In the autumn of 1937, the Nipponese launched the next phase in their plan for control of Asia, They launched all-out attacks up and down the China Coast. In quick succession, Japanese forces captured Peking,. Tientsin, Hangchow—and after a lengthy siege, the richest prize of them all, the City of Shanghai.
Then came Japan’s brutal attack on Nanking, newly established capital of the Republic of China. When that city finally fell on December 13, 1937, Japanese soldiers began a massive orgy of gruesome atrocity seldom matched in the chronicles of human cruelty. Historians call it “The Rape of Nanking”
It was an ominous portent of things to come.
Until Frank Simmons came along, I’d
never heard of a gyppo operator—or a. timber cruiser. I soon learned.
Frank Simmons was the new man in my mother’s life. He was a quiet man. Amiable, Soft spoken. Yet there was an air of authority about him and a low-key ruggedness that grabbed people’s attention, I liked him. He had worked in the woods all of his life. As a youth, he had risked death as a high climber, topping tall trees for Weyerhauser in the days before the proud title of logger became a term of disdain.
Early on, however, Frank quit working for somebody else and went out on. his own. He said that he scraped a little money together and became a gyppo operator, a trade he’d learned from his father. Gyppo was a slang term for a tough breed of small, independent logging and sawmill operators who competed with the big boys.
It’s a rare thing in the timber industry today for a man and an employee or two to fall, log, haul, mill and sell a stick of wood.
During the ‘30s and ‘40s, however, the Pacific Northwest woods were filled with these wily, self-reliant gyppos.
“Anybody with a ‘dozer and a good saw or a portable mill and a little luck could set up and squeeze out a livin’—or even a fortune!’ he told my grandfather, Jim Dewey. The two of them were kindred spirits and heavy coffee drinkers. They got along like a couple of old pals. Sometimes I would fade, into a corner and listen to them talk.