Saturday, 19 September 2015

Buzz Lien's PULP CUTTER OF '49

Buzz Lein’s  PULP CUTTER of ‘49

A pulp cutter is a husky individual that gets up at the crack of dawn and goes into the bush where with great rapidity and much skill he commences cutting little logs out of big trees.  He never gets a chance to cut in strips where the timber is really good.  That is always reserved for the fellow who is cutting alongside of him.  From the time he hits his strip until a little after dinner,  he cuts down the trees and saws them into bolts along the rabbit trail that he has swamped out.  This trail is ten feet wide according to him.  It is only four feet wide according to the strip boss and the stumps are high enough to be used for lookout towers.

Along this trail and at regular intervals are little clearings where he piles up the wood that he has cut.  A great deal of thinking and ingenuity goes into this.  It is essential that he get a minimum amount of wood in a maximum amount of space.  To further this worthy ambition he stays awake nights thinking of ways and means to accomplish it.  He has already tried putting in plugs; crooked sticks and knotty bolts but he knows that that won’t get by the scaler.  So the wood is carefully piled according to a plan worked out over the years.  When the scaler comes along he will stand back and look at it, wondering how the hell so little wood get piled in such a large space without leaving any holes.  This worries the scaler but makes the cutter glow with happiness for the rest of the day.

After battling all day with heat; flies; brush; poor timber; dirty ground; long walks to work; poor tools; ruining expensive working clothes; wearing out lousy files; arguing with strip boss’s; scalers; walking boss’s; contractors and anyone else who thinks that the cutting regulations are not being followed he drags himself back to camp, completely exhausted after making about $12.00 in six hours.

In camp, there are about 50 more men all engaged in cutting pulp.  The only  difference is that these fellows all have better timber and are working much closer to camp than he is.  After having washed up and put on clean clothes, he discusses the happenings of the day with his fellows.  During the course of these conversations there may be casual references to women and liquor.  By the time the conversational ball really gets rolling, the bell goes and they all troop in for supper.

For some reason there are never any good cooks in a pulp camp. The cookees are just about the slowest things that ever skidded a plate along a table.  The table is invariably bare except for bread and butter; meat and potatoes; Two or three vegetables; pies; cakes; cookies;  various condiments; tea; coffee and milk.  The cutter never stays in the mess hall for more than six minutes, completing the last of his swallowing about halfway between his place at the table and his bunk.  He usually takes on during this brief sojourn in the cookery, enough food to keep a tribe of Indians for a whole winter.

After his post prandial smoke, he ambles over to the office.  He doesn’t want anything but it is a good way to kill a few minutes.  Since the clerk hasn’t done anything all day, he will be glad to see him and to pass the time of day with him. In between the time he first gets this idea  and before he actually arrives at the office, he thinks of several things he might as well discuss with the clerk while the other fellows are lined up behind him patiently awaiting their turn to buy the few little items that they need.  In the first place there is that matter of a difference in his scale slip of some .0000038 points. He might just as well have the dough as the company.  In the second place this would be a good time as any to check up on his income tax.  That so and so of a clerk is picking on him and that’s for sure.  He has no business taxing him as a single man when he has put down on his tax form that he is personally maintaining a self-contained domicile and is looking after his three young brothers, a crippled uncle, his great grandmother and thirty seven orphans.

After this brief and stimulating encounter with the clerk – which ended in a draw – he goes back to the bunkhouse to read; smoke; talk to his chums or just loll around till it is time to go to bed.  He may or may not feel the pangs of hunger and go for a coffee.  He may even file his saw or touch up his axe.  When he tumbles into his well- made bed and draws the blankets up under his chin, he drops off into a deep and restful slumber, so that when he awakens in the morning he will be in great shape to go forth and give battle.

After spending about 42 days in camp, the cutter discovers that he has a few bucks on the books and that since the jobber is drawing interest on this money, he might just as well go for a holiday and spend it.  His nerves are pretty well shot anyway.  The moment this wonderful idea hits him, there is loud cry for the strip boss and scaler.  Orphan number 23 is dreadfully ill and his presence is required at home at once. The clerk and strip boss and scaler know how it is.  He really should have given notice ahead of time but since this is an emergency he knows they won’t mind clearing him at once.  The clerk and the scaler and the strip boss are all suspicious as hell but they can’t take a chance.  Maybe this is an emergency.  So the cutter gets cleared and away he goes in an expensive taxi to the nearest town.  Forgotten are all the things that were worrying him a few days ago.

Once in town, cheque cashed, room reserved and all dressed up in his good clothes, you can’t tell a cutter from a Woods Manager or a high school teacher.  In fact some woods managers and high school teachers have been cutters. Its only after the cutter has been in town for a few hours that you can tell the difference between him and a high school teacher.  He goes into business for himself then. Invariably the first thing that he tries is to put the local liquor store and brewers’ warehouse out of business.  This has never been done in the memories of the oldest inhabitants but it isn’t because it hasn’t been tried. Our cutter won’t make out any better than his predecessors.

Depending on whether or not the cutter gets rolled, his stay in town will be about two weeks at the most.  During this period, he will be viewing the world through a warm comfortable fog.  He will also purchase many meals that he doesn’t eat, give away much money to bar flies with sad stories and purchase one of more taxis.  His popularity will flare briefly and brilliantly.  It finishes abruptly when his last penny goes out of his pocket.

Borrowing enough money from the hotel keeper to go back to work, our disheveled and sick cutter morosely finds his way back to his camp the best he can. He rolls into the camp yard and peering painfully through blood red eyes he looks to see what is new.  He totters over to a bench in the sun and practically collapses on it.  Through the haze he recognizes one of his chums beside him.  He leans over toward him as if to impart some secret of great importance.

“Boy!” he croaks. “Boy.  Did I ever have a good time!”

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