Take it from a walking boss

''Right-o, I'll take care of it first thing in the morning,'' I responded, and then I added, ''Father.'' Since I was responding to my wife, who had reminded me of something to do, the additional ''Father'' seemed odd to the gentleman who was with us, and he looked up to ask, ''Father?''

It's a lovely story.

Del Bates, who was a lifetime lumber-camp clerk for Great Northern Paper Company, used to tell the story to help young men who took their work too seriously. Del himself maintained serenity and kept his cool no matter how complicated and arduous his chores became, and he explained that he learned to be like that from his father.

His father was a walking boss. In those days chopping camps were usually closer together than in our days of heavy machinery, and an overseer could manage several operations at once by moving about. Probably Del's father didn't walk from camp to camp, but rode in a set-over pung behind a high-stepping horse. The set-over pung was a Maine woods device, permitting a single horse to travel over a logging road otherwise used by teams. The horse could walk to one side, instead of up in the middle where there was no track.

I met Del and heard his story some 20 years ago when he was ''cock-o'-the-woods'' in his cock-shop (clerk's office) at Scott Brook Lumber Camp. I was much taken with Del at once because over his office flew a Jolly Roger with skull and crossbones - an unusual ensign to come upon in that remote wilderness.

Del had many yarns about his father, who must have been a remarkable man. He said his father made no restrictions on Saturday night pleasures, and he and his brothers were free to choose, but there was a house rule that the last boy to bed Saturday night had to milk the cows Sunday morning. His brothers, in time, found things to do, but his father felt Del had the makings of a fine camp clerk and he steered him accordingly. Afterward, Del studied at an accounting school in Boston, and readily found a place with Great Northern. One of Northern's managers told me once, ''If I had to set up a camp from scratch, and could have my choice of all our company clerks - I'd take Del.''

So before Del went away to school, his father took him into the woods with him now and then to learn about lumber camps and the men who worked in them, and he would give Del small chores to do in the way of ''bean counting.'' A bean counter in woods lingo is a clerk - a man who keeps inventory and will know if the commissary has enough beans on hand. Del said he liked the prospects and tried hard to please his father.

Then one afternoon they came to the Six-Mile Camp on Masardis Surplus, and it so happened that the spare bunk, reserved for the walking boss, was the only available bed. Del and his father had to sleep in it. Del was not yet in high school, so he wasn't all that big, but it was still tight quarters. The crew turned in, the ram-pasture quieted down, and the snoring began. I can hear Del now:

''Father went right to sleep, and after a time I did, too. But boy-fashion I was wanting to please the old man, so in my sleep I suppose I got to pondering on the things he'd set me to do, and I came up fitful and restless. I must have churned a good deal, because two-three times he'd poke me and say, 'Stiddy, stiddy!' But I kept on squirming, and finally in my dreams I must have got things squared away, because all at once I sat up in the bunk, still sound asleep, and I calls out, 'Yes, Father! I'll take care of that first thing in the morning!'

''But my father had had enough by then and he had a different idea. 'Nothing doing!' he yells back so he woke every man in the camp; 'you go take care of it right now!'

''And he kicked me out of bed. I sat up in a chair until daybreak, the longest night of my life. And my father never said a word about kicking me out of bed, but the next morning as we rode along, he said, 'Son, never take your work to bed. Leave it on your desk. Most important thing of all is a night's sleep.' ''

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