When work stopped at noon on Saturday, the lumberjacks would bolt from the logging camp in the Blackfoot river area between Blanchard Flats and Kozy Korner near Clearwater Junction and head to Missoula.
With money in their pockets, they just wanted to drink and party. Once liquored up, they would fight in the streets. It was wild!
By Sunday – broke – they’d have to borrow money to buy whatever they needed. Then they headed back to camp, worked for another few weeks, and repeated the cycle.
It was 1936. Among those working at the Anaconda Company’s Camp 3 was a teenager named William “Bud” Moore who, along with the older and wiser lumberjacks, stayed in the camp on those weekends and saved his paychecks.
He observed all these events, made notes, and before his death in 2010 after a long and celebrated career with the U. S. Forest Service and as an author, sat down with a volunteer for the State Historical Society’s Montana Memory Project for an audio interview about his experiences at Camp 3.
Moore was teamed up with John Bachman, a veteran sawyer. “We cut upwards of 20,000 board feet a day. They paid us a dollar a thousand board feet. We cleared about eight bucks a day.”
During those winter months, “You got just barely eight hours of daylight. And that means you’re going to go out in the dark and come in after dark.”
Tractors with winches would skid the logs to the landing where the rail line ended. The landing sawyers trim them into log-lengths. “Then they’d load them on the railroad cars and take them down to Bonner.”
The building to the left in the snapshot of ACM Camp 3 was the tool shed. All the saws were filed and sharpened there, then handed out to saw teams every morning.
Moore said, “Right in the middle of the photo was the bunkhouse. You come in through the door and then on the right of the door was a big pot bellied stove.”
The cookhouse was the large building in the foreground to the right.
It was a “pretty big cookhouse and every lumberjack had his own seat. If you’re new in a place like that you learn to stand back and watch all of the old timers get snuggled into their seats. And then when everything quieted down, why you’d take a seat and that was yours from then on.”
“But if you got in somebody else’s seat…they’d have a pipe…and somebody would come along and just tap you on the shoulder and say that’s my seat. And then you ate with no talking. The idea was to get out in the woods and get all the timber you can get and give the cook time to clean up so. You better not challenge them much. But boy you’re talking about good food. That was more important than the rate of pay.”
“The lunches. We kind of put them up ourselves. Camp Three was one of those where they had all kinds of fruit and sandwich material and you made your own lunch.”
But it was the “characters” of the camp that most interested Moore. “I want to tell you a story about one guy. His name was Frenchie Verbunker. He was a cocky little guy.”
“Frankie would play checkers. And he was real tough. He was a good checker player. And he challenged everybody in the bunkhouse. And most loggers weren’t all that good with checkers. So, he had them all kind of backed into to the corner, you know. They just could never beat him.”
“But when I’d come in, I play checkers, and the lumberjacks would kind of needle me to beat him. And so Frenchie would challenge me, you know, and so I’d say I’ll play a game.
Then all these lumberjacks would get up on the bunk beds and watch, and once in a while I’d beat him. And he’d about tear the place up when he lost. The lumberjacks would cheer and roar. They just liked to see the cocky little mutt beat!”
Once spring arrived, Moore would leave the logging camp and return to work for the Forest Service at Powell. “That was pretty remote and male oriented. Even the dispatchers in the office were mostly men.”
“But then it started to change with a man named Ferguson. He came there with his family. He had two teenage girls like 17 or so. Those two girls would start showing up at the bunkhouse, having fun, and that was a big change in the Lochsa. Finally young women had discovered the place! Then after that it got more and more feminine.”
“Now we’ve got beautiful women behind every tree. There’s just a whole new world. That’s the biggest change. Women got out in the woods.”
The audio recording of Bud Moore is part of a wonderful collection of interviews available online through the “Montana Memory Project.” Folks from all walks of life talk about their memories of earlier days in the state. Click here and check it out.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is now available at harmonshistories.com.