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Fire in the Hole or Dog-Gone

Story ID:7875
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Dillon Montana USA
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Fire in the Hole or Dog-Gone…
By Chuck Dishno 2012

Many years ago when I was about 16, I was working as projectionist at the Arch Theater in my hometown of Bly, Oregon. I was making $2,00 a night with 40 cents taken out for taxes, so the theatre owner said. This was OK with me as I always had pocket money and never had to ask my parents for anything.

In the spring of 1949, my Dad left to fall timber for his old company near Dinuba, California. As soon as school was out my Mom would join him. I had stayed home the previous year but this time I decided to go with them as Pop had offered me a job felling trees with he and his partner. I would be paid the fantastic sum of $1.67 per hour and work at least 10 hours a day and 5 on Saturday. I could envision all the money I would come home with by the time school started in the fall. I really didn’t need the money but thought I might buy a nice used car to replace my old 1928 Model, A Ford that left much to be desired.

I took the train to Fresno where Pop met me. The first thing we did was go to a shoe store and purchases me a pair of hobnail logger boots and some heavy leather gloves. Pop said he would take the price out of my first paycheck.

Pop had secured a logging contract to clear the right-of-way timber on a road that led to a proposed ski hill. If all went well we would get the contract to clear the ski hill too.

On Monday, Pop and I went to work, my first as a logger. I had been around timber falling for a long time but this is the first time I was actually on a crew. I was very slight and didn’t weigh over 118 lbs, so I was put on the job of pounding 18-inch ash wedges into the cut made by the large chain saw. These trees were Sugar Pine and were up to 8 feet in diameter. If the wedges weren’t used the tree would want to settle back and pinch the saw. They also helped in the direction of the fall. Pop was the expert and would point to the 5 or 6 wedges and let me know which ones to hit. This worked perfectly and the huge tree would be down in a few minutes with little damage to it or the surrounding trees.

By mid summer, we had all the right-of-way cleared and were moving to the proposed ski hill. I was still getting my $167 per hour and was saving every penny of it. As I was still low man on the gang there wasn’t much chance of a raise.

At this time I had the opportunity to join the powder crew whose job was to blast all the stumps out and make ready for the road crew to do their thing. My new salary was to be $1.80 per hour and I jumped at the chance. In my little brain I calculated that that was 3 cents per minute and I would go back to Bly with lots more money in my pocket. I even calculated that I could go to the bathroom (outside of course) for 5 minutes and make 15 cents.

Once again, I was the new man on the job and I was relegated to digging holes under the stumps with a small “gopher shovel”. This was a really hard job but I enjoyed it as I got to watch and learn from the men on the powder crew including their colorful language, something I didn’t dare take home.

The headman, or “powder monkey” as he was called was a big burley man who was easily identified by his 3 missing fingers on one hand and one missing on the other. His name was Olie and was very friendly and happy go lucky. Olie had a little terrier whose name was Fire-In-The-Hole. He was usually sleeping in a small depression he had dug in the pine duff.

Olie would go around and pack the holes with stumping powder, insert the detonators, then string the dynamite wire about 50 yards away and attach one end to a magneto to provide the electric charge to set the whole thing off, usually several stumps at once.

Once everything was set we would all take cover and wait for Olie to holler, Fire-In-The-Hole! At this point, his little dog would wake up; look at Olie who would be pointing in the direction he wanted Fire-In-The-Hole to run. Fire-In-The-Hole would take off at a dead run and continue until Olie set off the charge. At that time Fire-In-The-Hole would stop, turn around and go back to where he was sleeping and curl up again as if nothing had happened.

The area would be littered with splintered stumps but our job was done and we would be off to another group of stumps. Fire-In-The-Hole would tag along and would soon be sleeping, awaiting the next volley. He really trusted his master.

This was many years ago and Olie and Fire-In-The-Hole have long since gone to trust another Master. Sometimes when I hear thunder I look up, expecting to see Fire-In-The-Hole streaking around a puffy cloud awaiting the all clear.

Post Script…

As I mentioned in the beginning of this story, my goal was to save enough money to buy a car. By the end of the summer I had saved almost $500, which was about what I needed. When I went to Fresno to take the train home I had several hours to kill before train time so I wandered around and happened to stop at a photography store. I had been doing my own pictures since I was 7 years old and was always on the lookout for new photo equipment. When I went in the store I spied a 4x5 press camera with flash and all the accessories. I was drawn to it like a magnet. It was then that my brain went into overtime. I reasoned that someday I would really need a car but probably couldn’t afford the camera. My reasoning won out and I walked out with the entire outfit and $400 poorer. After all I had a perfectly good Model A at home even though it had only one brake, no heater and wasn’t much of girl-getter (ducks, geese and fish were my priority then and girls came a close 4th).

Such was life in Bly, Oregon.