January 23, 2023
Bears, mountain lions, and a lost pinky toe. A logger from Montana shares crazy stories about animal encounters, broken legs, and “Lucky one nutted Norm.” He explains why his sons aren’t allowed to be loggers and educates Geth on the dangers of an Idaho jammer. He also discusses why after 41 years on the job and many injuries, he still can’t imagine retiring.
355 — Tales From A Timber Faller
Chris [00:00:06] Hello to everybody who’s lost a toe here and there. It’s Beautiful Anonymous. One hour. One phone call. No names. No holds barred. Hi, everybody. My name’s Chris Gethard. Welcome to another episode of Beautiful Anonymous. I feel so lucky that I got to have this conversation. Feel so lucky that I get to share it with you. Before I get into that, I just want to let you know that if you’re listening to this when it comes out, my next live dates are Pittsburgh on January 28, a live Beautiful Anonymous taping. There’s still a few tickets available as of this recording. And on February 3rd and February 4th, I’m going to be in Bozeman and Missoula, Montana, and that is very serendipitous. This was not planned as a tie in to that, but I happen to be talking to a Montanan on this episode of the show. And I mean, what a Montanan he is. This is a logger. This is a guy who for 40 years has felled trees as his job. And we’re able to talk about the lifestyle of that. Some of the more sensational stories, how he sees his place in America, knowing that a lot of Americans view this as a sort of antiquated thing that used to exist when he still does it. There’s so much to talk about. I will warn you straight away if you’re squeamish, there are absolutely parts of this show you’re not going to want to hear. Once you hear the phrase “Idaho jammer” you might want to think about taking a break if you’re squeamish. I did not know what an Idaho jammer was before this episode. And I hope I hope I never encounter one in person. Anyway, you guys will hear why. This call was great. I mentioned at the end of the call, I could have talked to this caller for 5 hours, 6 hours, and never run out of questions to ask. And I doubt he would ever run out of stories to tell because our friend who lives in the woods and lives by the woods and lives of the woods, he’s never running out of stories, not anytime soon. And I thank him for calling, and I hope you enjoy it.
Voicemail Robot [00:02:30] Thank you for calling Beautiful Anonymous. A beeping noise will indicate when you are on the show with the host.
Caller [00:02:37] Hello!
Chris [00:02:39] Hi.
Caller [00:02:40] Hey. How are you doing today?
Chris [00:02:43] I’m in a better mood now. What’s your deal?
Caller [00:02:46] Oh, I’m just sitting here trying to wait for some parts and get a pickup out of the shop and get back to work. But my my son had set this up, and see what we can talk about.
Chris [00:03:02] That’s cool. I like your vibe already. I’m having a sort of crazy day. I volunteer for the ambulance squad in my town and I covered someone’s shift just for a few hours this morning. I figured that would mean nothing and I had two calls. I’ve been out on two ambulance calls already today, and now I get to talk to you. That’s a that’s a hell of a day.
Caller [00:03:28] I hope that that they weren’t serious or if they were, that everybody’s okay.
Chris [00:03:33] Everybody’s good. One of them. One of them got canceled as we pulled up to the scene. And the other one, the person should be fine.
Caller [00:03:39] That that’s what’s important. That is the important thing as the day ends that everything’s fine. Everybody’s fine.
Chris [00:03:48] So your son set this up? Do you know much about what this show is?
Caller [00:03:52] You know, I don’t. He did send me a couple of your shows, and in fact, you’re going to be in my home town here on the 4th of February. And we’ve got tickets, so we’re going to go to your show.
Chris [00:04:04] Nice.
Caller [00:04:05] So that was a surprise to me. And I understand this, that you just talk to people at random about what they do and…
Chris [00:04:16] Yeah, and who they are, how they feel and all that stuff.
Caller [00:04:19] Sure. Okay.
Chris [00:04:21] So what do I need to know about you?
Caller [00:04:24] Well. Well, I live in Montana, and I’m 60 years old. And I’ve been- and this is what I guess prompted my son is just the stories and the events that have occurred to me, because I’ve been in the woods for 41 years. For almost 42. And and just that many years of being a logger in Montana, I’ve experienced a lot of really funny things, good things, scary things, bad things. There’s there’s just a lot of experiences out there. And in fact, I’m starting to compile a book and I’m hoping to get another one of my sons to help me write it because he’s a writer. But and it’s the title is The Stories in the Stump: Loggers Tales and Other Lies. So so when when a logger tells you a story, he’s telling it as though it happened and it’s true. But it’s up for you to decide if he’s B.S.-ing you or not. Some of them are a little bit far fetched, but they swear to God that they are true. And it happened. And I’ve had have had things like that happen to me that somebody will call bullshit and I’ll say, No, it really happened. So but myself, I my between my junior year and senior year of high school, I lied about my age and went to work for a guy logging. And after two weeks, he found out how old I was and said, Well, you’re not under work comp, you can’t be here. He paid me $900 cash and sent me down the road. And at that point in time, $900 cash for two weeks worth of work was a tremendous amount of money. And then the rest is history. I’ve been at it now for like I say, 41 years, 42.
Chris [00:06:16] Wow. So you first tried to just sneak in as a kid, and then you just kept sticking with it?
Caller [00:06:21] I did.
Chris [00:06:23] Logging is a hard lifestyle. A sort of isolating lifestyle is what it looks like from the outside, at least. Why did it appeal to you so much?
Caller [00:06:33] It’s hard work. In fact, what I do, I’m a timber faller. And and the best thing I tell people that they’ve ever seen seen the show, The Ax Men, you know, that’s the work I do, is what’s what’s on that show. The rest of the show is kind of meh, but, but as far as the work goes, that’s legitimate work. But what I do is I’m I’m a timber faller and I cut down the trees. And and that is considered… If you look statistically, the most dangerous job in the world. And the second- and they bounce back and forth- is crab fishing in the Bering Strait. So I don’t want to take anything from any of those men, anybody logging, doing that, any of these dangerous jobs, I commend them for surviving it and doing it well. And and, you know, regretfully, there’s a few younger guys that don’t make it. But but all of it’s dangerous and and has its risks.
Chris [00:07:32] Wow. And you’ve been a you’ve been in it four decades, you say?
Caller [00:07:37] Yep. Yeah.
Chris [00:07:39] Wow.
Caller [00:07:40] You put it in decades, and it sounds like a really long time.
Chris [00:07:43] I mean, it makes the numbers smaller, but it makes the impact bigger. Four decades.
Caller [00:07:47] There you go. Yeah, it does. It does.
Chris [00:07:50] Now. Okay. Big question I have right out of the gate. You mentioned that you’ve got at least two sons. How does one commit to decades of logging and also build a family? Because from the outside, as just a guy who lives in New Jersey and grew up in the suburbs, my image of loggers is that you’re all out there and it’s lonely and solitary and it’s it’s months out of the year where you have to disappear. It doesn’t it doesn’t seem to lend itself towards the family life.
Caller [00:08:21] You know, that’s true to some extent. I was kind of blessed with the ability, for the most part, to work closer to home where I was able to be at home. But but owning my own business gave me the ability to, okay, my my kids are having football. Come hell or high water, I’m going to coach it for them and I’m going to be there at every game. That was a luxury because I own my own business. Had I been working for somebody else as an employee, I wouldn’t have had that luxury. So, so it does. But I have had times where I, I am away from home all week. I get to come home for a weekend just to get ready to leave again. So so the person I commend about that is the logger’s, wife, my wife, and and what she did to raise the family. And I know when our- she had a son from a previous marriage, but when we had our first child, I was actually working, oh, gosh, 300 miles from home. And so here she was with a newborn baby and trying to raise him and I’m off in the woods, like you say, trying to try to make a living.
Chris [00:09:41] Yeah, this is. This is a hell of a specific life.
Caller [00:09:49] Yeah.
Chris [00:09:50] And how do you. I’ve never thought about this. As a logger, as someone who’s actually out there, the person with the, with the equipment, the person with the ax… How do you get paid? Is it do you get contracted for the season? Is it is it per tree that you get down? Is it… How do how do you actually make money?
Caller [00:10:11] All of the above. And and everybody has a different way of paying. And we call it gyppo logging. And what gyppo logging is, is you get paid. And the more you do, the more you you get paid. So a lot of it is, just like you said, getting paid by the tree. And so if I say let’s say I’m getting a buck 50 a tree, if I cut down a hundred trees in the day, I’ve made 150 bucks. If I cut down, you know, 200 trees, I’ve made 300 bucks. So, so it all comes down to how hard you want work, how long you want to work, how much money you want to make. Now, some jobs it’s pretty tough to really make good money. The ground’s hard. It’s just but then there’s other jobs where, wow, I made a tremendous amount of money on this one and it all kind of evens out in the wash. But, but I’ve been paid- like right now, the guy I contract for, I get paid by the time. So as I cut down a tree, however much it weighs, and it’s hauled on the truck to the mill, and when it gets to the mill, that truck is weighed. And so however many tons of logs are on that truck, that’s what I get paid for.
Chris [00:11:33] Wow. And when you said before, a buck 50 a tree, is that a real number? Is that the going rate to chop down a tree? A dollar 50?
Caller [00:11:41] It used to be. That’s a little bit low now. What I get paid right now is I get paid $6 a ton.
Chris [00:11:50] Six dollars a ton?! That seems low!
Caller [00:11:52] $6? Oh, gosh, no. Because I can cut down… Oh, and I’m even fat and old here and been doing a long time, but, but, you know, like the best my best day ever in 40 years, I cut down 1125 trees in one day.
Chris [00:12:09] You cut down 1125 trees in one day?
Caller [00:12:12] In one day. Yeah, that was a lodgepole stand. And it was just really nice ground. There was no underbrush, it was clean. The trees were all leaning downhill. So it’s just snip, snip, snip, snip, snip. And so when I was in my prime, I used to try to set a goal of cutting at least 100 trees down an hour. And like I say, now I’m old and I can’t. I just don’t move that fast of anybody that gets old, they they just don’t. And so I can’t do that much. But but as it stands now, so a ton of logs weighs or a load of logs weighs 28 tons. So if you do the math on that, it’s six times 28. You know, but I generally, if I’m just cutting trees down, I will cut between three and five loads a day. So, so so I made pretty good money with it. It’s it’s a profession that you can make good money at without having a college degree. Now, I’m not going to say without having an education because it takes for a guy that comes out the woods green to become a good timber faller, it’s going to take him, oh, at least five years before I would consider him a timber faller.
Chris [00:13:47] Pause there. Five years of doing that before your peers even view you as a peer. Woof. Hard lifestyle. Hard people. I’m so glad I get to hear about it. Gonna hear more when we get back. Thanks so much to the advertisers that help us bring this show to the world. Now, let’s get back to the phone call.
Caller [00:14:12] It’s going to take him, oh, at least five years before I would consider him an a timber faller. It just takes a long time for experience. But, but the thing you have to consider is the money I make today, the main reason I make better money is my ability, I guess, and experience that I can cut down trees quicker. But back when I started in the early eighties, in 1980, I was actually making being paid as good of money as I am now. I just wasn’t experienced enough to make the money. And a gallon of bar oil only cost me $0.77 when now it costs me $13, you know. So. So. So our wages haven’t kept up with inflation of the cost, you know? And so when I have to buy a new chainsaw every year, it’s a $2,000 bill every year for a new chainsaw. Etcetera. It’s just it’s expensive to a business to be in too.
Chris [00:15:18] This is truly fascinating. It never occurred to me that you’d have to provide your own chainsaw and it gets burnt out every year. But if you’re cutting down… a hundred trees in an hour, yeah, you’ll burn through the equipment.
Caller [00:15:30] Oh, you burn. We sat and figured one time, like, like on it and I don’t- I’m assuming you really don’t know a lot about the timber industry and chainsaws and that. But like, like the chain on a chainsaw that we sat and tried to figure out how many miles of chain I’ve gone through in my lifetime, and I’d probably gone through five miles of chain for a chainsaw. I’ve gone through in 40 years I’ve probably gone through, oh gosh, 50 or 60 chainsaws. And like how much gas I burn oh it’s anywhere from a gallon to two gallons of gas a day. So it adds up. Now, there are some places where they pay you less and they pay you by the hour and they supply you with everything. But ultimately you don’t make as much money that way. And it’s kind of a mindset. I’m old school. I want to work harder and and make what I can. And if if I’m sick for a day, then my employer isn’t paying me for not being able to produce. It’s my it’s for me. Or if I say man, I just really do not feel like working in this weather today, it’s me that’s taking the loss, not not him. You know, he still doesn’t have to pay me because I’m paid on that production basis. But but again, me and the old school guys, that’s the way we like it. It’s the younger guys that like the paid by the hour, the guaranteed paycheck every day and don’t have to supply anything, which there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just a different style.
Chris [00:17:11] So I have to ask, on some level, hearing that you’re burning gallons of gas every day and and and that you can chop down a thousand trees in a day if there is some level to which, as someone who cares about the environment, I go, this sounds horrifying. But your livelihood depends on the trees and the forest. And I wonder.
Caller [00:17:37] Oh, absolutely.
Chris [00:17:39] So I wonder what you think of in terms- there’s a part of me that wonders if people in your position, tree fellers, loggers, if there’s not fierce environmentalists among them, and what your connection to nature is and what your opinions on on that side of things is?
Caller [00:17:53] Oh, gosh, I am a I am a strong advocate for for wildlife and for conserving our forests. And what we have is, is we call it a sustainable forest. And so if you take a forest of lodgepole, lodgepole typically will live for 100 years a little bit over and then it’s dying. It’s created a fire hazard. It won’t let other like pine trees that take over the forest grow. So when we come in and thin out the the the lodgepole, the dead trees and live trees, I mean without a doubt, then then that is opening up this forest for a fir tree or a pine tree that will live for, well, I mean hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, whereas a lodgepole tree is just not going to do that. And the main guy that I contract for, he’s a forester. And in fact, we just had a conversation about this the other day when we went into a place that we logged 20- he logged, I should say, 26 years ago. And he looked at the forest management. Because of the way he managed this, we went into the same place. We let the forest open up and grow. So now we’re harvesting the more mature trees. We’re leaving some of the bigger, most mature old growth trees for for shade trees. And then we’re letting the undergrowth grow. So so here in another 25, 30 years- and in Montana, it’s hard because the regeneration isn’t nearly as quick as on the West Coast or down south in Georgia. And that’s because of the moisture levels and the trees just grow so much faster there. Here it’s slow so you really have to manage the forest. So so I am absolutely 100% for managing our forests. And and the thing that people have to realize is if you look at everything that is derived from the timber industry- and it’s no different than than the petroleum industry, the oil industry- there is so much that is needed in day to day life and people don’t realize it that do you call it a necessary evil? I don’t know if I’d call it that because what we do is, I mean, we’re truly here trying to manage the forest, give people what they need, still leave them with a forest to leave. There’s areas that the state sets off to the side, the wilderness areas and places that cannot be developed. And then once we go into it, after we’ve logged, we will restore the roads to the natural slopes and try to restore and clean it up as much as we possibly can. So for myself, yeah, I’m I’m a true advocate for for wildlife and sustaining our forests. But I’m not going to go out there and protest cutting down trees because we need them. And I make a good living at it. That’s why I need to make a living. And there’s a lot of people that do that. So that’s my stand on that.
Chris [00:21:12] Beautiful answer. Well done. I’m left to think- it’s it’s so great to be able to talk to you because you are a living current day example of an occupation that occupies… Occupies an almost mythical status in the mindset of a lot of Americans. I feel like what you do falls into this. Coal miners fall into this. Railway workers fall into this. These things that feel sort of antiquated or part of our past, but that people are still out there doing it for their livelihoods every day. I wonder.
Caller [00:21:56] Yes.
Chris [00:21:56] I wonder how it feels to you knowing that, like school kids are taught about Paul Bunyan as this mythical figure, and that a lot of people grow up and think of all the loggers and they go, Oh yeah, that was that was that hard living the way those people went and lived with those calloused hands before the Civil War. Do you, are you aware that in the popular mythos, it’s viewed as this thing that’s almost old timey or antiquated? And are you aware that people forget maybe that it still is a daily thing?
Caller [00:22:29] Oh, absolutely. It’s funny because most part when I tell people I’m a logger, the only thing they can associate it with, they don’t realize the whole big picture of logging, that the whole scheme of it. All they can think of is what they see and what do they see? And you wouldn’t see it in New Jersey, I don’t imagine, or back east. It may be upstate New York. And that I know there’s a lot of logging in that, but is a logging truck going down the highway with a load of logs on it. So they they automatically assume that that’s a logger. It’s no different than somebody going into the grocery store and they don’t realize there’s ranchers growing, you know, raising beef. They just oh, they cut my hamburger up in the store. That’s where it came from. So but I do realize that I myself am a dinosaur. I’m a dying breed. And now there is so much advancement in technology that they have equipment that is taking my job away from me. And and it’s just like you’re talking there, Paul Bunyon. Just like John Henry, when he he battles against the steam, you know, nail driver. And that’s the way I am falling trees. Now they got machines that go out and do what I do. And so, yeah, I am a dinosaur. And I realize that people have a mythical perception of it. And everybody thinks loggers are are six foot eight, weigh 300 pounds wearing flannel shirts. And and typically that’s not true.
Chris [00:24:03] Ha ha ha ha. Now, I’ll also say this-
Caller [00:24:06] In fact, I live I live in a small logging community. And there there was a mill here that operated, oh, gosh, when did it start? Like in 1885 or something like that. And there’s a the the current post office used to be a restaurant and a house of prostitution. And the if you look at the history of our community, typically what loggers would do and they were more, more smaller guys that were extremely fit and tough and rough and tumble. And every Friday night they’d go to the bar, get their paycheck, spend it, drink. Monday morning, they’d be bailed out of jail or or broke and ready to go back to work. That’s kind of a little more typical of the old fashioned loggers. Of course, today we aren’t like that. But that was back before my time actually.
Chris [00:25:02] Hearing you say that, though, I go to hear that this mill was founded in 1880 something and that it used to be here’s where the town brothel was, I sit there and I go, Oh… This mythological view of loggers was at one point real. And while it’s not how you live today, you still stand upon the infrastructure of it, like you’re still using that post office.
Caller [00:25:26] Oh absolutely.
Chris [00:25:27] That’s pretty amazing to feel that connection to history.
Caller [00:25:30] Yeah, because half the building is a post office and the other half of the building is the historical museum of the town.
Chris [00:25:38] I love this. And since we’re talking about the mythological side of it, too, there’s some other things that that come to mind. I think people think of it probably has a quite dangerous job. I think people would say, oh, loggers are out there and they’re kind of stranded on their own and they have to deal with bear attacks and animal encounters or or, oh, like stuff goes wrong with equipment or a tree falls on somebody and they have to, you know, rescue another logger and fashion a stretcher out of out of branches and drag them out of there. People have that romantic vision, too, of the danger of the job. So I’m wondering… What elements of truth there are to that, if there are any experiences you’ve been through that speak to those?
Caller [00:26:24] Oh, my gosh. Well, let’s see. I- my first injury in the woods, I cut my little toe off and the one next to it on my left foot.
Chris [00:26:34] Oh, geez.
Caller [00:26:35] And of course, that took him a long time, about 5 hours to get me to the hospital. And then what was funny, though, was when I got there, the nurse, she says, Well, did you cut through your boot, too? Well, no. I took my boot off and then I cut my toes off and then I put my boot back on. So, so, so, yeah, but I broke my leg. I broke my left leg four times out in the woods. And it’s exactly what you say, each time I was by myself. The first time I was able to get a log truck driver once I hiked down to the road, and he gave me a ride to the hospital. The next time I was actually up on a weekend working in about three feet of snow and I cut down a great big spruce tree and one of the limbs when I was cutting the limbs off popped me just above my ankle and broke my leg. But I only had two trees left to saw, so I finished cutting them up and worked up. And and then I put my safety- what I always call my- I always keep dry clothes and that with me in case something happens- my, my emergency stay warm kit, I guess you’d call it. And and that keeps me from freezing to death. So I was able to do that and get to the pickup. And then I drove oh what would have been 125 miles here to home. And then my wife took me to the hospital. And then the next time I broke my leg, I was working in South Dakota, which is over 600 miles from home. And now that one I wasn’t alone. I was sawing and I I fell a tree and then I- and I was working on real steep, soft ground. And when I fell the tree, my feet gave out from under me. I slid down the hill and then the tree came down on my leg and just poof. I mean, it pulverized my leg. So I crawled down to the road and the guy I was working for, he knew me and that- he knew my saw had been quiet for too long, so he knew something was wrong. So when I was trying to walk out, he came and found me. Now, the problem with that, though, is they took me to the E.R. They said, yep, your legs broken, and they put me in a boot and sent me home. Well, home was over 600 miles away, so I had to go hook up my- break down my camp, hook up my camper trailer, and then drive 600 miles to home in a manual pickup. And that was that was a fun one. And then the last time I broke my leg, I- it’s called a sucker limb. And what you do is you get a tree and then out of the bottom, another little tree will grow next to it. So I had to cut it out of the way. And when I did, it came back on me and it was too heavy. So it just kept pushing me to the ground until my leg snapped. And so I, I drove myself to the emergency room and they said, take ten days off. So I took ten days off and went in again. And they said, well, looks pretty good. Take a month off. And I laughed and said, I can’t do that. So I went out the next day and I called my boss and I said, I’ll be back to work tomorrow. So I’m out there saawing trees down with a boot on my broken leg. And and what was funny, though, was after a month, I went back into the doctor and she said, Boy, it’s healing really, really good. Just stay off of it for another month and you’ll be in good shape.
Chris [00:30:05] You you’re not messing around out there.
Caller [00:30:08] So now I’m going to tell you one story that this one, this one, there’s actually two. And and the one is just a super graphic incident where the guy was running a piece- it’s called an Idaho Jammer. And it’s it’s a machine that that drags logs up to the road. And you sit in it sideways and and off to your left hand side is an engine and gears and the cables, the pully- the drums, I’m sorry, for the cables. And he got his arm caught in the gears. And he knew that it was going to pull him through and kill him, so he put everything he had into it and ripped his arm off at the shoulder. And we did everything we could to bandage him and we got him to the E.R. and he survived. He got a prosthetic put on, and after however many years of recovery, he went back to running the machine again. And but this is the mindset of a logger. This is this is, you know, this is who we are. And the idea of, oh, I stubbed my toe, I’m not going to work, eh no, no. I mean, I, I was on the job one time and I jabbed a stick up in through my armpit into that joint. So I just pulled the stick out and finish working out the day. So. But that that isn’t me- that is typical of loggers out there. That that is our mindset.
Chris [00:31:48] I’ll tell you, I also get the impression, I wouldn’t be shocked, is this also a culture where everybody has a nickname?
Caller [00:31:57] Oh, everybody has a nickname. There is a couple of guys I work for when we call them the Round Men, because they were both about four eight by four eight. Best guys in the world. They were fun. They were a but, but they were round and fat and you just had a good time. Mine regretfully ended up being No-Show. And the reason for that is, is after my father passed away, I my well, my mom had a lot of medical issues so I was always missing work to take her to the doctor. And I was the only one able to do it at the time. And so I was constantly missing work. So I affectionately was named No-Show. So. So yeah, everybody everybody has a nickname for the most part. We oh here’s a good one. We called him- his nickname was Lucky One Nutted Norm, and-
Chris [00:32:51] Doesn’t sound that lucky. Does not sound very lucky at all.
Caller [00:32:54] Well yes. Yeah. Oh, he is very lucky. Lucky One Nutted Norm, because he was having an affair on his wife and and his wife burst into the room and found him and had a pistol and she shot. And she shot one of his nuts off. So thus he was Lucky One Nutted Norm.
Chris [00:33:17] So you do live in a culture where, I mean, if I was making something up for a comedy sketch and wrote down the sentence, did you hear that Lucky One Nutted Norm got caught up in the Idaho jammer, but it’s okay, he just took his arm off at the shoulder, I feel like an editor would look at that and go, This is too… This is almost this is almost cartoonishly condescending to loggers. But that’s a sentence that makes perfect sense to you.
Caller [00:33:45] Right. Well, and that’s where I said the title of my book is Loggers Lies and Other Tales, you know. But it. Oh, absolutely. I can go on and on about stories like that. You know, now my myself, one of the people- stories that people like to hear the most is, is I’ve had so many animal encounters. It’s unbelievable. None of none of them have been has there been an injury. One of the most vivid to me is I got ran over by a bear.
Chris [00:34:21] That’s a cliffhanger. Want to hear more about this bear encounter, and I’m going to tell you, spoiler- the bear encounter, wait til you hear about the mountain lions. We got a lot more show coming, everybody. Buckle up. We’ll be right back. Thanks to everybody who sponsors the show and allows us to exist. Now, let’s get back to hearing from our logger friend.
Caller [00:34:47] One of the most vivid to me is I got ran over by a bear. And it was the week between Christmas and New Year, and I was down on a strip sawing, and there was a tree that was blown over. And so it’s it’s called a windfall. And so it’s still attached to the root. It’s just laying there sideways. So I went to this tree and I had to cut it off of the root wod. Well, as I was doing that, I didn’t realize that there was a black bear denned up underneath the stump. So as I’m cutting it, imagine a bear that’s in a deep sleep all of a sudden hears a chainsaw rumbling above his head and his home being caved in on. He comes barreling out there, hits me, knocks me over, and my thoughts are, Oh, shit, I’m going to get mauled by a bear. I’m going to have to defend myself with my chainsaw. And so when I got turned around, finally got stood up, got my saw, the bear was 200 yards running in another direction. I don’t imagine that bear even had a clue what or who I was. It just came out of there, hit me, bowled me over and kept running.
Chris [00:36:05] You were ready to fight a bear with a chainsaw. You were ready to go.
Caller [00:36:09] I was. Well, now to two years ago, and this is my first encounter with mountain lions, so we go- it’s called a strip. So when you go down on the hillside where the trees are, it’s called a strip. So I was going down into the strip and it’s just getting daylight because I they call it dark, dark 30. I like to be in the woods in the in the dark so as soon as it starts daylight, I can start working. So I’ll go down and sit by the tree for ten, 15 minutes in the dark until I can start working. But so I’m going down this one morning and I come around a tree and boom, I’m, I’m face to face with a mountain lion. It’s probably… Oh, my gosh, less than ten feet from me. And I did a (MAKES NOISE) and and it didn’t do anything, but I kept eye contact with it. I didn’t want to lose my eye contact with it. So I had my chainsaw. I took my- and we were just having a stare down. There was nothing. He wasn’t aggressive towards me. We were just staring each other down. So I took my saw off and fired my saw up. And once I fired that saw up, he took off running. So then I shut the saw off and I turn around and I am face to face with another mountain lion. It was two juveniles running together. So literally he was I could have touched him with my chainsaw. And so I watched him and I started my saw. But he didn’t run off on that one. And right next to us was a little tree, probably three inches in diameter. And I cut that off. And when it fell, it scared him off. And so that was a that’s a pretty good mountain lion experience. You know, there’s two of them. They were oh I don’t know, probably I would guess them to be about 80, 90 pound cats. They weren’t- they were young juveniles that I suspect it was the first year that the mother had booted them out. And I think they were just more curious about me than anything.
Chris [00:38:16] These stories- first of all, you’ve never told so many stories like this where I go, one of the first ones you told was about how you accidentally cut two toes off your last foot. And I was shocked by that. And then you’ve since gone on to tell like half a dozen other stories where I go, oh, to a guy like you, that’s like to me falling down and skinning my knee. Cutting two toes off, a logger probably barely blinks at that, huh?
Caller [00:38:39] Well, when I did it, it’s funny because when I went in and and the doctor says, I think we can save ’em, I thought he was joking. And he wasn’t. He was dead serious. But he did stitch them back on and they’re kind of mangled, but they’re there. But a week after that, I was on- back on the job. I was pretty proud of the fact that I never had to draw work comp off of it. That that’s that’s not what you do. You work for a living. You don’t take free money off work comp. Now, if it was a more serious injury and I needed it, fine. You know, you need a hand up, not a hand out.
Chris [00:39:16] When it’s only two toes chopped off, when it’s only when it’s only 20% of your toes, get back to work.
Caller [00:39:23] Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And so then we’re on a job and one of the guys breaks his ankle. And actually, he broke he broke one and injured the other real bad. But he didn’t break both of them, but he couldn’t walk. So I ended up piggybacking- throwing him on my back and piggybacking him up to the road to where he got taken in to the hospital. And this, mind you, is with I’m just a week ago, cut to my toes off.
Chris [00:39:53] Damn, these stories are incredible.
Caller [00:39:56] Yeah.
Chris [00:39:56] I have to wonder. I mean, we’re laughing, they’re entertaining, they’re gripping. They’re at at points disturbing. But I have to imagine that in your world, there are times where the bear wins or the mountain lion wins or where the tree falls on somebody and they can’t get it off. And I’m wondering if there’s any rituals surrounding the loss of loggers. I wonder if there’s any customs to that.
Caller [00:40:24] There is actually. And this is a regretfully and thankfully situation. I’ve only been on one job where somebody was killed. Regretfully, somebody was killed. Thankfully, I haven’t been on more jobs where people have been killed because I know guys that have had, you know, two or three different guys throughout their careers killed on jobs and they’ve had to experience it. So I’ve only had to experience it once. And it was it was a terribly heartbreaking thing. It was a guy’s first day on the job, a young man extremely excited about being out there, and he had to go cut down a tree right below the road. So he grabbed a chainsaw and filled it up with gas and oil and jumped over the bank. Well, meanwhile, there was another guy on the other side cutting down a tree. He didn’t see him jump over the bank and the tree came down on him and killed him. Horrible thing. And and I I’d like I say, that that was the one and only time I’ve been on a job where somebody was killed. I’ve been on jobs where guys have been- I could go on and on and on and on about injuries. Serious and not so serious. Some of them funny, but, but there is this thing up by us, it’s called boot tree. And boot tree, I couldn’t even tell you the history of when it was started, but it’s in fact, the road going to it is called Boot Tree Lane. And loggers have what are called caulk boots and there’s logging boots. But caulk boots, if you imagine a heavy leather boot with golf spikes in the bottom of it… That’s what we wear and that gives us traction in the ground, traction on the trees, those little spikes. And they’re called caulk boots. And this boot tree, when a pair of boots wears out, you go throw them in this tree. And if something happens to somebody, you take their boots and throw them in that tree. And regretfully, in the seventies, a logging company here that bought the property where that tree was, they cut down the tree. Horrible, horrible thing that they did. But a new tree was created. Now mind you, the seventies, I wasn’t even thought of then, but a new tree was created in the same area and they left that one alone. And I’ve got at this, I’ve got three boots that I had, three pairs of boots that I’ve thrown in there myself way back when. And just just because I wore the boots out. Now I have told all of my sons that when I die, I’ve got a pair of boots here that I said, I want all six of you to go up to boot three and anybody else that goes along, and I want you to throw my boots in that tree. And they’ve all promised to do that for me.
Chris [00:43:22] Wow. The boot tree. That’s where all the loggers go. That’s where all the loggers go before they pass to the other side, huh? Take a little stop at the boot tree.
Caller [00:43:31] Well not- a great many of them around here. I don’t know if other places have a ritual, but we’ve got boot tree, and I suspect other people do. Other logging companies in other parts of the- I’m sure they do the same thing of some sort. So. So. Yeah. So I would hope to be more memorialized that way in Boot Tree.
Chris [00:43:54] Now, there’s certainly tons of romance to this, but it’s also your real life. And you and you, my friend, do an amazing job of telling the stories of this lifestyle that most of us will never see up close in a way that allows us all to feel more a part of it. I understand why your son begged you to call this show, and I’m so glad you did. With this lifestyle, there’s a part of me that goes, you know, another image in our mind is that you’ve been out there all day and you’ve cut down eight or 900 trees, a thousand trees, and now you’re going to go and start a fire and sleep for a few hours and cook some food over the fire with your camp tools. That’s the image we have in my mind. There’s a part of me that fears that we’re now living in a world where it’s also just like anything else, that you also just kind of curl up and get out your phone and you get reception so you just watch Netflix that night. Is it is that- do you get reception out there in the woods?
Caller [00:44:49] Some places you do. In some places you do- don’t. And we… it’s funny because nowadays with technology and the cell phone, we go to great lengths to find places where we can find reception. So we might be standing on top of this rock, leaning out six feet, hanging on to this tree. And by gosh, I’ve got reception right here. That’s the only place we can call out of. So and and it’s, for example, on on the job we’re on now, there is one place that we can call out on a phone. And I actually broke down to where I couldn’t get out. Where I couldn’t drive out. And so I called my wife and I said, and luckily it was the absolute only place that I could get cell service. And so I called my wife and so her and my oldest son, they came out and found me and I said, I’ll start walking. So I walked like, oh, I don’t know, six miles down to the highway. And then that’s when they and then I waited at the highway for them to show up. So. So it used to be that we just had two way radios before the advent of cell phones, and we still use those because they will still work where if I get hurt, I can get on the radio, I can get almost 99% of the time, get somebody to answer me and say, Boy, I’m hurt or I’m broke down. Can you call my wife or can you get a hold of this person? Can you relay it from here to there? And so it’s, in a way, still more reliable than a cell phone.
Chris [00:46:31] Sure. Sure.
Caller [00:46:32] But yeah.
Chris [00:46:35] Now, you mention that when you’re talking to a tree feller… You have to account for exaggeration. I’m wondering if there’s any stories you have that people assume you’re fibbing or exaggerating, but that you swear you’re just telling the facts.
Caller [00:46:56] Well, oh, gosh, you know… You know, I just I guess the hard part about that question is I’ve experienced so many things that you would might you know, as I’m telling them to you, you’re sitting back there saying, oh, that’s got to be bullshit. That’s got to be bullshit. So. So it’s hard for me not to believe what guys say. Um, I’ve heard of guys talking about yo yo, I took that Skinner took off on me, and I rolled that thing all the way to the bottom of the hill, bouncing in and out, and, and I rode it for a half a mile until we stopped in the bottom. Well, I would say more realistic, he probably did go wild with that skittering down on the hill, but it was probably about a hundred feet, if even that. Now, here’s one that that that that I do kind of call B.S. on is we have to sometimes climb trees and and rig them and and up there anywhere from 10 to 100 feet up. And treetopping, I commend these guys that tree top. I’ve topped five trees in my life. Scared the hell out of me. It’s not in my blood to do. And I commend any of those- it’d be like the the ironworkers in a big city putting up a high rise building. There’s no way in hell I’m going to go walk out on that beam. They they can do that themselves. And that’s the way this is. I’ve had to climb trees and- but what’ll happen is, guys will, Oh, yeah, I was up there 125 feet. Well, the tree was only 100 feet tall. How could you have been up there 125 feet? You know? So you do get stories like that.
Chris [00:48:48] This is one of my favorite conversations I’ve ever had. Now, you mentioned you’ve been doing this four decades. For a lot of people, that’s just about the expectation of a career. A lot of people start working in their mid-twenties, right? Retire around 65. Do you think about retirement? And… It seems to me like logging is a profession where either people hit retirement age and they’re so happy to never work again because it’s such hard work, or it’s in your blood and it’s in your soul and retirement goes rocky for a lot of people because you’re used to a certain type of lifestyle and a certain level of adrenaline.
Caller [00:49:35] You know, there’s a joke that I tell people because they’ve been asking me a lot lately, since I’m 60, if I’m going to retire. And I say, you know, I retire every day, because I get rest at night, I go out and work hard during the day, I get re-tired, and then I sleep again at night and get rested. And then I go out the next day and get re-tired. So that’s that’s my joke about retirement. But but to be more serious about it, I don’t know that I could retire from it. It’s a way of life for me. It’s it’s not just a 9 to 5 job. And and back in the in in 2008, nine, ten when we had that recession, there wasn’t any logging to be done. It was it- so I went over to North Dakota and got in the oil fields and I said, you know, I’m probably never going to be back in the woods again. But when the guy called me, I was over here as fast as I could be to get going and doing it again. Here’s I’m not so much anymore wanting to do as much of the physical work of actually hiking the hillsides, cutting down trees. You know, at sixty years old, to pack a chainsaw on a steep slope in two feet of snow, it’s just getting to be too much for me. And now I would actually kind of like to turn more to just running equipment and sitting in in a piece of equipment. It would be nice to sit in a piece of equipment that has a heater in it through the winter instead of out there. I mean, the coldest I’ve sawed trees, one job we were 42 below and cutting trees down at 42 below zero. And I there’s no way I would do that now. Somebody told me to do that, I’d say go down, take a hike. I but I think I was 25 at the time. And when your boss tells you to do it, you do it. But now I’d tell them to take a flying leap. But they know better than to ask me too. So. But no, it’s. It’s who I am. It’s. It’s. It’s in my blood. I would miss it too much. And, you know, there will come a point in time where I physically can’t do it. I you know, I broke my ribs more times than I can count. I had a knee replacement and and I’ve taken it all in stride and I still manage pretty good. So but yeah, I it’s it’s just a way of life for me. So for me to quit it and go about, I’m hoping that I can slow down with it and hopefully do some traveling and see the world, you know. I’d like to take my wife to, to New York to see a Broadway play. I think that would be enjoyable to do. It would be something totally out of our realm, you know, whereas people there just do it daily, I suppose. But for us, it would be a wow, this is a once in a lifetime experience for us. So I would like to be able to do stuff like that.
Chris [00:52:39] My next question for you was, Do you ever get to just go to Disney World or just go to some resort and chill out? Because again, similar to some of these other sort of iconic fabric of the American reality pseudo mythological but real jobs, we don’t think of… We don’t think of people coming out of the woods and hanging out with the rest of us. Do you take many breaks? Have you been on vacation before?
Caller [00:53:07] Not to speak of that way. I mean, a vacation is going camping at the lake for a few days or for a week, going fishing at the river or going- but to go to Disneyland, number one- now, there is a local amusement park over on the West Coast. I shouldn’t say local. It’s a couple hundred miles away. But but we go there and and do that. But but as far as Disneyland and that, that’s something we’ve never been able to do. You know, I do have, you know, a few- if I could go any place in the world, I would really like to go to Sweden, because that’s where my heritage is from. And I would for some reason I have a fascination, I’d love to go to the Polynesian islands, somewhere down there. And maybe my wife and I can do that in retirement. We we’ve just become empty nesters. My kids are all gone and on their own, doing their own thing, raising their own families. And it’s time for us to to do something for us.
Chris [00:54:12] Did any of your kids go into the industry?
Caller [00:54:15] My oldest son went into loggin. And we kind of forced him into it because he wasn’t really going anywhere with what he had for a job and he wasn’t going to college. And we said and I said, By God, if you aren’t going to do that, you’re going to come out in the woods. And he did, and he did well. And then he was working for a guy and the guy hit him with a piece of equipment, knocked him off of the log deck, and he fell off backwards and landed flat on his back, probably about a oh I don’t know, 15 foot fall, I suppose it would have been, and ended up breaking his back. He’s recovered from it and he’s fine from it now, but he quit the woods at that point in time. And then from then on my wife said, Absolutely not. The rest of our boys are not going out in the woods. They’re not going to do it. It’s too dangerous. It’s too. And so they’ve gone off to whatever, you know, medical profession and broadcasting and and etc., so forth. So, um, but, but the thing I’ll say about my family with my, my boys and the logging is, is it taught them a realization about what it takes to earn money. They they would not ask for a free hand out from anybody they’ve got except- for millennials, they’ve got exceptional work ethic. They believe in working. They are not lazy at all. They they are truly what I- and I’m very proud of my boys, all of them, because they are of true benefit to society. They they’ve been raised good. They know. They know how to treat other people. They know how to fend for themselves. And they treat people like they would want to be treated. And I and I put that as part of their upraising with this this logging mentality. You work hard, you get paid a fair wage for working hard. You treat people decent.
Chris [00:56:34] What a cool thing. You know, to hear that- I mean, first of all, that’s so sc- that must be- I have to imagine that for all the injuries you’ve had, cutting your toes off, breaking your leg four times, getting attacked by mountain lions, close up encounters with bears… As a dad, I have to imagine when you hear that your son has had a job, an injury on the job, that must be worse than every injury you’ve had put together.
Caller [00:57:02] Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We I have one son that’s that we discovered he has epilepsy and when he has a seizure- and the hard thing about it is I don’t it’s something I don’t understand. And I don’t even know that the medical profession understands epilepsy for sure. And when he has a seizure it is absolutely devastating to myself and my wife, because there’s nothing we can do. You just have to let them go through it. And and it puts him and his wife in a bind when this happens. And but he recovers and they’ve got him on medication. So it is devastating to me to see any of my kids hurt, you know. But, you know, they aren’t nearly as exposed to injury, the possibility of injury like I was. So. You know, like, like for me to bring my boys out in the woods… Would I do it to my oldest again? I would not, because he did end up with a broken back out of the deal. And there’s easier ways. No, that’s there’s less, there’s less dangerous ways to make a living. So I’m glad they have pursued those.
Chris [00:58:18] But seeing your boys pursue those but apply the work ethic that you really put your life on the line for, that must be just about as proud as you can be as a parent.
Caller [00:58:32] Oh, absolutely. See, see, that’s the thing. I’m not going to sit down and take any of my boys and say, I’m proud of you because, you know, you you work with a professional soccer team. And then another one, he works with the city and runs runs part of the city and and one’s an athletic trainer. And and the youngest one, he just moved out. He’s just starting out. But he’s got great work ethic. He he I have never missed a day of work on this job and he’s proud of that. And but but it doesn’t- my pride comes into not so much what they’ve chosen for a profess- I’m a proud you got in the medical profession. Sure. What? But my pride is that is that they have good hearts, they’re good people. And that’s what makes me proud. Um, they’re a benefit to society. There isn’t anybody that has a bad word to say about them. They’ve just grown up ethically. They, they mean they have their quirks, just like me and anybody else. But, but they’re good people. That that’s why I’m proud of them the most is because of what’s in their heart.
Chris [00:59:48] Do you know what you would have done if you hadn’t gotten into this profession? What was plan B?
Caller [00:59:53] Well, I’ll tell you a story about that, actually. When I graduated from high school, I logged in the summers and I went to college and I was my degree was in petroleum engineering. And by my second year into college, a friend of mine says, Hey, I got you on a set up on a blind date. I, my girlfriend and I want to go out, but she has a friend and she won’t go out if she doesn’t. I said, Sure. So I so I met this girl and we went on a blind date. And. And then it turned out that her dad was a logger. And he says he said, Oh, quit college. Quit college. You can come out of the woods and make way better money than you will as a petroleum engineer. And okay, as long as I can date your daughter, I’ll do anything. And so all the rest was history, you know? But, but no, that’s what I was pursuing, geology and petroleum engineering. And I actually had a where I could have it was set up that I once I graduated, there was a company out of Oklahoma that I would have went to work for. But I the other thing too, was, is I didn’t want to commit to somebody because there was a time of commitment after I graduated that I had to work for them and I did not want to make that commitment to them. But that’s what I would have pursued. When I was younger, I wanted to be, of all things, growing up in the mountains of Montana, I wanted to be an oceanographer, a marine biologist. The problem with that is I go out on a boat and I get horribly seasick and can’t survive for another day or two. So that one… But but a mentor of mine in high school and he got me turned to geology, and that’s what I would have done because I have uncles- my my father logged alittle bit when he was young, when he came out of out of Korea, But that didn’t last very long. And then he had a family and had to work at a mill. And my uncles, they were in logging, however. But but for me, it was just this is what happened. I started out in it and I absolutely loved it. And and that’s the thing I tell anybody that comes out in it now is is if you don’t like it, you better not be here. Go find something else because you have to love this. You have to want this lifestyle or you will never make it at it.
Chris [01:02:34] This conversation has truly flown by. We’ve only got about 30 seconds left. So I’m wondering if there’s any, any last messages you want on record? Any things we didn’t get to?
Caller [01:02:45] Oh, man. I could go a mile. I’d go on forever on this. But, you know, it’s just if somebody takes it up, it’s an honest career. It’s a hard career. But you can be proud of yourself for doing it because you have to work hard. You have to put yourself into it to do it.
Chris [01:03:07] I love it. I could talk to you for five more hours. I can’t thank you enough for getting on the line. I can’t. I can’t thank your son enough for encouraging you to do it. I feel like. I feel like I just got a glimpse into living, breathing Americana just through some- I mean, you’re my personal Paul Bunyan.
Caller [01:03:24] And there you go. And I appreciate that. And I thank you for having me on.
Chris [01:03:35] Caller, thanks so much. You blew my mind. You blew a lot of people’s minds. It’s amazing to hear that you’re out there doing what you’re doing. I hope you stay safe. I hope you stay warm. I hope that you and your family are good for a long time. I hope you get to take your wife to that Broadway show. Thank you for calling. And thank you to your son for arranging it. Thank you to Anita Flores for producing the show. And thank you to Jared O’Connell for engineering. Thanks to Shellshag for our theme song, go to ChrisGeth.com if you want to know more about me, where to get tickets. Wherever you are listening to the show, if you can hit subscribe, favorite, follow, that button’s out there. It helps us so much when you hit that button, so think about doing so. If you want any merch like shirts and stuff, podswag dot com. Now you can also find ad free episodes of Beautiful/ Anonymous and a ton of other shows over at Stitcher Premium. Use the promo code “stories”, you’ll get a month free. That’s at Stitcher dot com slash premium. And if you like this podcast, probably the best thing you can do is tell a friend about it. Word of mouth is by far the greatest form of advertisin. Helps us a lot when you spread word.