Turning a page on Scott Brook

The Way We Were, R. E. Blodgett. Millinocket, Maine: Great Northern Paper Company. 151 pp. Ordinary book reviews appear in ordinary places, but this is the place for this one. For two decades Bill Dornbusch and I have been the privileged guests of the Scott Brook management as we wend that way on our July ``Grandfathers' Retreats,'' and each excursion has resulted in an essay here. I didn't always identify the place, because it is far beyond the chains in the nonpublic work area where Maine's No. 1 paper-maker cuts its pulpwood, and it would not have been polite of me to noise it about that we were exceptions. No other major timberland operator has kept a camp in one place for so many years, and Scott Brook came out of the ancient days of twitchin' horses into the era of snippers, skidders, delimbers, loaders, and tree-length trucking roads.

Each summer Bill and I would arrive for our intensive schedule of meditation and mutual admiration, to be banqueted at the finest table in Maine and permitted to inspect all operations. On our first visitation we were greeted by Del Bates, the camp clerk. From Del came many tales that merited space here. The tedium of wilderness life had caused him to read almost everything, and he could do the Sunday Times blockbuster crossword in about 10 minutes. His life was forest-oriented, and when I introduced him to Henry David Thoreau's ``The Maine Woods'' he read the book and offered, ``That feller was somewhat mixed up most of the time about where he was!''

The spring before our first July there, Del had distinguished himself over a fire. To accommodate the tractors that were replacing horses, a 3,000 gallon gasoline tank had been installed and loaded, ready to do business. A bolt of lightning hit it during that next night, and the vent hole in the top of the tank became a giant blowtorch shooting a flame hundreds of yards into the sky. Del was asleep in his ``cock-shop'' right beside the tank, and so was in the best situation to give the alarm. He ran from his camp shouting FIRE, and prudently streaked in his nightshirt into the deep Maine woods, whence he appeared the next morning.

The fire was doused by tossing a wet blanket over the vent hole, but not right away, and Adelard Gilbert (that's zhil-bare) always described it as ``a busy night.'' Adelard was camp foreman, supervised the cutting of millions of cords of pulpwood, and upon retirement took his wife from St. Georges, Quebec, to France to see where his family had once, long ago, been landed. He visited the Black Forest to inspect some cuttings there.

Housing a hundred ``choppers'' and the horses that kept up with them, Scott Brook was a complex of more than 25 buildings, and an inventory made in 1962 runs to 15 pages in this book -- from diesel-powered electricity generator to the pepper and salt shakers.

One year the cutting season ended and the camp closed for the year, but 10 men stayed on to gravel the roads. Sam Lemay was sent in to cook for this small crew, and as Sam was noted for frivolous efforts such as two-color icings on cakes, Clerk George Bessey was cautioned to keep a wary eye on board costs. George responded that he had things in hand and that, `` . . . the food is fantastic and the cost unbelievable!'' When the gravel crew left, the accountants found George's report something of a double-entendre, and when George was reprimanded, he responded, undismayed and replete with Sam's good food, ``I was diddled by an expert!''

So Scott Brook was 1956 to 1982. The buildings were moved, and in a few years the forest will hide the location. Bill and I now make ``other shift.'' And Scott Brook was not closed for want of timber -- after the pulpwood and the sawlogs, the estimate of residual wood runs to hundreds of thousands of cords -- the assurance of a future potential. The action at Scott Brook was moved, so Historian Blodgett tells us, to less productive areas while the Scott Brook area grows another crop.

No, this book is not sold in stores. It is not copyrighted; it is not indexed by the Library of Congress. It has no price on it. It is for the folks, like Bill and me and all the other woodchoppers, who would know what it's all about.

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