The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 3, Number 2-3, Pages 41-50
Spring-Summer, 1978

Lumberjack Legends

Lynn A. Hull

Illustrations by Jon Herman

This is the sixth in a series of legendary recollections of the Northwest written in 1961 by Lynn A. Hull, who had been a lumberjack for many years. The stories, written in the form of letters to his son, take place in the 1920's and 1930's.

The West Virginians

Dear Son:

Several years before anyone had started to take the timber off from this part of the country a family from West Virginia located here. One man, one woman and one boy. They brought pots, pans, an axe, a saw and a copper still. He had inheritated the still from his pappy along with the recipe for making mountain dew, plus his rifle and a flock of dogs. They carved out a home and settled down to raising a family and to being solid citizens. I found out that they had been there for 18 years before our camp was set up to house the loggers four miles down the river from them.

I guess it was really sensational for that family to see so many people out there. Before the occasional timber cruiser and a few adventuresome fishermen were their only visitors. Eventually the fishermen spread the work about the good fishing, meals and good old corn liquor to be had and at a very low cost. So the West Virginian decided to cash in on his growing notoriety. First he built one room shacks - 2 bunks in each, all made of cedar shakes and slabs. Then he located his still, set a few barrels of mash working, and set back and waited for those wealthy fishermen to start him on his way to a better living.

Now this was the first I'd seen of what was called a dude ranch. (I'll bet it was one of the first in the Northwest). It looked like it might be a gold mine. He had them paying for everything coming and going - eating and drinking, fishing and sleeping. A perfect set up.

It was what you called a dude ranch.

Below the house in the river was what everyone called the "Big Eddy." It was full of fish at all times and was kept that way by the West Virginian baiting the hole with food for the fish. He took several rolls of salmon eggs in a flour sack, put in a few big rocks, and dropped it in the eddy. That was his recipe for "Baiting the hole." He would have his boys do this for three or four days before his guests arrival. It was a fisherman's paradise - everybody caught their limit and in a short time, and as the owner of the dude ranch said, "That's good business. They come for a week, fish three hours and have their limit for a week, then eat, sleep, and drink all the rest of their days."

That was quite a family. I was invited to share a meal with them one day, and I know what I'm talking about. As the dinner hour neared, so did his sons. There were six big boys between 14 and 21, all lean and lanky, and all very quiet as we waited outside.

They were a very polite bunch of boys and seemed well trained by their dad. Well, finally, a little old gray haired woman came to the door and yelled, "You-uns can eat now," so we traipsed in, and as I was very observant, I noticed no one sat down. Each one stood behind his chair with head lowered in silent prayer. Then the pappy said, "Set," and we all set.

Still not a word from any of the boys! I took a quick look to see what was on the table to eat, and there were hard boiled eggs still in the shell. It looked like dozens of them and a great big bowl of boiled potatoes and a big pile of biscuits - nothing else, no bread, butter, salt or pepper - no coffee and not even a smell of any. The three girls were standing at attention at the end of the room just waiting for the men folks to tell them to go fetch. An in a little while they were fetching, as these folks had large appetites.

The only one so far who spoke was the bull of the ranch, "Pappy". Every one else ate. Pappy spoke to me once, "Have some pertaters, take one, take two, well take dang near all of 'em." Then to his wife, "Woman c'mere and skin these aigs."

That was all the small talk I heard until we got through eating. Then one of those 6 footers stood up. He waited for his pappy to recognize him and said, "Pappy, one our sow's er eatin' her younguns."

Pappy studied that over for awhile, then said, "We'll butcher her tomorry."

Another boy stood up and waited until his pappy recognized him, "Pappy, we're gittin' short on sugar."

"Use some molasses, whisky don't care what makes alki. Just so it gits in thar," said Pappy.

And this went on and on, very quiet like, one up, one down, all very polite and not any interruptions to be heard. Well, I counted those sons and I figured to myself that if each one asked three questions at ten minutes each, I was in for a long dinner hour. I could see if I excused myself and rushed away, I could cause a lot of trouble for the loggers by being so impolite; so I stayed on to the bitter end.

But as they were bolting down their meal my thoughts started to wander. As I came back from dreamland I became aware that at last all business for the day had been completed, as pappy came out with "Airy other word?" No word was heard so he said, "Git out thar and git to yore work." And believe me they got.

What a general that likker maker would of been - a real tartar and a real pappy at the same time too.


The Birthday Dinner

A motion was made that we have a party.

Dear Son:

While in town this winter at one of our board meetings, a motion was made and seconded that we have a party - a birthday party for me. A grand affair and to be held at the ritziest spot in town - where fine foods were served. Money wasn't to enter into this at any time, as it would all be taken care of.

Well, the date was set - reservations made and clothes prepared. Finally, the big day arrived and all were ready to proceed uptown to the famous dining room and partake of that chefs wonderful French cooking. Silent Bill had bought a pair of overalls and a blue work shirt for the' occasion. But as this wasn't Saturday, he needed a shave as that day by custom was the only time in the week he shaved. He didn't look too bad for a cafe down on Front Street, but not quite par for this deluxe joint. Windy Jack had borrowed a suit from the owner, and it was a fairly good fit.

At the door we were met by the head waiter and told "No ties - no dinner, gentlemen." Well, I hadn't thought that a tie would make the difference and couldn't see how a piece of cloth would be the identifying badge - but if that was what it took, O. K. Leaving those two in the lobby, I scooted over to J. C. Penney's and came back with three ready tied ties. After a lot of talk convincing Silent Bill to put his on, the ties were in place, and so were we away back in a little corner of the dining room, where they had to light candles to see and even with their light it was difficult for us to make out a chair from a table. But we were there and seated when the waiter with an extra towel for someone draped over his arm stopped and in a low voice said, "What do the gentlemen desire", and gave each of us the menu. Now Silent Bill was always a man of action and few words - knew what he wanted at all times - so never glancing at the menu (he couldn't read a word anyway) he gave his order. "Four double shots bourbon - ham and eggs." The waiter raised his eyebrows and looked at me I nodded my head so he wrote on his pad and looked to Windy Jack who was studying the menu (it was upside down). I didn't come to his aid, and Windy Jack, who was putting up a big front and trying to impress the waiter into thinking he was some big shot in the business world, started clearing his throat and said:

"Air you gonna have any aigs left out there in the kitchen atter feedin' my friend?"

"Yes sir, we can take your order and fill it. We take great pride in our ability of preparing exotic foods from any country on demand. So our larder is well stocked."

"I want two egg yolks fried hard." "Two egg yolks?"

"Yep, two egg yolks as that white on eggs pizen me, so just egg yolks and lots of toast - a stack about this high." He held his hands apart designating a size which would be a loaf of bread at least. Again the waiter looked at me, and I winked at him and nodded my head. The waiter winked back and a small smile came on his face as he took my order for a steak dinner for about $7.50 in American money, and as I had ordered, round of drinks as appetizers, he put our order in for the chef to start working on and brought the drinks - four double shots of bourbon for each of us.

"I want two egg yolks fried hard."

Then Windy decided he would like to get up on that little platform where the piano player was sitting and make a speech to the patrons there. Well, that was stopped after a long argument and here came the waiter with the meals we had ordered. Silent Bill put his face right down near his plate, in fact so close was he that it looked like his nose was in his food and with both hands moving he wouldn't lose much time in getting rid of his ham and eggs.

After about seven or eleven side dishes were placed around me, the big steak was put in front of me and I was on the starting line. But I waited for Windy Jack to receive his meal (I was polite) and as it looked like it was to be something special as our waiter was being helped by another to carry it to him. A platter about 30 inches long and 14 inches wide and all cover with a big lid was placed in front of Windy Jack. Several other diners came and stood around the table to see the chefs materpiece in culinary art, and as the waiters prepared to remove the lid, a hush fell in the dining room as gently and slowly the waiters exposed what was under the lid - then they took off for the kitchen.

Now no wonder it took so long to prepare Windy Jack's order of two fried egg yolks and toast. Let me describe this dish as I saw it: first this meal was placed on this platter to resemble a grinning face - and as the toast was cut in a triangular shape, the picture wasn't hard to recognize. Two slices of toast for ears with a sprig of parsley tucked in behind each for eyebrows, small containers of jelley for eyes, those two egg yolks for the nose, and for the mouth about 2 dozen containers of jelly lined up in a curve. A lot of onlookers smiled and snickered. Silent Bill and I were silent, and Windy Jack - any other person would of been shaken and mad - but he acted as if this was an ordinary occurence. I sure was proud of him. He just kept on talking.

Windy Jack just kept on talking.

So we started to eat and I watched and listened as Windy Jack tried to cut those rubbery yolks with his fork and finally had to hold the yolk with his fork and saw away with the steak knife that I had handed him. As Windy Jack ate he made a speech for my benefit. "Boss as you know this is in honor of your birthday and we are gathered here at this bountiful table to honor you with our presence and to give you a small token as a present, showing the high regard we have for you. No one has treated us so well, and as we are all human beings, we will strive and hope to follow in your shadow for many years to come." And then he kicked under the table to wake Silent Bill, who had been snoring. Bill started fumbling around in his pockets.

"Now we take this time to present you with our gift - knowing it is not the material value that counts in giving gifts but the spirit behind it. Give it to him, Bill." And I was handed a small package about the size of a package of cigarettes all gaily wrapped in paper and ribbon and as I took it people began to chant, "Open it, open it." But I was trying to think of something to say to them in thanks. I thought it was going to be a wonderful watch. But I couldn't think and couldn't talk because I was so choked up.

At that point the waiter handed me the bill. I still was too choked up to tell him that this was on the boys and give it to them. So I opened the package. Then I realized that it was not one gift I had received, but three. First, a package of Camels - no watch, second the dubious honor of those two for dinner, third and final - the bill of $19.50 for me to pay. I did and followed them home in deep silence.


The Wedding Celebration

Dear Son:

Yesterday, the day before that, and the day before it I went to a wedding - three days and three nights before the celebration ended. There was food by the ton, whisky (moonshine) by the keg, and barrels of beer, and lots of dancing.

This couple had the noisiest, drinkingest, fightingest wedding party I ever saw. They swore this was one of their native customs - they were immigrants - and should be held in this country too. On the day it started I was late arriving. I didn't get there until 7 p.m. and found out the shindig had started around 10 a.m. as soon as the couple was pronounced man and wife. There were people on the floor dancing, in one corner two or three weary souls on the floor sleeping, some were holding cups, and dang near everyone there was "in his cups." But everyone was gay, and many people of different countries were there. They were English, French, Russian, Polish, Canadian, well you name it - all allies of World War I. Then I saw Hans Schnee, the lone German from our camp. I could see he was feeling pretty good - but he was still alone - most of those present had suffered or their relatives had at the hands of the Kaiser's men. The Swedes were in a group of their own, so were the Poles, so were the Russians, and each group was trying to sing in their native tongue. What a noise. As the orchestra started to play a polka, and the bride was claimed by one of the Poles, and away they stomped. As they got near me, I stepped out and tagged the couple they were very nice to me but told me I had to win the right to dance with her, and to go down to the end of the hall and try my luck.

There they had a china plate placed on a box about 20 feet away and if you broke that plate by throwing a silver dollar you won a kiss from the bride, and if you broke the plate with a $5 gold piece, that's when you could claim her for a dance. Anyway I threw a silver buck down wind at that plate and Holy Cow I hit it. But thank God it didn't break, so I was saved (she wasn't too good looking), and I picked up my glass and left to get it filled.

Well, after several refills and lots of visiting here and there I found out that the bride and her cronies were a pretty sneaky bunch. When she got tired of kissing and dancing with strange men and all the time, those cronies of hers would put up a plate so heavy and thick that you couldn't break it with a 10 lb. sledge hammer. That saved me money: I had been thinking of being polite and heaving a five at that plate; but I don't care for sneaky tricks. So I just drank and talked and ate and drank and walked and drank some more and kept my money in my pocket.

How that little old man could yodel.

I finally wandered back to the part of the hall where all those groups were. Nothing much had changed - a few more resting, a few more sitting at tables, a few more under the tables, and a few more crawling out from under them. Otherwise, except for being louder and noisier it was the same. The party over by the piano was a little bit louder now and it sounded like they were edging someone to do something. A few picked up a fellow and stood him on the top of the piano. He was just a little old man, and I had heard he was in his 80's. He stood there and finally the hall got quiet. I had heard of this little Switzer before and how he performed at parties many years ago. He held up his hands and his granddaughter (I was told) accompanied him on the piano. How that old man could yodel. I don't think he took a breath for three minutes. Then that piano player stepped up the beat and the old man went into a tap dance and even did flip-flops on that piano top. That will always be the best performance I ever saw no matter what else I see. He was a wonderful little man.

Well, then after that act, I checked on our allies and Hans who was beginning to stir about and looking like he might talk. I knew if Hans started in German, all Hell would break loose. Hans didn't look German and could talk perfect English but I was told that after a gallon or so of beer he lapsed back to his native tongue and would really rattle it off. A big Swede who was getting friendlier and friendlier and walking around and telling everyone that he was Axel, "biggest meanest dam Swede in Old Country and United States." He neared Hans with two or three pickled herring in his hand and offered one of those rubbery fish to Hans.

"Nein, Nein, My God - Nein," said Hans.

I broke right into their party, as that hall got so quiet you could hear a pin drop and everyone even the drunks under the table got up and looked our way. Well, here goes a revival of World War I, I thought, if I can't think quick and smooth this over.

"Go and get Pedro nine of them."

So I grabbed that herring out of Axel's hand and told him, "Don't be so cheap - go and get Pedro nine of them this - Spaniard is a real fish eater and won't even start eating unless he has nine." Well, that big Swede's mouth was open and his eyes shining as he said, "Ay yust yump like Hell and yump right away for fish." He "yumped" and I got Hans on the way to the door and believe me I had him "yumping" too. But it sure was a blow out - one to remember forever.