Silliman's Papers

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Thursday, June 20, 2002

With 97 years of hard work and self-sufficiency, ‘old timer’ lived a life of logging

— For 97 years John Kirner has been in the logging business.

He has has lived the life of the logger, with the sweat and the saws, in the forest and among the lumber.

“Seems like I’ve been in the logging business one way or another all my life,” says Kirner, a Dungeness resident. “I cut logs most of the time.”

For 97 years he has watched the industry and he has lived the industry. He has worked hard and spent his life relying on that hard work and self-sufficiency.

“The new loggers do a lot more in the way of accomplishment, but none of them worked harder than we did,”

Kirner said. “You couldn’t just stand there and look at the logs. You had to get out there and work.”

Kirner, a self-described “old timer” believed to be the oldest logger on the Olympic Peninsula, has held to that hard-work ethic all of his life and found it to hold true.

“Just about anything you fly at, you have to work at,” he said.

Kirner put in that hard work across Clallam County where he independently logged, running his own business and selling lumber to whoever was buying at the best prices.

An independent man, he likes working for himself — he liked being the boss of his own company.

“If you worked for somebody else you were dependent on that man for everything,” Kirner says. “Working for yourself, you were depending on yourself.”

But it isn’t necessarily easier.

The work was always hard and no one pushed the self-employed to get to work.

“If you were able to get out there every morning and get to work every morning, in the end you were better off if you worked for yourself,” Kirner said.

Kirner says he, like many in logging, drove themselves to do that work everyday.

“It was all hard,” he said. The business, the work and the industry were hard.

Logging got easier as time went on and technology developed, he said. Kirner remembers when the chain saws came to the North Olympic Peninsula.

When Kirner began logging he worked with a two-man, crosscut saw called a “misery whip.” The work was easier with every development, but it was still hard work.

The development of the chain saws was one that made the hard work easier.

“The chain saws started to come in and boy I was happy to see them,” Kirner said.
He heard his first chain saw before he saw it.

“I was up in Sequim and I heard a great big noise behind this building,” he said. “I went over to see what it was and here was Ron Buck demonstrating a chain saw.”

Immediately he decided he had to have one.

He stopped by Buck’s home later that day and worked out a deal to buy a saw.

“It was a good saw too,” he said. “Better than the ‘misery whips.’ It was nothing compared to what we have now.”
Kirner ran his own crew and they cut trees around Clallam County, selling to the highest bidder.

“I jumped around quite a bit you know, for the best prices you could get,” he said.
Kirner and his crew used a variety of logging methods. They often used “cats,” or tractors, to move the logs.

It was more dangerous, but sometimes they highlined, using a “spar tree” and a wire rope to pull the logs into a pile where they could be loaded.

Kirner said he and his crew were cautious and had insurance for every job. The only accident that ever happened on one of Kirner’s jobs was a broken arm.

They were careful and they were good at their work, but that expertise only came from experience.

Experience was earned by hard work and by working on jobs where he didn’t know what he was doing. Kirner had to learn quickly a number of times to complete jobs he had started.

“I actually didn’t know how to do it,” he said of one contract he took, “but I learned in a heck of a hurry.”

Experience came early and often to Kirner. He became familiar with the trade as a child from his father and others in the community.

“He was into everything,” he said of his father, the son of German immigrants who moved to Sequim. “He was mostly a farmer I’d say, but he did some logging too.”

But personal experience was the real key, he said.

“Of course I learned a certain amount from him but in logging you had to go out there in the woods and learn it yourself,” Kirner said.

He began logging when he finished high school and used the work to pay his way through the University of Washington.

He worked on a boom for Bloedel-Donovan Logging in Clallam Bay in the 1920s.

After graduating with a degree in Business Administration and Accounting, Kirner went back to logging, this time working for himself.

“I couldn’t be inside,” he said. He knew logging, lumber and the forests of the Peninsula and he couldn’t leave them.

Kirner used the education to kept his own books and run his business.

Men in the timber industry did more that work.

Kirner was an active baseball player, playing ball across the Peninsula all through high school and pitching for the Huskies in 1927 and 1929.

He remembers playing against Art Langley who later became a Governor of Washington and Joe Sullivan, who went on to play in the major leagues.

“He stayed there for seven or eight years, pitching to the likes of Babe Ruth,” he said of Sullivan. “He had that damn knuckle ball. He threw that fast knuckle ball.”

On October 3, Kirner celebrate his 98th birthday. It’s been a long time since 1902 when he was born, but Kirner continues to live the life of the logger.

Sitting in the new home he built, Kirner recalled felling the lumber for the house last year.

“I don’t know if we saved any money, but the fellow building it thought we did,” Kirner said.

He personally, at the age of 96, felled spruce trees for studs in the walls and maple trees for the hardwood floors.

Kirner’s feat of self-sufficiency is but another in a life time of such feats. His history and the industries history are full of hard work, independence and self sufficiency.

Starting up his 1963 cat, a bulldozer like tractor, Kirner smiles.

“I’m an old timer,” he says, planning to get back to work.

Gyppos, company loggers work side by side despite animosity

Anyone who could cut down a tree and move it was in business on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Trees were cut by large companies that hired numerous loggers, erected camps and processed timber.

Trees were cut by homesteaders clearing land to farm and build cabins. And trees were cut by independent loggers called Gyppos.

Nicknamed by company loggers who compared them to gypsies, the independent Gyppos worked for themselves felling trees and selling the lumber.

According to a Gyppo report in the Jefferson County Historical Society files: “The hand logger had a saw, ax and a peavey. He usually operated on government land in ‘free’ timber which he didn’t pay for. His cut was small for he had to take only those trees close to the water,” Gyppos worked for themselves, worked cheaper than company loggers and didn’t pay for their timber claims.

That created tension between them and company loggers. “The regular loggers were small businessmen who usually bought their stumpage and paid for lumber,” the history report said. “Besides four or five yokes or pairs of oxen, considerable hand equipment was used; saws, peaveys, axes, chains, heavy ropes, blocks . . . Men who knew their business could get out 30,000 to 40,000 board feet of logs a day with such an outfit.”Independent loggers had trouble working with area mills, and often there were hard feelings between them.

“The price the loggers received from timber varied from season to season, depending largely on the price of green sawed lumber, but also on whether a mill had a full supply of logs in the mill pond or if the pond was empty.”Loggers often suspected that mills slowed down cutting to drop prices.

Occasionally, independent logging operations stopped selling timber attempting to hold up the lumber supply until prices increased.

They never succeeded.

Company logging operations and those operations most heavily in debt kept working and kept selling logs. That resulted in increased tension between company and independent loggers.

Despite the tension and animosity, Gyppos and company loggers continued to cut down trees side by side.

Twin came with rush, went with depression


The people of Twin were known for dancing on their beach midway between Joyce and Pysht.

Today, the town’s beach is left to sea birds and waves and remnants of the former logging town are few and far between.

Like other North Olympic Peninsula communities, Twin boomed and died. After an epidemic, a natural disaster and an economic downturn, the logging community of Twin was left to the waves.

Twin began with a rush. On Nov. 20, 1890, the U.S. Land Regulation Office in Seattle opened acreage between the east and west forks of Twin River. All of it was claimed in two days.

Twin was an isolated community with no roads connecting it to the outside world.

To reach Twin people had to come by boat or walk miles along the beach.The isolation made the community very close. Twin was known for its picnics, sports, parties and dances — all held on the beach along the Strait of Juan de Fuca between the two mouths of the Twin River’s forks.

The isolation made business difficult. A number of early logging ventures failed in the community.

It wasn’t until the turn of the century when Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad was built between Twin and Port Angeles that the town’s boomed.

Puget Sound Mill and Timber established headquarters in Twin after the railroad came. With the railroad linking Twin to other communities, the town thrived, and so did business.

The town received a boost during World War I when the government assigned 27,000 men to its “Spruce Division” to harvest spruce for the wing spars of the nations airplanes. About 200 of the soldier-loggers were stationed in Twin.

This was Twin’s high tide. At the time, Twin was the largest logging camp in the world, records show. With the extra lumber required by military production and the thriving timber industry, Twin was alive and booming. But the war, the industry boom and the good luck of Twin would all soon end--along with Twin itself.

An influenza epidemic hit the logging community in 1918. The flu killed dozens of the community residents and left many others weakened. This epidemic was followed by the news of the end of World War I in 1919.

Economic downturn The good news of the end of war brought bad economic times to Twin. The “Spruce Division” was disbanded and the 200 soldier-loggers left Twin. As Twin struggled to recover, nature intervened. The “big wind of ‘21” destroyed 8 million board feet of sellable lumber growing on the North Olympic Peninsula.

While the 110 mph winds damaged the timber industry around the North Olympic Peninsula, the storm devastated Twin’s logging industry.

Twin’s fate was sealed with the stock market crash of 1929. The Great Depression led the timber companies to cut back production and Twin was severely impacted. In the early 1930s, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad took their rails back and tore up the tracks connecting Twin to the outside world.

The jobs and money coming into Twin ceased. The lumber stopped going out of Twin, and the little logging community ended as quickly as it began. The people of Twin moved away, looking for a more stable town with jobs and industry.

Today only the waves dance on Twin’s beach.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Town remembered for unusual name

— Halfway between San Francisco, Calif., and Anchorage, Alaska, this little town with a Greek name died in 1972 when Rayonier Inc. moved its last offices.

The former logging railway headquarters and camp was left with three homes, a cafe and tavern.

The town was established in 1889 by Martin Van Buren Lamorex, the town’s justice of the peace and the one who named the town.

Initially the was town was a community of farmers, not loggers, with homesteaders moving in and working the land.

Sappho was too far from water to be useful to most smaller logging operations and the timber industry of the area didn’t develope until larger comapnies moved in.

Bloedel-Donovan Logging, the money and equipment to work a backcountry operation, moved into the area and logged the trees around the town.

Later, Rayonier made the area home and slowly the community’s industry shifted away from farming and became dependant on the company.

By 1972 the location was no longer important to the Peninsula’s logging industry and the company moved its last offices out of the town.

The town became nothing more than a stop for passing truckers and a strange name on the map.

Today, only a gas station and some derelict buildings remain of the town site at the intersection of U.S. Highway 101 and state Highway 113.

The unusual name had its roots in classical education — the study of Greek and Latin history, literature and languages.

Though far from Greece, Rome or the comforts of the “educated world,” the town in the middle of the forest was founded and named by a man with a classical.

Lamorex, an attorney and a justice of the peace, was a dedicated classical scholar. He named the town for his favorite Greek poet, Sappho.

Sappho, one of the few female poets of the ancient world, lived on the isle of Lesbos in 600 B.C.

Her poetry is known for emotion expressed in everyday language. She wrote songs of love and yearning, most often for other women, to be accompanied by the lyre.


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