I have no idea what went wrong. But we felt like damned fools. Early the following morning, we were back on the road, thumbs held high.
Sometime in early August, we made it home—dog tired, dirty, hungry, proudly independent, with about twenty hard-earned dollars still locked in our jeans.
Over the years, I’ve sometimes thought about what I gained out of that adolescent summer on the road, besides a batch of marvelous memories to share with Cy Nims and a twenty-dollar bill.
Foremost, I believe the experience helped to bolster my youthful self-confidence—much needed at a time when I was fused with teenage insecurities.
In addition, I gained an enormous, life-long respect for those brave and determined people who walked the full length of the Old Oregon Trail—a grueling and dangerous 2000-mile journey that ended in the fertile Willamette Valley where Cy and I were born.
The heart of Frank Simmons’ broken down sawmill up in Clackamas County, on the edge of the Mt. Hood National Forest, was one of those old circular-saw-and-carriage contraptions—the kind you’d see the villains, tying hapless maidens to in the old-time melodramas. The improbable arrangement had broken down. Frank planned to sell the mill, nearby cabin and adjacent land.
Meanwhile, he could sell off piles of slab wood and scrap logs as firewood if they were cut to size. Frank had one fellow already hired on the site,, but he needed help. That’s where Cy and I came in. Frank offered us a job for the rest of the summer, sawing wood. The money looked good. We said, “Yes.”
The third man in our crew was “Butch” something-or- other. He was a beefy, ex-football player and Gonzaga dropout from Spokane. Using a five-foot, two-handled, crosscut saw, the three of us went to work. We rotated jobs. Two of us on the saw. One of us stacking and resting in between.
The first day or two was pure hell. I was stiff. Hot. Sore. Aching, Sweat poured down in rivulets. For awhile there, I didn’t think I could take it.