You can find real treasure in old newspapers. In this case, it’s an undated issue of The Daily Colonist and an article by its Duncan correspondent, the late Klaus Muenter.
Headlined, "Tiny bundle of joy just
stayed alive: Memories of good old logging days," it’s about James Alexander Kerrone. That’s a family name wellknown to anyone who’s familiar with Cowichan Valley logging lore.
Jim Kerrone’s story began in Nanaimo with a difficult birth – one so touch-andgo that it was feared he’d never make it even to the cradle. As Muenter explained: "A Catholic priest was…summoned that at least he would die a Christian, and then the tiny bundle of joy was wrapped in cotton and soaked in olive oil, placed in a shoebox and put in a kitchen stove to keep warm…"
That Jim Kerrone was around to tell the tale 69 years later speaks of the success of the home-remedy for a birth so premature that he had neither finger nor toe nails and weighed just two and a-half pounds. As it happened, his mother died just five months later, his coal miner father five years later, leaving 11 children of which he was the youngest.
It was a brother who assured him that God had seen him through his difficult birth for some good purpose, a belief that Kerrone carried with him through the rest of his life. In fact, he was firmly convinced that logging saved his life: "Logging made a man of me when others were still boys and logging was good to me."
The loggers of old, he explained, were rough and tough on the outside but goodhearted: "They worked hard, slept hard and loved hard but most of them had beautiful souls."
He began work in the woods at age 12 as a whistle punk at a logging show near Westholme. He appears to have been somewhat precocious if we judge from an exasperated Rivers Inlet logger who demanded to know, "What bloody [juvenile] home did this kid break away from?" Luckily for Kerrone, foreman Charlie Walker, a giant Swede with hands the size of coffee pots and a heart to match, took him under his wing: "I would have been an outlaw if I hadn’t met Charlie Walker, who kept his promise to make a man out of me."
As he’d had little formal schooling, Walker saw to it that he began studying, even during lunch breaks on the job. For all of Walker’s paternal oversight, however, Kerrone tired after seven months of working seven days a week and was ready to walk away. But Walker had different ideas, telling him he could leave when he, Walker, said he could leave, and not before.
Half a century later, he said with a chuckle, "I still would be there [in Rivers Inlet] if we had not run out of timber." As it was, they moved to Vancouver where each went his own way; Walker, to Kerrone’s regret, eventually dying in poverty in the U.S. But Kerrone never forgot the big Swede’s kindness and in turn made a point of mentoring those youngsters who followed his own career in the woods.
By the time he became superintendent for the Kapoor Logging Co. in the Shawnigan and Port Renfrew region, the former whistle punk had tried his hand at every aspect of the logging trade, including the ultimate, and highly dangerous, skill of high-rigger. That’s the man who climbed and topped a giant spar tree with only spurs, belt and hand-axe. Even today, legends abound of high-riggers who stood upright – even danced! – atop a swaying and snubbed tree while more than a hundred feet from the ground. Among them, Jim Kerrone.
As fulfilling a career as logging had been for him, he noted that the industry had come a long, long way from the time when loggers "lived worse than animals" in tents and shacks and when casualties were high because human life had little value. It was these types of working conditions that ultimately led to the formation of unions and improved working conditions and wages, he said.
At the time of his interview, Jim Kerrone had his own logging show – in his basement. Described as a "miniature yarding site including a tall spar and a row of small huts," it and numerous newspaper clippings on the walls served as vivid reminders of his days in the woods when, as just a boy in short pants and long stockings, he was taken in hand by the bluff and good-hearted Charlie Walker.
By the time of his interview with Muenter, a father and grandfather several times over, he could say: "I’m lucky. I’ve got good neighbours, family, kids, grandchildren. What more do you want?" He wouldn’t, he said, trade his life for all of industry baron H.R. Macmillan’s timber.