Baker City, Oregon
John Alpha “Al” Walker, 78, of Baker City, died Oct. 14, 2006, at St. Elizabeth Health Services.
His memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Gray’s West & Co. Pioneer Chapel, 1500 Dewey Ave. Friends are invited to join the family after the service for a dinner at the Extension Building.
Al was born on Jan. 6, 1928, at San Jose, Calif., to Loyal Goodlow and Esther Barrette Walker.
The family later moved to Sweet Home, where he attended school until he started logging at the age of 15. He continued logging until he joined the military and went to Korea in 1955. He served until 1957.
Al returned home, and then followed his brother, Dave, to Happy Camp, Calif. There he met and married his wife, Esther. They had been married for 47 years when she died on Sept. 17, 2003.
During their time at Happy Camp they had three daughters: Carri, Sheryl, and Teresa. Al was also featured in NW Logging World for his outstanding achievements in logging.
He moved the family to Lincoln City, later to Molalla, and finally to Baker City. They loved it so much they decided to stay. He enjoyed everything that had to do with the outdoors. He loved to watch his grandkids play ball, and he spent many years coaching as well as playing softball.
Living in Baker City provided many opportunities working for several different logging companies, including his own. He worked on trucks in the winter months also. In later years he built roads for many different logging companies.
His work took him and Esther to Central Oregon and to many different sites in Idaho. They enjoyed traveling and seeing different sights, but always considered Baker City home. He always enjoyed shooting the breeze with old buddies in the mornings. He will be greatly missed.
Survivors include his three daughters, Carri Noble and her husband, Todd, of Baker City, Sheryl Payton and her husband, Vince, of Baker City, and Teresa Walker and her friend, Bram Novak, of Baker City; grandchildren, Tia Gibbs, Bo Gibbs and his wife, Mel, Justin Gibbs, Jason Gibbs, Kristie Payton and friend, Reginald Bacher II, all of Pendleton, A.J. Noble, Josephine Choate and her husband, Alex, Walter Ramsey, Frank Ramsey and Ande Ramsey; eight great-grandchildren, Gavin Willingham, Denise Gibbs, Madison Gibbs, Avery Gibbs, Aubrie Bacher, Jasmine Bacher, Bryland Allen Walker Gibbs, and Aidin Choate; sisters, Barbara Walker of Sweet Home and Caroline Putney and her husband, Russell, of Bend; a brother, David Walker, and his wife, Tish, of Sweet Home; and numerous nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Esther; his parents; two sisters; and one brother.
Memorial contributions may be made to the American Diabetes Association or to the charity of one’s choice through Gray’s West & Co., 1500 Dewey Ave., Baker City, OR 97814
Used with permission from: Baker City Herald, Baker City, Oregon, October 19, 2006
Transcribed by: Belva Ticknor
Walker was the big man of the woods
Published: October 17, 2006, Baker City Herald, Baker City, Oregon
By JAYSON JACOBY
Al Walker’s finger looked as though it had been gnawed by an ill-tempered cougar, so of course he drove right home and got in the shower.
No matter that his finger tip dangled by a strip of bloody gristle.
Walker wasn’t going to stride into the hospital while he smelled of pine sap and his pants were smeared with axle grease and hydraulic fluid.
He was a gentleman, is the thing.
Maybe the toughest gentleman who ever worked in the woods of Baker County.
John “Al” Walker died Saturday at St. Elizabeth Health Services.
He was 78.
A story like that finger story ought to be enough to define a man’s working life – the one tale his descendants tell whenever they get together for a holiday or a wedding or a funeral, and the recollections come out, like well-loved photos dredged from a rarely opened drawer.
But in the life of Al Walker, the finger story is a mere chapter, one of dozens of similar episodes.
Each episode reminds the teller of another, and with each telling the man grows more vivid, until it seems that the best word, perhaps the only word, to describe him is legend.
Walker’s muscles figure in many of his more memorable exploits.
“His strength – that’s what I’ll never forget,” said Jon Dickison, a truck driver from Baker City who met Walker in the early 1970s.
Dickison said he watched Walker pull the busted rear differential from a semi-truck and replace it with a rebuilt one.
Those hunks of metal weighed hundreds of pounds each.
Although Walker was a skilled mechanic as well as muscular one, he was more renowned as a “cat skinner” – a bulldozer operator.
“There wasn’t anybody could work a cat better than he could,” said Bill Quigley of Baker City, who worked in the woods with Walker for several years in the late 1970s and 1980s. “He could skid more logs with a cat than anyone I ever saw. We called him ‘rip and tear’ because once he got started you stayed out of his way.”
Quigley said Walker learned the logging trade in Northern California during World War II. Walker was just a teenager then, but most able-bodied men were fighting in Europe or in the Pacific.
Walker started as a choker-setter – one of the hardest, and most dangerous, jobs in the woods.
The choker-setter wraps a steel cable around logs so they can be hauled to a loading site. Chokers can kill you in a variety of unpleasant ways.
Later, Walker worked as a “topper” – he climbed a tree, chopping limbs as he went, then attached a cable to which the chokers were connected.
Eventually Walker graduated to driving dozers and operating other heavy machinery. He worked in Western Oregon before moving to the east side.
“He could do anything on a logging job that needed to be done,” Quigley said.
Larry Raley of Baker City watched Walker do most of those tasks.
“That man could do anything in the woods – he was just fantastic,” Raley said.
Raley said he hired Walker for several years in the early 1980s to build logging roads and drag felled trees to landings.
That was Walker’s day job, anyway.
“He’d work for me for 10 or 12 hours and then at night the old knothead would go out on the highway and repair trucks,” Raley said – “knothead,” in this context, being a term of affection.
Raley said Walker always rode with him to work. One morning Raley rolled up to Walker’s house at the usual time for a logger – about 4 a.m. – but Walker didn’t come out.
“I waited and waited, honked the horn, and finally here he comes,” Raley said. “I told him, ‘Al, you’ve got to quit working these long hours, you’re going to burn yourself out.’ ”
Raley drove to his shop, where there was a 55-gallon drum of motor oil he needed to haul to the job.
But by then the rest of the crew had left. So it was just Raley and Walker, and no way two guys were going to heft that barrel into the bed of Raley’s pickup truck.
And as it turned out, two guys didn’t.
But one guy did.
“Walker just jumped out and grabbed ahold of that barrel and put it in the back of the truck,” Raley said. “That guy was such a hard worker that he really taught me how to work. I already knew how to work, but he taught me how to work hard.”
And how to pack a real lunch.
Raley said he usually shoved a sandwich and maybe a couple of cookies in a sack.
A snack, by Walker’s standards.
“He told me, ‘Raley, if you’re going to work, you’re going to have to start bringing more food.’
“When that guy took a lunch you can’t believe all he ate,” Raley said.
Walker was a big man – an inch or two shy of 6-feet, and pretty near 300 pounds, Raley figures.
“But that was all muscle, it wasn’t fat,” Raley said.
Which reminds Raley of another story about Walker’s strength, and as Raley starts in you get the feeling he could talk about Walker until your pen had no more ink.
One night Raley was working late at his shop, trying to replace the transmission in one of his dump trucks.
Trying, and failing.
“I had the thing up on jacks but I couldn’t get it lined up,” Raley said.
“So then Al came down and he asked me what I was doing. I told him and he said ‘get out of the way,’ and he got under that truck, pushed the jacks out of there, and he just took that transmission and popped it in.
“I said, ‘God, Walker, if anything ever happens to you out in the woods I’m not going to go for help, I’ll just get a choker and drag you out.”
Quigley, who stands about 6-foot-4, was pretty far from puny himself, going about 260 pounds when he worked with Walker.
“He snuck up behind me and picked me up at the armpits and held me at arm’s length,” Quigley said. “He laughed and said, ‘Don’t you ever forget that, boy.’ I just said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”
Raley remembers a time when he was logging with Walker up on Little Lookout Mountain, south of Richland.
Walker was falling trees and then dragging them with a cat to the landing, where Raley loaded the logs onto a truck.
Raley said he always warned the “knot bumpers” – the workers who used chainsaws to cut the limbs from felled trees – that they had better gulp more water than usual when they worked with Walker.
“I used to die laughing because whenever Walker would come in with his last load of the day he’d have such a huge load that his cat could hardly pull it,” Raley said.
On this particular day, a Sunday, Walker kept working after Raley went home.
“He said he wanted to have some trees ready for the next morning,” Raley said.
About 9 o’clock that night Raley got a phone call from Walker’s son-in-law, Todd Noble, who also worked on the logging crew.
“He told me I needed to go out to the hospital and tell Al he doesn’t have to go to work tomorrow,” Raley said.
What happened, Noble said, was that after Raley left, a limb from a tree that Walker was falling smacked Walker on the forehead.
It was the sort of blow that might have killed a man, or at least knocked him out for a spell, so naturally Walker kept cutting down trees.
Noble, who is married to Carri, one of Walker’s three daughters, said he had hiked back to the pickup truck to repair a broken chain saw.
When he came back to the draw where Walker was falling trees, he immediately noticed the “big, gashing gape on his forehead.”
“It was just pouring blood all over his face and between his eyes,” Noble said. “I told him – I used to call him dad, but this time I said ‘Al, you need to get back to the truck. If you lose a lot of blood down here I can’t get you out of here. I’d have to hook a choker to your ankle or something.’
“But he wanted to keep falling trees so he’d have logs to skid when he got to work the next day.”
Eventually Noble persuaded Walker to splash water on his head, and the pair drove back to Baker.
When they walked into the Walker’s home the wound was still oozing red.
“The girls panicked and said, ‘you have to go to the hospital,’ ” Noble said.
The “girls,” gathered for the family’s regular Sunday dinner, were Walker’s wife, Esther, and their daughters, Carri, Sheryl and Teresa.
But Walker refused to leave until he cleaned up.
He accomplished that, Noble said, by sprinkling granular Boraxo soap on the gash and brushing it with a stiff-bristled brush, which sounds more painful than the 50 or so stitches a doctor poked through Walker’s skin to bind the wound.
Later that evening Raley went to the hospital
“I had to go up there and tell him he didn’t have to come to work the next day, that he should take a couple days off,” Raley said.
Walker went to work as usual the next day, Noble said.
Quigley doesn’t even try to list all of Walker’s injuries, although he mentions broken arms and legs.
“He’d get pretty beat up but it never seemed to affect him,” Quigley said.
Actually one of Walker’s feet bothered him for years, although the affliction didn’t cause him to drive his cat with any less enthusiasm.
The incident, as with so many involving Walker, ought to have turned out worse than it did.
The time was the early 1980s, Raley said, and Walker was fixing the blade on an old D7 dozer. The machine was sort of cantakerous, and when Walker told the guy running the machine to lower the blade a little, he accidentally lowered it a lot.
The blade – basically a really heavy if slightly dull, guillotine – smashed straight down onto Walker’s foot. The right foot, as Raley recalls.
“I still don’t know why that blade didn’t cut his foot clean off,” Raley said.
Maybe it was the spongy forest duff that cushioned the blade’s blow and spared Walker’s foot.
Maybe it was just Walker.
The idea that a cat could get the better of “rip and tear” – well, that’s plain silly.
Walker was a cat skinner.
The cat skinner.
Walker was of a different generation, in many ways a better one, Quigley said.
“I had the greatest respect for Al Walker – he was an old-school logger. He worked hard, and he worked fast.
“He never did anything halfway, I’ll tell you that.”
And if you needed a hand, especially with tasks of a heavy nature, you always knew Walker would help, Dickison said.
“He’d do anything for you.”