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Buck Clark

Buck Clark admits to having been an occasional participant in what he called “the fightin’ and the fussin’” during the county’s logging boom of the 1950s, but it never got in the way of a day’s work for him. Buck, even as an old man, was a familiar sight at his home place opposite what is now the Boonville Transfer Station as he fashioned “split stuff,” redwood fencing and posts out of the logs he hauled up from the valley floor.

“I started workin’ when I was a kid near Monroe, Louisiana. I worked the swamps cuttin’ down trees for paper mills, I made 50¢ a day. I worked out in the swamp with water moccasins and alligators. Me and my brother fall a tree then we had to float it in and around all the other trees to get it to shore. Later on, we'd make rafts of trees and float ‘em down the river in big bunches. Most I ever made was $1.50 a day. Had a little ol’ boat that wouldn’t do but 3 miles per hour that I used to keep my rafts of logs from runnin’ up on the shore.

1930 was a dry year. The water in the swamp was way down. One day we was workin’ fallin’ trees when we come up on a alligator. Well, that’s a place alligators hibernate and hatch their eggs. There was lots of ‘em down in this particular well. We took a can of carbide, put it on the end of a stick and stuck it down in the hole. This gator bit the can of carbide right off the end of the stick and a came up breathin’ carbide out of his mouth. I hit ‘em one right behind the gill and killed him. That alligator was 9 foot 11 inches. That thing looked like a sea monster a smokin’ pourin’ out of his mouth. There was days when we would see a hundred alligators while we was workin’. That 9-footer we gave to a family who cut it up and ate it. Taste just like beef steak. If I’d a-known it was that good I’d a kept it and ate it myself.

“Times then was tougher than tough! We would do anything just to survive. We'd hunt swamp rabbits, birds — mostly those big breasted robins — and we fished. We'd sell the birds to people for a nickel apiece. Things got so tough we hunted birds with bean flips [sling shots] because we couldn’t afford shells for our rifles. I knew everything about that swamp. One time a rich man from somewhere out of state hired me to take him fishing. As we was paddlin’ down a little side stream I saw a little ‘ol water snake, harmless thing, hanging up in a tree. I steered right under it and it fell right on this man. He did a back flip right out of the boat. After that he said he never wanted to see another fish or fishing tackle or fishing pole in his life.

“I was born in Texas, near the Louisiana border. We moved on into Louisiana when I was a year old, a little place called Calhoun, Louisiana, near Monroe. I lived around in there until 1946 with some time out for the war. I cut logs for paper wood, logs for pilings, and floated logs to mills that were 45 miles away from where we cut ‘em. Had to learn the river and loggin’ both. I got here in Anderson Valley in ‘46. Came out here with the Brown brothers, Lester, Jay and Highpockets. whose real name was Boyce. We landed in Garberville. I fell my first redwood up there. Twelve foot on the stump. Used a drag saw that weighed about 200 pounds. Took me about six hours workin’ by myself.

“I was workin’ around and out of Garberville until ‘49. ‘49 was the worst year in the woods in California. No jobs anywhere. Finally, I heard of a job in Fort Ross, but after I was workin’ in the mill there for six weeks it burned down. A guy in Fort Ross told me there were 21 mills in Boonville. So me and my partner drove up Highway One, came over the road from Manchester. The road at that time was real bad. Pot holes took up most of some parts. I never seen so many people in such a little place as there was in Boonville then. People everywhere. At night in the bars crew bosses was buyin’ drinks and tryin’ to steal men for their crews, one another’s crews. People at the bars was six deep sometimes, had to pass the drinks back. You could wear corks right in the bars. Man up near Garberville was stomped to death one night with corks so you couldn’t wear ‘em in bars anymore.

“In Boonville, I worked peelin’ logs. I set chokers. Worked up off the Manchester Road on what is now Mannix Road. Went to work for Hollow Tree in Ukiah before it was Masonite. Worked in mills. Quit the mills because I wanted to fall. My first day fallin’ I made $300 and they fired me. I got enough money to get my first chainsaw —a Mercury. That thing weighed about 200 pounds without the bar and the bar was seven feet long. Worked on the Masonite Road out of Ukiah then I went back to Boonville fallin’ for Blackie Lattin at Indian Creek Mill. I fell enough timber by myself to keep that mill goin’ steady for five years.

“My biggest day was 71.000 feet. The biggest tree I ever fell had 50,500 foot of lumber. I made $3,100 once for two weeks fallin’. They wanted me to scale back. At the time I was workin’ for Twink Charles. Twink told me, ‘You’re makin’ more money than me and I own the mill!’

“That big tree I was tellin’ you about was cut up off the Greenwood Road. Darndest tree I ever saw. It was bigger at the top than at the foot and it had huckleberry bushes growing out of it at the top. Never seen anything like it. Buster Farrer’s brother, George, was the scaler then. The logging boom was over by ‘55. Work got a little thinner each year after that.

“I’ve never missed a day of work in my life due to accidents or injuries. Got hit one time not too long ago by a big ol’ branch that knocked me out for a minute or so. I was smokin’ then and when I come to the ash was close to the mouth end of the cigarette. That’s about how long I was out. I seen lots of accidents in the woods. When all the mills was goin’ they was losin’ one or two men a week. I was workin’ the day Danny Huey got hit by a widow maker and fell on top of his chainsaw. He was real lucky he wasn’t killed that day.

“When I first got to Garberville you could buy redwood land for S4 a thousand foot. I worked for a while up in the Sierras, too. We had an old G.I. truck we could drive from job to job. Had everything in it. Freezer, too. Worked up around Chester and Quincy. Had a fight with the boss up there who just got out of the Army, and he bossed everyone like he was still in the Army. He come up on me one day and said. ‘Your log is too long.’ I never heard of a log bein’ too long. Me and him tangled up and fell to fightin’ in some blackberry bushes. The briars hurt worse that the fight! He came up the next day with a fifth of whiskey and tried to get me to stay workin’ with him.

“There was something like probably 2,000 fallers because they wouldn’t let you single jack. Had to have two guys. Worked up around Piercy. out on the Elkhorn Road, everywhere around here. Never used a plumb bob, never will. Don’t need to. I just look at ‘em. Never been fooled yet. The only way you can get fooled by a tree is if the wind comes up on you.

“I started makin’ split stuff when I was a kid in Louisiana. I made railway ties. When I come out here I learned to make fencing, grape stakes, beams — all kind of split stuff up in Garberville. I used to get 3.5¢ cents a grape stake, $37.50 a thousand. I made 1,100 seven-foot stakes once in nine hours. I’ve sold split stuff to people as far away as Los Angeles. Now I get $4.50 a post for seven-footers for fencing. I’ve made bean poles for the Gowans, redwood shakes for lots of houses around here. Most all the fencing you see at Navarro Vineyards I did. In the old days people wouldn’t take a sawed stake. The young guys don’t do much split stuff. Too much work for ‘em.”

Buck points to a rusting vehicle that looks like an ancient oversized tow truck.

“This here machine will do darn near anything you ask it to do. It’ll buck logs, skin ‘em, skid ‘em, lift ’em, winch ‘em, drag ‘em, loosen ‘em — all of it, whatever you do in the woods. I thought Ford Motor Company had stopped making them in 1938, but I was out on the beach at Navarro where I saw one working there that was built in ‘53. I bought this one from a midget. He’s about that high. He used to log out at Hollow Tree. The midget had blocks wired onto the pedals way out so he could drive it. Me and Kay Hiatt went over to the midget’s place in Ukiah and brought it back over here on the lowbed. That little sonofagun backed right on there. All it needs now to run is a new carburetor. I’m thinking about putting it into the parade this year. Mainly, they skidded logs with it. Out at Hollow Tree they skidded logs seven miles with it. They loaded shingle bolts with it, too. It’s got 400 feet of cable on it. Me and Rex made 1500 posts one winter with it. We hauled the post logs right out of Bear Wallow Creek with this thing. It'll pull a big log. It’s geared real low, maybe it’ll go 12 miles per hour. Tops. One winter right up the road here in the park [Faulkner Park] they had some blow-overs right over the camp part. We slid them sonofaguns right out of there. They’d gone over right into the campground. I hauled one of the blow-overs to the Philo Saw Works. He sawed it right up for me. If I’m not mistaken, Steve Holmes drove this sonofagun over at Big River skidding logs. Put ‘em right on here and skid ‘em right out of the bush! Regular old Ford motor, four cylinders runnin’ since 1938. It’s got no generator on it. You got to use two batteries to start her up. Heck, I need one battery to start myself up in the morning!

12 volts to start it up. The 6 keeps it going. This here windshield looks like it come off a car. She’s something else, little bits of her from all over the place. Right now there might be some water in the dad-gummed gas tank. It’ll run a little bit then go dead. I’m going to get underneath there and get it fixed up one day soon. I loaded a 28-foot log on my old green pick-up one time. Bob Mathias has a picture of it down in his office. That thing there will pick up a helluva load. Bob Trotter had her going one day. I looked around and this old sonofagun was standing nearly straight up! It’ll work! It’ll go right up anybody’s hill. You could use it as a tow truck if you wanted to. See that swivel up there? It’ll go thataway, thataway, thataway, thataway. I got chains for it. They fit right over both sets of back tires. You can work this thing in all kinda mud. I’m fixin’ to crank it up. I could use it this place I’m working. You can take this machine. put you a block on a tree that gives you lots more power. I broke about ten feet of line off that cable one time hauling a log out with this thing. I like to skid up hill. Downhill is no good. Logs get hung up too easy. It’s a good machine. Built to last.”

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