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Brothers share honor, will preside over this year’s Log Show
Gary and Rod Friese are the 2009 Buckley Log Show Association’s Bulls of the Woods.
Since 1978, the award has honored one individual annually who carries close ties to the Plateau communities and logging industry; last year’s coveted title went to Robert “Bob” O’Neal. But event organizers changed that tradition this spring.
“It’s the first time in the history of the Buckley Log Show that two people are co-winners,” said Sheila Fetter, secretary for the association.
Owners of G and R Logging, both brothers reside in Buckley. And each said they were grateful to have chosen a logging career over wheat farming as their father had done in South Dakota. “It’s kind of a bad paycheck, getting paid once a year,” Rod said.
Gary, a 1964 graduate of White River High, knew from the time he was a teen he wanted to log for a profession.
“I started in my sophomore year by cutting trees,” he said. “There was a lady, Mrs. Spee, who owned 40 acres with fir trees on 112th Avenue in Buckley. I select-logged and sold them on a percentage to her.” The property is the present-day site of Rainier Heights.
That same year he married Dixie Flork, a fellow White River classmate. Together the couple raised two daughters. They have five grandchildren.
Rod, seven years older, returned to farming in South Dakota following his White River graduation, along with their older brother, the late William Friese. Rod married Sandy Meink in 1962. They eventually raised two children and have three grandchildren. He was drafted into the Army and upon his release two years later, worked through the summer months on the farm with Bill.
The brothers moved west to Buckley in the fall of 1964 to join Gary and begin their logging careers by first hiring on with Albertie and Boyd in Woodland, Wash.
They paid their dues.
“We were trying to get established and make a name for ourselves,” Rod said. “When we started, we were making $2.50 an hour. The owners told us, ‘we don’t give a nickel of it – you earn every bit of it.’ After two weeks we got a 50-cent per hour raise. That was a lot back then.”
Bill returned to South Dakota eight months later. Gary and Rod formed G and R Logging in 1965 and worked in surrounding Plateau communities for Northern Pacific until 1973.
“We were using Garrett Tree Farmers, also known as four-wheel drive skidders,” said Gary. “We were thinning for them and they asked if we wanted to try cable logging that fall near Morton, Wash.”
Each job brought its own set of dangers. Keeping clear signals between workers was critical, especially when the fog was thick and lessened the chance of clear visibility.
“The rigging people are in danger if it’s not clear, “he explained. “Broken chunks, or sometimes the root logs, will come rolling back down the hills if it’s steep enough ground.”
Work continued through the years in Washington towns such as Skykomish on Stevens Pass, Naches, Raymond, Aberdeen, Orting and Snoqualmie, Rod said. At the height of their careers in 1985 there were 18 men under their employ.
Logging also carried another danger: potential sabotage, like the near-fatal incident that occurred at a work site in Kapowsin.
“Someone cut one of the guidelines at the stump,” Gary said. “You use the guideline to fasten to a stump. That holds the tower up and you actually have six guidelines. They severed one of them real bad.” Luckily, the work had just been completed.
“They didn’t realize it but we were done with that job,” Rod said. “It could’ve killed us.”
Another drawback to the industry involved the elements – whether the cold of winter or the bugs that came with summer’s heat. “You’ve got to like it or you won’t last,” Gary said.
“If you get out in winter it can be derned cold,” Rod said. “But then, summer comes.”
The profession had other downsides, such as trying to keep good crews of men, Rod said.
“Later in our career, there were so many types of wood to sort,” Gary said. “It was hard to determine the grade for export. It was up to me to determine where the logs were to go because I ran the shovel and loaded the logs onto trucks.”
He sorted per each job’s specifications.
“Then they called up and we had to dig through the piles and re-sort again,” Gary continued. “It took a lot of time and we had to do it in the dark during the early-morning hours.”
Re-sorting didn’t sit well with Rod, either.
“We had trucks lined up and we had to re-sort,” said Rod. “You don’t do that too many times or they won’t come back.”
They retired in 2003 when the White River Weyerhaeuser mill shut down – a shock that came to almost everybody in the industry.
“We had no idea they were shutting down,” Sandy Friese said.
“Even the Weyerhaeuser people didn’t know,” Gary said. “They sold to Hancock.”
“They called us and said, ‘don’t let anyone get off of the hill,’” Rod said. “After Hancock purchased it, we went up to look at potential jobs.
“We ran into a lot of contractors looking at the same jobs,” Gary said. “We were unsuccessful, so we sold our business.”
But working the industry had its bonuses: each man enjoyed working in the outdoors, above the haze of city pollution and without the tensions of traffic. And both said they loved watching the abundant wildlife.
“This is God’s land,” Gary said of the forests.
Technology is changing the industry and that has caused some concern among loggers and their families.
“Logging is like the dairy farming industry,” Dixie said. “It’s all going out.”
“It’s not a high-paying industry now,” Gary said. “It’s hard to get a young kid up here to work because some want a fast buck.”
Inside the brothers’ Buckley shop hangs a picture of a young boy standing next to a giant tree stump. It reads, “I swear with my right hand on this stump, that my generation will be proud to be loggers.”
It’s a pride Gary and Rod Friese will always carry.
A biographical sketch of Gary and Rod Friese’s logging careers will be shared Sunday during the Buckley Log Show’s awards presentation.
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