Center for Columbia River History


The Pacific Northwest Logging Community, 1920 - 1998


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Women and Timber

Oral History narrator: Norma Corbett

Date of interview: Oct. 13, 1998

Indexed/partial transcription by D. Sutphen, 1-18-98

Notes: Interviewer Debra Sutphen. Indicated quotes are not precisely quoted here.

003--How are you connected to the logging industry? Through her husband and his family. He's been a logger since he got out of the service--1945--then he went into business with his father, his father and him became partners, then they married in 1947, his mother always did the books, then in 1965 he took over from his dad, who retired. Then Norma started doing the books and did them for 30 years for Bob. Also changed it into Corbett Logging, Inc. when they bought it (from Corbett Logging). They had an accountant do the books at the end of the year and check things every six months or so, but she did the rest: payroll, paid the truckers. They had about 15+ people work for them in the beginning.

022--Where did he log? He logged around the St. Regis area for many years, then moved to different places that required a long drive--sometimes four hours per day--two coming and two going. Then most summers he'd have to stay away from home and she would go up once a week and take their dinner to them. Then, 1965, she also began to do cooking for his crew in Onalaska. They rented a huge trailer and moved out in the country, and she and the three kids stayed in that, then Bob rented a house next to the trailer on his farm and all the men stayed there. She would cook for the men, usually 15 of them, during the week and then they'd go home on weekends. So she was cooking, doing books, raising three kids. Their oldest son just 50, daughter just 47, and youngest son 45. Norma is a very young looking 73 year-old. (She also talked about a fledgling black eye--she was hit by a tennis ball in the eye that morning).

046--She's been in the logging industry for 50 years. What was your background before you met your husband? "I lived in Seattle and went to the University of Washington, and he did too, then we met through friends . . . fraternity . . . then they started dating and got together and then I moved to Spanaway." Her father worked as an engineer at Boeing. Was it odd to marry a logger? Did you ever think you'd marry a logger? "No, I didn't, and my friends were more awed by it than I was. I just kind of accepted it and was going to be a happy housewife. I got pregnant on our honeymoon . . . and it wasn't odd at all. Sometimes it was hard when he had to leave in the summertime, and I had everything--the children and everything to do and that was hard, but other than that we had wonderful friends that were not in the logging community." "He was just like any other person that had a company and worked in the office. He had Sat. and Sun. off mostly, though he had to do a lot of errands and things like that on the weekends, no, we accepted it as just a natural thing."

072--When you lived in places like Onalaska did you associate with other women in that community? "No, we didn't have time because I was just there in the daytime all day long, and of course busy, and then we'd go home Friday night and come back Monday morning, so I didn't have time to actually associate. Now some of his employees lived down around Chehalis, truck drivers, and we used to have Christmas parties every year, so we'd definitely see them then. We'd always have a nice Christmas party, and we were always friendly with them." But they had their own lives separate from them.

080--What was a typical day like for you? (He was working in the woods--he always felt that the employer should work out in the woods. Bob is 75.) "Typical day was very much like other mothers. I belonged to several organizations and had many many friends, belonged to a church and sang in the choir and taught Sunday school and raised three children and they all turned out very very well, and then our youngest son did go into the business with Bob. Then we he was married seven years ago his wife took over the books, and she does them now. So I'm retired."

096--I told her about one of my narrators whose family moved all the time. She commented how hard that must have been for the children, and expressed gratitude that Bob did the two/four hours per day drive so they could keep their home. Was the life stable? "It got better all the time. When we were first married we lived on practically nothing. And even when we were raising our children when they were little we didn't have very much money. Today it would sound like how could you even survive with what we lived on. But, it got better and better, and when he took over in 1965, he did buy some new equipment, which was of benefit to him, and he started buying timber, and that was very beneficial as far as income goes, so it was better and better." How about up to now, with with all of the environmental issues, etc? "It's been a real problem, it really has, and he's just at the age now where he doesn't want to fight it anymore." Their son is in total agreement because they want to move to MT.

124--Their oldest son worked for Bob in the summers, made lots of money, and graduated from the U of W. Would you have wanted them to have gone into the business? "No. I was always so worried about them. There's a question in there (in the list of potential questions provided all narrators) did I ever go up and visit and I did, a few times, and I really didn't like it. It scared me to death. You see when you're right there on the job how dangerous it is, totally dangerous. Oohh. Everytime I'd go up there there'd be almost an accident, I did not like to go up into the woods. My husband could never understand it."

136--How did you live with the danger of Bob's occupation? Was it always in the back of your mind? "No, no it wasn't. But I just always held the right thoughts that it would be and he's been very fortunate, my husband and my son (she knocks on the wooden table)." Her son hurt his leg quite badly, but that was the only thing.

139--The logging goes on unless too much snow falls or the weather during the summer is too dry. When they have these shutdowns is this a problem? "No, they're always kind of happy to have a little mini vacation. It's worked out real well having our youngest son in the business because Bob could take off and our son could handle everything."

153--Was there ever a time that your husband thought about doing something else? "No, I don't think there was. It's just kind of ingrained in the family. Even his grandfather was a logger--three generations." (Four with their son). Was there ever a time that you wished he'd done something different? "No, there isn't. Everybody, all of our friends, were always very appreciative of him for what they'd find out about the woods and he'd take our friends up, the men up, and see the logging company working, and taught them a lot of things about logging, our friends. And they liked that, and I liked it too."

166--She talks about their having a lot of logging movies.

170--Did you have close women friends? "Yes--lots of us had been friends together when we went to school in Seattle. We had two bridge clubs that we played in--I had wonderfully close friends."

181--Do you notice differences between women of your generation and women of younger generations and how they deal with the changes in the logging industry and how they relate to others in the community? "I notice that the young mothers, the women, work today. So they more or less have their own lives, when they work, and they have a totally different job. I think that they come home and their husbands come home, and I think that's very different than our mothers--they didn't work and I think they led a much quieter life (even than Norma and Bob)."

195--Her sons were 16-17 when they first went to work in the woods, and they loved it. But their oldest son decided that he did not want to become a logger. But Bob's nephew, Raymond Cooper, used to work for Bob in the woods and started his own company. Tawney's husband works for Ray now.

209--Does your company have problems competing with the larger companies like Weyerhaeuser? "Yes, getting sales--you used to try and buy sales and now it's just impossible. They're so expensive, and the log market is not good, it has not been good for four years, and to go and try and buy and pay a huge price for the timber and then try to sell it is a huge problem. It's discouraging. As I say, they're just ready not to log anymore" What will happen when your husband leaves the woods? "I think it's difficult for him, very difficult, but the only reason that's difficult for me is to see him so upset by it. But other than that I think he should be out of the woods, period, at 75. I do. And then I think about our youngest son, and I'd just as soon have him out of the woods, too. I think we've been lucky so far, and what will be will be."

225--What about the economic ups and downs, specifically unemployment? Did you have to deal with that? Having him home, how to pay bills, stigma of unemployment, etc. "My husband, lots of winters, he'd be home for a few weeks or so, I just kind of accepted it, got used to it. Yes I did. Everything can't be perfect in life, you know. And he always worked his head off to make a wonderful living for us, and I'm very appreciative of that, very." Your income was stable? "Yes, except as we started out. We were very frugal, and had to be careful with our money, and it paid off." (I mention how beautiful their home is).

253--How has logging shaped your life? "I think it's made me a real independent person. Because I was there to take care of the house and take care of the children, and to be the household manager, I did everything. And while he was off he certainly didn't have time to do all that, and so I did everything for him, and I don't think if I had married somebody in another business that would have happened because the man probably would have wanted to do it but Bob didn't have time to do it so I think that it's made a real strong person out of me." What do you mean by "everything?" "I loved the yardwork, and I always did it, and the children helped me, and I did that and took care of everything for him. And I didn't think that much of it, I just thought it was part of the deal, you know. I did. And I'm sure little Tawney will say the same thing--she works very hard, and takes care of her two daughters, too. Some women just don't worry about it and do it. And when you're the manager of the home you can do everything you want to because you're the boss, and you can just categorize every little part of being a housewife and mother and do the best that you can in each little department . . . .cooking, and sewing . . . ." Did your husband want to step in and do things that were normally yours when he was off? "No. Now he helps in the yard and in the house, and it's wonderful to have that help."

293--What is the best part of being married to a logger? "Well, they usually have their head on straighter than other men, I'd say, and they can understand nature, and they seem to be so well read and knowledgeable about what's going on (in nature)--their grasp is so huge compared to (someone working in an office). It's wonderful to be around somebody like that who knows so much about nature." She loved nature, and their match was a good one. He knew great sites to take her to--they did a lot of camping, fishing. But he really didn't like to go camping because when he was outside all week long he really didn't want to go camping all that much, but he did anyway.

325--Hardest thing about being married to a logger. "Washing those filthy, greasy, muddy clothes and overalls and the mud and the dirt and the grime. No matter what he'd come home every night when he was logging close enough and he would jump in the shower and we'd have our dinner every single night at 6 o'clock with our children, even though he drove that far, he'd jump in the shower and he'd come up and we'd have dinner together, which they don't do nowadays. People don't have dinner together, which is a real shame. And our children still talk about it--we had a big dining room--now they're taking their kids to soccer practice and baseball--it's heartbreaking, to me it is anyway. We had a wonderful family life, we did, and I don't know if I were married to somebody else if we would have had that. But he was always very intent on getting home and having a nice evening with us."

350--What were morning like? He had to leave at 4am, so "I got up for quite a while, when we were first married and made his breakfast, and he finally said, "Norma, I can't eat that early in the morning," so then I didn't make his breakfast, but of course I had to get up early with the children. I'd pack his lunch the night before, and he'd take his thermos and leave." So what about the clothes every night? "They'd be wet, oh gosh, that was a bummer. And to this day he still feels better in his overalls and suspenders than any clothes he can wear."

369--Most Pacific Northwest loggers see themselves as part of a unique tradition, culture. (Interviewer talks about the kinds of things that define the PNW, and how logging has fallen out of favor. "Logging has changed, if you notice they don't have the trucks on the road that they did--it's almost like it's the end of an era. It's sad to say, and the environmentalists have helped that a lot--that's what we think. I have to naturally take the side that my husband does, and I think they go overboard. Like the owl thing a few years ago, you know my husband had worked in the woods all his life and he never saw a spotted owl, never. He never did. And he thinks they go to extreme, and it has done a lot of damage to the logging industry, because of that. (People) believe what they read, and of course all these creeks--you can't log there because the creek going through and they might pollute it, and none of that ever happened before. Now they're just going every little place they can go and find a problem." What do you think about the Forest Service? "Well, he (Bob) feels they should be working in the woods before they become USFS employees, so they'd know more about what they're working with. He thinks these kids come right out of college and they step in the woods and they try to tell the loggers what to do and how to do it and that is terribly upsetting to the logger because they don't know until they actually work in the woods. So that's his opinion about Forest Service." (Note here that I asked her what she thought, and she told me what he thought.)

424--Do you feel connected to that logging culture and tradition? Does that define you and that you're part of that? "Yes, I do, because I believe exactly what my husband believes, that way. I do. Yep. And people should have more actual experience before they start trying to tell loggers what to do. And it's upsetting to them, very upsetting, to have some young fellow come and say 'oh, you're not doing this right and that right,' but they must have done it right because they've not had any accidents."

442--Interviewer talks about Flagstaff as a logging town, sawmill town, etc. and how the logging has been stopped in that area, compares to this area. "It's just sad." What do people do when they meet Bob? "They're very interested. We both feel we've been very fortunate in every way."

491--Interviewer talks about why she is doing this project, and why she is not focusing on women. Do you think that women like you deserve historical recognition or inclusion in the tradition of logging? Do you feel that what you've done as your husband's partner is important enough to be recognized? "I do. Because I found the time to join clubs and make aware to other people what a logger's wife can do--sometimes I think people's idea of a logger's wife is just a little stay at home person that does nothing. Well I think I've broadened that, by stepping out and doing many, many different things, which I did. I joined the church, and go to that every week--women's church group--then Orthapaedic, in Tacoma, Jr. League, PEO--that's all part of that you can talk about being something besides a stay-at-home loggers wife. Lot of women stay home . . . when I was first married I really wanted to be an old-fashioned housewife, and being married to a logger I'd think I could do that and stay at home and bake bread and cook, and I don't think that I could be married to somebody in another business and do that." But at the same time that you were "an old fashioned housewife" you were also doing the bookkeeping for your husband's business. "I enjoyed it, very much." If you hadn't done that would he have? "No, we would have hired it done, but it cost a lot of money. Oh yeah. We had all those truckers to pay. In those days we didn't have computers, and I had to work with those slips and count and count and count and have to match the loads to the slips I had--their slips against my slips--and there were hundreds of them. Now they don't have to do that because everything's computerized so I'd work until midnight on those truckers slips--they had to be paid every week, the truckers--wrote the checks, paid them, did FICA, withholding, quarterly taxes." She learned how to do accounting from an accountant who did their books at end of the year. She also took bookkeeping at UW, and worked as a bookkeeper for a doctor in Seattle.

602--Are you typical of a logger's wife? "No, I don't think so.


"Whether a logger's wife or farmer's wife, I think it's totally different now than it was in my day because most of the wives have to work today, and it's just totally a different life out there now." How many hours per week did you work on bookkeeping? "Oh, gosh, I'd work 'till midnight lots and lots of nights during the week. I'd do the truckers slips usually in one night and get them paid--I betcha you could average out two hours a day doing the books." All this while still maintaining the house and getting up with the kids, and all done after the kids were in bed. Getting up at 6am. "I was lucky to have a lot of energy--I did."

625--What would you want people to know about your life as the wife of a logger? Most important things? "I'd have to think about that . . . being a good example of a wife for the husband when he had a company--we used to go to logging congresses and met many of his employees and other owners of other companies, and being a friendly, social person--that would be of help to your husband. I don't like to say it was hard, because it wasn't. I didn't think it was hard then, but I look back and I think I must have been three people. Really, I do. We entertained all the time, and had a very full life."

Is my husband going to hear this? He'll think it's funny--probably.

655--Any last words . . . maybe my husband could help me--tell me things I could tell you--he's very knowledgeable about things. "I think really, as far as my experience seeing people talking to my husband, they're very impressed with him being a logger, and (exclaim) "oh, you're a logger," and they're very enamored by it. It's too bad that it's not what it used to be, but I guess everything changes."

672--Norma talks about Joe Perry as a "typical logger"--good father, good husband, and he works his head off. What about the image of the logger as a wild and drunken guy? "I never knew that part of it. That's a little bit of a fallacy, I think. . . .if you're going to be that kind of a person you're going to do that regardless of the work that you're in."


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