January February 2005




Five Generations of Non-Tradition

Boak Logging isn’t afraid of change to stay in the game.

By Kurt Glaeseman

Bill Boak is a seasoned logger. But he is also a big game hunter, a John Wayne look-alike, a philosopher, and an expert craftsman. Born in 1927, Boak is slim and athletic, verbal and argumentative, well informed and given to decided opinions. Tradition has never stood in his way. Boak has survived and prospered because he is a modern thinker and a modern logger. He is the current spokesman and central pin for five generations of Boak loggers. His grandfather Ed Boak logged with horses and stoneboats in British Columbia and Washington. His dad Ted was a well-known climber, a local “Paul Bunyan” in Castle Rock and Olympia and Bordeaux, where he broke with tradition and started using the new diesel donkeys and a breakthrough method of logging with Cats. Bill remembers when the Mason County Logging Company folded in 1940, and he and his dad were the last to leave the logging camp. Their job was to cut up the locomotives and donkeys and sell the metal scrap to Japan.

Bill Boak illustrates how the beautiful redwood curly has been preserved on the interior of old, charred stump.

Changing With the Times
The Boaks did highlead contract logging in old growth for Weyerhaeuser, who sold their acreage to Simpson and then a succession that included Arcata Redwood and Louisiana Pacific and ultimately Simpson again. Bill likes working with Simpson (presently changing its name to Green Diamond Resources): “They’re in it for the long run. Clearcutting can be a bad word, but these guys leave a corridor of trees for the public, snags for birds, and improved logging roads and culverts everywhere. They bypass millions of feet of timber to retain shade for stream protection.” These are high stakes for Simpson, who is currently backing a proposal called the Aquatic Habitat Conservation Plan (AHCP), which is its environmental plan for continued logging while protecting and improving habitat for coho, chinook salmon, steelhead trout and several other species on the Endangered Species Act’s “threatened list.”

Boak’s Pierce ROBEE290LC/Hyundai stoker (delimber) on tracks.

Teaching Environmentalists
Bill reflects on the earliest stages of the environmental movement that has put loggers and whole logging communities on a parallel “threatened” list. He made numerous trips to Sacramento for audiences with Governor Jerry Brown and spearheaded a loggers’ trek to Washington, D.C., to try to work with President Carter. He spent a lot of his own money for a cause that he felt was too important to ignore. He was invited to go to Torrance, Calif., to tell the story from a logger’s point of view. Bill knew how to put on a show. He secured 10,000 redwood seedlings to give as promo gifts, brought the world champion tree climber to do a demonstration, shipped in equipment, and provided stump sprouts to show renewed forest growth. Members of the audience competed for a dune buggy by trying to guess the number of redwood seeds in a gigantic punch bowl. “Our purpose was to provide information, not to start a fight,” Bill explains. “Most of these folks were Boak’s Pierce ROBEE290LC/Hyundai stoker (delimber) on tracks. seriously concerned about their forests.

Environmentalists are often good people, and it’s hard to fight good people. It’s so much easier to combat a well-defined, despicable villain.” He carries this lesson with him as his crew does a clearcut on Simpson lands north of McKinleyville, Calif. Humboldt County has its share of activists, and this is prime tourist country— the celebrated Highway 101 is a stone’s throw from some of Boak’s crew. Confrontation is a definite possibility, but he’d like to show the public how Simpson foresters study the land, assess the flora and fauna, improve logging roads and culverts, and politely sacrifice good timber so the public will see a live tree buffer rather than a freshly logged area. “I’d like folks to see the varied richness of both plant and animal life a year or two after a clearcut,” he says. “I’d like them to understand what we are doing, to drop the ‘damned’ from ‘damned logger,’ and to actually thank us for protecting nature and providing lumber for their homes.”

Boak’s Pierce ROBEE290LC/Hyundai stoker (delimber) on tracks. Helping out is a Boman motorized carriage that is bring in the load.

Today’s Operation
The Boak operation is both nature friendly and people-friendly. Hightech mechanical logging is the key. Ask his opinion on motorized carriages: Acme, Boman, Eagle, Maki—he’s worked with them all. At one site the portable Thunderbird TMY50 yarder with its Boman motorized carriage is easy on the land. The Pierce ROBEE290LC/Hyundai stroker or delimber can swing and pivot without tearing up a lot of soil. The Jewell Kobelco loader neatly sorts by species and then fills a waiting truck…and all with a minimum of noise. “Do you notice how quiet this operation is?” Boak asks. “That has to be good for the environment, but better than that, we have no guys on the ground here. We’ve reduced the possibility of human injury. We’ve made logging a lot safer.” At this site the carriage brings in mostly redwood but also a mixture of fir, spruce, alder. Simpson has contracted the hauling to Gary Bare Trucking, and the destinations change almost daily, depending on the prices at the mills. On this date the spruce and alder were headed to Coos Bay and Brookings, the fir to Trinity River Lumber in Weaverville, and the redwood to Simpson’s own mill in Korbel.

Working with Wood
Boak admits to a terrible fascination with some of the eighty-plus year-old redwood stumps that are left over from earlier logging days. Boak wedges an axe down to retrieve a slice to show both the black exterior and the bright interior. “That’s curly redwood, some of the finest around. I buy pieces like these and they end up in my workshop.” Once in Boak’s woodshop, the curly stuff becomes an artist’s medium. Dazzling creations include the one-of-akind gun cases he makes…including one that houses his specially made Getz 50-calibre muzzleloader — a gun that stands up to the rigors of big game hunting Bill does in Africa.

Future Generations of Boaks
Although Bill has seen a lot of changes in the logging world, he’s never feared them. “I thrive on difficult situations,” he says, “and it’s a good thing to know about myself. I’d like to see everyone take one or two psychology classes, just to make life easier.” Much of this philosophy has been handed down to the next Boak generation…and to the next. Bill’s four daughters all worked for a time in the family company, and his two sons are gradually assuming full leadership. Next in line, his grandkids are already learning from the ground up.

Some of the unique builds from the redwood Boak harvested.


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This page was last updated on Wednesday, March 23, 2005