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What's in the Woods? by William N. Dennison and Clifford R. Gilbert
Histories of Diamond Match logging camps 1927-1944  and the kids who grew up there.

About the authors

Co-authors William “Bill” Dennison and Clifford “Blackie” Gilbert were part of The Diamond Match Company (Diamond) family. They have a long history with Diamond and each other. Bill and Blackie were raised in simple logging cabins just across the dusty road from each other in the West Branch Camp. Their lives and friendship have been interwoven for over 79 years.

Bill was born in Thermalito, California on May 15, 1934 in the home of his grandparents. His parents were living in West Branch Camp, and Bill was introduced to logging camp life at the age of two weeks. In addition to the West Branch and Butte Meadows Diamond Camps, Bill was also raised in several other logging/sawmill communities. From 1934-44 Bill lived in Stirling City, California during the winter months; 1944-50 in Meadow Valley, California (Meadow Valley Lumber Company); 1950-52 in Woodleaf, California (Sacramento Box and Lumber Company); and 1953 in Johnsondale, California (Mt. Whitney Lumber Company).

Bill considered logging as a vocation when he drove skid cat for Sacramento Box and Lumber Company and Mt.Whitney Lumber Company in 1951-52. He worked for Diamond Match Company as a surveyor from 1954-59. In 1958, he and Ted Nelson, a Diamond forester, designed the Diamond Match Company road numbering system. It is still displayed on the small yellow signs marking the roads around Stirling City, Butte Meadows up to Viola, and throughout the timberland now owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, Inc. 

Bill was a third-generation Diamond employee. His grandfather, Harry Talbot Dennison, was a railroad engineer in the Ramsey Bar area east of Stirling City from 1910-15. His father, William Ned “Bill” Dennison, worked for Diamond during the years 1931-44 on railroad construction and as a cat skinner. 

Bill attended Lassen College, Chico State College and graduated from The University of California at Berkeley in 1959 with a B.S. degree in Forestry and is a Professional Licensed Forester (#926). He was the Diamond National Corporation Resident Forester, 1960-63, and Diamond’s International Corporation Forest Engineer, 1964-71. He served as the California Forestry Association Vice President and President/CEO, 1971-94; Plumas County Supervisor and Executive Director Sierra-Cascade Logging Conference, 1994-2006; and Director of the Pacific Forest Institute, William Jessup University, 2002-2006. 

Bill has given speeches and written many professional papers that were used at the Congressional and California State Legislature levels and has provided information and advice at County Supervisors’ public hearings and meetings. He assisted in the development and amendments of the U.S. Forest Service Timber Sale Contract from 1971 through 1993. Bill also developed teaching curriculum for California teachers who attended the Pacific Forest Institute between 2002 and 2006.

Bill and Pat Dennison were married in 1954 and have two daughters, Robin Culver and Trish Duarte. Pat passed away in December 2005. 

Bill is married to LaVon, who grew up in Orland and was employed as Information Officer with the United States Forest Service on the Mendocino National Forest for 30 years. They reside in Chico, California. 

Blackie Gilbert was born July 19, 1920 about 1/2 mile from the Sloughhouse Post Office on a hop ranch where his dad was employed. He lived in the Diamond Match West Branch Camp from 1930 through 1934. He worked in the cookhouse waiting tables while he was in grammar school. Classes were small and only one other 8th grader was in Blackie’s graduating class. He attended Chico High School, served as student body president, and graduated in 1939. 

Blackie, a second-generation Diamond employee, worked as a logging choker setter at the Butte Meadows Camp during the summers of 1938-40. His dad, Mark, was a Diamond timber faller and bull buck during the period of 1929-51. From 1941-46 Blackie served his country as a Marine in the South Pacific assigned to a communications division. He was in one of the first battalions to enter Nagasaki, Japan after the Atomic Bomb was dropped by the United States on August 5, 1945.

Blackie graduated from Chico State College with a B.A. in General Education and had a long and successful 31-year-career of coaching and teaching at Chico High School. Primarily, he taught a forestry class where he combined three years of instruction into just two years. This was important to the students because these two years of concentrated forestry study were credited to science units which they needed for high school graduation.

Many comments and wonderful stories have been told by former students about Blackie’s teaching ability and sincere interest in his students. They offer unsolicited praise for teaching them not only vocational forestry but “about life.” They have said that Blackie taught them the basic needs for living, such as respect for girls, printing neatly, keeping a daily notebook, balancing a check book, work ethic and even about “sex.” He was known as a teacher who looked for the best in each student and was willing to help them achieve their goal. One former student said, “Blackie could teach in a way that I could understand. I knew that he really cared whether or not I learned the subjects.” Another man in his fifties said, “I am very thankful for the fact that Blackie helped keep me and some other high school students out of serious trouble. He believed that everyone deserved a second chance in life.” Blackie truly cared about his students both in and outside of school.

Blackie was not only inducted into the Chico State University Athletic Hall of Fame as a member of the 1948 Co-Championship Football Team, but after 28 years as a line coach for Chico High School he was inducted into the Chico Enterprise Record Newspaper Hall of Fame. Blackie, a long-time member of both Chico Masonic Lodge #111 and the Scottish Rite, initiated and has continued to promote the Scottish Rite achievement award given to top high school students in Butte, Tehama and Glenn Counties. After retiring from Chico High School, he worked for Jim Diaz Trucking for several years piloting low bed trucks and heavy equipment.

Blackie and his spouse Shirley Fox Gilbert were married in 1952 and have three daughters, Marcie Tevis, Lynn Gilbert, and Stacy Frydel. Blackie manages a local car wash business that he and Shirley have co-owned with two other partners for over 41 years. 

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