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A Day in the Life of a Timber Faller and The Bee Tree

Story ID:8704
Written by:Charles Dishno (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:In Memory
Location:Dillon Montana USA
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Another memory from my past…

I am writing this on the 129th birthday of my dear old Pop.

A Day in the Life of a Timber Faller and The Bee Tree
By Chuck Dishno
February 11, 2013

When I was about 6 years old my Dad was a timber faller near my hometown of Bly, Oregon. As all small boys want to do, I wanted to go to work with my Pop. I know Pop would love to take me but timber falling was a dangerous business with several loggers falling trees all around. He was afraid I wouldn’t be paying attention and it certainly wasn’t fair for the other loggers to constantly having to keep their eyes out for me either.

Finally, Pop gave in and on a Friday he said I could go but I would have to be extremely careful and watch out for falling limbs and pinecones. I promised I would watch every move and with Mom’s approval I was up at 4am the next morning to eat a pancake breakfast with my “partner for the day” my Pop.

We left for work at 5am with our lunch buckets crammed to the top. I know Mom made mine special with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and extra milk.

On arriving at the falling site, Pop did his usual things to get ready for the day, such as sharpening his axe and both falling and bucking saws. I just sat and watched him do his work. It was a beautiful day and the sun was just coming up with out any clouds in the sky, The birds were starting to sing the praises of the day and the squirrels were dropping pinecones to get the seeds out. I will never forget that first morning and the beauty of Gods handiwork.

As soon as Pop got his equipment ready he and his partner, Ed Dwinell, selected the next marked tree to fall. This is where I saw Pop’s expertise come into play. Pop would walk around the tree to determine the best way to fall it. This was decided by the natural lean of the trunk, size of the limbs that would come into play when the tree started to fall. It was important to fall the tree so as not to break it up over rocks etc. The value in a fallen tree was how many logs could be salvaged out of one tree. It was also important not to take too many other trees out with it as these trees to be fallen were selected and marked by the forest service and they frowned on taking out unmarked trees.

Pop wasn’t a big man at only 5’8” but he was powerful having spent the first 40 years as a cattle rancher and the years in between falling timber by hand with long cross cut saws and swinging an axe. Needless to say, he had big powerful shoulders.

After watching the first few trees fall, I busied myself chasing squirrels. I must have been a pain in the tail to Pop and the other loggers, constantly keeping and eye out for me. They did seem to enjoy my company though and I’m sure they cleaned up their language around me. These were men who respected their surroundings and didn’t swear like the ones on that reality show “Ax Men”, where every other word is bleeped.

When lunchtime came all work stopped and the men gathered around in a circle and proceeded to open their lunch boxes. Mine was bulging at the seams but some of the guys thought I needed more, after all it’s hard chasing squirrels all afternoon. Pop thought this was great too and he even gave me some out of his pail..

One logger fascinated me by constantly reaching into his back coverall pocket and taking something out, biting it then lovingly put it back. When I asked him, he showed me three kinds of chewing tobacco. One was called Micky Twist another Red Man and Copenhagen. He would trade off on each dip into his pocket. He asked me if I wanted to try one but one look at his drooling mouth with only 4 teeth showing, I politely said no.

About mid afternoon I was taking a nap behind large log, well out of harm’s way when I heard someone let out a yell, “Bees”!!!

Apparently one of the trees being felled crashed into the top of another about 200 feet away. When it did it disturbed a large nest of black honeybees. The bees became enraged and swarmed out attacking anything moving. Pop ran over to me swatting bees all the way. Pop squatted down beside me and said not to move. Both of us stayed hunkered down until the bees calmed down and went back to their nest. We could hear a few loggers cursing the bees but soon all was calm without too many stingers to be removed. Before long all was back to normal and the sound of sawing and axe strikes filled the air. It was soon quitting time and being a Friday, all loggers took their saws and axes back home with them to be sharpened and ready for work on Monday.

They next day was Saturday and Pop not being one to let a good thing go to waste, decided to go back to that tree with his helper, Ed. Ed had a pair of climbing spurs and figured he could climb the “bee tree” and harvest a gallon or more of good wild bee honey.

Early Saturday morning, Mom, Pop, Ed and I piled into our old Model A sedan and headed for the honey site. Pop wanted Mom along with a large supply of turpentine to be used on any bee stings. She was our first aid lady and I was her helper. Mom and I wrapped, in loose clothing with a towel over our heads—those dratted bees were not about to get us.

On arriving at the bee tree, we could see that the bees were still active and flying around a large hole in the trunk of the tree about 75 feet up. They had calmed down after the day before and didn’t seem aggressive at all. Pop had made sort of pot with a spout in one end. He planned to build a fire in it to make smoke. Someway he devised a way to puff out the smoke, which he hoped would calm the bees as their nest was being robbed. He had obviously done this before and knew what he was doing. I don’t think Ed was too confident since he had to be the one who would climb the tree and reach in and grab handfuls o honeycombs.

Ed soon had his climbers on and with a towel wrapped around his head and the smoker hanging from his belt, shinnied up the tree like a squirrel after a cache of nuts. When he got near that honey hole he began to puff on the smoker. It worked just fine and the bees returned to their nest. When Ed figured he had them all asleep he reached in and extracted a large honeycomb, which he dropped to Pop who was waiting on the ground with a canvas tarp. Ed wasn’t about to let up and time after time he brought out those wild honeycombs. Each one weighed a couple of pounds and was loaded with honey. He said he could see that there were many more in that huge hole but left them for the bees.

By the time Ed climbed down he was covered with honey but not a single sting. I don’t think the bees ever knew what hit them. On the ground, Pop and Mon were gathering a mountain of honeycombs. Mom gave me a small piece of honeycomb and it was there that I got my first taste of wild honey by chewing the wax comb until all the sweetness was gone. No chewing gum ever tasted so good. Needless to say we were all a sticky mess by the time we got home.

I’m not sure how Mom got all that honey from those combs but I think she used a colander to strain it out. I remember this cone thing sitting over a large gallon jar and Mom and Pop, covered with honey, squeezing the wax into it and pure honey oozing out the bottom and into the jar. I remember, Pop saying that that was the biggest wild bee nest he had ever robbed. He said not to worry about those bees though as they always have several years stored up for cold weather and “honey robbing loggers”.

Pop, Mom reside in Heaven now where I hope to join them sometime in the future. We will have many stories to tell and I’m sure one of them will be of the time we were almost done in by a bunch of wild bees. I will remind them of how that story ended with such a “sweet” ending.

Happy Birthday, Pop…..