Story last updated at 6/15/2011 - 6:25 pm
The days of independent logging camps are a thing of the past. Known as a "gippo" logger, a hard-working man with a small crew and the proper equipment could obtain a U.S. Forest Service timber sale. After men fell and limbed the timber, the logs were dragged into the bay. The sawmills, especially at Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka and Wrangell, would purchase the logs and arrange to have them towed to the mill.
In the early years many of these camp owners were independent and sometime eccentric, as were their employees. When husband Frank was managing Ketchikan Spruce Mills, Mary Reynolds, known as "Crib Board Mary," gave him a manuscript about some of her adventures at her husband's logging camp.
For many years, Sawyer & Reynolds logged at such places as Thorne Bay (1913, 1924), Hollis Anchorage (1913, 1924), and Karta Bay (1922) on east Prince of Wales Island. I have not researched when Sawyer combined with Reynolds, but the company contract-logged for Ketchikan Spruce Mills for many years, and Frank knew both Reynolds and Hugh Sawyer. From Crib Board Mary we have a glimpse of logging and life in camp.
Keep in mind, this is an unedited story written by Mary:
"The first successful and greatest logger in Alaska was my husband, J. R. Reynolds. He came to Alaska in 1900 and was only a kid at the time. With him, he brought a horse and a rope. He attached the rope to the horse and wrapped the other end of the rope around a butt of a tree he had cut down and trimmed off its branches. The horse would walk pulling one log at a time to the beach. All the grubstake he took with him was bacon, beans, salt, pepper, bread, and coffee. This was all he had to live on for six weeks or more until the mail boat came, and that all depended on how rough the water was. Meanwhile, he lived on wild game.
His hand logging was so great that Hugh Sawyer and J. W. McKay made a corporation with him. With their means, they bought a Caterpillar with bulldozer tractor, steam pile driver, and a boat, and logged all over Southeast Alaska - Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell, etc. Later they bought McKay out, so it was just Sawyer & Reynolds Logging Company. Our main office was located in Ketchikan.
I came to Alaska in the 1930s. In the early forties, Mr. Reynolds and I went to our small camp that only had 32 men. During the war, men were hard to get. Mr. Reynolds left the camp to take care of his other business. He left me and the hook tender to get the logs out. The hook tender came at 7:00 a.m. and knocked at my door to ask me if I would be the whistle punk; the one we had, got drunk on lemon extract - it used to be 65% alcohol. He couldn't get up for breakfast. I proceeded to get dressed, putting on black wool underwear with white buttons and my cork shoes. The hook tender wrote down the signals to follow, so off to the woods I go with all my pets and a book I was reading at the time, 'Valley of Decision.' All I had to do was to sit on a stump and give signals. A tree got stuck behind a stump and I had to wait, the sun came up, I read a few lines in my book and went sound asleep. The hook tender came down the hill and did he ever read me off. I never heard such words. He told me to get back to camp and take my beauty naps. I said 'Please don't fire me I'll do better, I promise.' He yelled, 'How the hell can I fire you, it's your camp.'
Worst of all was Whiskey Pete, our cook. Pete sent me to Port Alexander for oil for the cook stove. He put four drums on the 'humdurgen' to fill with oil [Author's note: According to Frank, a humdurgen was a small, square-ended workboat]. I took all my pets with me, my porcupines - they always travel in pairs, baby bear, my baby deer, St. Bernard, fox terror and three cats. I got into a poker game at Port Alexander with the fishermen and didn't get back until 5 in the morning. Whiskey Pete was standing outside, his hair was standing straight, wondering if I ever was coming back.
Mr. Reynolds never allowed whiskey in our camps nor any kind of alcoholic drinks. Whiskey Pete was the only one who got away with it. Once he jumped the mail boat and left us without a cook. I went to the woods and asked the bucker Paul Pokus what I was supposed to do. Together we got a pretty good dinner for the men. I wanted to do something nice so I made drop biscuits out of Bisquick. They were all different shapes. The faller, Silent Abe, said, 'What in hell are those supposed to be, carbuncles?'
I was happy to see Mr. Reynolds back in camp. My husband was very proud of us, we managed to get 3,000 board feet of logs in the water in six weeks time."
Pat Roppel, a 50-year resident of Southeast Alaska, lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at email@example.com.