excerpts from

Three Years
on the
Nowhere Road





At the mill, I am promoted to splitter

After working deck for a few weeks, I was considered sufficiently competent and reliable to move up to the position of splitter, which didnít please me. It meant standing all day at a waist-high platform, splitting boards from cedar blocks with a pedal operated, razor-sharp guillotine blade. It was more boring and more dangerous, and there was no increase in pay.

As the deckman split the cedar slabs into blocks (my former job), he piled them off to the side, close to the splitter. The splitter, in turn, hefted them up on his platform and split them into rough boards. These were then conveyed up to the sawyer who sawed them lengthwise in half and trimmed them on a circular saw (the most skilled and dangerous job of all). These finished shakes were then sent down a chute to the packer who strapped them into bundles--- which were then loaded into trucks and sent on their way.

Boards split from cedar blocks naturally possess a slightly narrowing taper, which must be compensated for by flipping the block after each split. Continually flipping the heavy, bulky blocks over a period of several hours was, needless to say, exhausting, as well as tedious, and made staying in focus difficult, especially near the end of the shift. Losing focus at the wrong moment could cost a finger, or a hand.

The blade was self-sharpening, which meant it was always razor-sharp. In later models of the splitter, the blade would stop while still several inches from the platform, which in most cases was sufficient to split off a board. But in the older models, such as I used, the blade went all the way to the table, which made the older models extremely dangerous.

I met a number of splitters during my year on the Peninsula, including one who had lost three fingers just the previous week and was still in bandages. I never met a single splitter with a good word to say about his job. Still, in my case, I was disinclined to complain, as the four dollars an hour it paid was more than twice what I had earned as a tree trimmer working for the Park District back in Rockford.



More excerpts from
Three Years on the Nowhere Road
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Off to the wilderness

A bus from the Twilight Zone

I am picked up, then dumped

On a dark, deserted highway,
the kindness of a stranger


My first ride in a logging truck

Forks, logging capitol of the world

To a camp on the Calawah

Job Interview

Up before dawn, a loggerís breakfast

My first day at the mill

A dip in the river

Working deck at the mill,
and almost losing a hand


To a new camp, further downriver

Robert Lee:
the old logger who lived in a box


The Dickey River People

When a barrel stove becomes a cannon

Alone at last

At the outfitters

On Christmas Day, I am flooded out

At the mill, I am promoted to splitter

Encounter with a sasquatch?

A scene out of Dr. Zhivago

I settle in for a solitary winter

Hanshan, the mad hermit poet

Hiking the coastline with a tomcat

A night on a seastack

I join an encampment of friends
on a tributary of the Hoh


Calling at the country estate
of Robert Lee, Esq.


Visiting around the Peninsula
in Robert Lee's 2-gear sedan


A visit to a Makah family on Neah Bay

These opening chapters represent
about 20% of the entire book,
which I hope to release
later this winter.

BJ Omanson
Nov 2021