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Now You’re Logging

By Bus Griffiths

Review By Robert Griffin

March 6, 2014

BC Studies no. 183 Autumn 2014  | p. 163-64

Romance, high drama with runaway logging trucks (26-29), and dangerous river crossings of donkey engines (65-72) are all integral parts of this graphic portrayal of British Columbia’s coastal logging scene during the 1930s. Although Griffiths does not make sweeping statements about logging and its effects on British Columbia, he does capture aspects of this industry that are not readily available elsewhere. When historians look at logging and generalize that trees are felled, hauled to water, boomed, and towed to sawmills, we gloss over the many skills needed along the way, some of which Griffiths brings to life for us.

The combined text and illustrations of Now You’re Logging enable the reader to understand the intricacies of logging in ways that no one but a contemporary logger himself might convey. For example, Griffiths provides superb details about raising spar trees, tying ropes and guylines, and the qualities and uses of a double-bitted axe. Such intriguing information is scattered through the volume and supported by Griffiths’s fine illustrations. Romance is provided in the developing love between Al, the protagonist of the story, and Debra Brown, a young woman who lives on an isolated homestead with her parents.

One exceptionally interesting aspect is that Griffiths draws on his long experience to define the multifaceted vocabulary of logging. Glossaries of logging terms are available elsewhere, but they are brought to life here in Griffiths’s illustrated cartoon format: for example, “slackoff” means quitting time (24), and a “pass rope,” used for threading the pass line cable through the pass block in the spar tree, is generally about half an inch in diameter and 300-400 feet in length (67).

One of the most evocative threads that Bus Griffiths weaves through the volume is the sense of loss loggers feel when they look back over the desolation their actions have caused. This is not a new realization. Griffiths’s characters were well aware of the changes they brought to a forest landscape, an awareness lost on modern city dwellers, who see only ravaging loggers destroying all that pristine forest. A Weyerhaeuser logging superintendent once described logging as “uglification,” and Al and Art, Griffiths’ gruff old loggers, also feel the majesty of timber when walking through a fine forest stand. As Art says, “You know Al, there is nothing like a walk thru’ a stand of big timber to make a man feel mighty humble” (106). Periodically, Griffiths throws in comments such as “the stark rape of the land” (25) to highlight his feelings for the forest.

It is always easy to find things about a book that a reviewer might wish had been handled a little differently. For example, someone completely unfamiliar with logging would find it difficult to follow the flow of the technology. Griffiths discusses yarding the logs out of the woods long before he illustrates the techniques of falling. Even more regretful is what he decides not to include. In one panel we see the nose of a coastal steamship pulling away, but there is no discussion about these vessels that were the lifeline of the coast in the 1930s. Nor did he discuss obtaining timber in any great detail, and while this may have been outside his experience, issues of cruising, securing timber sales, and the relations of loggers and logging companies with the BC Forest Service were much more involved than Griffiths suggests.

The beautiful colour illustrations on the covers and the well-written introduction greatly enhance this 35th anniversary issue of Now You’re Logging, which anyone interested in British Columbia’s forest industry should own and read.

Now You’re Logging
Bus Griffiths
Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2013 (first published 1978). 12pp. $24.95 paper