Center for Columbia River History


The Pacific Northwest Logging Community, 1920 - 1998


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Women and Timber

Oral History narrator: Sharon Erdman

Date of interview: Nov. 16, 1998

Indexed/partial transcription by D. Sutphen, 11-25-98

Notes: Interviewer Debra Sutphen. Interviewer's questions are bolded. Indicated quotes are not precisely quoted here.

004--How are you connected to logging industry? Dad a logger--he logged probably 40 years of his life. Logged in Clatskanie, OR and B.C. before here. Moved there (Meger, OR--between Raineer and Clatskanie) when she was 5 (she's 54)

019--"That was my whole life with him--logging." He was a faller--worked for Bruce Douglas (road builder for Fiber) then Evenson Logging (Edvard Evenson, Raineer)-those are the only two companies she remembered him working for.

026--"There was always kind of a feeling of . . . a worry for him. He would come home frequently with cuts on his face and bruises and various things." And then he was hurt several times (when she was little)--he had a back surgery one time that was work related and she remembers having to charge their groceries at the grocery store because there wasn't money coming in "but I always thought that we were rich--that was the only time in my life that I ever did without anything and we weren't rich--he made a stable income but he didn't get rich off of it."

037--Most of the kids and families she grew up with were not loggers--more fishermen. No friends were loggers--"I was one of one." When she was in high school--moved from B.C. to Meger--in 8th grade when they moved to town of Clatskanie--none of friends she made then--none of their families loggers . . . they were businessmen. There were forty kids in high school she graduated from. Guy she dated was a logger, his dad a logger.

050--How many kids in her family? Four--she is oldest--two brothers, and sister ten years younger. "We've just finally become friends." She took care of sister--learning to set boundaries with her--not taking care of her, not in charge of her anymore--good learning experience for Sharon.

059--What was it like with dad on a daily basis? "I remember most the stagged pants"--would buy new pants and mom would cut them off. Mom always having a lunch ready for him in the morning --Sharon never saw him in the morning because he was always gone. But he was always home in the afternoon then and in the evenings and weekends. The rest of that time was really stable. I never thought much about what dad did for a living until they moved from Meger into Clatskanie (Clatskanie a larger town--Meger small rural school). Going to Clatskanie a really big step--came to realization then that her dad was a logger and that wasn't real respectable. "Somehow he didn't quite measure up"--lots of loggers in Clatskanie, going on around town--first time she had a sense that this was different, and he did do a different job. About 13 or 14. "Somehow I didn't quite measure up because of what my dad did." She didn't know if this was inferred in the community of her insecurity as an adolescent. He took them to a logging site only once, had a picnic--it was really hard what his work was. "Now I have a real conflict with what he did and all the logging that's happening . . . how could he do that--he loved nature and loved trees and was a great gardener, yet he killed them on a daily basis. I don't get that piece of him--I just have horrors every time I drive in the country and see all the trees gone--who's counting these?"

095--What about arguments against logging? Changes in concept of logging as an occupation that made it go from a respectable to not respectable occupation? That may have been around the time that, as a child, what he did was not acceptable. That time started to shift. Is what he's doing ok? "It was honorable--I didn't think it was dishonorable--but somehow it just didn't feel that he had to be real smart to do that. Anybody could do this--and he was, he was a real bright man. My boyfriend in high school was not a very bright person, and he was a logger. And that's what he's doing still to this day." "It has impacted me, more in a questioning way--"how did he do that, and how can people continue to do that. " Has strong feelings about people cutting trees down. "As a gardener he always told me don't take anything out unless you know what you're going to put in place of it. How did he do that?" He collected burls out of trees--when he did they had a huge trunk full of knots that he had collected--would bring home all these weird formations of trees that nature had done--he loved nature--"a real dichotomy" for her--how he could love nature as much as he did and instill that into then and then be raping the landscape." "I struggle with how he did it--I know where I am on the issues. The managed forests I understand because I think that some of those companies are doing thoughtful stuff. " Lots of families have small amounts of land, and they log it for the profit--hundreds of thousand of dollars that the trees are getting. But they don't necessarily have to take care of it like the bigger companies do--they're making a quick profit, then they subdivide.

144--What did she think of other loggers--not her dad? Dad would go down and have beer on Friday night or after work and have beer. Have two or three beers during week. Never a partier--he was about 32 when Sharon born. He did that before he got married. When Sharon born he was working at a logging camp in Pit lake, B.C. Mom stayed in Westminster, then after she was born they went up to camp and stayed there. At that point he stopped doing logging and was also a landscaper (logging in winter and landscaping in summer maybe). Image of loggers as dirty, drinking, noisy guys--yeah, they can. That wasn't the case with dad, but he could do that if he chose to occasionally.

178--Growing up did dad talk about what he did in the woods--work? No, he'd spend time talking about different trees--he'd make them identify trees by the bark and needles. He'd talk about the people he worked with--little about actual things he did. Talk about stupid things people did that would almost get him killed.

190--Remembers stagged pants, corked boots, having to go special places to buy those. Remembers the grease--the horrible grease that they waterproofed pants with--thick, smelly stuff--lots of preparation around him going to work. He'd only eat cheese sandwiches with jam--that's all he had in his lunch bucket. Always a joke--that's all he'd take with fruit and coffee. Image of him marching off with his little metal lunch bucket. Remembers the smell of him--sawdust, oil from chainsaws, remembers a lot of sharpening of the saws--spending lots of time doing that. Had big bars on his saws--cut large trees.

212--The family always felt wealthy--most of time ok. He would have a lot of eye injuries--probably before all the OSHA stuff--goggles. He would get sparks or chips in his eyes--that was a worry--he was still logging when they had to start wearing earplugs--he was dead set against them-he felt that he really needed all his senses to survive--if you hear something wrong then you move--if you put earplugs in then you won't hear to move--she didn't think he'd conformed to that. He was 64 and was still falling. Stories were that he could outclimb, outwork people half his age--a very, very strong, healthy person. He knew how to survive, knew what he had to do to stay safe. He died because of it.

238--Dad's death--She was about 36 when he died--he's been dead about 18 years. Describes what happened: he was sawing down a snag--something he knew he shouldn't do--as the tree started to fall a root came up and caught him and somehow smashed his leg--pinned between the root and something--a tree--he got, as they say, "in the bite of the line," it took them many hours to haul him out. They tried to save the leg, and four legs later amputated it right above his knee. He was in hospital 2-3 weeks, recovering nicely--being fitted for prosthesis--one morning trying to shove his leg into prosthesis and bloot clot broke loose and he died instantly. " Interesting part of story -- Dad always said that if I have a buck in my pocket each one of you will get a quarter--he pruned trees for money--did gardening things for people in town--anytime we went and said we needed something we got it. That was my basis for thinking I was rich. So when he died, nobody knew what Mom and Dad's financial situation was. They had a small insurance policy-$5000.00--didn't own but rented their house--that's all they had--$5000.00 insurance policy. But because his death was an industrial accident Mom gets an insurance pension of about $1500.00 per month. He could not have died in any better way to have continued to care for Mom. If he'd lived to be 80-90, which he probably would (his mom and dad did) they would have been in much worse financial shape than what she is now." Mom lives in Longview, assisted living facility--she has Alzheimers, "can't remember shit." That's how his life ended, because of what he did on a daily basis. Was he too old to do what he did? I don't think so--he did what he did and would have continued to do it.--296.

303--Would he ever have done anything else? If someone had said he couldn't log anymore would he? I don't think he could have--he talked about loving being outside. He would have been a horrible person to be around if he had to work inside.

313--Dad discouraged her brothers from logging. Yet her youngest son, who was 8 when he died, "is like this reincarnation of him." When he got out of high school he was a screw off and wanted to be a macho jerk--then went to work for Weyerhaeuser--setting chokers one of his first jobs--worked on the landing. One of the things she does--it was all I could do to not say "you can't do that"--I know how dangerous setting chokers is--that was THE worst job--one day coming across the (Lewis and Clark) bridge, just consumed with worry for Eric (her son). Knew that dad could be hurt--but all those worries were just RIGHT THERE with her son. She said that, as she came across bridge--she asked her dad to watch him, have him turn fast if something coming--got to have that reflex to survive--have to know where those dangers are. She felt that dad was watching out for him. He finally moved from that to roadbuilding. Eric a volunteer fireman as was her dad. Now her son a fireman in Longview--uncanny similarities between son Eric and her dad--both needed that adrenasline stuff. Her stint as the mother of a logger was "very, very uncomfortable."

377--Growing up did her mom worry about dad? Did Sharon? "I never processed it"--never connected the worry. She knows some of the terms--must have had more information going in just by osmosis than she thought. She never processed the worry until dad died from it and then Eric got into it. One thing for dad to do it and die from it and another to have her son doing it. She said if dad knew Eric was doing it "he would have kicked his butt."

405--Were you proud of your dad as a logger when you were a kid? "I don't know--I don't know. He was extremely controlling and domineering--I think the pride came from his control of things. " He was the one in control of her mom, who was a passive person--"No I don't remember feeling really prideful that this is what he did."

423--How much has logging shaped your identity? Do you feel like your connection with the logging industry has shaped who you are as a person? "Definitely, definitely." "It was a really big impact moving from Meger to Clatskanie--suddenly being put in this bigger community where people did things were fishing, logging, manual things. An awakening--feeling like I wasn't a very important person, or valued. Felt that for many years"--more to that than her dad being a logger--but she works with families now that are low income, and she can spend time with families now of varying incomes, and doesn't feel uncomfortable. She thinks that's partly from being from this family that "wasn't up there with the Joneses in terms of the cars we drove and the houses we lived in . . .I think we pretty much lived from paycheck to paycheck--obvious when he died that they didn't save--there were four children and mother never worked so every ounce of money he had he put into us kids, which is what I'm most prideful of--he took very very good care of us kids." So now she can have various friends in varying levels of income, and she thinks that comes from that experience--that she was somehow different in the group of girls that she ran around with. She also believes that her dad's love of nature was transferred to her--and they're real different but strong--real emotional base to them--real emotional issue. That comes from her dad and from playing in the woods when she was young. "That's where I grew up (in the woods)." "It's kind of nice to have you ask me that and reflect on how that has come through."--511

525--"For me, having connection to a community of women/girls wasn't an experience that I had." Their social life was very family directed--didn't really do things with other loggers. "Kind of curious, when I think about it." Says she" felt really alone-- that there wasn't anybody else having this experience that I was."

547--Would she feel a special connection to a room full of strange women whose husbands/sons/fathers/brothers were loggers? "Yeah, I think there would be. There is all of the kind of the dressing, the way they dressed, and the smell, and there is a little bit of uncertainty--I'm forgetting about that part. When it was fire season they'd be closed down, or when it was too windy--so there was that uncertainty of is there going to be money this week, and how are we going to pay the bills?" She remembered that--describes that memory of dad being home because they'd shut down. "So there was that kind of uncertainty that was ALWAYS there because you're so dependent on nature and can't control that so there's always that feeling 'oh my gosh, is there going to be enough money?'" I guess that would probably lead to why I felt different in that group (school friends) because their dads always went to work every day and came home every day--8-5--and it was going to be there. But that wasn't the case for dad. She remembers him going on unemployment--it was a stigma for her--"that felt like it wasn't an ok thing to do . . .and he would usually go out and hustle out something." He was hyper--not a stay at home kind.

End Side A/Begin Side B at 608


601--[Side B begins at 608]--Was it that insecurity--unstableness of finances as much as the danger that led her dad to discourage her brothers from going into logging? Yes--the insecurity was a major piece of her life. But it's real interesting how loggers won't stop. " I know the reasons why dad didn't--he was a very active person and couldn't stand to be inside--it's very addictive." But the financial insecurity "was a BIG piece" of her life. Too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, etc. work would shut down and dad would be out of work again.

625--How was the insecurity for her mom? She worked off and on--for the telephone co for a few years, laundry mat, drugstore, did sewing for people. "But my mom . . . when he died . . . it was like this person that no one knew because dad was such a strong individual . . . mom just was this person that did the laundry and made sure that we all had clothes to wear . . . she did a lot of sewing--I remember my first store bought clothing because she sewed everything we wore--she canned . . . ." Dad hunted some. Eric is the hunter--we tend to be more vegetarian than meat eaters--she doesn't want to do that.

645--Best and worst things about being the daughter of a logger/mother of a logger? "About that experience or about how that effects me now?" (Both) "The worst part was having the fear of having him being hurt, and the fear of Eric being hurt, and that being a reality. It really wasn't an irrational fear . . . and coming to grips with that. The best part was just the reason he did it and that was because he loved being outside, and that was kind of given to me."--665

665--Re: the worst thing--what was the fear of father getting hurt and son getting hurt about? The fear base with dad was that if something happened to him "MY god mother can't take care of us." She was not a strong woman in the household--kind of undersupport," but not somebody that Sharon would have said would have taken care of them. "He was the total image of support--was he just the bullheaded, strong-willed person or is that part of the character of men that age that were loggers because it was such a highly dangerous thing to do and you had to be kind of in charge of yourself. Is this a character trait, and were women in that role specifically to support what they did?"--686

693--"That was pretty much the image--but the interesting part for me was that my dad and I were "at loggerheads"--laughs, didn't realize that she'd used that term "We argued constantly--Mom said that we were always too much alike--I guess that I was one of the first females that challenged him . . . .his expectations of women coming out of that era . .. I didn't do what he told me to do." She's interested to see if those male/female roles were so definite.

711--If dad had been the owner of the logging business that would have changed her sense of status. Dad did the yardwork--he gardened--did a lot of that--but he didn't do anything in the house. That was "totally" her mom's domain.

725--Most logging men see themselves as part of a unique culture. Do you see yourself as part of that? "I guess I must in some way, because there was a protest--maybe about the spotted owl--there was a logging protest in Longview--but they had fifteen--twenty--thirty log trucks that showed up. We just happened to be in the area, and I just sat there and cried . . . I don't know what that was about . . . I don't want them killing the spotted owl, and yet that's (logging) how I grew up, that's what raised me . . . I don't know if it was just that struggle between what was my heritage or if was missing my dad and recognizing that's what killed him . . . I don't know, but it was just kind of an emotional experience just watching all these log trucks going . . . was it just that it was a statement of "this is what we do for a living and respect it" . . .I don't know . . .there's something in there that, given the right set of visual cues, I say 'yeah, this is what I was raised with, this is what life was about, and centered around wood.'" That's it--cutting wood, always had wood heat, always had to cut wood to burn in the stove--pretty simplistic existence." "Today I can't paint wood . . . I love the grains . .. I like it." What about particle boarde? "RAPE! RAPE!!" (she cried in mock horror).

764--Talks about stripping down all the wood in their house now--had to paint over the wood in their house "and it was really hard to do." It's really fun to kind of sit and put some of this stuff--a piece of your life--into . . . sort of circular. I know that about myself--the wood--sitting on the stove, getting warm . . . " "That was another difference between me and everyone else--everyone else had electric heat and we had a wood stove--if there was no wood stove in the house he bought one . . .that's weird . . .I hadn't thought about that. Can't rely on that electricity because it can go out . . . ."

786--Do you think this project is an important enough thing to do? "I just think it's AMAZING that somebody would even think it's important enough to do." Why? "Just because it feels like it was such an insignificant piece of my life, but then, as you . . . to have the . . . .that was my first blush--this is not important, but as we talk, and I can see what you're asking and what you're looking for, I can see that it's important, in looking at the role of the wife and husband and how that dynamic has changed--when I think about dad in the logging camps, and the women weren't there to log, they were there only to cook and to wash their clothes and to do that. Then they took that to their home? There were definite roles. . . .In that context, for me, that's an important piece to get a grip upon. "And I'd NEVER thought about it before."

808--If you were me, doing this project, what would you ask that I haven't asked. What would you want to know? "I will be really excited to see if other people have had similar experiences or if mine was really isolating by myself--that's the piece I want to know most about . . . did other people feel isolated? Did they feel part of a community? Did they feel like anybody else was having this experience or were they even cognizant that there difference. But I know that I felt different when we changed from one area to the next" (moving from small to larger community). (DS told Sharon about Kim Barnes's book IN THE WILDERNESS and in response Sharon replied.) "My Grandmother was Finnish--Apostolic--Lutheran--can't get much more fundamental than that--no smoking, no makeup--parents sent the kids but they didn't go. Conflict between what parents wanted kids to do and what they did. So that fundamental Christianity was a big part of her life--"very frightening--because you would go to hell because you did these things, and my mom and dad DIDs them--we had Sunday papers, I didn't know if I was going to make it or not for a few years there . . .now I don't give a shit."--847

Sharon and I continued to chat, but not about anything related to logging (we talked about books, the OREGONIAN, economy, etc).


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