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Pop and the Big Tree

Story ID:7063
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Location:Dillon Montana USA
Year:2011
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Pop and the Big Tree

Another memory from my past...

Pop And The Big Tree
“My Proudest Moment”
By Chuck Dishno

When I was about 15 I spent the summer with my Mom and Dad in a small village just inside Kings Canyon National Park called Wilsonia.

My Dad was a timber faller and worked for Ivory Pine Lumber Company located in Dinuba California. Pop had followed Ivory Pine from Bly, Oregon when they moved to Dinuba in 1948. He was 64 years old at the time and when most men are thinking of retirement, he was just getting started.

Pop was a small man standing just over 5’8” but due to his hard work as a cattle rancher in Montana and then many years falling timber with a cross cut saw and wielding and axe he had developed very strong muscles in his shoulders and back. He could pull a saw or swing an axe all day long and hardly break a sweat. I was always in awe of him and longed to follow in his footsteps and be just half the man he was.

That summer in 1949, further cemented in my mind of the kind of man he was. Since I was only 15, I was too young to work with him in the woods but I would often go to work with him and watch as he displayed his art in falling those big Sugar Pine trees.

Sugar Pine are among the largest of the pine family and sometimes reach diameters of 8 feet or more and a height of 250 feet. It takes a very talented person to bring one of the giants down without taking many smaller trees with it. The Forest Service frowns on knocking down trees that are not marked for cutting. The faller has to be very selective as to where he will land that tree.

Pop’s skill came home to me one day in Wilsonia.

Wilsonia was filled with summer homes, most of them small cabins but some were large houses. One Saturday, a man came to my Dad and asked him to look at a Sugar Pine that was threatening his home.

Pop and I went over to the site and sure enough there was the largest tree I had ever seen and it was leaning toward his cabin. To make matters worse, there was another cabin about 50 feet to the left of it.

After looking over the situation, Pop said it would be difficult if not impossible to fall the tree and not hit one cabin or the other. The only possibility was to drop it between the two. Well, the man wanted it down and was willing to take the risk.

Pop explained that he had no insurance to cover him but that seemed to be OK with this man. I think he was afraid, and rightly so, that the tree would fall onto his cabin in the middle of the night while he and his family were asleep.

They agreed on a price of $500.00 to be paid in advance. Pop was no dummy. No matter what happened he would be paid. Either there would be lots of firewood or lots more kindling.

Pop said he would fall the tree the next Saturday day when he would bring his old partner to help.

His partner, Herb, had a large Mall chain saw with a 6 foot bar and chain.

By the next Saturday the word had gotten out that Pop would fall that big tree. By the time Pop, Herb and I got there, a large crowd had gathered to see what the outcome would be. I’m sure most all were pulling for Pop successfully bringing that tree down between the cabins but there were probably a few who would like to see it land on one of the houses too. Since this was such a big project, Pop asked me if I would help.

I was delighted to do anything he asked. I had visions of me running the saw but since I was only 15 and weighed about 110 lbs. it would have been impossible for me to hold even the “stinger” end of that 80 pound machine. I was relegated to putting in wedges to keep the tree from settling down and pinching the chain when the cut got deep into the trunk.

The wedges were made of a hard wood and were about 15 to 18 inches long. They were also used to help direct the tree in the direction of fall.

The real skill was in how much wood to hold and where to place the undercut. Pop instructed Herb where to place the undercut and then to start on the other side making the final cut. The saw was extremely sharp and in a few minutes the chips were flying like snow. Pop then instructed me where to place the wedges and as the cut got deeper to tap them in with the flat side of the axe.

It didn’t take long before that huge tree began to groan and crack as it gave way to the pull of gravity. The crowd stood in awe as that giant began to sway and lean, first toward one of the cabins and then as it lost its battle with gravity it slowly began to turn on the stump and fell with a terrific crash precisely between the two cabins without even a branch or twig touching either one.

I turned just in time to see the crowd of about 100 people stand and cheer. In their eyes we were all heroes but in my eyes there was only one hero – my Dad.

Pop was a very modest man but he took advantage of the situation and jumped onto the stump, took off his hard hat and did a deep bow. He then invited Herb and I to join him and we all basked in the glory of his expertise.

After Pop had been paid he gave Herb his usual wage plus extra for doing such a good job and I think he gave me $20.00 for my help. The money made no difference to me – it was the thrill of seeing my Dad in action at his best.

Many years have passed since that incident but I have thought of it often and how proud I was of that dear old man.

Pop worked for another 10 years in the woods until he was 74 and cancer caught up with him. He died at 75 having had a great life and leaving me with many memories.

I have written many stories about this remarkable man and several have been published on Our Echo including; Pop and his Rock, Last Hunt, Pop's Swan, The Duck Call and the Windy Goose Hunt.

I have many more fond memories to write of this great man and will continue to post them.

Chuck Dishno