Procut Portable Sawmills in Prince George, BC Back to Stories and Laughs


I had a timber sale for cedar in the early 80's at the north end of Stave lake in B.C. Access was by boat and an old logging road at the end of the lake, to the base of a mountain. The timber sale was at the 5000 foot level of this mountain, so it was extremely difficult to log it and remove the shake blocks and sawlogs. My wife and I planned to log this sale, so decisions were made to build a self propelled barge ( I have also designed and built house boats and work boats) utilize a 1 ton flat deck at the end of the lake to transport the shake blocks and a helicopter to drop the blocks at the base of the mountain, and the sawlogs into the north end of the lake. This was going to be a larger operation than we have undertaken before, as our capitol was low and building barges and renting helicopters does not come cheap at all, even back then. I will skip ahead here and leave out all the headaches at the begining, as I do not want to bore you to death. I built the barge on the cheap because I knew I would have a problem selling it after, and it was not a work of art. Basically it was a pontoon platform that could easily haul about 80000 lbs of blocks or logs, with a winch and hoist. It was powered by 2 volkswagen aircooled engines from old VW vans. Empty it could clip along fairly good, loaded it was as slow as molasses in January. I used the the VW engines because they were aircooled and very cheap, considering I ended up with 2 engines that totalled 140 h.p. I used direct drive shafts through the hull to the props, with a rudder, which gave me excellent manouvering, as the engines were independent. The whole barge only cost me $5000 to build, so I came out cheap there.

We barged the 1 ton with all the supplies needed up the lake and then to the landing by the river, then went back out again to arrange getting the crew and the supplies in. This we were going to do by chopper as we planned to stay at the timber sale in 10 day shifts. This was accomplished by the best pilot I have ever seen, as there was no place to land up there and all he could do was place the tip of his skid on top of an old stump(4000 foot drop) and I had to walk along the skid to the top of the stump, as my wife Brenda passed the supplies out the door, this was all accomplished with the pilot hovering and compensating with the change in weight as I walked along the skid( scary ). We told the pilot to go back for the crew, about an hours flight, and set about moving the supplies another 500 feet to a fairly flat area, and waited for the crew. So here we were about 5000 feet up sitting on a stump looking down at the valley floor, the river and the 1 ton on the landing, which all looked so small from that height. The crew finally arrived and Brenda and I decided to take 1 crewman down to the bottom to help sling the building materials, and left the rest of the crew at the top to unsling the materials and find a flat spot to set up a quick camp for the night. On the very last flight the chopper came back down and landed, then the pilot gave us the bad news. He had just enough fuel to get back to his base, so he asked me if I wanted him to do this and then come back to get us and take us back up the mountain. Well considering it was $800 per hour for the chopper, and it would take about 2 hours return flight ( $1600 ) like a complete idiot, I said no, we can climb it. Well the chopper left, and there I was at the base of the mountain with my wife ( Brenda ) and 1 crewman, who by the way were staring at me in total shock, their expressions were priceless, where is the camera when you need it. I got a good dressing down from Brenda (well deserved ) and a crewman who wanted to quit on the spot. Sure the mountain was steep, but it did not involve climbing gear or anything like that. It was sloped, with an old slide area that went nearly to the timber sale, with saplings and small growth trees on it. I knew it would be a long and hard climb, but I thought why not save $1600. To this day I still apologize to my soul mate Brenda for this rotten trick. We started up and using the rock slide area got up about 1/4 of the way using the saplings then took a break. Brenda was really tired but we pushed on slipping and sliding over that slide area, but the problem was we could not go straight up, we had to crisscross the slide, and I could see it was going to take a long time. At the 3/4 point Brenda sat down and informed me she could not go another step, I was to leave her there to die, as she was not going one more inch. After a looooong break, a lot of cajoling, argument, we were finally able to get her moving again, with me pulling her up as much as possible. We finally neared the top, but because we were angling back and forth and the rock slide was a wide area, we did not know how close we were to the crew at the top. We started shouting until finally we heard the rest of the crew shouting back through the forest and made it to the bench of the mountain we were going to log. It was nearing dusk, it had taken 11 hours to climb and we were exhausted, and the rest of the crew did not know what to do, we had no means of communication with them, all they heard was the chopper going back. I had the crew lean pieces of plywood together to create leanto's for two people, crawled in and went to sleep.

Dawn came and we had breakfast over the campstove and got to building a small cabin, just a wood platform layed on the ground, 2 x 4 and plywood walls with a tin roof. It had no insulation or finishing inside so we had it up in 1 day.

There were a lot of tree's down on this bench, most were 3 to 5 feet in diameter, western red cedar, which we were going to cut into shake blocks. The standing tree's were mostly yellow cedar and these were sawlog material. This area had been logged before in the 1940's and you should have seen the monster stumps, you could stand 5 men across them shoulder to shoulder, and I measured 1 stump that was 13 feet across. You really have to applaud these men that logged way back when, even now with all our machines, it would be extremely hard to get 8 to 10 foot diameter tree's off a mountain. How they got that 13 foot monster out is a huge accomplishment, and I salute all you old timers that logged in the 1920's to 1950's, it was a tremendous achievement.

We had arranged for the chopper to come back at the end of the 10 day shift, in the early morning, so he could fly the blocks down to the landing and take us out for days off. We cut shake blocks all that 10 day period and it was hard work as there was not one piece of really flat ground anywhere. Cut off a 24" round of the log, flip it down, and split with axes into shake blocks. We laid down ropes and stacked the blocks on these ropes in the center of the block. The ropes had loops on the ends with a slip knot. We had blocks stacked all over the place and you had to know exactly where each stack was, with a chopper costing $800 per hour, you had better not be searching in the brush for each stack.

The 10th morning it was a sunny day, and we all waited for the beat of the helicopter blades coming up the valley, as we had no contact with the outside world for 10 days, radio's did not work in the mountains and there was no cellular phones in those days. Finally that heavy chop echoing up the valley, the pilot dropped off 2 drums of fuel at the landing and came on up. We had knocked down tree's around the cabin so he could get really low to give us a 2 way radio, but he could not land because it was not level enough. I tell you we all worked really hard that day as the chopper hovers over a stack of blocks, with a 100 foot winch rope and an electric release hook on the end. The ends of the rope under the blocks were pulled up and over the blocks and the loop was put on the chopper hook, by radio command, the chopper pilot lifts slowly and as the rope tightens, the blocks are pulled into a round ball, and then he is gone down to the landing, drops the blocks and comes up again. Well his turn around time is about 5 minutes and you really have to hustle to the next stack, scrambling over boulders, rotton logs, brush, and you do not want him hovering waiting to set the hook, as it is costing $13.33 per minute. We had 1 stack between some tall snags and I misjudged his rotor width, but that pilot was super good, he let down between those snags with only about a 2 foot clearance from the ends of his blades, not me I can tell you. Some pilots go by the book and will not take any risks at all, and I do not blame them, but this pilot was a risk taker, had flown in Vietnam during the war on medi-vac and troop placement under fire, he used to call the other pilots wimps.

Helicopters are designed to lift a certain weight and everything has to be calculated, especially fuel, as the more fuel you have in the chopper, the less weight you can carry. We had 1 more stack left to finish off and he radio'd back up from the landing to hook him up really fast as he only had about 5 minutes fuel left, I told him to shut down and fuel up, but he tells me he is already on the way up. I started praying about this time and counted down on my watch, boy did we hook him fast, he did'nt even tighten the rope, he went up like a rocket then straight down like a jet fighter. To this day I would swear I heard his engines stutter as he landed. That was the end of the first shift, and we all went out in the chopper for a really good rest.

The next shift went smoothly and all the others, so I will skip to the last shift, as this is getting long winded.

We had built a level landing pad for the chopper to land right at the cabin and spent most of the day hooking logs and shake blocks. The clouds and mist were rolling in and I sent all the crew down to the landing, Brenda and I stayed up top while we sent all the equipment down by the chopper. Finally it was all done and there was only us two to come and get. Please keep in mind that this is the same pilot ( you know-the risk taker ) I radio'd him that the mist and clouds were moving in fast, and he answered that the ceiling was 1/2 way down the mountain, but he was determined to come up and get us. I was very much opposed to this, as it was all closed in now, could'nt see 50 feet. Well he came up and the only way he got to the cabin was by radio contact, I would tell him when he sounded closer or farther away. Finally this super pilot comes out of the mist and the beat of the blades cleared the landing pad, Brenda and I got in fast and up we went. The mist and clouds had closed in around us, there are mountains all around us, and the valley was about only 2 to 3 miles across to the next mountain range. This risk taking pilot shuts of Brenda's intercom and tells me that this is going to be really dicey, as there is now no vision at all, lots of air pockets bouncing us around, like flying with all the windows painted grey. I turned on Brenda's intercom and explained the situation, now we are really worried, well the actual expression is terrified. The pilot asks us to look for any hole in the clouds and mist, meanwhile I don't know if he is flying in circles or straight across the valley. After about 10 minutes we saw a hole, well have you ever been in a plane in a full dive, that pilot dropped that chopper like a rock, then it closed in again. It went on like this for some time, until we got low enough that the crew could guide us in by radio. They said they could hear us occasionally flying around up there and they knew we were in trouble because it was socked in right to ground level. When we landed I looked over at the pilot, he was soaked in sweat, pasty face colour, and I knew right then just how bad it had been. He told me later that he would rather be in a Huey landing marines under fire, than go through something like that again.

We waited hours for the mist to clear and fly the crew home. Brenda and I took the 1 ton to the barge and finally made it out of there, after a slow barge ride down the lake. Brenda and I talk a lot to each other and we are very close, and I swore I would never ever put her in that position again, and thankfully I have been able to keep this promise to her.