By John Leggett
The 2011 Buckley Log Show Bull of the Woods, Larry Fairchild, is smart enough to have survived more than 50 years of logging the woods of the Pacific Northwest, laboring in a profession with one of the highest mortality rates.
Fairchild celebrated his 73rd birthday recently and will tell anyone, while knocking on the nearest wooden stump, he has been fortunate to cheat death more than once during his storied career.
He tells of his father-in-law, a former logger who eventually worked for the state as a safety supervisor, who related a statistic Fairchild has never forgotten.
“Research told the safety fellas that if you tracked 20 loggers through an average career of 20 years, 10 of them would have perished in the woods, five of them would have been severely crippled and the remaining five would have gone to the hospital with a serious injury at least twice,” Fairchild said. He falls into that final category.
Fairchild received an early education from the crusty old cutters he worked with during in his formative years. They would whack him in the face with a tree branch and not give it a second thought, letting him know he was following too close.
“Competition for that coveted cutter’s knowledge was a big deal,” Fairchild explained. “The more lumber one could cut and the faster he could cut it, the more money you could make for your boss and consequently the more people wanted to hire you.
“The only resumé or portfolio a logger had was his reputation for being a quick, efficient and safe worker,” Fairchild continued. The old-timers would keep their tricks to themselves, sharing only with those doing the hiring and signing paychecks.
But as he became longer in the tooth, the veteran Fairchild was willing to be the grizzled exception to that rule. He was usually willing to impart valuable tips to his still wet-behind-the-ears sidekicks.
“I always figured, what could it hurt to have the young kid working beside me be familiar with the better, smarter and safer way to operate in what can sometimes be a dangerous environment? It might just safe my life someday.”
Fairchild admits there were times when doubts crept into his mind.
“There were mornings when I pulled on my boots and wondered if it would be me taking them off that night or the undertaker,” he said. “It really was and still is a dangerous and tough way to make a living. I had a lot of fun doing it all of those years though, and met some of the nicest, most sincere and generous people possible.”
There were occasions that weren’t so much fun, though.
There was the time he saw an enormous log rolling toward him and there was no escape route.
“I thought I was a goner that day, but sometimes it was a matter of living a charmed life and being in the right place at the right time,” he said, recalling how the giant timber bounded off a natural ramp and sailed over his head.
Another time, Fairchild was catapulted 20 feet through the air and fell back down to earth on a welcoming cushion of evergreen fronds, suffering only mild discomfort. Then there was the time he wasn’t paying much attention and he nicked his leg with his chain saw, losing several pints of blood before his young partner could maneuver Fairchild into the back of his pick up and rush him to the nearest infirmary.
“I’ll never forget it,” Fairchild said. “The next day we were continuing our work around the same meadow and a game warden came rolling up in his truck, wanting to know what we had done with the deer we’d pouched the day before.” The warden had seen how much blood was on the ground and assumed someone had made a kill.
Along with the dangers comes the occasional rewards that make it all worthwhile. The most voluminous single log Fairchild claims to have played a part in harvesting was a Douglas fir with a diameter of 15 feet. The tree was felled on New Year’s Eve 1967 above Wilkeson.
“There were some sizable timbers in that territory back in the day,” Fairchild said, “but sometimes the most challenging task of all was transporting the wood to the mill.
“We did some serious celebrating after that big twig reached its desired destination,” said Fairchild with a contented smile.
Fairchild recalled that he and his cohorts sometimes displayed a bit more revelry than the local lawmen could tolerate.
“I spent a few nights in the hoosegow with cork boots for a pillow and my rain slicker for a blanket,” he said. “Maybe it was the pressure involved with the job, because there was never really any assurance that you were going to see tomorrow.”
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