The Summer of '42

Pearl Harbor changed everything.

Lowell Bock, author, retired pastor, and retired General Conference vice president, looks back at a special time when Providence guided his life.

During the summer of 1942, my connection with the Ed and May Hall family became an act of Providence. In September 1941, in answer to what I felt was a call to the Gospel ministry, I enrolled in the School of Theology at Walla Walla College. December 7 and Pearl Harbor seemed to change everything.

For summer break, I knew I was needed on the family farm at Ellensburg, and I was home but was feeling somewhat restless. One Sabbath early in June, my parents and I drove to Yakima. We admired our pastor, Elder Bresee.

Elder Bresee’s sons, Wilton and Hardy, were employed at the Hall Glenoma Tie Mill and had come home for the Sabbath. They told my parents that Ed Hall was looking for another worker. On the drive back to our farm, my unrest was discussed, and mom and dad decided a summer in the woods would be good for me—and I agreed!

The mill site and logging operation is still a vivid memory. The spar tree stood at the focal center, commanding the main line between timber and the steam “donkey” engine. I recognized academy schoolmate Stan Hall, who had an experienced hand on the engine throttle. Ted Roberts was operating a steam saw, sizing the logs for railroad ties, and rolling them down to Hardy Bresee. Hardy’s job was to roll the logs onto the carriage and turn them for the various cuts.

The heart of the whole operation seemed to be Dick Hall, riding the carriage, setting ratchets (code words for heavy arithmetic) and taking orders from old and rather salty Uncle Charlie. Then there was the “off-bearer” who handled the slabs and ties as they came off the saw.

The ties were counted for inventory and aimed toward the stack. Slabs were sent down rollers to the wood saw, operated by another college theology student,       “Tex” Challender. 

In addition, there were two seldom-seen mystery people beyond the creek and out in the woods: Uncle Les, who set the “choker,” connecting logs to the main line; and Wilma, who handled the delicate operation of good signals.

Ed gave me my first assignment, which was to level the sawdust pile. It was by far my softest job, and it lasted for only one day, but my woodsman internship had begun.

The next day I was asked to “punk the whistle.” It was not a good day. The wind was against me, and I yanked twice when Les meant once. That job lasted one day and left me more respectful of Wilma.

I cannot find words for the humiliation of the next day. I had observed how easily Phil Coleman was able to cut wood, fire the steam boiler, and even sit down to rest! He had fallen ill and opened a spot for my continued internship. I had noticed Phil, who was mostly blind, place his eye close to the center of the log, then with deformed fingers, place the wedge at a careful angle from the heart to the outer edge. One or two solid blows from the sledge hammer opened the log like a book. I should have paid more attention.

This was day three and I was handed sledge, wedge, and axe. Stan pointed to the already-full steam gauge, adding that it was my job to keep it there. “Piece of cake!” I went to work. The steam gauge started falling and kept falling, then Stan let the balance of steam out through the whistle! Now the whole world knew that this farm boy didn’t even know how to cut wood! With time, however, the job became easy and fun, and I managed to maintain a full head of steam.

Day Four. Apparently Hardy wasn’t feeling well, but Ed had a farm boy back-up in mind. I had watched Hardy and noted the job of rolling logs would call for some brawn but little mental stress. Was I wrong! The important working instrument was called a “cant-hook”— a sharp, heavy steel hook attached to a heavy handle which was used to turn logs for the saw. As I was about to turn a log, I forgot to remove my left forefinger from between the hook and handle. The brawn did its part in breaking my finger. The rest of the day and for some days after, I was too embarrassed to show my badly swollen finger—especially to Uncle Charlie!

My next job was tailing the big saw. Working only 1 to 3 feet from the main saw was at first a very frightening experience. Very large logs often produced large, first-cut slabs that needed to be taken away with care. The situation was safe as long as Uncle Charlie left the carriage and face of the log against the saw, but sometimes the long, experienced sawyer became a bit impatient. A time or two, with temerity, I asked him to give me a little more time with the big slabs. Those whining and huge saws offered no solace—neither did Uncle Charlie!

On an early Sunday morning it happened—the wet bark on the upper edge broke from my hand, letting the slab fall back into the open saws. With lightening speed the 8­ foot sliced slab shot between Dick and Hardy, out of the mill and into the hillside. Ed didn’t fire me, but as the mill resumed to full speed, I began to reflect on haying season back home on the farm. Then I saw Wilma coming in from her job in the woods. I decided to stay! Wilma not only understood my safety concerns but also offered helpful counsel regarding school and my call to ministry.

Housing was primitive but adequate. Hardy and Ted lived in a box cabin on the side of a creek, and the mill ran off a load of 2x4’s and 1x12’s so Wilton, Tex, and I could build our place. With tar paper on the roof and a stove in the corner, we were in business. But food was another matter! The work schedule, due to high fire hazard, required starting the mill at 4 a.m., which meant breakfast at 3:30, lunch at 8:00, and out of the woods by noon. Tex, Wilton and I took turns fixing breakfast, giving the other two a little extra sleep. Wilton showed real culinary promise, but on his turn, Tex felt a bowl of corn flakes with toast should be sufficient! My farm background offering was oatmeal mush or potatoes and eggs.

After two or three weeks, Tex had to leave for school, so I thought of academy friend Bill Norton, who I was sure had the spirit of a woodsman. Ed said, “Try to get him.” Bill and his wife Zena were more than ready to join us but would need about a week to move. Upon arrival, they would live in a now-vacant larger cabin across the creek. It had a kitchen-living area, bedroom, and lean-to shed large enough for me. This looked like a gift from Heaven, and with Zena as cook, we had a solution for the food problem! With great respect for my buddies in “bachelor haven,” I moved across the creek.

A week later, Bill and Zena arrived in their aging and loaded car. We agreed to go 50/50 on groceries and headed to the Glenoma store. Bill was a natural woodsman and a perfect match for the wood saw, but we would soon be part of an accident which, but for God’s grace, could have been tragic.

As Bill found time, his job included climbing down to straighten the growing pile of railroad ties. I cautioned him to always be in clear sight, as from above I needed to get rid of ties coming off the saw. With an 8­ foot 7x8 in hand, I looked for Bill, and seeing the way clear, let the heavy tie go, just as Bill walked out from under the mill. The tie hit him in the back of the neck and drove him to the ground. I thought for certain that I had killed him. Again the mill was shut down as we all rushed to his aid. I was sick to my stomach, and again I had cause to wonder. We witnessed a miracle as Bill stood up, dusted himself off, and went back to work—albeit with a stiff neck!

Sabbath was a very special day as we met at the most hospitable Hall home. Bible study and prayer always focused on God’s love, care, and guiding safety in the woods and mill. During workdays we often heard the wail of an ambulance siren, but it never came to the Hall camp.

At 85 years of age, I am writing this to describe how beautifully God cares for His children! The Hall camp was a garden experience. To sort out one’s dreams, goals, and direction for life at age 19, no experience can equal a quiet walk through a beautiful forest, where one can feel the touch of God’s hand! That is what happened to me during the summer of 1942.

Lowell Bock, author, retired pastor, and retired General Conference vice president, looks back at a special time when Providence guided his life.