Center for Columbia River History

WOMEN AND TIMBER

The Pacific Northwest Logging Community, 1920 - 1998

ORAL HISTORIES

Introduction

Sources Oral History Transcripts Acknowledgements Project Methodology CCRH Homepage

 

  • Gaye Lynn Cook -- Gaye Lynn was 35 at the time of her interview.  She lives in Vancouver, Washington.  Her father was a choker setter and her first husband, Ken Cook, was a chaser and sometimes faller.  Ken was killed in 1996 by a widowmaker while falling a tree, leaving Gaye Lynn with two young daughters.  Gaye Lynn and Ken were divorced at the time of Ken's death, and Gaye Lynn has since remarried.  Nevertheless, she still grieves deeply the loss of Ken.  Since his death, her life has been confused and directionless.  Her oldest daughter, now 17, lives with Ken's sister in a small town outside of Olympia, WA.  Her youngest daughter, now 9, lives with her grandmother, Myrna Ihrig, in Vancouver.  Both girls are doing very well.  Gaye Lynn is estranged from her current husband, is unemployed, and pieces together a living helping her mother around the house.


  • Norma Corbett -- Norma went into the logging business in 1947 when she married her husband Bob, a logger.  She met Bob while both were enrolled at the University of Washington.  Norma was a very active and gregarious 73 at the time of her interview.  In 1965 Bob took over his father's logging company, and together she and Bob ran the business for more than thirty years.  At one time they employed fifteen to eighteen people during peak seasons.  Norma kept daily books, did the payroll, paid the truckers, and raised three children while Bob worked in the field, cutting trees and bringing them to market.  Norma does not consider herself a "typical" logger's wife, though like many of the women interviewed she confided that she had long wanted to be "an old-fashioned housewife."  She and Bob live in Edgewood, Washington in a beautiful, spacious home with a commanding view of Mt. Rainier.  She spends much of her time involved in church, tennis, the Junior League, and PEO.  Bob is moving reluctantly toward retirement. 


  • Sharon Erdman -- Sharon lives in Rainier, Washington, in an old house that she and her husband restored that sits within sight of the Columbia River.  She has spent most of her life living in small logging towns near the Columbia.  She is 54 years old, and possesses an earthy charm and sophisticated wit.  She is a social worker.  Her father was a logger all his adult life, a faller who continued falling until he was 64.  He died after a  logging accident resulted in the amputation of a leg, which in turn led to a blood clot that broke loose and killed him instantly.  Sharon's youngest son also logged for a short time, setting chokers.  Sharon understands that logging -- especially wood -- has shaped her identity.  "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."  


  • Diane Heersink -- Diane and her husband, Brian, have been married for 23 years, and throughout their marriage Brian has logged.  At the time of her interview Diane was about 41, and Brian was still working in the woods as a rigging slinger at age 45.  Diane had never been around loggers until she met Brian.  Throughout their marriage she has struggled with the economic insecurity of logging and the roller coaster of hard times/good times that business ensured, and with the instability of life moving from one place to another to follow the work.  Changing market demands and environmental restrictions have meant that Brian has had to range far and wide throughout the Pacific Northwest and into Alaska to try and earn a living wage for his family.  Diane with their children and Brian have often lived apart for long periods of time.  Though at Diane's urging Brian has tried to pursue other occupations, he cannot leave logging.  Consequently, in 1989, Diane returned to school, became a teacher, and at the time of her interviews was working on her Ed.D.   She and Brian are still together, and both have agreed that they never want their two sons to enter the logging business.  


  • Myrna Ihrig -- Myrna grew up in Mitchell, OR, a logging community.  Though her father, an itinerant worker, logged only when he could find no other work, she remembered waking up to the sound of men in the community going off to work in the early morning "crummie," and having to keep quiet early in the evenings when playing with her girlfriends because their logger fathers were trying to sleep so they could get up before dawn to meet the next morning's crummie. Her husband was a choker setter for mostly independent logging outfits, and her daughter, Gaye Lynn (see Gaye Lynn Cook, above) married a logger, Ken Cook, who died in 1996 while falling a tree.  Myrna loved Ken like her own son, still grieves his death, and now raises Ken and Gaye Lynn's eight-year-old daughter.  Myrna worked for James River Paper Company in Portland for eighteen years until work-related disabilities forced her to retire.  She returned to school, where she earned a Master's degree in social work, and now works for the State of Washington's Child Protective Services.   


  • Sharon Lahti -- At the time of her interview Sharon was 52 years old.  Her grandfather and her father both logged.  Sharon remembers logging and sawmilling as a family enterprise, into which her grandfather pulled anyone in the family that he could.  Though she remembered the hard times associated with an industry dependent on the weather and fluctuating markets, she considers logging the occupational tie that brought and kept her large extended family very close.  She also considers logging a catalyst behind her mother's and her own independence.


  • Tawney Perry -- A strikingly beautiful woman of 33 at the time of her interview, Tawney's husband, Joe, 35, had been a logger for fifteen years.  He worked occasionally with Diane Heersink's husband Brian, and also like Brian was a riggin' slinger.  Tawney proved the anomaly among the fourteen women interviewed for this project because she alone did not consider her husband's occupation unique nor her life unique in any way because of her affiliation with logging.  "It's a job--it's just like anybody else's job--it's not like this big prestigious thing, or lower class thing, either way.  It's just a job . . . . it's just our life.  There's no community of loggers anymore--it's not a big tight thing like it used to be.  We live our lives and do our jobs and it's just like the family anymore.  Women have to work, the family's getting more dispersed--it's not the same thing any more."


  • Carol Smith -- Carol's affiliation with logging goes back generations and has had an indelible influence on her life.  57 years old at the time of her interview, Carol was thoughtful, articulate, and intensely focused on every question asked.  Her husband, father, and grandfathers on both her mother and father's sides all logged, and all of her children have, at one time, logged, with two of her sons still in logging.  Her husband logged all his life until July 1997, when he finally left logging for other work.  Her older brother was killed in a logging accident at age 28, and she also lost an uncle to logging when he was 28.  Carol and her husband live in a lovely two-story home on acreage just outside of Eatonville.  Carol raised five children (all born by the time she was 25 years old), and remembers having to struggle in the winters when her husband Den was out of work.  In 1979, when her children were older, she decided to go to work to supplement her husband's income so they could send all of their children to college.  "That's what prompted me to do it, although I think for years that I didn't understand that I had a restlessness in myself--I didn't understand until years later that I'm a very creative person . . . when I got into hairdressing I realized that it was something that I really loved . . . because it's an art form, it's a creative form, and now I know I have a need for that."  Carol now owns her own hairdressing shop, and employs eight besides herself.  She is now the primary income earner in the family. 


  • Jane Storm -- Jane was 78 years old at the time of her interview.  She now lives in Battleground, Washington, and is the mother of Sharon Lahti (see above) and Linda Storm (see below).  Her grandfather, father, and husband all logged and sawmilled.  Logging has taken her all over the west, from Montana and Wyoming to various small logging towns throughout the Columbia River Basin.  She is a small woman, very independent, and very outgoing.  She interviewed together with her daughters Sharon Lahti and Linda Storm.  Logging was, for her, something that involved the whole family.  All of her five brothers logged and sawmilled, and she and her two sisters helped fix the enormous breakfasts and mid-day suppers for the men.  She remembers her grandfather and father both as "controlling" men.  Logging was the focus of their lives, and they made it the focus of the lives of their families.  Jane considers the woman's contribution to logging extremely important.  "They were the backbones of the family.  They had to keep the family going while dad was working." 


  • Linda Storm -- Daughter of Jane Storm (see above) and younger sister to Sharon Lahti, Linda, 49 years old at the time of her interview, worked in Vancouver, Washington in an administrative position at Consolidated Freightways.  She remembers very little of her father, who died (not from logging) when she was very young.  But she considers the logging business and her family's deep involvement in it key to the closeness and strength of her large family.  Unlike her sister, Sharon, who felt that being part of the logging industry was a special thing, Linda "had difficulty with it, because I went to the outside world and went to college and moved away from the house and moved to Seattle, and different places . . . I feel like I'm from two worlds, this outside world where everybody's from New York or New Jersey or California and they don't understand any of it.  When I'd say my father was a logger they didn't have a concept of what it took to do that job and you couldn't explain it to them . . . so it was just a conversation that we couldn't have."


  • Linda Vanderpool -- For eighteen years Linda, in her early 50s, and her husband, George, owned a logging business based in Randle, Washington.  They sold the business in 1990 because high equipment repair costs, what Linda called "the spotted owl mess," the state's "lifting the lid on liability insurance and trucking," and high timber prices made continued ownership impossible.  Linda met her husband when she was seventeen and he eighteen.  They had attended high school together in Randle, and he was already a logger by the time he graduated.  She kept books for the business, sometimes worked in the woods clearing brush with a small power saw, raised two children, one of whom--George, a logger--is married to Mystee Vanderpool (see below), and eventually began her own accounting business, which is now very successful.  Though logging has been her life, Linda confessed -- unlike most of the women interviewed -- that she never truly adjusted to the terrible fear that her husband or son might be seriously hurt or injured in the woods.  She considered that constant worry the worst part about being part of the logging business.


  • Mystee Vanderpool -- At 28 years old Mystee was the youngest of the women interviewed.  She, her husband George, 31, Linda Vanderpool's son (see above), and their children live just outside of Randle, Washington in a comfortable home set on acreage.  She grew up in Packwood, moved to Glenoma, and then moved to Randle when she and George married.  She has been around logging and loggers all her life.  Her grandfather had his own logging outfit when he returned from World War II, and her father and brother were loggers.  Her father was so severely injured in logging accidents that by the time she was four he could no longer work at hard labor.  Like many of the women interviewed for this project, Mystee confessed that she considered suit-wearing businessmen "not very manly."  "I know it's not right and its prejudiced in a way, [but] I've been around men that have done physical labor."  Also like most of those interviewed, she fiercely defended the logging industry and its culture.  "I think that people think that [just because you're a logger] you're just some illiterate . . . or a madman just cutting down as many trees as he can . . . . Everybody's not illiterate hicks--we're normal people--we want the same things as everybody else--we're not these drunken people that go around shooting little baby animals and sawing down as many trees as we can."


  • Joyce Ziegler -- Joyce was in her mid-fifties at the time of this interview, and her husband, Jimmy, worked as a bull-bucker and a faller until he was crushed and nearly killed by a falling tree in 1966.  Joyce and Jimmy live in Underwood, Washington, and Jimmy now works as a timber cruiser.  Jimmy's horrible accident was a seminal event in Joyce's life.  She stoically relayed the details of the accident and her response and said that, more than anything, Jimmy's accident strengthened her faith in God.  Like many of those interviewed she fiercely defended the logging industry and attacked the Forest Service for mismanagement of the western forests.  Joyce is Teresa Ziegler's daughter-in-law (see below).


  • Teresa Ziegler -- At age 82, Teresa Ziegler was the oldest of the fourteen women interviewed for this project.  She and Joyce Ziegler (see above) interviewed together at Teresa's immaculate, comfortable home in White Salmon.  The walls of Teresa's living room and bedroom hallways are covered with photos of her grandchildren and children.  In her bedroom were several photos of she and her beloved husband, who had died in 1994 from a heart attack suffered while cutting firewood in the backyard.  A large framed photograph of Teresa and her husband, Jimmy, sat on the dresser by her bed.  She pointed at it and said that she, "smiles up at him every night before she goes to bed."  Though Jimmy worked as a faller for forty years, he was never seriously hurt in the woods.  Nevertheless, the strain of those many years of daily worry for Jimmy's well-being became evident when Joyce and Teresa related the story of Jimmy Jr.'s injury.  Unlike Joyce, Teresa had a very difficult time talking about her son's accident.  Also unlike Joyce, being married to a logger was always a difficult life for Teresa.  For the first twelve years of their marriage, she and Jimmy did not have electricity or running water in their home.  Both worked very long hours--he in the woods and she at home, where she raised five children, worked in the garden, tended the cows, canned endlessly, and did wash in a gas washing machine that she could never seem to get started.  Later she took work in a cannery as a fruit packer and as a receptionist in a local hospital to help meet family expenses.  "It was hard, it was really hard, and I had my parents too, and later on they were both in the nursing home, and like people talk about different times and I can't really remember because I'd go see my folks every day and I'd go to work at the cannery and I'd work from 3 to sometimes 3 in the morning.  They would take the apples or pears out of cold storage and we'd have to work until they'd use them up and sometimes they'd take too many out and we'd have to work overtime and I'd come home and it would almost be time for my husband to go hoot owling and I'd just lay on the davenport until the alarm went off and get up and fix his breakfast and lunch and it was hard.  And I was so busy, I guess this was what life was and you did it."


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