On a fall day in 1943, Robert T. Pluid started first grade at the Copeland School. So began Boundary County’s great good fortune to have him as a resident.
Today he is 83 years old and in "very good condition," as he calls it, health wise. One of our county’s lifelong loggers, Bob is truly an icon in the local timber industry. Besides his career as a contract logger, Bob selflessly served as a public servant for many years.
Born in Eureka, Montana, on January 13, 1937, Bob’s start in timber began at the rather extraordinarily young age of nine years old. His father had a logging job, so young Bob was put to work skidding timber with a horse. He says that was the beginning of his "horse sense."
One afternoon while skidding, he stopped the horse with a drag of trees on a small uphill grade. Bob quickly realized that stopping midway was a definite no-no with a skidder that had four legs instead of tracks or wheels.
When his father arrived on the scene and saw the stuck horse, he began a not-so-nice tirade and told Bob that the horse had more sense that he did.
At the age of six years, Bob began his formal education at the Copeland School, located at the bottom of Copeland Road. He walked one mile each way to get there, which he said was no big deal. But in truth that was not an easy walk, as his family lived up on Mission Creek.
From Copeland Bob attended Southside, Porthill and Mt. Hall grade schools, then Bonners Ferry High School. He graduated from there in 1955 as salutatorian of his class with a GPA of 3.75.
Following high school, Bob joined the U.S. Army and was assigned to boot camp at Fort Lewis, Washington. The Army decided to make a medic out of him, even though he wanted to be an engineer. From boot camp he was sent to San Antonio, Texas, for medic training.
Upon completion of that training, he became an ambulance driver and later went on to be a company clerk. Bob received an honorable discharge, attaining the rank of corporal.
After serving his country, Bob came back to Bonners Ferry and once again took up logging with his father and brother.
He bought a brand new log truck in 1964. That truck, along with the Cat and a log loader, still sit in his back yard, and all still run, by the way.
A great many old time loggers earned a wage based simply on how much they produced, or more specifically, how many board foot of timber they could deliver to a sawmill. A fixed price was specified for each 1,000 board feet they delivered.
The log loads were scaled, or measured, by a company scaler. Many of these scalers, according to Bob, had what was known as “a long thumb.” The closer the thumb was to the end of the scale stick, the fewer board feet were credited to the logger.
Working in the woods is inherently dangerous. According to the most recent statistics, the non-fatal injury rate for those who work in the logging industry is 2,449 injuries. There are 135.9 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers. Many of those who have worked in this industry have had their near misses and close calls, and many have sustained injuries.
Bob himself had 89 stitches in his left side from an errant chain saw. Another time he was hit by a snag that he claims caused him to be a half inch shorter. With a wry grin, he related that the thing hammered him into the ground rather forcibly. An amazing trait of loggers is that they just never quit, and Bob was no exception.
He got healed up and was back to work in short order.
For 33 years, Bob logged every day on two drainages, Snow Creek and Myrtle Creek. With a straight face and his usual dry, laconic humor, he related that he “knows that area pretty well.”
In the summer of 1967, Bob joined hundreds of other men fighting the Sundance and Trapper Peak Fires, the most intense forest fires our county had ever faced. Sundance is still considered a benchmark fire as it made a 16-mile run in nine hours in heavy timber.
Two firefighters lost their lives when 60 mile-per-hour winds raced over the Selkirk Crest and overtook them. The Trapper Peak inferno eventually burned 16,600 acres. With the help of 2,200 men, an estimated 100 bulldozers pushing through the rampaging fire, 50 planes, 22 helicopters, 52 trucks, pickups, ambulances, water trailers and kitchen units, the blaze was finally brought under control after an 18-day battle.
Bob had his D-6 Cat on Sundance, working 16 and 17 hours a day trying to help contain it. He and his fellow "Cat Skinners" never went home for 24 days.
When asked about going that many days without bathing, he said, ”After that long on the fire line, even your urine smelled like smoke, so we didn’t notice.”
They were out on the fire line every morning long before a meal was served at the kitchen unit and did not return in time for dinner, so the only meals they had were C-rations, the precursor to today’s MREs.
At one point the fire boss came and ordered Bob and his fellow cat skinner to “Clear as much of this area as you can so we can get the men into it, the fire is coming quickly.”
After Bob and the other Cat got the area cleared, they took their coats to a nearby creek to wet them. They were approximately 500 feet from the front of the fire. When they held their coats up in front of them, the fabric starting smoking.
At 8 p.m., the fire boss returned and order a forced march to base camp six miles away, with the Cats leading the way, followed by all the men on foot. Bob’s Cat was the only one with lights, so he led the parade.
The men on foot were told to walk 15 paces apart because of the danger of falling snags. The fire boss told the men on foot to not to stop under any circumstances. If a snag hit somebody, he would be responsible for picking him up, the men were to just keep walking.
As Bob paddled along with his D-6, a spotter rode on the right side of the machine. The smoke and dust were so thick that the lights “went out three feet and came back,” Bob recalls. They shortly came to an area that had a 500-foot drop on one side and a sheer rock wall on the other.
The tracks of the machine barely fit through this narrow spot. The spotter guy was looking basically straight down as Bob was trying to keep the machine on the narrow strip.
When the fall rains finally came and the fires were out, Bob spent many hours pulling equipment out of the “goose poo.” There was so much burned ground that it just soaked up the rain and made a black sticky mess, making a bad situation worse.
In 1977, Bob began his public service career, serving on the council for the City of Moyie Springs. In 1984 he was elected to the position of mayor of Moyie Springs, a position he held for 19 years until 1992.
He says it was an interesting experience, like overseeing a small, half-million-dollar business.
When asked about some of his favorite memories of being a councilman and mayor, he related the following episodes.
In 1984 the city was obtaining its drinking water from surface water of the Moyie River.
One time a construction project by Pacific Gas & Transmission fouled the water and left Moyie Springs without drinking water. Immediately a "big shot" from PG&T showed up to fix the problem. In four or five days, PG&T repaired everything. They dug four new wells and installed all new piping to the storage tank.
The City of Bonners Ferry trucked drinking water out to the residents of Moyie Springs during that time, showing once again how communities here work together.
When Bob began his term as mayor, the City of Moyie Springs did not have a sewer system. Raw sewage was simply piped into the Kootenai River. Numerous other communities along that waterway handled their sewage in the same manner in those days. Moyie Springs was growing quickly, which truly necessitated the need of a sewer lagoon. When the new lagoon was installed, Bob said that initially, he and other council members would go and clean the lagoon on a regular basis.
Cohort Brig Yongue kept a nice fifth of bourbon on hand for all to enjoy when the stinky job was finished, so that helped make the chore bearable. Today there is an agitator in the lagoon, which along with chemicals cleans the water.
Bob currently resides on South Division Street in Moyie Springs. He and his wife, Ina, moved into their home there on April 7, 1964.
Together they raised four children, three girls and one son. Kathy is a stay-at-home housewife; Rob is a contract logger who is following in his dad’s footsteps; Kari works as a tax consultant for Hecla Mining Company, and Kristi is a CPA for Tom Young in Spokane.
From these four Bob has been presented with 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. In July, 2020, great-grandchild number 11 will be arriving.
He and his wife were married 58 and 2/3 years when Ina died on May 24, 2016.
Bob began his courtship of this woman just as he started logging, at a very early age. Standing in the school yard at Mt. Hall School in the sixth grade, he pointed Ina out to a friend of his and informed him that she was the girl he was going to marry.
It took him until 1955 to convince her to finally marry him, but she did nor argue. They repeated their vows to each other in the old United Methodist Church in downtown Bonners Ferry on October 7, 1956.
A very poignant memory Bob shared was Ina’s way of saying goodbye to him each morning when he went out the door to work.
Since he was a logger his days always started early, usually around 4 a.m. Ina would stand by the door and blink the porch light three times.
That was symbolic of her saying “I love you.”
When her funeral service was held, the end of the service was accompanied by the lights of the church slowly blinking three times.
In 1986, one of Bob’s friends, Jim Fairchild, came up with an idea. He envisioned a plant where presto logs could be manufactured locally. Al Farnsworth and Lowell Anderson, both icons of the community in their own rights, came on board and North Idaho Energy Logs was launched.
Competition in that market was intense and equipment was very expensive. Bob said at one point they reached a pretty low spot, thinking they could not continue. They produced a high quality product, managed to buy used equipment from Spokane Presto Log, kept their noses to the grindstone and eventually succeeded.
In 1989 the business was incorporated.
Today Rob Pluid, Bob’s son Rob Pluid, Jim's son Clark Fairchild, and Tom Oxford own and operate the plant.
It is a timber-based industry which utilizes a raw by-product from sawmills that in earlier days would have gone up in smoke in a teepee burner. They manufacture both energy logs and pellets for pellet stoves.
The plant currently employs approximately 25 workers and runs three shifts.
When his father died in 1995, with a P&H loader and a D-6 Cat he'd purchased in 1959, he became a gyppo logger.
A lifetime spent as a logger, council member, husband, father, and grandfather has left a mark on this man.
He watched the timber industry go through radical changes, especially in how the timber is harvested. He feels that today’s better equipment, faller bunchers, grapple skidders and log processors contribute significantly to a better job being done on logging strips.
“In today’s environment where every move is watched, you do a better job or you’re out,” Bob said.
In the days since he finally crawled off a cat, out of a truck and off a log loader, and having retired from the governing body of Moyie Springs, Bob is doing what he wants to do: “Damn little.”
Enjoying his family is the highest priority on his to-do list.
We as a community have benefited immensely from this man’s life work and dedication. So many friends are gone, and so much has changed over Bob’s lifetime, but his sense of purpose has not left.
He remains deeply concerned not only for the loggers and the local timber industry, but also for the well-being of our community.
Bob Pluid is truly a man who epitomizes the greatness of those who make this place the best place on Earth.