In the Very Old Days
The true story of the old Swede and Goldie the ox


    S
omeone mentioned I might have a story about my great grandpa and the first coniferous tree. Story indeed! I resent any implication that my detailed reporting of Great Grandpa's activities of a century ago is anything less than carefully documented truth. However, I had a recollection of something that happened long ago, so I went through Great Grandpa Augustus' diaries and found the relevant passages:

     "Had a few beers with Solomon, the tailor. He said he knew an old bachelor logger who had a strange story to tell, about the old Swede looking after the draft stock at the Pope and Talbot stables. He came over from Sweden as a boy in 1839 and found his way West to Seattle in 1844 and to Port Orchard where he set up a shingle mill in 1851. Every month, fast schooners hauled Red cedar shingles from Puget Sound to San Francisco to roof buildings going up all over this fast growing city. Shingles fetched $2 a square, a fantastic price at the time.
    "The old Swede knew where the best cedar lay but but it was hard to get to. He needed a team to haul windfall cedar logs some of which were 9 foot. Most lay in the swamps for a hundred years or more and were so waterlogged they wouldn't float. He said the swamps were strange and gloomy places back then, impassable to white man and Indian, huge trees rising into mist, graveyard for any creature but those God made for it. There were bubbles of gas rose from the muck, and nettles worse than bee stings, and brush so thick you couldn't see ten feet. In season, the mosquitoes were so thick they could drain a horse of blood so completely you could roll it up like a carpet.
    "He poled a barge as far as he could up Gorst creek and from there laid a corduroy road in about six miles to the foot of Gold mountain where a vast swamp lay paved over with a tangle of cedar logs. He and his helper bucked up the easiest log and killed two teams getting out the bolts. This one log yielded over ninety thousand square of shingles, enough to roof three city blocks with the structures tight packed.
    "The second time he went back and found Goldie, the biggest and ugliest long-necked ox you ever saw, living wild in the swamp and thriving. The helper run off and was never seen again, but the old Swede wasn't afraid and fed her an apple he happened to have in his pocket. Goldie wasn't even as bright as a regular ox but she loved apples and would do anything to get one.
    "The old Swede was good with animals and could always get them to do his bidding. He spent a week working with Goldie, training her for the work he needed done for that long-necked ox had big feet built for mud and was big enough not to get mired in shallow lakes.
    "Well, to make a long story short, it took about 20 bushels of apples to get in each barge load of shingle bolts. The old Swede had his fortune made. An ox with a 40-foot neck could pick up a five-hundred-pound bolt in her teeth like it was a biscuit and set it on the barge as nice as you please, stacking them neatly and nudging them into place with her muzzle.
     "The old Swede had 20 men working for him at the mill, shucking out shingles at five thousand squares a day. Problem was, Goldie had eaten all the apples available. The old Swede cleaned out every store in Puget Sound and there wouldn't be any more until the next September. Goldie wouldn't work without apples so she disappeared in the swamp. The old Swede had to default on his contracts and his business was busted. It was a shame all around.
    "I asked him why he named the ox Goldie. He said it was because she had such pretty golden eyes. An ugly beast with a long neck and tail, a body big as a house, legs like tree trunks, a head no bigger than a nail keg, but captivating golden eyes.
    "I suspected the old Swede was pulling my leg until I saw tears spilling down his cheeks and into his beard. 'Damn I miss her. She vas da best ox I ever knew. I vish I had her back.'"
    And that's the truth as laid down in my great grandpa Augustus's own hand.

. . . Forrest Addy

 

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© 1999 by Forrest Addy. All rights reserved.
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