrounding mountains to the various lumber mills in Greenville.
Gypo (independent) logging truck driver, Bob Stoy, with his classic Sterling logging truck. Swain Mountain c. 1965.
Liking the change, Jack and Evelyn purchased two more logging trucks when they could afford the down payments, a Mack and another International Harvester. These seeds would develop over time into a modest logging company.
“I didn’t usually drive a logging truck,” emphasized Lloyd Wheeler. “But on some small job Jack had, I was roped into driving one of his trucks for a day. When I backed up to the landing and unloaded the trailer, the men at the landing said to me, ‘Just stay inside the cab, we’ll load her and bind the load.’ I never stepped out of the cab to inspect the load.
“The last log on at the very top of the load had a big limb sticking straight up that must have been at least six-feet high. It was like the dorsal fin on a male killer whale. Because I didn’t get out of the cab, I didn’t see it. To this day I don’t know why anyone never said anything to warn me.
“I left the landing with this load of logs thinking everything was fine and drove along the North Valley Road around Indian Valley to the Cal-Vada saw mill just north of Greenville. Along the way, the high limb was snagging every telephone line and lower-down power line that crossed the road. I ripped down all these lines around Indian Valley and dragged them through downtown Greenville, dragging a collection of wire behind the truck.
No time for tea as loggers eat lunch standing up and stir their coffee with their thumbs. L-R: Timber faller Ben Jasper, Jack Hopkins, Cat skinner Maurice Olson, and timber faller Sox Stevens.
“When I arrived to the saw mill, there were a huge bundle of power lines and telephone lines streaming behind the truck that had been dragged down the highway. No one followed or honked a horn to let me know that anything was wrong. We had to cut all the lines clear of the high limb before we could dump the load into the millpond. I was in stunned surprise and it turned out to be something of a local disaster.”
“The Hopkins family lived down the street and across the railroad tracks from where I grew up,” said Nansi (Wattenburg) Bohne, daughter of gypo (independent) logger William “Pop” Wattenburg. “Jack spent a lot of time at my father’s shop working on equipment with my Dad, so I knew him as a friend. I remember Jack in his Navy stocking hat and work clothes, with his head under a truck hood and cussing up a storm over a missing spark plug or a cracked radiator. My Dad would say, ‘Now Jack, calm down. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed.’ Our shop was built about 1949 or 50. It had a deep concrete ditch so that anyone could stand up and work under their vehicle, which is why so many came there to work on engines and equipment. It was the first shop of its kind in Greenville.”
“Jack loved chili beans and cornbread. He’d always ask if the pot was on, meaning the old pressure cooker that I used to cook them in. I’d take the whole thing out to the shop with a ladle, and some bowls and they’d eat until they couldn’t eat any more. One time I released the pressure cooker lid before it was empty of steam and it blew the lid off. The lid hit the ceiling and the chili beans went everywhere. They made jokes about those beans for months.”
The Hopkins family pose with the Sierra Queen. L-R: Bill with our dog, Spike, Tom, Jim, Evelyn and Jack. c. 1959.
“Jack and my husband, Kurt Bohne, used to hang out together sometimes. Loggers love their beer, and Indian Valley was a beer drinker’s paradise. [Jack] was not a mellow person, nor was Kurt, so needless to say, they did make some local history at times. Jack and my Dad used to sit at the kitchen table and talk about logging sometimes half the night. He drank his whiskey and my dad drank his beer, and they argued a lot and Jack would sometimes pound the table, but they always parted friends.”
Nansi continued, “The pioneer spirit was very evident in Jack Hopkins during the years that he lived in Greenville. He was always forging new frontiers in logging, although the boundaries were tight even in those days. I remember Jack as having been about as tough as nails, but he could also be kind and considerate – a rare combination. What he couldn’t be is patient with anything that hindered his progress.”
Following maritime tradition, our father’s fleet of the logging trucks were christened with individual names professionally painted in script on the cab just above the windshields. Blood, Sweat and Tears, Sweatin Tears, and the prophetic Too Young To Die were Internationals, while the Plumas Queen, Sierra Queen were Macks kitted into Peterbilts, with the venerable Lassen Queen remaining a Mack, and the sky-blue Gobbler a purebred Peterbilt.
As youngsters unaware of any danger, my brothers and I went for rides as passengers in logging trucks. It was great excitement watching and feeling heavy logs being loaded onto a truck, feeling their great weight, and hearing the diesel engines labor while hauling them to the sawmill down mountain roads. At the mill, we stepped out to the ground, watching from a safe distance, the load of logs cascading into the millpond, followed by tremendous splash of water and flying bark, a thunderous noise as logs crashed into the water, log against log, sending large waves across the millpond.
As much as Jack loved them, logging trucks were indeed dangerous. Most of these trucks were involved at one time or another in serious accidents, some quite spectacular. More commonly, logging trucks were lost by sliding off snow-covered roads and crashing into the timber.
Between Greenville and Lake Almanor there is a constriction point for over-height logging trucks at a narrow, low concrete underpass, where the Western Pacific Railroad passes over Highway 89. Known as the Wolf Creek Underpass, the Western Pacific Railroad passes over the highway to switchback up the Wolf Creek Summit from the floor of Indian Valley to Lake Almanor.
Richard McCutcheon describes its hazards:
A logging truck driven by Jess Miller of Greenville was stuck under the overpass. Jess was letting some air out of the tires to lower the load when Jim Pirtle, driving a little Ford logging truck down the Wolf Creek Summit lost his brakes. A third logging truck driven by Jim Hatch of Greenville had pulled off the highway to help Jess. Pirtle was on his horn blowing like mad and the last time he looked he was traveling over 80-miles per hour. Jim hit the logging truck stuck under the overpass and knocked it on through before veering to the right and jack-knifing into the bank that held the railroad grade. Jim’s logs slid forward just missing the cab but saving his life. As he walked away from that no one could believe he got out of it alive.
The Wolf Creek Underpass is a danger to any logging truck that is loaded too high with logs. A downhill-traveling logging truck’s highest log is known as the “peakert.” Striking the overpass, a peakert would jam underneath the structure, stopping the truck and blocking Highway 89. “I even hit it with a load of logs,” laughs Jack Thomas. “There was a sign giving the legal overhead clearance as 14-feet 6-inches but over the years we discovered the hard way that three layers of new pavement had raised the level of the highway.”
In a second Wolf Creek Underpass accident, another Hopkins logging truck was jammed under the overpass as a second fully loaded logging truck was coming down the Wolf Creek summit. “One of Indian Valley’s Defanti brothers was the driver and couldn’t stop in time. To avoid hitting the logging truck jammed under the overpass, the driver drove off the highway into the brush,” remembers Jack Thomas. Fortunately, in all of this, there were no serious injuries to the truck drivers or to other motorists, but there was substantial damage to the logging trucks. The Wolf Creek Underpass still stands today, stubborn and defiant, chips of concrete taken out of its structure where logs have collided.
Jack’s favorite logging truck was a beautiful sky-blue Gobbler, so named for the sound of its purring engine when idling. As we live our lives we are remembered both for the smaller things and the larger things. When Jack had something firmly in mind he did it. Without consulting Evelyn, he withdrew the family’s savings of $5000.00 from the Indian Valley Bank and took the money to Reno, Nevada to purchase the Gobbler. Evelyn saw the truck for the first time from the laundry room window of our home as Jack proudly drove his new logging truck into the Greenville truck yard. I heard my mother using a rare outburst of profanity, saying, “that S.O.B.,” and not phonetically.
The wreck of the Gobbler on the road to the Greenville Saddle, Homer Lake Timber Sale c. 1967.
Gobbler went on to serve well, but had suffered three accidents in its logging career until it was finally destroyed when it met another logging truck on a narrow soft-shouldered dirt road forcing Gobbler’s driver to the side and over the bank with a full load of logs.
A most spectacular accident occurred when one of the Hopkins logging trucks lost its drive-line shaft and braking power while returning empty from the saw mill in Greenville to Swain Mountain. “The driver was a young driver who was not a good driver,” remembers Bob Stoy. “I told this fellow to hang his log wrappers up high on the rack behind the cab so they wouldn’t dangle down where they might catch on something.” It was good advice not taken. “We later found the drive line sticking in a tree near the community of Canyon Dam. A wrapper was wrapped all around it and as it took the drive shaft out it also severed all air hoses to the brakes lines.”
With neither a drive-line shaft nor any brakes the driver was unable to make the sharp right turn at an intersection beyond Canyon Dam to go up the east side of Lake Almanor toward Swain Mountain. By continuing straight through the intersection, however, the runaway logging truck gained speed and momentum as the highway dipped downhill to pass over the Lake Almanor Dam.
Construction workers were working on the spillway that year and the old road went down lower than where it is today. With lost brakes and unable to shift down, the driver couldn’t slow down or stop for the construction. He turned down the old detour road but it was closed off at the bottom so he turned up an incline and rolled the truck over at the spillway.
“The driver’s mother tried to sue the Hopkins Logging Company,” recalled Bob Stoy. “He had plenty of room and time to pull off the highway and come to a stop, but he kept going straight ahead and down the hill to the Almanor Dam, rolling the logging truck. They never did file the logging suit, but the threat helped to create Timber Trucking, Inc., in 1963.”
In another instance, a Cat D-7 was left idling too close to an area of active timber cutting. A large Ponderosa pine fell backwards off the stump in an unintended direction, falling off a high bank and over the top of the Cat, crushing the Cat’s canopy into the driver’s seat and controls.
A three-log load of white fir. Homer Lake Timber Sale c. 1967.
These accidents hurt both financially and personally. In order to protect the main body of the Hopkins Logging Company’s assets from liability, Jack and Evelyn created a new firm in August 1963, calling it Timber Trucking, Incorporated. Placing all their logging trucks within this business umbrella, gypo logging truck driver, Bob Stoy of Greenville was also a partner, becoming the “truck boss” for Timber Trucking. “Jack and I put Timber Trucking together,” confirms Bob Stoy. “Attorney Al Theiler of Quincy drew up the documents; we were partners.”
Reluctant to purchase new replacement logging trucks, Jack instead found some older Peterbilts that had once been in the Red River Lumber Company fleet. Though new to the Timber Trucking, these older trucks proved to be underpowered with 160 hp Cummins engines and maintenance headaches.
There is a story behind every machine and the men who operated them. Each piece of equipment has a different personality, sound, behavior and feel. There were satisfactions, dangers, disappointments, and breakdowns. Through it all, Jack maintained pride in his logging equipment and as a reminder to his sons Jack would say with humility, “I started out as a whistle punk.”
In the woods, there were three D-7 17A cable bladed Caterpillar tractors, and one D-8 cable bladed Caterpillar. A large D-9 cable bladed Caterpillar with rippers on the back end was used for road building and ripping large stumps from the road right-of-way. Some stumps were so large they had to be fractured with explosives before they would yield to the power of the D-9 to remove them. “Si Brand sold Jack the D-9,” informs Bob Stoy. “It was pretty useless for logging, but we used it for road building instead.”
The style of logging in Plumas County and Lassen County was known as “Cat logging”, as opposed to “high-lead logging” with a tall tower to obtain lift that is more common on the coast in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.
Here, Cat skinner Maurice Olson of (Portola) Keddie poses with the Cat D-7 with a hydraulic dozer that my father named Tweety Bird. Swain Mountain c. 1965.
Along with two logging arches hitched to the back of the D-7 Cats for lifting the ends of logs off the ground for ease in skidding, there was a new D-7 hydraulic bladed Caterpillar. This Cat was special and had a high tone to its engine when idling. Jack affectionately named it Tweety Bird. Tweety Bird became one of Jack’s favorite Caterpillars, and only one of his senior-most employees, Cat skinner Don Oberg was its operator.
Jack’s Northwest Model 6 loader with a Young heel boom and log grapples for loading logs onto logging trucks was the centerpiece and became the apple of his eye. Not conforming to his tradition of naming each piece of equipment, Jack never gave this machine a name, instead referring to it simply as “the Northwest.”
Possessing a natural ability and aptitude for operating heavy equipment, my brother Jim began to practice with the Northwest, tossing unwanted chunks, culled logs, and debris to the edge of the landing. Jack recognized Jim’s talent, and when Jim was fourteen years old, Jack had him loading logging trucks. At the time, our youngest brother Tom was too young to work in the woods.
Running the Northwest required good judgment for log selection and load placement along with good hand and eye coordination, eyesight and depth perception for tossing the log grapples. This was done by reeling in a cable tag line attached to the grapples and then releasing it at the right moment to toss the grapples onto a log. Furthermore, the grapples had to open at the right height and moment to grasp onto a log. As the grapples close and tighten around the log, the log is lifted so the end closest to the operator butts into the heel boom or the heel boom outriggers. Firmly in place and held tightly, the log is then swung onto a logging truck and trailer. It takes a couple thousand hours of seat time to become proficient with a crane, taking anywhere from five to ten years of real time to accomplish true proficiency.
The Northwest Model 6 with a Young heel boom, out riggers and grapples. Swain Mountain c. 1965
“It was not underpowered and had an old Cat engine. She could handle any log we gave it,” describes Jim. “We had to hand-crank it to start it and it could be stubborn. If you missed starting it on the first crank, you were in for a fight. Dad never allowed the use spraying ether (starting fluid) into the air intake to start it, as we did with the Cats and logging trucks when needed.
“Her controls were manual causing tired arms; there were no air controls or hydraulics. She was a good machine to run, but it was intimidating for me as a fourteen year old kid. I was in awe of it. Eventually Dad had me practice swinging logs from a cold deck to a hot deck. It took me a full summer to gain confidence and I remember when I loaded my first logging truck.
“A truck belonging to a gypo logger backed into position for unloading his trailer riding piggyback on the truck. The driver jumped out of his truck and went up to Dad shouting, ‘Get that kid out of here; he’s not loading my truck!’
“Dad told him while pointing down the road, ‘My son stays and loads your truck or else you can get out of here!’ Jack and Evelyn had always supported their sons’ endeavors.
“Angry, the man jumped into the cab of his truck and drove away empty in a cloud of dust,” Jim discloses. “The next driver was a truck driver named Bob Sherman driving the Sierra Queen. After unloading his trailer and hooking it up to the truck, Bob got out and winked at me with a smile. I loaded the Sierra Queen and loved it. Unlike working around the Cats, there was little dust to inhale.”
This experience set Jim Hopkins in motion toward becoming a businessman, and an expert crane operator.
Jack and Evelyn later added a Link-Belt 108 with hydraulic outriggers, heel boom and grapples to load logs on a second logging side. Rather than purchase a third log loader for the smaller salvage side, Jack and his field mechanics devised an ingenious method of loading logs. It was a homemade loader made from an old logging arch on tracks. A logging truck trailer reach was welded to the arch to make an extended boom. With arch and extended boom hooked up to the back of a Cat, the cable on the Cat’s Hyster winch drum was run up the arch and boom. On the end of the cable was a sling with a set of end hooks. It was similar to the older A-frame loading systems.
End hooks were dogged into both ends of a log, and then the log was hoisted with the Cat winch, and maneuvered to a logging truck and trailer. It was a slow method, but it worked well, cost very little, and required no maintenance. However, end hooks were dangerous to use, especially to the men hanging on to the taglines to control the swing of the log. If a log hook pulled loose under the weight and pressure of a heavy log, it went straight to the other end of the log like a bullet where it could hit anyone standing nearby.
Other assorted equipment included a shop truck, a fuel truck, and a welder truck for field repairs, a water wagon to keep the dust down on the logging roads, a Caterpillar road grader, and passenger vans known as “crummys” to haul crew to and from work in the woods.
As their company grew so too did their large shop with its inventory of tools and spare parts in order to perform the increasing amount of maintenance. Operating three different logging sides placed an enormous amount of demand on Jack’s time. He dealt with crew problems, parts and fuel supply logistics, dispatching field mechanics and numerous other issues. Forgoing a normal family life and hard work make a logging show succeed. With a spiral-bound notepad kept in his right-hand shirt pocket, Jack jotted down notes to himself, parts numbers, telephone numbers, names, dates, times and places – the markings of an active mind.
My hard-working mother and father, Jack and Evelyn Hopkins, Greenville, CA. c. 1966.
Behind every successful man stands a great woman. Evelyn was the de facto bookkeeper and upheld the Hopkins Logging Company office. Hers was a mundane, but critical task. Her office space had been converted from a two-bay garage. With a large counter at the entry where employees and visitors could learn and talk with her, the office space was furnished with an old oak desk and various antique Dawson chairs. These had been salvaged from the long-abandoned Westwood headquarters office of the former Red River Lumber Company. On the outside of the building and hanging above her window was an old cross-cut saw painted Caterpillar yellow with the bold words, HOPKINS LOGGING CO., painted in black, while below this window hung a second cross-cut saw similarly painted with the words, TIMBER TRUCKING.
“I used to get a kick out of listening to both your dad and Si Brand arguing in the tavern in Taylorsville after they got off work,” continues Richard McCutcheon. A favorite watering hole, the Taylorsville Tavern was a gathering place for loggers where strength was foolishly measured by how much one drank. Filing into the small bar with their stagged pants, Hickory shirts, some with suspenders, hard hats, wearing slippers and leaving their cork boots behind in their trucks, loud laughter and outbursts from the loggers spilled out into Taylorsville’s quiet main street.
For my brothers and I, it was a smoke-filled cavern with a long bar counter in the style of the Old West. It was a cowboy bar patronized by loggers with walls adorned spectacularly with the mounted heads of large-antlered mule deer staring blankly at the wild patrons below.
Si Brand, owner of the L.H. Brand Logging Company, was equally as hard working as my father was, and regardless of being friends, Jack and Si Brand were business competitors, arguing often with one another. Jack loved to stir up action, and as his sons, we sometimes waited a long time in the back of the pickup truck parked outside while loggers drank and quarreled, speaking of their injuries, detailing their narrow escapes with death, and comparing the women they loved. Often, our father would come out and hand us bottles of Orange Crush, or Lassen Cream Soda, before returning inside to a swirl of cigarette smoke, foul language and flying-epithets to continue the rough debates.
Our mother and father taught my brothers and I how to work, and working with our father in the woods became an experience my brothers and I would not trade for anything in the world. Time was precious with Jack and when he deemed us old enough at age eleven, we went to work with him in the woods during our summer vacations from school.
Working in the woods would keep his sons out of town and well occupied. Early in our lives our father was affirming my brothers and I as men. Getting up early, Jack came into our bedroom each morning, turning on the bright light, uttering good-naturedly, “Rise and shine with the Waterman Line. Hit the deck you mattress backs!” With sleep in our eyes, we tumbled out of our beds to the smell of breakfast already cooking on our mother’s kitchen stove.
There is nothing like watching the teamwork of a well-executed logging show. We watched timber fallers at work cutting timber and heard the big old-growth trees leaving their stumps while crashing to the earth in a cascade of broken limbs and widow makers. We smelled fresh sawdust and crushed needles and observed what a beautiful thing it is to see experienced hands operating heavy logging equipment with no wasted motion.
We rode Cats on skid trails into the woods. Sitting on the armrest or tool box just inside the protective canopy was rough and jarring but exciting. Ground could be steep and the Cat crawled up or slid down over rock and loose ground to the smell of freshly turned dirt and rock powder. We helped set chokers around logs, and rode the Cat back to the landing, inhaling a cloud of dust while dragging the heavy logs behind. Skidding downhill was easier than skidding uphill, where logs had to be winched with powerful Hyster winches mounted on the back of each Cat.
On flatter ground, a Cat was hooked up to a logging arch. More difficult to maneuver with an arch in tow, but as already mentioned, it allowed logs to be lifted off the ground on one end for easier skidding. Jack’s two logging arches were each a little different. One, a wheeled arch with large aircraft tires, while the other had steel tracks.
A good Cat skinner, like Don Oberg, Hubert Smith, Maurice Olson, or Howard Long, used the blade to balance the machine on steep, uneven ground, to prevent the Cat from falling over backwards, or to push log debris, and smaller trees out of the way. Other times, there was no blade, but only the C-frame or yoke where a blade and the blade arms are attached. It too can be used for pushing. Without a blade or a C-frame, Cat skinning is more difficult.
Although we were mere boys, my brothers and I each had the chance to work in the woods alongside real loggers and were expected to work like men. There is nothing worse than being called a “sissy” in the woods; one had to move fast. Logging is hard work, dirty work, manly work, honorable work. We were proud to be loggers. Working during hot summer days, we licked dust and had our mouths parched with thirst. Running out of drinking water was a serious matter and we kept our water jugs cool in the shade a nearby stump, tree, or rock outcropping.
Imitating our father, we wore Frisco stagged pants, a Hickory shirt, hard hat, cork boots, and gloves. In bad weather, we wore canvass-like Filson tin pants and coat. Jack never wore suspenders, a trademark of West Coast loggers, but instead wore a heavy leather belt around his fit, trim waist.
Jack Hopkins was a man of energetic action with a quality, charismatic leadership style for strengthening, helping and upholding his crew. When we as his sons or members of his crew did something well, he praised us. In the toughest situations, Jack could usually crack a confident smile and say, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” When things were going well, Jack would say with pride, “Let’s get to getting while the getting is good,” or “Now we’re logging,” or “Slick as a whistle,” or “Steady she goes!” This last being a derivation of the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific motto “Steady as she goes,” an indication of Jack’s maritime background. Willing to try new things, Jack would say, “Give it a whirl.” Signaling the end of a long day, he would say, “Let’s head for the barn and rustle up some grub,” with a reminder, “Don’t tell your mother what we did today.”
Standing 5-feet and 10-inches tall and weighing 175 lb, he was a man with attractive blue eyes under dark eyebrows and a strong chin cleft. Blessed to possess a magnetic personality coupled with his smile and communicative eyes, he had a gift to draw good people to his side. His employees came from a wide area in the northern Sierras: Quincy, Chester, Westwood, Lake Almanor, Greenville, Sierraville, Loyalton, Truckee, Taylorsville, Keddie, Crescent Mills, and Susanville.
There were times Jack could be rough with his men. In one instance, he and his good friend Jack Thomas ended up rolling on the ground in a cloud of dust locked in combat throwing punches and curses at one another over a disagreement concerning a logging truck.
In another, a crewmember drank too much beer the previous night and while sitting in the crummy waiting to be driven to work with a hangover, Jack said, “Elmer, step out and sober up. When you are feeling better, you can return to work.”
Elmer, reluctant to move as ordered, said, “I can handle her, Jack. I want to go to work.”
When he barked an order, Jack’s expectation was that you jump to it. Before Elmer could say anymore, Jack reached across a crewman grabbing Elmer on the far side of the bench seat by the front of his shirt and dragging him bodily out of the crummy to the ground, like pulling a log through the brush with a Hyster winch mounted to the back of a Cat, suddenly and powerfully.
“Come back when you’re sober,” commanded Jack. Dusting himself off, Elmer stumbled away. Regardless, Elmer stubbornly made his way to the logging site that morning and Jack had to fire him.
On another occasion, Jack had hired a young logger named Douglas McKibben. Doug loved being in the woods and Jack put him to work as a choker setter. Suffering from macular degeneration, he was slowly losing his eyesight. Jack kept him working as long as he could until it became too dangerous for Doug to be in the woods. With a saddened heart, Jack had to let him go. On his last day of work, McKibben expressed gratefulness to Jack for the opportunity to work.
Taking pity of hoboes that slept in railroad boxcars along the nearby Western Pacific Railroad siding near our house, and knowing the importance of work and self-worth, Jack would hire these men without names if they wanted to earn some cash, putting them to work painting his shop buildings, cleaning up the truck yard, or washing the logging trucks.
“I have heard said by those who would know,” confirms Robert Cameron, “that Jack Hopkins could operate any equipment that ‘had a lever on it.’ He was Paul Bunyanesque to the kids around Greenville and to the tough men who worked for him.”
With fondness and pride, Jack often said of his loggers, “They are the salt of the earth.” These were hard-working men with names as: Alley Oop, Sylvan, Whitety, Monte, Stirling, Choctaw, Red, Buck, Hog Jaw, Dusty, Butch, Spike, Jake, Slim, Silent Jim, Beetle Bomb, Swede, Icabod, Sox, Ratchet Ass, Bud, Chuck, Hubert, Little Joe, Skeeter, Jiggs, Maurice, One-Eye Al, in addition to several Jacks.
On a dark early morning before sunrise, my brother Jim and I peered off into the distance to locate familiar landmarks as the logging equipment was warming. I can still remember the strong smell of ether, squirted into air breathers to get cold and stubborn diesel engines to start, when our Dad came over to stand between us, putting his powerful arms around our shoulders saying, “What do you boys see out there?” We replied, “Nothing, it is too dark to see anything.” Expressing his work ethic our father said, “That’s right boys, and this is how it’s going to look when we stop working tonight. Let’s get this show rolling. We didn’t come up here to pick daisies.”
With the customary highball sign, cries of “Let her rip!” and “Go ahead on her!” were heard as loggers headed into the woods and Cat skinners revved up their engines. All of these phrases and hand gestures meaning, “Let’s get to work!” Loggers scattered to their tasks amid the sounds of chainsaws, heavy machinery, the clatter of steel Cat tracks, stirred up dust, and in the distance the sound of big timber crashing to the earth.
In 2003, I traveled to Greeville. Here, my high school friends, Mike Knadler on left, and John Hunter on right, pose with the Hopkins Logging Company logo crosscut saw that once hung on the Hopkins Logging Company office building in Greenville. John secured it from a garage sale, saved it, and gave it to me years later. I was astonished when I met up with the old saw again.
Bohne, Nansi (Wattenberg), Quincy, California. “Memories of Jack Hopkins and the Hopkins family.” ‹www.valleyviews2.com›
Note: Nansi Wattenberg Bohne is the daughter of Bill Wattenberg, a gypo logger and neighbor from Greenville, California. Her brother, Dr. Bill Wattenberg is a noted radio talk show personality.
—. Interview with Radio Station KQNY program, Hear Today, Here Tomorrow, Quincy, California, “Greenville’s dynamic logging and sawmill days.” November 12, 2013.
Cameron, Robert D., Greenville, California (1946-1966) A Reminiscence, as excerpted from a privately published book Clearance…My family’s journey from ancient Scotland to modern America. Accessed on: ‹www.valleyviews2.com› 2007.
Note: Robert Cameron was born and raised in Greenville, living next to the Wattenbergs. Robert is a retired thirty-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol.
—. Facebook comment. “ Jack Hopkins was Paul Bunyanesque.” William M. Hopkins Facebook photo album, The Hopkins Logging Company, photo #39 of the Hopkins family posing with the logging truck Sierra Queen. November 21, 2014.
Collins, Tommy. Email correspondences. “Wheeler, Collins, and Hopkins family history.” November 5, 2010 through September 5, 2013. Note: Tommy Collins possesses a remarkable memory of Wheeler and Hopkins family history providing invaluable details during the 1940’s and the early 1950’s.
—. Email correspondence. “Jack and Lloyd’s post-war visions for the Sylvan Dairy, Greenville a lumber town.” February 13, 2011.
Hopkins, Jim, Seldovia, Alaska. Telephone conversation. “Hopkins Logging Company equipment, logging truck names.” May 15, 2008.
McCutcheon, Richard, Taylorsville, California. Email correspondences “Hopkins Logging Company memories.” 2006 through 2010, including passing along logging truck driver Robert Stoy’s memories.
Stoy, Robert, Taylorsville, CA. Telephone conversation. “The purchase of the Luscombe airplane and the end of the Hopkins Logging Company.” December 5, 2014.
Thomas, Jack, Seldovia, Alaska, “Memories of Jack Hopkins and the Hopkins Logging Company.” Personal interview April 11, 2006, and telephone interviews on July 17, 2009, and August 10, 2009. Note: Jack furnished invaluable information about the logging days.
Wendel, C. H., “Merrill & Barnwell.” Interview with Douglas Merrill, Gas Engine Magazine, Reflections-B, June/July 1989.
Wheeler, Lloyd Collins, Anchor Point, Alaska. Personal telephone interviews with Lloyd Wheeler of Anchor Point, Alaska. “Wheeler and Hopkins family history.” July 30, 2006 through August 25, 2008. Note: Lloyd furnished invaluable memories of his youth and his logging days in the coast redwoods and Sierra Nevada.
Mr. Hopkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org