Timber’s Term of the Week: Timber Beast

Timber Beast

n

  1. Forest Service personnel (or any establishment types) who invariably side with timber industry.
  2. Someone obsessed with denuding woodland of all marketable timber.
  3. A logger.
  4. A lumberjack.
  5. The title of a book by Archie Binns, copyright 1944.

Like most definitions, the meaning of Timber Beast has morphed over the years. The first definition is how it is currently used, foresters abetting the timber industry’s greed. In the first part of the twentieth century, a timber beast was often at odds with “big timber.” IWW press referred to the men who worked as loggers in the lumber camps as “timber beasts,” apparently due to the way the men were treated. The timber beasts lived in isolated camps, far from towns and civilization.

The name is already undergoing changes in the time around World War II with Archie Binns’s book. The timber beast, Charlie Dow typifies the old-style high-balling logger. His sons though do not share his passion.

The term, timber beast, is mentioned in Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland. There the Timber Beast refers to membership in the IWW (International Workers of the World aka Wobblies). In Vineland, Crocker Scantling (according to the American Heritage Dictionary, a scantling is a “small timber used in construction.”) was hired (by a consortium of timber companies) to eradicate IWW timber beasts. According to Wikipedia, “The IWW lumber strike of 1917 led to the eight-hour day and vastly improved working conditions in the Pacific Northwest.”

There’s a song from that era, The Timber Beast’s Lament. You can find it on a CD by Utah Phllips We Have Fed You All A Thousand Years (Philo, released by Rounder Records). According to the Utah Phillip’s website,  “George Milburn collected this unsigned I.W.W. poem and included it in The Hobo Hornbook [NEW YORK, 1930]. It’s source is not known.”

The Timber Beast’s Lament (Hear it here on Canadian Broadcasting)
Author Unknown

I’m on the boat for the camp
With a sick and aching head;
I’ve blowed another winter’s stake,
And got the jims instead.

It seems I’ll never learn the truth
That’s written plain as day,
It’s the only time they welcome you
Is when you make it pay.

And it’s “blanket-stiff” and “jungle-hound,”
And “pitch him out the door,”
But it’s “Howdy, Jack, old-timer,”
When you’ve got the price for more.

Oh, tonight the boat is rocky,
And I ain’t got a bunk,
Not a rare of cheering liquor,
Just a turkey full of junk.

All I call my life’s possessions,
Is just what I carry `round,
For I’ve blowed the rest on skid-roads,
Of a hundred gyppo towns.

And it’s “lumberjack” and “timber-beast,”
And “Give these bums a ride,”
But it’s “Have one on the house, old boy,”
If you’re stepping with the tide.

And the chokers will be heavy,
Just as heavy, just as cold,
When the hooker gives the highball,
And we start to dig for gold.

And I’ll cuss the siren skid road,
With its blatant, drunken tune,
But then, of course, I’ll up and make
Another trip next June.

Books on Timber Beasts:

  • The Centralia Conspiracy By Ralph Chaplin
  • We shall be all: a history of the Industrial Workers of the World By Melvyn Dubofsky, Joseph Anthony McCartin
  • Capitalism and Human Obsolescence By John A. Young, Jan M. Newton


 

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