￼WHEN THE DAYS WERE YOUNG IN THE BIG TIMBER WOODS
MONEY WAS EASY; TIMES WAS BETTER
R: And you’d hear ’em comin’ just like a gang of geese for Burl to set ’em across the river
R: We had a boat, half of ’em worked across the river and then some on th’ other side, them Tallies. You know they fetched their grain, and they, and Burl’d set ’em across the river, in the boat. It’d be a day for pert nigh a half hour to get across backwards and forwards a sendin’ ’em. He’d fill the boat full and take a load and then come back. Well it’s a wonder we had’n’t a’ got drownded. And they’d a’hollered they got so they kind’a hollered Burl’s name–“Buie”. They’d send Burl to the store for ’em.
B: Twenty five cents a man each way.
D: Is that right?
B: Yessir that’s what I charged them . . . . only way for them to get across. You drove [walked] five or six miles, and they wasn’t gonna make that for a quarter.
D: Hell, you made a lot of money there then.
B: Yessir. And it ‘uz night and evenin’. That ‘uz night and evenin’. They had to work and it ‘uz the only way they had to cross. And besides, all day you would put in that run, if fellers a’goin’ to camp, some of ’em even give you a dollar to send ’em across one time, yessir. Why, shoot, they wad’n’t, they didn’t want to have to, all right they had to go now, and you know a man wouldn’t walk that fur for a quarter. For two, lessee, it ‘uz two miles, two, it ‘uz four miles that they ‘d a’had to walk, clear around to
￼the camp, and you know a man ain’t gonna walk down to, that fur to the bridge and back around that way, only walkin’ you know.
Given the amount of wages the labourers were making each day, Burl was making a huge amount of money. “That ‘uz night and evenin’: that is, the crews would be turning out for work while it was still dark (night) and returning maybe just before or around dark (evenin’). When I grew up in these mountains, the word ‘afternoon’ was very seldom used. Anything after 12 o’clock noon was called “Ths’sevnin” or “Tomar’evnin” which covered it all.
B: They were shootin’ down there that mornin’, an’ they said they saw he went down an’ he said… They told ’em that some of ’em had killed two or three big turkeys, and he said they had one of ’em on a cookin’ and then he said he told ’em the rest they had two more a hangin’ down there at the barn; an’ he says he told him he wanted to see ’em. And they took him down, he said, and there was two ol’ turkey buzzards, he said. “Gosh” he said, he went up, he said, “get that out a the pot this minute.” That’s the way he said it. “Why” he said, “that’s nothin’ but an ol’ turkey buzzard.” An’ he said they tried to argue with him awhile. “Why,” he said, “hit’s turkey buzzard, get that out a the pot and throw it away, fer” he said, “that’s the stinkin’est thing that ever was.”
BP: Boy, you can smell that from a mile away.
B: Yes, he said they throwed it out. He said they thought it was turkeys.
D: What’s that?
B: Ol’ turkey buzzards. They thought . . . if they’d a smell it that they’d a knowed it wasn’t a turkey.
BP was Butch Perry, a best friend, understood buzzards in a different way. When they have to take off quickly, they must empty out what they had been eating. Once, a buzzard waited too long to fly and when it emptied its meal, this landed on the hood of Butch’s vehicle. The paint was never the same again.
BIG EYED CHICK
B: They was a bunch of them I-talians and they was always a’wantin’ chickens and stuff, and some of ’em come along, he killed, they had killed a big hoot owl, he said and told ’em hit was, I forgot what he told ’em hit was some kind of a chicken, the boss called Lewis and he was always doin’ somethin’. He told ’em it was, it ‘as some kind of a chicken and they asked him if it was good to eat and he said, “oh,” said, ” that’s the finest meat you ever ate.” “Fellow how many you take for it?” “Well,” said, “you can have it for two dollars,” and he said, ” that’s the least I’ll take for it.” He said, “If you don’t I’m a’takin’ it on in home, I’ll take it back,” and he said, well, they took it and give him the money–they always had the money to pay, they just give him the two dollars. And he went to the camp, where they was camped, and they cleaned the old hoot owl up and put it on. And they cooked, and they–and it made ever’one’m sick and they was vomitin’ goin’ back up through there. . .and he said, “How was, how was your chicken?” “No good, no good,” he said. “John,” he said, ” don’t never name a big-eyed chick to me again. He made’a me sick.” He said, ” I don’t want a big-eyed chick.” Earl said, “I was just about to kill you another one, try to get you . . .” “No” he said, “No don’t catch anymore, here, I don’t want’a no more chick, no big-eyed chick.” He called ’em a big-eyed chick. Yeah, they cooked it up, it made ’emsick.
Different time, different place, life was rough and tumble for everyone. The job of a ‘woodhick’ demanded a huge amount of work from each of the men on this job. The Tallies and Bohunks who were building the railroad grade or the bridges or laying track, were under a lot of stress. Not only from the strenuous work, but being from a totally different culture they would not be able to fit in or speak the language.
The train men were running on hastily thrown down, crooked tracks and bridges. The loading and unloading of the logs, as well as taking care of the brakes on several of the cars, carried a tremendous amount of danger with it. When the cars were loaded with logs and underway, the brakemen would have ￼to be moving from car to car constantly adjusting the brakes. This was in hot and cold weather, wet or dry. Snow and ice froze on logs which had often been stripped of their bark and these were virtually impossible to walk on.
Then there were the cooks who had to constantly prepare great mounds of food for those men in the mountains. The cook house crew would have gotten little rest by constantly cooking all day long, having got up much earlier than the crews, and working long days on into the evening, for the cleanup and preparation of the meals the next day.
The teamsters had a lot of extra hours to put in. Their horses needed to be taken care of, from the heavy work of skidding throughout the day. They, like the men, had to be kept on high energy grain rations in order to stand the work. Sunday was a day off for everyone except the teamsters (so an old teamster told me). The men had to get their team out of the barn to make sure that they got plenty of exercise, which was essential to offset the effects of the grain intake. If they didn’t do this, the horse “would take black water”: that is, the kidneys could not handle the high energy grain intake which the work would normally use up. The kidneys would shut down, and the horse would die.
There was one job which did not call for extreme effort. It was the man who kept the sitting room or lobby in the bunk house cleaned up, fires going, ashes carried out, spittoons emptied and whatever else was needed. His job title was “Lobby Hog”. Tallies = Italians; Bohunks = Eastern Europeans from Bohemia/Hungary, etc. There was, however, no mention of black men working any of the jobs in the logging operations.