Timber Falling

Timber Falling

by C. David Turnboo II

Well, here we are at the start of the thirtieth season of timber falling. I have managed to stay halfway healthy. I am still alive when twenty-six very good friends and fallers are not. Not to mention the lives lost in the logging cycle. I have not forgotten them and I use some of their gear every day. That way a piece of them is still going into the woods.

I like to tell people that I straight fell for most of my thirty years. I am lucky enough to have a sense and feel for this job. When you start in a strip or patch of timber, you have to know where to lay the trees correctly and without causing yourself headaches. If you’ve done any falling at all, you know what I’m talking about. Plumb bobbing is OK to find your lean on big timber, but it doesn’t matter, you still put the tree where it belongs, push, pull or jack it, that is called timber falling. You do not fall timber to the lean. Once in awhile you are lucky, and that is the best lay for the tree, but not very often. The guys who fall to the lean are always known as “last time around cutters”. They do not last long, if at all.

Timber Fallers is what we are called! I am very proud to be called one of those men. We are getting to be a smaller group every day. Times are going by and times are changing in logging. There are no more fallers and buckers, we are called single jackers and if you are not one, you are a faller buncher operator. (That is where you fall and buck up your trees). My family has a long line of loggers. My brother, Shawn Turnboo, who is a Timber Faller and climber, can run any equipment out there. Shawn is an all around logger. He takes after my granddad, Alvin Turnboo, or Bill, as we called him. Mike Carbine and Howard Nielsen are in my logging family, also.

As I said, I am proud to be called a Timber Faller. I could fall timber out of the chute, I guess. I would go out with my dad, Carl Turnboo, when he was falling timber for my granddad. Dad would fall a tree and start limbing it out. I would read the tree and mark it with a screwdriver, where to buck it into logs. When granddad saw that, he grabbed a double bit ax, walked up and stuck that ax into the log saying, “chop those marks, boy”. I was only six years old at the time. Boy, dad did not want me using that ax, but granddad would have no relative of his scratching log marks. That double bit ax is in my pickup to this day. So it began, after a lot of effort and dad’s help to get that ax out. Granddad had stuck it in the log with one arm. Granddad would tell you one time how to do something and you had better do it right. Granddad gave me my first chain saw at eleven years old. It was broke down, he said, “Fix it and it’s yours”. The starter rope was all that was wrong with one of Mr. Bradford’s Homelite chain saws.

Straight falling I have run all the falling saws in their day. The ones of my time were the Homelite, McCulloch and Stihl. Now with a 066 with a 36” bar, that is all you need to single jack. You can fall a pretty good size tree with a 6′ bar double cutting and blocking out, also. I have run and tried a lot of saws in my time. Stihls are the best at this time, in my opinion. I am proud to say I do all my business at Guy’s Saw Shop for Stihl chain saws. Guy and Cathy keep me falling. My dad, Carl, ran one of my saws to make a cut one time and the saw about sucked him into the log. He said, “bleep-bleep, boy, this thing can kill you”. I said, “Yes, dad, a lot faster that the saws of your time, so hold onto it”.

I have ran a lot of crews and contracted a lot as I am doing to this day. But now I do just what I can handle myself. Time is going by as I told you, timber fallers are dying. We are the old ones now. There is just a handful of fallers, true fallers, left that I have any respect for. There are some good young single jackers out there but very few. They were not around to fall the loadboy logs or big timber, which is not their fault. It was a different way to fall and buck big timber, a lot more on the line. We do not cut big trees much any more. A six-foot in diameter tree is a big tree now. That was not always the case. The CC crews can cut this stuff nowadays. The trees will still kill you though.

I am falling for LEI (Lowner Enterprises, Inc.) for Scott Bigelow at this time. The Bigelows are an old logging family, also. One of the best loggers left, in my opinion, I am working with one faller buncher, I fall out blue line, water courses and do the trees too big and on the ground what the machine cannot do. Logging outfits are going mechanical now. It is faster and better for the small diameter timber. You have to be a good faller to still have a job these days, or a cheap one. I want to be paid for my experience. I am honored that loggers still keep me working. I have told a few loggers my view on things a time or two. Logging is not the place for b.s.. People get hurt and lose their lives. We need to earn a decent wage to keep the veterans in this occupation. It is not called one of the most dangerous jobs in the country for nothing. I’ve seen it over and over. The old saying is right: “you get what you pay for”.

Like I was saying I have fell helicopter, yarder and cat ground. I have worked with some good men in my time and I plan on going to the end or till I make a mistake. I have no sons or wife, just Cierra Dawn, named for all the Sierra sunrises I’ve been lucky enough to see. Carly and Fallon are my little girls and I have my dog. I was blessed with girls and I love them all. I do not know if I could have had a boy in the falling end of logging—it is too dangerous! That is a question my brother will have to deal with as Shawn has two sons, the next generation. My wife left me. I do not understand it for I have been so close to getting hurt many times, falling trees in tough spots or that other fallers had hung up. I would get them down and smile and say “not today”. I was doing this to keep the jobs coming to me, making a living for my family.

(Editor’s Note: C. David Turnboo II resides in El Dorado County. His logging profession takes him all over the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.)


  1. Chris Matthes Says: October 18, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    A very personal and informative account of tree falling and the Turnboo family profession. I certainly have a greater appreciation for tree falling now that I’ve read this article.

  2. Chuk Lawshe Says: October 27, 2007 at 9:10 am

    At a recent gathering in Cool Calif. I saw a man walk through the crowd in what I knew was a logging uniform. Having been in wildland fire fighting business for 40 years I knew by his swagger and the saw pad on his right shoulder what he was about. I watched him get coffee and set alone surveying the noisy crowd. He had a dark forboding look about himself and I could tell, here was a bull of the woods. He still wore the dirt and grime of the 12 hour day he had just put in and yet at a distance you could see a twinkle in his eye that said.” What I did today would scare the heck out of most of these folks.” When he finished his drink and was leaving I made sure he would pass close by so I could speak to him. When I did he stopped and we entred into a conversation about the future of logging and an old friend we had in common. He had the look of Sam Elliot with his heavy, dark mustache and old tired wide brim cowboy hat. He spoke softlty but wisely about logging and the fact that that he was a dying breed. I made some off the wall comment about Hillery doing away with logging when she became President but he sluffed it off with a shrug and I could tell he didn’t have a political bone in his body. Here was a mans man who knew the world was changing and that he could do nothing about it but enjoy what time was left to be in the woods doing what he loved best. He said his name was Turnboo and that I might find his story on line. As we parted company I vowed I would find him online but I knew his story for I had watched his proud proteges’ perform their magic with bucking saws and later chain saws on many a raging wildland fire.

  3. miragesnlm Says: October 27, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Turnboo and logging just go together, don’t they? We’ve been honored to have him write for our newsletter several times. When time permits we’ll see if we can get some of those columns onto the website.

    Chuck, Do you mind if I ask if you are currently involved in the wildland fires down south? We’ve been watching the enormous response by firefighters across the state (including one of my neighbors who is down there for as long as it takes) and can’t say enough in honor of the men and women who are on the lines. What a time this has been for everyone. Mark J

  4. what a great article. i have over 15,00 hours of hooking time under the 214, 61, chinook, vertol and the 205 bell. i love logging. ive been cutting firewood here in bend for the last couple of weeks. got to fell a 3 footer yesterday and made 300 bucks in 4 hours. what a joy. i have a stihl 441. it has the husky style spring mount. its a nice saw. i’d go fall timber in a second if i could but its just too hard to make a living at it anymore. anyway thanks for the read. keep your head up.

  5. Fallon Turnboo Says: May 22, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    This as written by my Dad. I remember when he wrote it, it took him a long tme. Then he asked my sister Carly and I to type i for him, and that took awhile too. It’s interesting how the Turnboo family seems to be famous for timber falling. I don’t mean to get too personal, but I don’t know much at all of my Dad’s side of the family, ever since the divorce. I think my Dad did agreat job writing this, it really shows how much he is dedicated to logging…

  6. Sean Kerrigan Says: May 30, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Dear Mr Turnboo

    I think you’ve said what I’ve tried to write a couple times in your article. I’d like to write a book someday about my experiences in the woods but dont know if I have the talent.
    I’m a bit younger than you but have been working in the woods since I was 19. I started out thinning plantations, climbing, rigging, planting trees and gradutated to timber falling and hazard tree removal when I was about 23. I’m now 37…just a bit north of you in Nevada County, CA. But I’ve worked as far south as Sonora and as far north as Humboldt. I single jack, climb, top trees, you name it. I am glad to be part of this industry and as you said it is a dying breed of man that does this work. It’s getting to be a niche job and it seems I always have work. I’m happy for that. Thanks for your insight and I hope you make it 40 seasons!
    Sean Kerrigan

  7. Sounds to me as if Fallon and Sean might want to compete in our Logging Jamboree over Labor Day weekend. It would be nice to have either or both of you fellows join us.

    John Hofstetter

  8. Paul Moeller Says: September 4, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    This is a great story…and it is an awsome website.

  9. This is my dad, logging is not just a job for him but it really is his love… He has talked to me about the trees and everything he knows, and yes i can swing an ax really well!!!
    Im proud of him and when he passes out I will pass on this history.
    He told me when he dies he will die with the trees when he is falling a tree…
    I love him dearly…..

    -Carly Turnboo

  10. Carly,
    As a proud father of a daughter, who is, I think, proud of her dad, I loved your post. Fathers like your Dad, and like me, are very lucky to have daughters like you and my daughter.
    May I say, humorously, that I’ve known a few loggers who passed out most every Saturday night, but I doubt if your dad was one of those. 🙂
    I’m pretty sure that you were talking about him passing on.

  11. Does anyone know a former timber faller named Gary Olive that lives in Tahoe and is a custom knife maker?

    Kind Regards,

  12. Fallon Turnboo Says: March 3, 2009 at 1:09 am

    I all ready wrote a reply almost a year ago, and I’m writing again. I love my dad, he’s always told me he loves the woods, to be away from people. I rarely seehim anymore which makes me sad. He hasn’t been falling timber in awhile. I love you daddy.

  13. Colleen Fitzpatrick Says: July 10, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you Davy for writting this article. It brings back fond memories of riding with Granpaw on the “Cat”.

    I loved doing that, and sometimes grandpaw would let me help drive.

    It’s so heart warming to re-live those memories and know the El Dorado County Logging business is still alive

    Thank you for writting this………..

    Love ya

  14. Your editor has been mulling around an interesting, at least to him, question. David in his writing uses Timber Faller, and Falling Timber, but in my conversations with him, he talks about felling timber.

    The internet uses both terms and I can’t identify a regional source for the use of either term. David doesn’t have a listed phone, so if one of you ladies could e-mail me privately with his phone number, I’d love to discuss the terminology with him.

    Also, tell him I’m waiting for his next story which he told me at the Logging Jamboree he was working on.



  15. Cindy Butts Abrahams Says: August 20, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I really loved reading this article. My dad was a USF Forest Ranger for over 50 + years on the El Dorado, his name is Keith Butts and he always appreciated the Turnboo family I am not sure if this is the David I went to school with but I thought he was a great person to go to school with. What he has written here is amazing. If he is the same David I am thinking of the last big Ice House Fire back in the 80’s I think it was he wound up on a dozer crew headed by my dad those guys almost got trapped but they put their blades up and made a run for it. Amazing men, an amazing talent and art. My dad grew up in logging camps and again he has always had a great respect for the Turnboo men who logged. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Cindy,

      I don’t know David well, but I also have a lot of respect and regard for him. Only problem we have with him is he wants to exchange hats with one of our logger manikins. He donated the original hat and is pulling our leg about wanting it back.

      He writes well and has a wealth of experiences to draw on for his writings.

      He says that he is going to compete in our Logging Jamboree on August 18th. Why don’t you come over and see him?

      snlm John

  16. Cindy Butts Abrahams Says: August 20, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    I would love to see the event, I would love to see my beloved mountains as well unfortunately the last 18 years have seen me living in the Caribbean paradise of Grand Cayman and I have not been back to the states since 2008! However if I do head that way I will definitely check out the old stomping grounds. I would also be happy to touch base with you and give you my father’s contact details if you private message me. He has so much historical knowledge of the logging on the El Dorado, I guess fifty plus years as a Forest Ranger would do that!

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