When you go to work today chances are you will return home tonight unscathed. The possibility that you will be injured or killed is in most cases the farthest thing from your mind. But if you work in the timber industry, even if you know what you are doing, the possibility of an accident is always just a moment away, and although safety on the job has gotten better, still too many wonderful people have lost their lives.
On the morning of May 1, 1943, Simon Erickson, of Forks, and his cutting partner Louis Johnson, of Port Angeles, set out to do their jobs as timber fallers for the Ozette Timber Company.
Erickson was born in Sweden in 1891 and was the youngest of eight children. He had come to the United States as a teenager and prior to his arrival in Forks, around 1933, he had worked a while in Katalla, Alaska, for the railroad and then in North Bend as a logger.
On that spring morning in May 52-year-old Erickson and 56-year-old Johnson were falling a big cedar tree on the Ozette Timber Company Camp near Tyee. As the pair prepared to fall the tree, a limb shook loose from a hemlock tree nearby and it fell toward the fallers. Erickson saw the limb and yelled to his partner to watch out, only to have the limb pierce him through the right shoulder.
So much force was behind the falling missile that it was driven through Erickson’s body severing an artery and he died instantly.
For years the Erickson family wondered what had happened that day Simon died. A niece remembered him as “the most kind, wonderful man you could ever meet. He was good to the core.” And she always had heard that her uncle had sacrificed his life that day to save his partner. Had the time it took to warn Johnson cost Erickson his life? It seems that it did.
In 1920 the Washington Safety Board issued a statement that logging was more deadly than war. It wasn’t until 1932 that logging fatalities went below 100 for the year. After World War II the state Legislature allocated money for more safety programs.
The Forks Loggers Memorial remembers those who have lost their lives working in the timber industry as well as those who spent a lifetime working in one of the most dangerous professions there is.
March 31 is the deadline to submit photographs and new Honor Roll nominations to be included in the upcoming new Forks Loggers Memorial Tribute Book. Organizer JoMarie Miller describes the effort as a heartwarming project to honor past timber workers and our heritage.
The last printing of the Logger Memorial Tribute Book was in 1994. Everyone nominated to the Logger Memorial Honor Roll since that printing will be highlighted in the new book, to be released around Hickory Shirt/Heritage Days in the fall.
Copies of the first book are still available. For more information or questions, contact JoMarie Miller at 360-640-4326.
Simon Erickson was not the first person to lose his life in the timber industry and sadly he wasn’t the last. That day in May in 1943 he saved a life at the cost of his own and that should never be forgotten.