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Restigouche River, New Brunswick

LIFE IN THE LUMBER CAMP

    Life in the lumber camp was basically the same as the drivers, that is to say, the camps and conditions and they used the same system. First the jobber, as he was called, would go to the company office and he and the company official would decide on a suitable place for his winter cut, this would be in the summer. Then he would get his horses and all his equipment ready for the early fall, perhaps the last of September, when he and a small crew of men and a couple of horses would go up to the head of a stream or sometimes just along the river. In the early days there were no power saws or no buck saws, just cross saws and axes.


   There would be a lot of axe work. Now they would start to build the camp, these were the same camps that the log drivers would use in the Spring. They picked a place as close as possible to a stream or other good source of water. Two men would cut fairly straight and quite big logs, the teamster would haul them to the camp site, where three or four men would notch the logs and this took a little skill. The notching was done by laying the logs in place and with a piece of chalk that he had brought along, he would scribe it, turn it over and with an axe he would cut along the chalk marks. A good notcher was admired for his skill and he was quite proud of his work. In the old days there were plenty of good axe men and it was nice to see a good axeman at work. The camp would go up log by log, cutting out for the doors and a couple of windows, a small one for the men's end and a larger one for the cook room. For some reason they always built their camps low, I guess to save time and they said a low camp was warmer. Be that as it may it looked like a mistake to me. I have been calling this structure a camp but it really was two camps, one for the sleeping camp for the cutters and one for the cook and a dingle in between, a place to store food for the cook.
   Now the walls are up to the roof. It is made of small split logs and laid round side down, going over the dingle as well and in my time the roof was corked with moss and covered with tar paper. Then the walls would be corked with moss also and the round pole floors and bunks would be made for the men's sleeping camp. Mattresses were of small fir boughs standing on end but in a couple of days we would be sleeping on the bare poles. Strange how men can adjust to such conditions but they did and were healthy and quite happy. The cook room was quite a bit better. It usually has board floors and ceilings, also board bottom bunks. What the mattresses were I don't remember. They had a good range stove and I remember one that had two ovens with a fire box in between.

   The cook was highly respected and kept himself neat and clean. He wore a white shirt and apron. He could make excellent bread, beans and cake. His cookies were big and thick, ginger and white. His raisin and dried apple pies were out of this world. We ate well and how those men could eat. The lumberjacks life was hard and rugged. He had to leave his wife and family for long periods of time but he adjusted well. He complained and swore a lot but he got used to his round pole bed with the fir bough mattress which he would change once in awhile. Sunday was wash day. Behind the camp was a couple of huge pots for boiling clothes and they had to be boiled for obvious reasons, otherwise he would not get a very good sleep, he would be too busy entertaining his unwelcome guests. Lights out at nine o'clock on week nights and ten or eleven o'clock on Saturday night. They worked six days a week, no Saturday off there. On Saturday or Sunday evenings there would be some home made entertainment. Things that would entertain in the lumber camps would mean nothing down river. There always seemed to be someone that could sing or so we thought. We would have to coax him a little. He would lay in his bunk, shade his eyes and sing, not perhaps as good as Bing Crosby, but some of them had very good voices.
   They would sing all old soldier's songs, mostly borrowed from the U.S. civil war, about some young soldier who was dying on a lonely battlefield. He would speak of his loved one back home and the men would think of their own loved ones and if you looked closely you might see a tear in his eye, sorry not for the soldier, but for himself. Sometimes they played children's games. I have even seen played 'who's got the button.' Anything to pass away the time. They were healthy and ate hearty and well. I have seen men suffer with the toothache till they got some other excuse to go down river. They were afraid the boys would say "going down river with a little thing like a toothache, he must be a softy." Cuts and broken bones were common, some bosses could set a broken leg good enough till they got the man to a doctor far down the river. If a man cut himself and was bleeding badly they would wrap the wound in flour as they knew nothing about a tourniquet or pressure points and as they had to go forty miles or further to a doctor, the flour might help. They went to work in the morning before daylight as they may have to walk two or three miles over the trail and they had to be on the job at daybreak.
   When I first went to the bush there were seven men in a crew, one under cutter, he notched the tree so it would fall in the right direction, two sawyers, two teamsters using two horses, one swamper that cleared the trail to the yard and one yard man.

   My job was to cut off the limbs from the fallen trees and cut grip holes. They called me a suggler. They used grips, a scissor like affair, to haul one log at a time to the yard. In later years they cut the crew down to four men. We had two lunches on the job. We carried them ourselves or the horse did, we hung it on the hames and when we got to our work we buried the bag in the snow, so the food wouldn't freeze. our lunch would be white or brown bread, clear fat pork and ginger cake and lots of molasses. We would take half a loaf of bread, cut a hole in the middle, fill the hole with molasses, grab a hunk of pork and it would taste very good to a hungry man.
   We would work from daylight to dark, walk back to camp after dark, sometimes stumbling along the way, eat a good supper and went to bed at nine o'clock. It was a tame and simple life. There was always a handy-man in the camp. His job was to make or repair anything around the camp. He had a blacksmith shop a forge and anvil. He was pretty good at shaping iron.
   In the lumber camp the crew got along very well. As a rule if they had a grudge to settle it could wait till they went down river in the Spring. The foreman would not stand for any trouble among the men. Let me give you one example. one day two men arrived at our camp and that evening one fellow took a set of boxing gloves out of his white bag. He asked if anyone wanted to spar just for fun. None of the boys seemed very interested, so he asked me if I would. I said, "Sure, why not." Now I had no experience with the gloves and I couldn't beat my way through a thick fog anyway. However I stepped out, one of the boys laced on the gloves and tied them neatly at the wrists. I was ready, this man looked a lot bigger now than he did before. We must have looked like David and Goliath, but the outcome was not the same.
   He was weaving and shadow boxing as they do in the ring. Things didn't look so good. I seemed to remember a picture I had seen in the police gazette of Bob Fitzsimmons and how he handled big guys like him and then I knew exactly what I would do. I would show this big lummox a few tricks. First I would not drag this thing along any longer than I had to and no fooling around with me. Secondly I would use the pivot punch like Bob would do. I danced a little ballet for a few seconds, then I made my play. I came up on my toes as the picture in the Gazette had shown, I feinted with my left and now for the pivot punch, now was the time. In the meantime my sparring partner didn't seem to be very concerned, just wearing a little 'poor guy'. I looked down at my feet to see if they were in the right position, then lowered my heel a bit, then I feinted a little bit more with my left, turned a little to my right, pivoted and took aim at this fellow's nose and with the speed of a coiled rattler let fly with a vicious right. I don't think my glove travelled over eight or ten inches. When I looked up this fellow was looking down. Something was wrong. His nose didn't seem to be flattened out at all, as it should have been.
   However, gentleman that he was, he helped me to my feet, a bit shaken but unhurt and looking not a bit like Bob Fitzsimmons either. I think there may be a little moral here, never say, "Sure, why not," to a stranger. However the boss didn't see anything funny about this boxing match. He told the fellow to put his gloves in his bag and leave them there. He put them in the bag alright but the next morning he and his chum hit the trail to I don't know where. This is only to show you how a foreman kept order in the lumber camps.
   Throughout the winter things were mostly routine: going to work in the morning, coming home at night, on Sundays washing, writing letters to their wives or girl friends or just laying around resting. About New Years the cutting was complete and the last log was on the yards. Now the routine was over.
   The handyman had not been idle. He had been busy repairing the sleds that had been used the previous winter. Some were dismantled and the irons used for new sleds, others would be repaired, painted and made ready for the haul off.

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