As a boy, just about all I knew about my Dad was that he operated a bulldozer and lived in logging camps more than at home. I recall getting up very early on a Monday morning to see him off in his Model A Ford. I didn’t know where he was going or when he’d be back. Understanding now how dangerous his work often was, I realize that each time he departed, might have been my last opportunity to see him alive.
I was a teen before he occasionally talked to me about his logging experiences. One account particularly unsettled me. “I was working for old man Beach,” he said. “He told me to build a logging road alongside the mountain, pretty high up. At the bottom of the mountain was a river. I needed to turn the machine many times to push earth and rock to the outer side of the road. Each time when I lifted the blade, I could see that river a thousand feet below.” I shuddered inwardly at the thought of that big bulldozer going over the edge, carrying my Dad to his death.
Apparently his employer had an enormous bank account. On another occasion Dad said, “Old Man Beach told me to build a logging road up a different mountain with a very steep grade. I knew that even for my cat it would be hard work getting up there. I told him no logging truck has an engine powerful enough to make the climb. He wouldn’t listen. He just told me to build the road or he’d find someone who would. I needed the work so I built him this impossible road. When the trucks arrived at the bottom of the mountain, the drivers looked up at the incline and shook their heads. ‘Too steep’ was all they said and walked away.” Mr. Beach showed no concern at learning the road was useless. Dad thought he was spending his money as fast as possible so his children wouldn’t get their hands on it.
In time, Dad bought his own machine and obtained a contract to clear agricultural land. When I was about 14, he decided it was time for me to learn a trade. He began taking me along to his work sites in summer. I’m still surprised that very soon he was instructing me in the use of 20 per cent dynamite to blast huge stumps out of the ground. Doing it right made it relatively safe, but I always kept in mind Dad’s dire warning. “If a stump doesn’t fire, don’t go back to it until the next day. One of my customers didn’t have the patience to wait. His head was blown clean off his shoulders.” My only complaint about blasting was that handling the dynamite brought on killer headaches.
Dad also instructed me in the use of his heavy McCulloch chain saw, operating a bulldozer and backhoe, and later in driving a dump truck with air brakes.
Working with him, I became aware not only of his skill with equipment, but also his courage. Several times I watched him building a road along a steep hillside. He had plenty of experience in this from his logging jobs, but sometimes he manoeuvred the big machine so close to the edge, I felt certain it would tip over and he’d be killed. For me it was terrifying, but he always reversed the machine just in time.
He was physically rugged and extraordinarily resolute. Whether swinging a 12 pound sledge hammer, welding in a hot summer sun, or getting his bulldozer unstuck from a swamp where an operator had left it, he didn’t complain. As a teen, this won my respect. My close friends all referred to their fathers as “the old man.” I could never do that.
Although I wasn’t yet willing to listen to his words, my future path was being shaped by his actions.