The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 3, Number 4, Pages 22-29
This the seventh 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 Lost Watch
Early this morning the calm and peaceful condition that our camp has been under for the last two days was broken. As I was readying myself for the morning meal and preparing my orders to the key men and hoping that more efficient production of logging would be the result, I heard loud voices - no it was only one voice and it was Windy Jack's! This was sure early for him to be up and around as 10 A.M. (not 5:30 A.M.) was his usual appearance time. So I knew we were in trouble again. I went down towards the bunk houses where all this clamor was taking place. There out in front of the bunkhouse all the crew were very politely listening to Windy Jack. As I neared them, I heard, "Ah come on fellows I've always helped you in everything - who has always given you good advice on solving your family troubles? - who was it that got that cook back when those two drunken bums tried to poison you with their cooking? - who keeps that runt of a foreman busy and lets you guys do whatever you want to out there in the woods by getting him to stay in camp? - who has suffered more than any other man you have ever known in entertaining the owner whenever he comes on an inspection trip by keeping him in camp too? - who bought both of those rats, the foreman and the owner, all that booze they drank and all those seegars they smoked? I don't like to brag and don't want any thanks, but all of you know who I'm talking about, and if you really don't know I'll tell you - IT WAS ME and ME alone who is your guardian angel. AH, come on fellows ain't you gonna help me?"
Not one volunteer did I see and I still didn't know what he wanted volunteer for. But then Windy Jack spotted me, so here it came. "Good morning, Boss, you sure look good, and I was just telling these men that they didn't appreciate you enough and that you were the most generous, most kind-hearted man in the world and that nothing was too good for you."
"Oh, Brother," I says to myself, "this must be something really big for Windy Jack to be up this early and pouring on that soothing oil so thick well, it won't be long before I hear what he wants, so let him talk." "Now, Boss, you know my sentiments about you, and the men all agree with me too, so I was wondering if you would keep the crew in today and let them help heal a broken man's heart, one who has suffered a terrible loss and needs help desperately and today too, not tomorrow, as that will be too late. If all men pitch right in and help I think this suffering victim of circumstances will surely be relieved and be eternally grateful to one and all forever. Well Boss, are you going to order those men to help or not,"
"Well, I don't know -."
"All the crew were politely listening to Windy Jack."
"That's what I thought, you hard hearted little two bit runt - not a particle of pity for one who is desperate. You've got that knobby little brain of yours full of logging and no room to put any other thoughts in it - one little no good, gyppo logging outfit getting out 10 logs a month and it takes all your brains for that. An African baboon has that much brains, a hell of a lot more than you, as even the baboons hang together and help each other, but not you. AH! come on Boss, what have you got to lose; the owner pays them and he would jump at the chance to help this man in his grief over that big loss,"
"Well, I don't .... "
"Just listen to him men. Not enough guts to out and out say what you intend to say or do, afraid I'll go over your head and get the owner to O.K. this, and believe me, you little runt, he will too, and not only that he'll send you down the road talking to yourself about where you'll ever get another job. Is that what you want? Boy I can sure get that for you and right damn quick too,"
"Well Boss, you could of asked anytime and I would have gladly told you. All you had to do was ask."
"Alright, I'm asking."
"You know that cook isn't any good and some of her food she cooks is worse - plumb rotten that's what it is - so after I ate some of her poison last night, I got sick and all night I was sick, and early this A.M. I got belly cramps. Man did I have to hurry for that privy. I made it in time, and as I was finally ready to come back to our shack, I pulled out my watch to see what time it was, as it was just getting daylight. Then kerplunk that watch just fell out of my hands and sunk out of sight, and all 1 wanted Boss, was somebody to get it back for me. AH! come on boss, it's been down there fer two hours now and it isn't one of those fancy waterproof watches, come on tell the crew to get at it."
"Windy Jack, just how much did you pay for that watch and what make is it?" (I thought we'd take up a collection and get him another to take its place.)
"It's been down there for two hours now."
"Well Boss, it was a right smart watch and I've had it for nigh onto 5 years. But I did see them in the store winder in town last winter and they were at the same price as before and this card in the window said "Ingersoll the working man's watch - still for only $1.00."
We didn't dig up any money or dig for any watch either. We just dug out for the timber and let Windy Jack suffer by hisself. Now I figured I'd took enough from that fat little goof off - and my temper began to rise and it rose fast too, so I barked, "Shut your damn mouth long enough to hear what I was trying to say will you? Well I don't know what in Hell has happened, so you little bag of wind, what is it?"
The Stage Line
That trail to the moonshiners had in time got wider and wider and well beaten enough so that with just a little work it could be another good passable road. Except for one small canyon that would have to be bridged anyone could have driven a car right up to the moonshiner's home. So after thinking of the possibilities of making a little side money from the crew, The Big Three called for an open meeting, and as the moonshiner would benefit by our plans we had him sit in with us to hear our proposition.
This is what was proposed: if the moonshiner and his boys would take out a hump here and there and build a bridge, we would invest our savings in a car and run a stage line from camp to their place for a nominal fee and they would more than double their income by selling food, renting their cabins, having girls sing, and selling drinks of whiskey. They could also sell a full jug to any who had money left.
Well, this got over big - the moonshiner agreed to everything, even said he would build a new building and buy some records with lively tunes for that old gramophone. After a lot of talking of plans and a lot of talking of money with a lot of drinking (as the moonshiner just happened to have a jug with him), we were well on our way into a new business and into a lot of money. Inside of three years Windy Jack prophesized we would have to take over the Greyhound Lines as they would give up in disgust at us forcing them out of business. Well, the meeting finally closed and as the moonshiner, Silent Bill and I staggered off on our separate ways, I heard Windy Jack talking to his self. "Now you take this here bridge...." I didn't hear anymore as I shut the door and fell on that good old bunk. I was "plum give out" and I knew it.
"Of course it was a little worse for wear."
The next few days were quite busy for us as we had to set up a new company and buy rolling stock. So after the election of officers: Windy Jack, President; Silent Bill, shotgun guard (according to Windy Jack we really needed that officer as our money would be by the barrel full and Wells Fargo always had one so we would too); and me as treasurer. I was instructed to draw out the necessary funds and proceed to town and contact either General Motors or The Ford Company and place our orders for rolling stock.
At the first used car lot I looked at I saw our new stage. Of course, it was a little bit worse for wear, but it still ran and had lights, a horn, and an overside steering wheel. So I dickered and cried robber and thief long enough and loud enough that he came down in price and I bought it right quick before that chiseler could change his mind. I had made a shrewd bargain: from the asking price of $100.00, I got it for $45.00, and you never will see a better looking 1914 Ford Touring car than that. Of course the top was gone and also the isinglass side curtains, but that was a minor item. I had made a bargain. In the morning I cranked it and in only ten minutes that little beauty's motor caught hold and with a wave of my hand I was on my way back to camp.
Well, Windy Jack had to be told and told, again and again of the bargain I made before he would even be a little enthusiastic over the car - seems that he had pictured a bullet proof glass, a long black shiny car that would seat seventeen or more passengers. I explained to him that this stage I had bought for the company was only for testing purposes and in a short time we would have a fleet of buses and that the company would supply him with a red headed secretary and a private car of his own. This sounded pretty good to Windy Jack; so his enthusiasm returned and we went to inspect the road and bridge - but by foot as Silent Bill was putting on the ribbons for decorating our stage on its inaugural run.
On the way to see how things were going, Windy Jack brought up another subject - "When did we have to file for our franchise." By George, he had me worried "did we" or "didn't we" that was the question. But I thought "Oh, Heck, let's wait and see." In the mean time the moonshiners had nearly completed the bridge, and as we got there the last plank was laid. Windy Jack insisted on driving the last spike and bemoaned the fact those cheap skate moonshiners didn't have a silver spike and not even a camera to take his picture for all the newspapers. But he drove the last spike anyway and we all shook hands and left the moonshiners on their way home to prepare for the crowd. As this was Friday, we would declare tomorrow a holiday and start the business of hauling passengers to the grand opening of the "Bucket of Blood," the moonshiner's palace of gaiety.
Early in the morning, in fact before breakfast was served, we had a line of men waiting to buy tickets, and as the driver and shotgun guard used up two spaces we could only take six passengers at a time, three setting in the back seat - three on their laps. So Silent Bill collected 50 cents apiece and we were off - then back - until all in camp were in the moonshiner's palace, even the cook and her two helpers went. All that day and all that night we celebrated.
The moonshiner made so much money, he had two of his boys with cocked rifles guarding it. Then came the dawn and the sick and lame were ready to go home and build up their strength. So we loaded up six and took off for camp - then it happened. As we neared the bridge I saw a log chain stretched across it, and the two oldest and meanest sons of that moonshiner standing in the middle of the bridge with their rifles in their hands. Naturally I stopped and asked "Just what are you guys pulling off."
"Mister this is a toll bridge and you pay or stay put."
"Damned if I'll pay it." "You, car and guard $2.00." "Every time we cross?" "No, only going to camp."
"The two oldest and meanest sons were standing in the middle of the bridge."
So everybody got out and stood there. I went back after more of the crew, knowing that when I got them all there something would happen - those rifle bearers would get those rifles put where they would hurt, and we would all get in camp by suppertime. I made the last trip with the last men of my crew and stopped the car right in the middle of that bridge, climbed out and said to my men, "It's only 200 feet down from this bridge onto those rocks _ throw those two stage robbers down there." Well, a few moved - a couple of rifles were cocked, and the few stopped and held a pow-wow. Then one of the men said, "Boss, we spent all our money."
"Well, Hell, throw them overboard, lets clear the bridge."
"Boss, we never did mind walking." "Clear the bridge so we can get out of here, we can't leave until its cleared."
"You mean if we clear the bridge we can go home?"
"Yes, sirree, but not until that car is off from the bridge."
"Okay Boss, we'll clear the bridge get your car off from it. But don't you ever say anything more about it to us, will yuh."
"No sirree, you boys get that car off and I promise on a stack of Bibles never to say another word."
"Everyone literally picked it up and pitched it over the side."
So, with that foolish promise that whole dang crew marched onto that bridge and I could see those moonshiners' minds working and the white lines around their mouths. "Shall we shoot or run," but they had to do neither as the crew stopped, as if one man by the side of that Ford, and everyone who could got a hand or two on it and literally picked it up and pitched it over the side, down, down to those rocks below. Then the leader turned to me. "The car is off the bridge, remember your sacred promise."
And I did too, but that darn greedy ignorant moonshiner was the cause of our stage line closing its doors. Well, anyway as we had collected our money for both ways from our forty eight passengers, we had no financial loss. In fact we made three dollars. But one thing still bothered me - did we or didn't we have to have a franchise?
Remember the saying, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Well, we will try again some day, I hope.