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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.

Book recounts memories of growing up at logging camps

CHICO The recollections of youngsters growing up in the rough and tumble times of Butte County's logging camps from 1927 to 1944 are the foundation for a new book called "What's in the Woods?" 

Co-authors Bill Dennison and Clifford "Blackie" Gilbert, both of Chico, were able to track down four of "the kids" as Dennison calls them.

Dennison and Gilbert were the other two kids, starting out across the road from each other at West Branch Camp, off the West Branch of Butte Creek.

They both ended up in several other camps as their fathers moved with the jobs.

None of the kids moved very far away, and Dennison found them in Ukiah, Santa Rosa, Stirling City and Chico.

But on Sept. 1, they'll gather at Butte Meadows for the annual omelet brunch at the Butte Meadows-Jonesville Fire Station.

"Everyone's anxious to see the book published," said Denbeing nison, 79, adding that those interviewed were happy to share memories in the book that is published by the Butte Meadows Jonesville Community Association.

The nonprofit association also published an earlier history called "A Small Corner of the West" about Butte Meadows, Chico Meadows and Jonesville.

Gathering recollections for the book "was important to those interviewed," Dennison said.

"Everyone is now in their 70s to 90s," said Dennison, listing Jackie Chandler Abell, Stanley Brock, Pat Schulse Gein and the late June Beavers Yount, who died just a few weeks ago.

The camps in Butte County were Butte Meadows, West Branch, Camp 1, Powellton Camp and Stirling City. 

The book was two years in the making, and was intended to show how children lived in early 20th Century logging camps, as well as document that lost lifestyle.  

"We wanted a history book with a sense of feeling about what really happened to those kids, parents and loggers," said Dennison.  

At West Branch, there was one school with eight grades. Homes were tiny wood cabins, most 9-by-18 feet. Children often worked in the camp too, like Gilbert, who peeled potatoes and waited tables at the cookhouse that fed the men without wives at the camp.  

Shoes were purchased a size too large so they would last longer, and socks were repeatedly darned. Food was simple.  

"We lived on very little, but we appreciated what we had," Gilbert said.  

"Life was hard but they were very good years. They shaped our lives," said Dennison, who found that sentiment oft-repeated during the interviews.  

In the book, Gilbert recalls one of the loggers who was hit by a snag during the logging process and died.  

"That's how life was."  

But living in those kinds of circumstances, and in a place where necessaries were miles away in Oroville or Chico, made many of that generation extremely appreciative, Gilbert recalls.  

"We didn't know it was hard at the time," said Dennison. "It wasn't until we talked to other people that we found our circumstances unusual.  

"Everyone was very close. We went through a lot," said Dennison.  

Because the work was dangerous, there were severe injuries, he said, with the closest doctor 25 miles away.  

Gilbert remembers the summer that a surprise snow storm dropped four feet, which made for uncomfortable nights for those who lived in tents.  

Some of the residents lived year-round at the camps, braving the elements because it was cheaper to stay there. Jobs were hard to find, and many in the logging camps came from the East to find work, Dennison said. Some were from Europe, making the camps a meld of languages and customs.  

When the two men lived there, there were about 25 families at West Branch, in addition to several hundred men who may have had families but left them behind to work in the woods harvesting trees for Diamond Match.  

Both men recalled those who made their living in the woods were generous, giving kids a few cents or nuggets of candy. A number of the loggers had children of their own who stayed home with their mothers.  

Life was fun too, playing or fishing in the creek that ran through West Branch, and creative games like jumping over yellow jacket nests without being stung, Gilbert recalls.  

Amazingly, all the families had photographs of growing up at the camps, and there are more than 100 pictures in the book.  

"I can remember there being just little box cameras," said Gilbert. "The quality was amazingly sharp."  

Both men agreed growing up in the Butte County wilderness made an impact on their lives.  

"We learned from the loggers that you never blame someone else. You just deal with something."  

Dennison, who was born in Thermalito at his grandparents' house, was a third-generation Diamond employee. He went on to become a professional licensed forester, later being involved in timber contracts and developed teaching curriculum. For Diamond, he worked as a surveyor, and in the late 1950s helped design Diamond's yellow signs marking the roads throughout timber country.  

Gilbert, a second-generation Diamond employee, lived at West Branch from 1930 to 1934. He attended Chico High School, graduating in 1939, and then after graduating from Chico State College, went back to Chico High to teach and coach. He shared his knowledge of forestry with his students. He was inducted into both Chico State and Chico Enterprise-Record's Hall of Fame for his coaching.  

For Diamond, he worked as a logging choker setter, then joined the Marines, serving in the Pacific. He said he was with one of the first battalions to enter Nagasaki, Japan, after the atomic bomb was dropped.  

The book ends with a glossary to help novices figure out terms like cat skidder and bull buck.  

"It's been fun looking back," said Dennison.

--Laura Urseny,staff writer, Chico Enterprise-Record

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