WOMEN AND TIMBER
The Pacific Northwest Logging Community, 1920 - 1998
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| Women and Timber
Oral History narrator: Gaye Lynn Cook
Date of interview: Oct. 21, 1998
Indexed/partial transcription by D. Sutphen, 2-13-98
Notes: Interviewer Debra Sutphen. Indicated quotes are not precisely quoted here.
002--How are you connected to logging? Married into it--moved into it first. Moved from Vancouver to Tenino, WA. Her dad was a logger when she was born--choker-setter--but when she moved to Tenino she first noticed loggers. She had Mamie, her oldest (she was then in kindergarten, and Gaye Lynn was 25) and moved to Tenino to be closer to her dad and to raise her daughter in a small town. Once there in Tenino she started dating Ken Cook.
018--She met Ken in a local bar, he was playing pool, "he was the happiest guy I'd ever seen," and she thought he must love kids because he was just like a kid. He's just started logging at that point--had been working at a hot tub factory. He grew up on a farm. Ken was about 24-25 when Gaye Lynn met him. They remained best friends for 6 mos., and she got to know the logging side of things. Her friends were loggers--"it was wild--they were more carefree"--it was fun." She described them as a different type of people, "tighter," and said she would call them hicks except that they listened to rock and roll. So they stayed best friends for a while, until he worked up the courage to tell her he had a crush on her, and they began to go out.
042--Did he dress or look differently? "Yeah. In fact, the day he told me I had a crush on me I was over at his house earlier and he had his complete logging outfit on--his riggin' clothes, is what they called it. He was a chaser--which is working on the landing. He did everything on the landing . . . he got squashed by a log, once, his leg did. He only worked down in the brush for a real short time, and then he started fallin'. They dressed in car-hart jeans that were bucked off right below the knees, and they wore boots all the time, and the striped shirts--hickory shirts--and suspenders--my mom bought him L.L. Bean suspenders, and he wore them out. I put a peace sign on the back of them."
058--"He was real family oriented--before we even started dating he would come watch my oldest daughter play baseball, just because she didn't have a dad . . . he was what I seen as a typical logger--it was born in him. He loved it--he loved the trees--it was hard work for him, he was a hard worker--a workaholic. If he wasn't doing that we were cuttin' wood for people."
067--What was being with him like for you? She got pregnant, she didn't work. He'd fall timber and split it up and she'd load up the dump truck and deliver wood (after her youngest child, Casey, was born). Did you get up with him? :"Oh, yes. The earliest Ken ever had to get up was 3:30 in the morning, uggh, and that was in the summer, because they'd get all their logging done by noon. And I made him sandwiches every single morning--four--he took four sandwiches because he'd usually eat two or three and then he'd have trading stock (laughs). He never wanted breakfast--he never wanted coffee or anything. I had a little easier job than most women."
082--What about washing the clothes? "You go through a lot of washing machines. Or I liked taking them to the laundromat, and use their washers. He'd wear his over and over, so they got even more dirtier. And he got tin pants, which are rain pants, and those you don't wash--I think they just have some kind of grease or oil, and wear the dirt."
090--Did you have women friends? "Most of my girlfriends, their husbands were either working with Ken or were loggers too." Were you close? "I got closer. You do find a special bond. But mostly with the guys their wives--he worked over in Cle Elem, and we all lived together basically in a little compound . . . in little camp trailers . . . and those were my only friends, so I got close to their wives." She wasn't there at first--at first, before they were married, he went over there six days at a time. Mamie wanted to go to school there for a few months so she'd have friends in the summer when they lived there so they moved. "And it was fun. We had a two-bedroom trailer, because we had the girls, and everyone else got camp trailers, and we lived there like six months out of the year. The families, we'd all go swimming during the day, because we didn't have our normal chores, I finally got a job at a restaurant there. . because it kind of got boring . . . by the time the guys would get off work they were ready to go swimming too."
114--"We had a house in Tenino--he was buying the house when I met him, and so we lived there six months of the year and moved to Cle Elem and rent our house out to friends, and then we bought another house up by his mom's, adjoining to our property that he inherited. I don't think he made a lot of money, to me, he made, I think the least he ever made was $12.50 (per hour) and he got up to I think $16 (per hour) and that's when he was making good money . . . it was a small town and got an opportunity to buy a house real cheaply. And then we bought our second house, a family home, and we brought it back into the family--it was built by his great grandfather. And I had a lot of saws and his work boots for decorations, it was neat."
132--Was it hard economically being married to a logger? "I remember times when Ken would be laid off from the logging itself but we were lucky because his boss would have him come and work in the shop. Or he'd draw unemployment and he'd just work on the farm, but usually his boss would have him come and work on the machines . . . so we were a little luckier there. I remember when he was hurt one time, and off work, and L and I was hard to kick in, and that's the only time I remember not having an income come in because he wasn't able to cut wood. Because we had our own property--forty acres--where we could go cut firewood. He didn't think it was a good day unless he could bring in at least $50 bucks. And I didn't remember many days when he didn't--maybe on our honeymoon, and that was it."
147--Comment on the stereotypical logger--drinker, wildman. Was it like that? "At first it was, because before we had our first kid--my second kid--it seemed like we'd go out every Friday night, but Mamie was older. And when we got the baby we just settled down and he became real family oriented. We'd have bonfires on our property once in a while, but yeah, they'd drink a lot of beer (laughed), they'd drink a lot of beer. They deserved it."
158--They were married close to four years, but were together seven. He logged the whole time they were together. How was it living with the danger of logging day to day? "I didn't think about it. He was invincible to me. When he got his leg squished by a log . . . he was hurt pretty bad . . . I got a phone call from the nurse, and it scared me to death. He didn't have to go to the hospital, the doctor bandaged him up and then he put me through hell, sitting at home, because he wasn't a good sick patient. I never dealt with that part of it, until he was killed. And I never thought about it because he was so wild--he was the kind of logger that just went in and got the job done. There's some loggers that have rules--never separate from your partner, cutters, always work together, that's the bosses rules, but I don't know any cutters that do that. They get the job done, get 'em out, and I should have been more worried, but it didn't faze me at all." Even after he got hurt "I didn't think about it . . . I don't know why."
182--Can you talk about when Ken was killed? "We weren't married when he was killed--I had to have surgery and gyppo loggers don't have insurance (laughed), they had insurance as far as L and I (state industrial), so we got divorced because I had to have three kidney stone surgeries, and I was down for the count, but we stayed together for a year and-a-half after that, when he actually died, but then I was living back at home, with my stuff in storage, so we were actually divorced, which was hard."
"He was killed at work. The nearest that they can figure was that he had fallen a tree--he was actually working on his vacation time, because it was fire season--and it was two days after our anniversary, and he was falling a tree. And as he had the tree down he walked down the tree with his chain saw and that takes the knobs off. And they figure when he fell that tree it hit another tree and hit a branch loose and the vibration of the saw knocked the branch down and it hit him in the head, on the hard hat. And it killed him instantly. His friend Jim Crum found him, he was his cuttin' partner and best friend. He thought Ken was asleep, and he hit him, you know, 'what are you doing sleepin' on the job?' And he was dead. I think I feel more empathy for Jim than I do for me or my children, because he had to face us, and he still can't, not without big tears. And all the loggers, like the man that replaced Ken, they have so much more respect for the woods, because Ken was very invincible, he was a special logger, to me, and to most of his friends. And they all looked at him as someone this would never happen to. But really, in my heart, I always knew it would, I always knew he'd go in the woods. I just felt like that's where he should die. He wouldn't have wanted to die anywhere else . . . he wouldn't have wanted to die so young . . . he was 31 . . . our youngest was 4 1/2. But he would have been proud of dying in the woods." We looked at the pictures of him up in the house (Gaye Lynn's mother's home, where this interview was held). She talked about their wedding day, and what he wore, and also about the trick photo he set up to make it look as though he was way up in a tree, when he was really only about four feet up).
241--"He was so soft in heart--I think most loggers are, especially ones that are married and have kids. Yeah, on the outside they're just as gruff--what a man, to me, is supposed to be--but they're just soft-hearted teddy bears."
246--How did you find out that he'd been killed? "Jim Crum's ex-wife, who had gone to the scene because she'd heard there was a logger killed, and news traveled very fast. I was living in Tumwater, staying at a friends house, and she called me up and wanted me to go over to Jim's house, and I couldn't understand why, and in Tenino the gossip always ran wild, and I'd figured I'd hear some gossip, and I got there, and she wanted me to go for a walk with her, and I didn't have time, and I was real abrupt, and she told me I had to go with her, and she had this gray look on her face, and I've only seen that in real tragic times, it seems like. And I went for a walk with her, and she told me there'd been an accident, and I knew where my children were so I knew it wasn't my kids. And I just said, "well, he'll be ok." And she said, 'no, he won't be ok. He's dead.' And I don't remember much after that for a while, and I know I hit her, and all she did was held me. It was the worst thing you could ever say to me. Something I never thought would ever happen. And I threw dirt all over, and I hated trees for a while. But I found myself in the woods all the time . . .I got a little house after that in the woods, and mourned for a while, and then moved down here (to Vancouver). I couldn't live in that logging community any more. I don't know if I could now, unless my kids needed me." (Both daughters at that time lived with Ken's relatives. Casey, the youngest, is now in the custody of Gaye Lynn's mother, Myrna Ihrig.)
"I'd go up to too many men of the men wanting to smell their clothes. If I see a logger now I want to smell their clothes." Other women interviewed for this project have mentioned the distinctive smell of a logger's clothes. "You smell the chain saw gas, and I can't remember the grease they use, but they always have to grease the yarder down, and that smell wasn't on all the loggers, and I love the smell of that. You get used to that smell, and now I can't get used to not having that smell. His mother gave me the blanket that I made for him, and he never washed that blanket, and I never washed it, and it still smells like him. I can still smell it. I don't think you could, but me, my kids, and my mom could smell 'em."
283--How was it for your kids when he died? "They were unusually strong. I think Mamie felt like she had to be, and so did Casey. I couldn't face my kids, the first day, and I told my mom it was the hardest thing I ever told my mom, because my mom loved him. She couldn't be more distraught, if it was one of us, me or my brother. I felt so bad to tell her (Gaye Lynn begins to cry here), and I left such a terrible burden on her to tell my daughter, but I couldn't, because Ken loved Mamie just as much as he loved Casey. He told her that he loved her more, because she taught him how to be a dad. Mamie got real sick at first, she was nauseated, and then she regrouped. And that's what's hard on me, is 'cause my kids felt like they had to be so strong, and I was so weak. I still am. It no longer feels like an emotional pain--it's a physical pain." You miss him a lot? "I miss him all the time. I'm remarried, and it's mean of me to be married, because I miss him so much. Mamie regrouped, and she broke down one other time, when I seen her, she cried passionately, and I just felt so horrible, I felt Ken had been taken away from her for something I had done. But then she regrouped, like I said, and she was fine during the funeral, she planned everything. Casey never cried in front of me. He first words out of her mouth was, "I know why Freedom (our dog) had to die because Daddy needed a dog to play ball with in heaven." You could just tell that they were trying to console me and his mother. During the funeral I was sitting right behind Zoe (Ken's mother) and Casey was sitting on my lap and the whole time she patted her grandma on the back, and she told me it was ok to be sad but let's not cry. Course I couldn't . . . . and Mamie cried some, but she more consoled me and my mom and his mom. They were really strong. And now Casey and me have our crying times." Does she remember him? "She says she does, but me and my mom are wondering . . . we'll get up at 6 o'clock in the morning and she'll tell me little poems that they made up, and I don't know if this is real, but it is in her heart, but I always write them down for her." Mamie wrote a poem before he died that was read at the funeral. "It was her way of saying goodbye." Mamie was 13 1/2 when Ken died, and Casey was 4 going on 5.
339--Gaye Lynn talked a little bit about ken's father and brother being loggers.
348--Interviewer thanked Gaye Lynn for talking about Ken's death, acknowledging how hard it must be. She replied, "it's hard, but it feels so good when I can." Interviewer talks about the struggles women married to loggers go through. Gaye Lynn said that it is the second most dangerous occupation, behind fishing. She said they had had other friends die, and described some of these. One who was killed had a daughter who was a friend of Mamie's. "His daughter and Mamie were close friends--I don't know if it prepared Mamie--it didn't prepare me, at all. He was the wildest logger that he was. And I didn't really relate to the fact that he was falling timber. He wasn't that good of a faller--he thought so--he fell a tree, second day they had a new crummie, a 1995 Ford truck, four-wheel drive, he fell a tree down the middle of it (laughed). He wasn't that good of a faller, we were worried, but we were more worried about the vehicles being smashed than him. And the one that hit him it was just a freak accident, 'cause it was just a very small limb, nothin' big--it was a five foot long, eight-inch around tree limb, a dead tree limb, which is very light. And it hit him in the hard hat, and the velocity of it -- and just the vibration of it, that's why it fell, because there was no wind, that day, it was a hot July 5th day. So it's not just the carriage or the chokers that they have to watch out for. I didn't realize that. He didn't know what hit him. If he had lived he would have been paralyzed from the brain down, and I thank God he didn't live. That's one thing God did for me, because he would not have been good, he would not have been pleased with us, if he had lived."
392--Did you watch him work in the woods? "I watched him work at home." She'd watch him run the shovel up at the landing, and a couple of times they'd go watch him on the weekend's fiddle around with the equipment.
405--Did you or did he do taxes, bookkeeping? No, his mom did it. "We got to where we had quite the (wood)business. I was delivering probably two truckloads a week, which is probably three cords in each truck. I kept the customers over the years, and I'd call them when I thought they needed wood. And kept track of all that." She'd unload and, if they were old, stack it for them. "I was a city girl, I had no work ethics," so Ken's mom and Ken taught her. "Unloading a four-ten dumptruck, and it didn't have brakes, Ken told my mom once that's what he loved most about me, I could drive anything. I probably could. It didn't have brakes or anything, and I could only shift it to the first set of gears, because I didn't know how to double shift, and it was fun. I had a lot of old customers, and I'd hire this kid that Ken would always have work on the farm, $20 bucks a day, where I was making $75 per cord, and we'd load three cords, so he was not making out and I was. He was my little wanna be logger, I called him, but he was 6'7", 300 and something pounds, and he was just a boy that Ken helped raise." She also talked about when Casey was born, and Ken's reaction, and Ken's desire to have a boy, and Ken's personality. She also talked about ken's relationship with Casey and Mamie both, and how when Casey was a baby she got used to the sound of the chain saw.
462--She talked about how Casey turned out to be a worker--how she helped gather and burn brush, and would go watch Ken work. Mamie was also a worker--she held for three years running the top speed at setting chokers at the Logging Obstacle Course at the County Fairgrounds. Gaye Lynn felt that Ken would be so proud of his kids that they were workers. Gaye Lynn reminisced more about the kids working with Ken. Gaye Lynn felt that Mamie got her very finely tuned, dry sense of humor from being around loggers as a kid growing up.
495--What if Mamie wanted to marry a logger? "I'd think she was crazy, because she hates living in the woods, but I'd be happy, I'd be honored. I would hope that it wasn't because of the same reason that I would like to marry another logger--just a reason to replace Ken--that's one reason that I moved away from Tenino. You long for it, I don't know if she does, but I see Casey marrying a logger, because she'll stay in that type of community. She loves the area, and she loves the farm. But Mamie has never washed the city out of her."
521--Did you ever date anyone who was a logger or try to be around them after Ken died? "I tried, I tried dating the guy that replaced him, actually, and we were going to date even before me and Ken got together. But I couldn't, it was too emotional, and too soon, just being around, on the one hand I loved it, 'cause I missed it so much, on the other hand it made me distraught. I'd walk in front of a logging truck just to smell the logs. That's why I moved down here--there's not a lot of trees down here."
542--How much did logging shape who you are now? "A large amount. That type of man--I feel like I've lost a lot of my standards, of where I'm at now, because I'm not married to someone like that, not just a logger, but the work ethics and everything, and I'm settling for something I don't want, which I don't want to get into, but I'd much rather be in the logging--that's the type of a family and type of a life I would want to be in, even though I'm not. He made me more of a worker, and you know I'd love to work outside all the time--I love to go outside and cut my mom's wood. He made me know what love was, and he was very true, and there was nothing false about Ken. I'll never be happy living in the city, 'cause I'd much rather be living in the country but at the same time it makes me sad. Brings back all my happy memories, but everyone that's told me in grief counseling is that you get to the point where the memories don't cause grief anymore, they cause happiness. But I haven't got to that. I don't like it that he's just a memory. I think his whole life, the eight of living (with him) has shaped me a lot."
594--Do you feel like you'll always be a part of the logging community? "Yeah. I always feel like I'm a part of it--anyone that comes around and talks about logging I can talk about it, I know a lot about it, and I feel good about that. And I'll always feel connected to that community, no matter where I'm at, and I can go back there in ten years and they'll always remember me, probably because I was married to Ken Cook, and not just because he died 'cause he was Ken Cook."
612--What was the best thing about being married to a logger? "I always felt protected, because he was so strong, not that he would fight, you know, most loggers it seems were fighters, and they wouldn't have a good Friday night unless they got in a barroom brawl, and he always came off that way to people, and I felt that my whole family was protected, and he would die for us, and basically he did. And I loved that feeling. And I felt very secure because even though he didn't make a lot of money he always made money, and that was part of his work ethic I think, and he was such a workaholic. And I think that most loggers are workaholics. And I think it's the type of breed, it's a certain type of man to always be a logger, and I think that type is a workaholic."
623--What's the worst thing about being married to a logger? "That he died. That and probably the next thing is that they drink too much beer--not just him, but all the other loggers, they always had beer cans everywhere. I didn't like it when he worked out of town and I couldn't go with him. (It happened) at first, because I was pregnant, and I needed to be home for one thing, and because we didn't get along when I was pregnant. That was the only time I didn't get along with Ken, or none of the loggers, actually. I thought they were awful, and no one understood. So I stayed home while I was pregnant and I didn't start going with him until a month after we were married. I didn't like that six days gone, yeah, he'd only have one night with us, and he was exhausted, and he'd have to do stuff all day long for someone. He was always busy." How come you didn't get along when you were pregnant? "Because I was mean, I was meaner than any of them. I didn't feel good, I had kidney stones, so I was throwing up all the time, and Ken could not hear someone throw up. He would get ill. That's why I had Casey without Ken. I drank castor oil 'cause I knew he couldn't be there, and I had her. Thank God, because I knew Ken would pass out. He would gag at a piece of hair floating through the air. It's funny, because he's such a strong man, your typical logger, but he just could not stomach anything gross. And I was so sick, and Ken was not sympathetic to anyone's illness, and he did not pamper me when I was sick, and I wanted to be pampered, and I was so sick, and had to have surgery at five and a half months along . . . and he finally realized that I was going through (more than what most women go through at that stage of pregnancy) and he became more sympathetic. And about that time he started working out of town--and I think that was quite nice for him. I was so mean. As soon as I had her everything changed and I was back to normal. We got along so well, we were best friends. I think I'll be able to tell my grandchildren wonderful stories about how me and him got together."
667--What do you think about the various criticisms of logging (rapers of the land, etc?) "Honestly, I think we'll always need toilet paper." (laughed) She talked about the switch from clear cutting to thinning, and how Ken didn't want to see the woods completely gone, and how you couldn't walk through the woods if it wasn't thinned, and enjoy it. She believed that thinning was healthier for the forest.
680--She said that she loved getting out in the woods, even though it made her sad. She talked about the property that they held--52 acres of woods--and said they logged it after storms. They'd sell the brush for firewood, and the trees were logged and sold and they'd split the profits with the family. They'd only take down fall-downs and leaners.
696--Interviewer talks about the uniqueness of being part of logging, and wonders if Gaye Lynn believes that women related to loggers deserve historical recognition. "Yeah, because I think it's not just every woman that has to wash those kinds of clothes, and living uprooted, because our family was uprooted for six months out of the year. If I was a logger's wife again and read about it in a magazine it would be something that would catch my eye."
714--Most important things to leave people with re: loggers? "That they are good people, because when I first heard about loggers I thought they were crude, ugly, not caring men. I'd want them to know that they really did care about their families and that's why they're out there, most of them. I'd want them to realize that it is dangerous. I'm glad I didn't worry about the dangers every day. But mostly the kind of people that they were. They're not stupid at all, and they are very family oriented. And when Ken died I seen so many loggers cry, I seen quite a few have to leave because they were crying. They're very sensitive. They're not just chew-spitting, drunk . . .they do all that stuff, but in moderation . . . they'd stop at the bar after work, but then come home, to us."
737--Did you know any loggers who were abusive? "I think of all the loggers I knew, I think the woman was more abusive. We became tough, I know. For me, I got mad at Ken one time because he came home from work drunk and I popped him in the nose ten times. He taught me how to be a good fighter. But he never hit me. I ever remember one couple that fought. But she in all reality was more abusive than he was. I remember other couples fighting a lot, but the guys weren't abusive. No more than what your normal society has . . . . If anything they fought each other more."
761--Any last words? "I'm very honored to get to do this interview. It's a special thing I can do for my kids, and for his family, and for him, and for the logging industry. I love those loggers still."
769--End of interview