Logging and Sawmilling Information for the Western United States
November 2000 - Volume 25 Number 11
Still Logging at 89
By Barbara Coyne
He doesn't exactly get up with the chickens like he used to, and it takes a little more effort to crawl up into the cab of the cat, but at 89 years old, Bill Hash still logs most everyday. "It keeps my blood circulating," he says of his ongoing work taking care of the family's 160acre tree farm at Princeton, Idaho. "More people die in a chair than out logging." Not content to sit around in his recliner, Hash actively manages his acreage, staying up to date on fire management, bug infestations and other forest health considerations. Though his official book learning lasted only through fourth grade, he's been logging since he was 14 and knows what it takes to keep his forestlands healthy. No one disputes his wisdom, and newcomers to the rural countryside point to him as a model of a good forest manager.
Evidently there's nothing like years of practical experience to increase awareness of what works and what doesn't. "I'm just logging red fir and leaving the pine right now," he assesses, of his scaled down tree farm, which once included 600 acres, but is now divided among his children. "I'm getting good second growth red fir and it's the best quality going into the mill. I took off five loads this year, but I won't log any more until spring. With this fire season, it's too dangerous to start a chain saw." Faced with dangerous fire conditions, Hash proactively keeps a fire line around his ground and ridicules some of the current fire managers who don't allow dozer work because "the blades might harm the land." "I'll tell you one of the biggest mistakes the environmentalists make is not letting them fight fires with a cat," he says. "Instead they want to let it burn. But a cat comes in and disturbs the soil and helps young trees get started."
Rather than add to the fire danger, Hash kept his chainsaw in the shed through late summer and fall this year. Though he lives in a part of Idaho traditionally called "the asbestos forest," he respects the fickle weather conditions. And he's well aware that not all adjacent lands have been thinned or logged to reduce fuel loads, thanks to new land management policies. He typically piles brush, then burns it when weather cools down. "I get in there with my John Deere with the forks on it and pick up the piles," he says of his solo cleanup operation. "I always pile my brush in an open place so it won't burn the trees. It's important to take care of the brush and not kill the trees while doing it.
What I like to do is put plastic over an area of the slash pile that looks like it'll burn well, to keep it dry. Then when I do set it on fire, it burns quicker and lets the rest of the pile burn faster too. I've done it this way all my life and get as good a burns as anyone in the county." Hash also welcomes a few cows in to graze as part of a sensible fuels reduction plan. "I use grazing when I can, but both ways [fire and grazing] are good if you manage the burning. The Indians had a way of doing things with the wind and things didn't get away from them very often." Schooled in life's laboratory of experience, Hash scoffs at some of the newer notions of forest management, including the concept of only removing the small trees and leaving all the big ones. "I like to take the bigger ones out and let the little ones grow," he explains. "A lot of people say you have to leave all the big trees, but they can blow over. I leave some seed trees and space them. Right now, I'm logging the fir because it has a shallow taproot, but I'm leaving the pine. I have some beautiful pine, but I won't live long enough to see it harvested."
Hit with a regional infestation of tussock moth this year, Hash figures he's lost perhaps 10 acres to the fast-moving pest, which preys almost solely on red fir and grand fir. Yet he's in a holding pattern because of summer fire danger. "If there's any market there, I'll take them out for saw logs in the spring. It's something you've got to do to save the forest. Right now they're out there hanging in the trees as caterpillars and sometimes they drop off and fall down my neck. They can do a lot of damage." Up to date on practical forestry, Bill Hash holds his own by virtue of experience, experience that began with axes, crosscut saws and horses. Born in Gilt Edge, Montana, he worked with his step dad in a sawmill, cranking out lumber for mine shafts. By the time he married his wife Maggie, the Montana ranching and mining economy near Lewistown was in a downward spiral, so family members sent out scouts to locate the proverbial better place. After relatives nixed Canada as being too far north, Bill and Maggie landed in Idaho in 1935, with $20 and no place to live. The work ethic, Bill's business card in life, snagged some logging jobs for him right away, and the couple settled in.
By 1940, Hash had become the proud owner of the first chainsaw in the area - a two-man McCullock. "It was advertised in the paper, and I went down to Lewiston to pick it up," he reminisces. "It was a tough outfit to use, I'll tell you that. And when the one-man chainsaw came in, I dropped the other. I got the one-man chainsaw about four or five years after I got the other one and it was a McCullock too. Anything to speed up logging and make it better. That's what's wrong with these old wrists of mine now, too many years of beating things with four pound axes." Working with sidekicks such as Glee Depee and Henry Vowels, Hash labored through the school of hard knocks, sometimes paying for the births of his children with firewood, cat skinning for Potlatch Corporation, and toughing it out after fire destroyed the family's store at Harvard. Finally saving enough, Hash paid cold hard cash for 600 acres in Princeton. The going price? A whopping $18.50 per acre. To a guy who logged with horses and crosscut saws, modern technology has clearly been a blessing, one he doesn't apologize for enjoying. Not only did the chainsaw drastically change work for Hash, but the cat "made all the difference in the world." Clearly this is one logger that even now thinks he was born on a dozer.
Purchasing his first one, an Allis Chalmers, between 1935 and 1940, the machine was his constant companion as he cut 2x6's for area grain elevator construction around the company town of Potlatch. "My favorite part of logging is driving a cat," he admits. "I've done it all, working with chainsaws, and I've got four chainsaws now, all Stihls. I had to buy two new ones this spring because I just couldn't crank the older ones. They've got these new deals now that make them easier to start." Hash might find it a bit more difficult to start his own engine each morning because of age, but there's still a solid energy when he gets out in the elements and drives his dozer through the woods. Hash's son Dave, who oversees Hash Tree Company on some of the family's original 600 acres, quips that he's growing new trees to replace the ones his dad has cut over the years. Dave respects his father's land ethic, and still employs his dad to do dozer work. It's a good system, and both father and son see the value of their work in the larger scheme of forestry. Barbara Coyner has covered forestry issues and the timber industry for various magazines and newspapers for over 15 years.
This page was last updated on Monday, November 10, 2003