Coes Wrenches

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Tools and Woods with Bob Smalser

  The Mystery of Cruiser's Grave  



Cruiser must have
been a logger’s dog.



In the forests along Hood Canal where he died 75 years ago, he could have been little else, for a timber cruiser is the woodsman who ranges out ahead of a logging crew to select and mark the trees to be harvested.

His grave marker was crafted in red cedar using cuts more typical of a pocket knife than fancy carving tools. Of fine design and workmanship, it must have literally taken “a month of Sundays” for a logger of that era to fashion, and in itself is a remarkable epitaph to a friend. Originally coated with whitewash and pine tar to imitate marble, Father found it planted in our woodlands some decades ago, deep in a forest hollow.

Ever since we’ve puzzled over the dog’s early death, over who and why someone would bury him so far from civilization, and with beautiful vistas of snow-capped mountains and beaver ponds brimming with life so close, why in such an unremarkable spot.

It wasn’t until a recent thinning operation knocked down the thick undergrowth there that I was confident I knew the answers.

I don’t know who Cruiser’s master was, but he probably worked for the McCormick Logging Company, harvesting this forest for the first time during that period, based out of nearby Camp Union. He may have been a Scandinavian who moved West with McCormick and other men of his trade from Wisconsin.

I suspect he was a tree faller… and a faller from the back-breaking days of long-handled falling axes, springboards to raise the fallers above thick root buttresses, ”misery whip” crosscut saws, and the steam-powered winches on skids called “donkeys” that moved the logs. You can still see the ruts in the ground and cable damage on the trees where a McCormick donkey was positioned next to the overgrown roadbed of their Shay-locomotive logging railway, just a middling walk from Cruiser’s grave.

I hope that our faller and I would have been friends, and my friend doesn’t mind I cleaned off the old whitewash and tar to apply the best varnish I could obtain. I hope when this gentleman looks down from heaven, he approves of the simple stand I made to protect his craftsmanship from the weather. After all, I did make sure it got back to where he placed it in 1936...

...where our faller buried his beloved Cruiser next to the tree that killed him.

Bob Smalser
October, 2011

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