My wife and I were heading up a steep Forest Service fire access road for our first high-country camping trip of the year. Being the earliest traveler of the season on these roads means you never know when you will find your way blocked by either snow or a down tree. There isn’t much you can do about unmelted snow pack, but I always carry a good, sharp axe for log bucking. While I probably wouldn’t tackle a really big old-growth log, anything under 12 inches in diameter is fair game.
My axe of choice that day was a double-bit Collins “Cruiser” I had picked up at an old tool sale. Cruisers were the little brother of the full-size logging axe. Normally, they mounted a 2-1/2-pound head on a 28-inch handle. Just the right size for emergency pickup use, I’m not sure why this model seemed to have been dropped from most modern axe lines.
We had already cleared several small trees in the 4- or 5-inch diameter range off the road and had driven through a few small melting snowdrifts by the time we were close to the top of the ridge. The drifts seemed to be getting deeper and I was worried we were going to finally hit unbroken winter snow pack. Suddenly, there blocking the road was a silver fir log about 12 inches in diameter. As I stopped to consider my next move, a 4-wheel-drive pickup pulled up from the opposite direction. This at least told me the snow wasn’t impassable on up the road.
A young guy around 21 and his girlfriend stepped out of the pickup to take a look at the log blocking the road. At first glance, he seemed the very model of a local logger on a weekend drive, hickory shirt, Stihl suspenders, “shagged off” (cut off above boot level) Oshkosh pants,
high wool socks and “Romeo” slippers. I could easily imagine him “setting chokes” (the cable loops that are fastened to a log before it is pulled up the hill by the yarder) all week for a living. As it turned out, I guess the “logger look” was very in with the trendy twenty-something’s of our area.
Studying the log, he called out, “Guess if we had an axe or saw we could cut this out of the way, huh?” My first thought was, “You came out here in the wilderness without an axe?” Oh well, I guess I can’t say I’ve never forgot to load my own a time or two in the past. I went to the back of my rig and pulled out the little Cruiser. Silver fir is relatively soft wood so it only took about three or four minutes with the sharp double-bit to chop the log in two. The young guy seemed to be amazed at how quickly I finished the job. “Wow, you sure made that look easy,” he exclaimed. Not only did he not carry an axe, he seemed totally unfamiliar with the capabilities of a sharp one. I guess with all the chainsaws in the woods, his generation hadn’t had much experience with axes. It really hadn’t been that big of a chore to buck a 12-inch log. Now if it had been a 5-foot Doug’ fir, things would have been different.
With a little help from the other guy, we pushed and rolled the two logs out of the road. I’ve often wondered if that little emergency convinced the guy to throw an axe in his own pickup after that. Axes always start, don’t require fuel, make very little noise and can be a real life saver when you need one. The one thing I did learn is that it takes more than Stihl suspenders and a pair of Romeos to make a logger.