Last year when I went on the Forks Chamber of Commerce Logging and Mill Tour, it was a sad trip. It was the last time the tour would ever be stopping at Allen’s Mill. Everyone wondered if the tours would continue.
But the tours never missed a beat, commencing again last May and going all summer. Most of the time, the new tour bus has been full!
Last Thursday morning I was joined on the tour with RVers, Elks Club members who had been camping at the Forks Elks Lodge. The tours usually happen on Wednesdays, but this extra tour had been added.
Forks Chamber’s Executive Director Lissy Andros checked everyone in at the Visitor Center. She then checked their shoes (proper footwear is required) and as everyone buckled up, she told the group about the lovely new/used tour bus they were sitting in — one that was purchased with the help of a Port of Port Angeles grant and other community donations.
Off we went with veteran log truck driver Butch Kuchan at the wheel and Richard Halverson doing the talking. We headed south for the White Rock Road, or the Red Rock Road, or the Seahawks Rock Road. This day, it was white with “Channel 22” painted on it.
The log truck we followed in speculated on the CB that we were looking for Sasquatch when really we were looking for something more elusive: loggers. Halverson answered questions as we traveled down the dusty road. One question always asked is, “Is the land replanted?”
We got to a thinning sale for Rygaard Logging. Kelly Oakes of Port Angeles was working the sale. Oakes Logging is a family affair, with dad Kelly and his two sons.
Everyone watched as Oakes finished loading one truck and then another. He and his son Jake then got out of their machines and answered a ton of questions. Oakes explained the thinning sale process and answered questions about bidding sales and ‘Do you take a vacation’ and ‘What time do you get up in the morning?’ (the answer was 2 a.m.) He also spoke about the high cost of L&I (Labor & Industries) and its impact on his business.
I had to ask about “Ax Men,” the show we loved to hate or hated to love. Oakes said he enjoyed being on the “reality” show, but that his sons hated it. He also said he actually received many death threats over being mean to Rygaards, adding, “People think that stuff was real.”
Oakes said someone from a Boston newspaper was recently out taking photos of them logging.
The group then made their way down the road a bit to watch the Oakes’ other son operate the feller-buncher.
As we left, I reminded Oakes that I knew him in second or third grade … I was crushed that he did not remember me. His family moved from Forks to Port Angeles when he was in fourth grade.
On the ride back to town, Halverson answered more questions and the group contemplated the question, “Is it a crick or a creek?”
The next stop was Long Cedar, on Russell Road. Halverson explained the process of shingle/shake making and described what we were seeing on the stacks of bundled shakes. As we entered the mill, Halverson asked that those takings videos and pictures NOT distract the sawyer! Nobody ever wants to see a severed finger!
We made it back to the Visitor Center at about noon. I think everyone had a good time. The last person off the bus told Halverson and Kuchan what a fantastic time he had, saying, “It was wonderful to get out there and really see where wood products come from.”
Losing Allen’s Mill was a real blow to our community, but as long as there are loggers there is still a story to tell — the story of where your wood products come from.
The last tour for this season was Wednesday, Aug. 31. Tours resume again next May.