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As It Was: Tree Toppers Climb with Ax, Saw, Sometimes Large Pulleys

Tree toppers had one of logging’s most dangerous jobs in the 1930s.  Carrying an ax, saw, and sometimes large pulleys, they climbed to the top of a tall tree with spurs fastened to boots and a leather strap around the tree trunk.

One of them, Elroy “Pink” McGrew, recalled his experiences as a young man in Southern Oregon.

“Topping trees has its moments,” he said.  “Some guys get scared and freeze in the tree ‘til someone brings them down.  Fortunately, heights never bothered me.  The first time, I grabbed my hand saw and ax and up I went.  There was an extra guy on the ground to make sure I didn’t turn upside down and die up there.”

“One time I was up cutting limbs for nine hours,” he said.  “The limbs were good size and I didn’t see any reason to climb down the tree (only to climb) … back up, so I stayed up.  When I quit that evening my shins were bleeding and I could barely walk.”

He said, “My worse moment tree topping was when I took a physic the day before that …  (took effect) when I was 90 feet up in the air.”

Source: Hegne, Barbara M. Logging the Rogue Valley. author, 1991, p. 52.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.