Remembering a High Climber: Gordon Scott

Article by Darin Burt

It is with sadness and admiration that we report the passing of Gordon Scott, one of the true old timers in the northwest timber industry. Gordy, 74, died Friday, February 17, 2012 in Acme, Washington, after a long battle with cancer. He was born September 9, 1937 in Sedro-Woolley, Wa.
Gordy leaves his wife of 55 years, Mavis Scott; his daughters, Kathy, Marcy and Joann; his son Earl died in a car accident in 1976 at the age of 18. Gordy and Mavis have three grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Befitting his lifelong involvement in the timber industry, a memorial service was held one the grounds of the Deming Logging Show. Donations in Gordy's memory can be made to the North Puget Sound Cancer Center unitedgeneral.org and the Deming Logging Show demingloggingshow.com.

Remembering a High Climber: Gordon Scott

Gordy Scott has a new view on life. He has seen the logging business from many angles - from high atop a spar pole and through the window of the cab of a log truck. He has stubornly battled cancer and unselfishly given back to the industry that has been his life for the better part of half a century.

“When you face death like I did, it changes your whole outlook on life. I live life for me and my family now and not just for me,” Scott said. “I have a passion for my work and also for my fellow man.”

As a young man, Scott loved to climb trees. He was so good at strapping on the gear and scampering up a spar with an axe or a saw, that he turned a passion into a career and a career into a little bit of fame.

Scott started in the logging industry in 1957. He lived in Wickersham, Washington, and his family roots going back at least two generations, were well planted in the woods. The first job of any size that Scott worked on was setting chokers for Kemp Bros. out of Sedro Woolley. He was young, but found that he was a natural at hook tending and climbing.

“The trick to hook tending is to figure out what needs to be done and do it and just not get mad,” he says. “A lot of people are afraid of climbing, but once you learn to do it right, and you are not afraid anymore, it just kind of comes natural.”

Scott was one of the best climbers in the business. In his time off, he competed in logging shows around the area and became one of the top-ten speed climbers around. But he recalls that his first experience going up a pole was less than successful.

“I went up about twenty feet and slid right back down. I fell on my feet, but I skinned my chest up pretty good. After that one time, I learned really quickly that if your spurs kick out, you can just grab the rope and choke the tree, and you don’t slide,” he says. “I always wanted to go into climbing. I was intrigued and fascinated by the guys who were working up there like that. . . it seemed like they were hanging out in mid-air. I never had any desire to work high steel, but as long as I had the rope around a tree I was happy as a clam.”

In 1974, Scott moved to Alaska to work for Ketchikan Pulp. He relocated his wife, Mavis, and their children up north and that’s where the family stayed until a strike broke the union in 1984. “If I had gone up earlier, or the strike hadn’t happened, I probably would have ended up somewhere in management,” he says. “I liked it up there. It was peaceful and I think it was more of what it was like in smaller communities around here 100 years ago. You knew all your neighbors and you helped each other back and forth. And of course, the fishing was excellent.”

Scott was a strong union supporter and advocate for worker’s rights and safety concerns. “When I was working in a union camp, I stuck by the contract,” he says. “I was the job steward, and it was my job to take legitimate grievances before the management.”

He returned to the Northwest without a job prospect, but with the intention of going back to work in the woods. He discovered on his arrival that attitudes had changed in the logging industry back home.

“I was 45 years old and nobody really wanted to hire a guy that old even for his knowledge,” Scott says. “I went to cutting for a short time until I got ahold of a truck. I asked the fellow for whom who I was cutting if I could have a job hauling logs and he said yes. I’ve been driving trucks up and down the road ever since.”

Scott had some truck driving experience, and so the transition was a fairly easy one to make. “The only thing that I learned, and I found this out with my first truck, is that you have to have more money than you think you do in order to get started because of breakdowns and repairs and so forth,” he says. “I figured that I would make a good living, but I knew I wasn’t going to get rich doing it.”

“There will always be gypo loggers and truckers, but I think you’re going to see the timber holdings evolve more into being owned by big corporations. It is a proven fact that they can get their timber logged and trucked cheaper than they can do it themselves,” Scott says. “Right now you see a whole lot of new faces owning trucks. Really the cards are stacked against a guy getting too big, because the big companies aren’t going to let you grow. You always have a certain amount of small gypo loggers and a certain amount of owner-operators running log trucks.”
Of course, having more freedom and more people in business for themselves can be a catch-22, as Scott points out, and there in lies the rub.

“You get people bidding against each other and you end up having to work for less and less all the time. Everybody needs to stick together, but it will likely never happen because there is always somebody to slip into your place,” Scott points out. “The Log Truckers Conference and the Washington Contract Loggers were a step in the right direction, but it’s just no good unless you have everybody working together.”

Scott has been a member of the Washington Log Truckers Conference since he became an owner-operator back in 1984. “I originally joined because people I knew who were in the trucking industry said it was a good deal,” he says. “It’s still a good deal.”

Over the years, Scott has helped his old friend Jack Spalding coordinate the WLTC’s state log truck driving championships, and has also chaired the finance and membership committee. He was the chapter chairman of the WLTC Watcom-Skagit Counties Chapter for eight years and took his turn as President of the association’s board of directors.

“He has a tremendous amount of dedication and a lot of experience,” said then Director John Swartz. “He cares about the issues and is very knowledgeable about the issues. He will work hard on behalf of the log truckers.”

“I am going to try and make all the chapter meetings at least once,” promises Scott, who says that one of his main goals will be to build membership and help to give the association an even stronger voice on issues that effect his fellow truckers.

“I don’t really have a sales pitch. The association just has a lot to offer. I’d like to see the younger guys who are coming up, who are not members, check into it and see what we have to offer,” Scott says.

“I won’t go so far as to say that everybody should belong, but everybody does benefit from what we do,” Scott adds. “We have good relationships with labor and industries and the state patrol and their commercial vehicle division and it all helps.”

There is a little angel hanging over the dash in Scott’s truck. His granddaughter gave him the angel when he was in the hospital undergoing cancer treatments. To watch him throw a wrapper or hook up a trailer, you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong with him, but there definitely must be somebody up abov looking out for him.

Scott was a smoker for 40 years, but could never shake the typical smoker’s cough. In 1998, his doctor asked when the last time he had been given a chest x-ray. Scott responded that as far as he knew, he’d never had one done. The resulting pictures showed a tumor the size of a fist in his right lung.

“It was really scary,” he says. “And what made it scarier was that they told me it was inoperative. They gave me six months to live. The only possible cure was chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but even at that, my doctor said there was, at best, a 50/50 chance that it would work. I told him to get to work.”

After undergoing the procedure, Scott’s prognosis looked good and the cancer seemed to have gone away. A little over two years later, during a routine check-up, the cancer showed up again. This time it was only the size of a quarter, and because of the location and having caught it early enough, the doctors could operate. The surgeons had planned to remove just the top lobe of his right lung, but because of damage from the radiation, they had to remove his entire right lung and a couple of ribs. He has remained cancer-free since that time and is back to work as usual.

“I will never get back to where I was before, but I would say right now I am pretty close to 80 percent,” he says, stopping to cough and clear fluid from his one remaining lung. “I don’t have as much oxygen going into my blood so I get tired pretty quickly. It takes a little longer to do some things, but I just take another breath and I can still get them done.”

Scott has always been one to give back to the industry and community. He was one of the founders of the Deming Log Show and remains active in putting on the popular annual event.

“We got the show going and had something like 840 paid admissions that first year,” he recalls. “The next year, I was up on top of a spar pole and I could see cars lined up for four or five miles. I thought, ‘Oh my, what have we started?”

“We have helped a lot of people over the years and that is what it is all about. Our whole goal was to get money ‘now’ for people who got hurt (in logging) instead of waiting for it to go through the L&I processing.”

Scott still puts on a power saw topping exhibition at the Deming show each year. And the fans eat it up.

“After chemo and radiation, I decided, by God, I was going to climb a tree and top it one more time. When I went up that tree, and got that top out, the crowd just erupted.

“It took a little doing, but I still made a respectable time and managed to come in third that year,” he says. “When I walked in for my next check-up everybody in the hospital started cheering and clapping their hands.”