The Day I Snapped Fred’s Cable
By Ted Shannon
FLM former President
From mid-1955 until the end of 1959, I was a logger for Union Lumber Company in Fort Bragg, California. The old-timers who worked there said that Union Lumber was school for the young and a home for the old. I started out as “second loader” on the landing. A second loader spotted “saddles” for the loading machine operator. He also unset chokers, bumped knots, scaled logs, spliced chokers and helped the lazy, whining, overpaid truck drivers tie down their load. (I thought they had the best job in the woods, they got paid from the time they put their overstuffed lunch pails in the truck, while the rest of us rode an hour or so each way on our own time.)
Parker Ball was our hook tender, and while his job was to oversee the logging crew, he was the hardest worker of all when the need arose. He told me that my job was a little too much for one man, but not enough to hire two. He would always help when he was at the landing.
I had prior logging experience working for my father and I was paid top scale for my job from day one. The pay was $2.30 an hour. We worked a nine-hour day during logging season. Union would usually find something for us to do for at least part of the winter shutdown.
Parker’s uncle (or was it his cousin?) Fred Ball was our woods boss. For a while, I thought that Fred didn’t like me as he seldom (very seldom) smiled at me. However, I soon noted that Fred seldom (very seldom) smiled at anybody or anything. Years later I decided that Fred really wasn’t so bad, he just didn’t feel like smiling much. Fred would split his time between the two “sides” he was in charge of. He spent much of his time sitting in his Chevy pickup at the landing, probably to make sure that no unauthorized, hamhanded logger took his prize winch line. This line was only used to reach solitary logs when it didn’t make sense to take the time to build a road to them. It was much longer than our everyday winch lines, probably 250-300 feet, and it was of smaller diameter, 1/2 inch as I recall, so it would fit on the drum. You surely know that in wire rope at least, smaller size means less strength.
Well anyway, at the start of my third season with Union Lumber, they put me on a D7 Caterpillar. At that time a D7 was a puddle jumper, an odd job tractor that did the work that was too demeaning for real tractors, the D8s and International (Cornbinder) TD24s. While I had operated my Dad’s old (real old) tractors some, I was still a greenhorn catskinner. The easiest way to identify a greenhorn tractor operator is that they seem to be working hard, but are not accomplishing much.
But I avoided doing anything really stupid most of the time and they kept me on the D7, building roads to isolated small groups of logs and skidding them to the landing. One day Fred motioned me to his pickup, put his prized winch line on the D7’s drum, told me where a lonely log was and said sternly (real sternly), “Don’t break the line.”
I picked up my choker setter, Charlie (I’ll call him Charlie because that was his name) and went to the log. Well, actually, we could only get within about 250 feet of the log as it was wedged in the bottom of a steep ravine. Charlie pulled the line down to the log, hooked it up and signaled me to pull. When the line came tight, the D7 sat back on its haunches a little, but the log (it wasn’t that big a log) didn’t budge. I gave Charlie some slack and he reset the line so it would tend to rotate the log out of its hole. I winched again, with the throttle only at a high idle in deference to Fred’s wimpy line. Again, when the line came tight, the Cat sat back on its haunches, but the log didn’t move. Charlie motioned me to give it more throttle. I had some misgivings, but increased the engine speed a little, engaged the clutch, and promptly broke the line. Now, the line could be spliced, but a spliced line not only loses its beauty, it also does not go on the drum in as orderly a manner.
We wrapped the remains around the drum and I headed for the landing. I was feeling real sorry and afraid. What was I going to tell Fred? It would do no good to say that Charlie had signaled me to increase the engine speed. It was my hand on the throttle that caused the prize line to break. I didn’t have long to worry as I soon met Fred, actually out of his Chevy pickup and walking the skid road towards me. He was not smiling. I was a scared and unpolished 23-year-old, not much more than a kid really. I stopped the Cat and said, “Fred, I broke your cheap line.”
The next morning, I was a choker setter. But within a couple of weeks, I was back on a tractor, a real tractor, a TD24 pulling an arch. It had a real strong winch line.
(You can read about Ted’s adventures on the tractor in “The Day I Rolled Big Red.”)