Feeding Paul Bunyan's crews was a complicated job. At no two camps were conditions the same. The winter he logged off North Dakota he had 300 cooks making pancakes for the Seven Axemen and the little Chore- boy.
At headquarters on the Big Onion he had one cook and 462 cookees feeding a crew so big that Paul himself never knew within several hundred either way, how many men he had. At Big Onion camp there was a lot of mechanical equipment and the trouble was a man who could handle the machinery cooked just like a machinist too.
One cook got lost between the flour bin and the root cellar and nearly starved to death before he was found. Cooks came and went. Some were good and others just able to get by. Paul never kept a poor one, very long.
There was one jigger who seemed to have learned to do nothing but boil. He made soup out of everything and did most of his work with a dipper. When the big tote- sled broke through the ice on Bull Frog Lake with a load of split peas, he served warmed up, lake water till the crew struck. His idea of a lunch box was a jug or a rope to freeze soup onto like a candle.
Some cooks used too much grease. It was said of one of these that he had to wear calked shoes to keep from sliding out of the cook- shanty and rub sand on his hands when he picked anything up.
There are two kinds of camp cooks, the Baking Powder Bums and the Sourdough Stiffs. Sourdough Sam belonged to the latter school. He made everything but coffee out of Sourdough. He had only one arm and one leg, the other members having been lost when his sourdough barrel blew up. Sam officiated at Tadpole River headquarters, the winter Shot Gunderson took charge.
After all others had failed at Big Onion camp, Paul hired his cousin Big Joe who came from three weeks below Quebec. This boy sure put a mean scald on the chuck. He was the only man who could make pancakes fast enough to feed the crew.
He had Big Ole, the blacksmith, make him a griddle that was so big you couldn't see across it when the steam was thick. The batter, stirred in drums like concrete mixers was poured on with cranes and spouts. The griddle was greased by boys who skated over the surface with hams tied to their feet.
At this camp the flunkeys wore roller skates and an idea of the size of the tables is gained from the fact that they distributed the pepper with four- horse teams. Sending out lunch and timing the meals was rendered difficult by the size of the works which required three crews- one going to work, one on the job and one coming back. Joe had to start the bull- cook out with the lunch sled two weeks ahead of dinner time.
To call the men who came in at noon was another problem. Big Ole made a dinner horn so big that no one could blow it but Big Joe or Paul himself. The first time Joe blew it be blew down ten acres of pine. The next time he blew straight up but this caused severe cyclones and storms at sea so Paul had to junk the horn and ship it East where later it was made into a tin roof for a big Union Depot.
When Big Joe came to Westwood with Paul, he started something. About that time you may have read in the papers about a volcanic eruption at Mt. Lassen, heretofore extinct for many years. That was where Big Joe dug his bean- hole and when the steam worked out of the bean kettle and up through the ground, everyone thought the old hill had turned volcano. Every time Joe drops a biscuit they talk of earthquakes.
It was always thought that the quality of the food at Paul's Camps had a lot to do with the strength and endurance of the men. No doubt it did, but they were a husky lot to start with. As the feller said about fish for a brain food, "It won't do you no good unless there is a germ there to start with." There must have been something to the food theory for the chipmunks that ate the prune pits got so big they killed all the wolves and years later the settlers shot them for tigers.
A visitor at one of Paul's camps was astonished to see a crew of men unloading four horse logging sleds at the cook- shanty. They appeared to be rolling logs into a trap door from which poured clouds of steam. "That's a heck of a place to land logs," he remarked. "Them ain't logs," grinned a bull- cook, "them's sausages for the teamsters' breakfast."
At Paul's camp up where the little Gimlet empties into the Big Auger, newcomers used to kick because they were never served beans. The bosses and the men could never be interested in beans. Once when the cook quit they had to detail a substitute to the job temporarily. There was one man who was no good anywhere. He had failed at every job. Chris Crosshaul, the foreman, acting on the theory that every man is good somewhere, figured that this guy must be a cook, for it was the only job he had not tried. So he was put to work and the first thing he tackled was beans.
He filled up a big kettle with beans and added some water. When the heat took hold the beans swelled up till they lifted off the roof and bulged out the walls. There was no way to get into the place to cook anything else, so the whole crew turned in to eat up the half cooked beans. By keeping at it steady they cleaned them up in a week and rescued the would- be- cook. After that no one seemed to care much for beans.
It used to be a big job to haul prune pits and coffee grounds away from Paul's camps. It required a big crew of men and Babe to do the hauling. Finally Paul decided it was cheaper to build new camps and move every month.
The winter Paul logged off North Dakota with the Seven Axemen, the Little Chore Boy and the 300 cooks, he worked the cooks in three shifts- one for each meal. The Seven Axemen were hearty eaters; a portion of bacon was one side of a 1600- pound pig.
The cooks in Paul's camps used a lot of water and to make things handy, they used to dig wells near the cook shanty. At headquarters on the Big Auger, on top of the hill near the mouth of the Little Gimlet, Paul dug a well so deep that it took all day for the bucket to fall to the water, and a week to haul it up. They had to run so many buckets that the well was forty feet in diameter. It was shored up with tamarac poles and when the camp was abandoned Paul pulled up this cribbing. Travelers who have visited the spot say that the sand has blown away until 178 feet of the well is sticking up into the air, forming a striking landmark.
Paul shipped a stern- wheel steamboat up Red River and they put it in the soup kettle to stir the soup. Like other artists, cooks are temperamental and some of them are full of cussedness but the only ones who could sass Paul Bunyan and get away with it were the stars like Big Joe and Sourdough Sam.
The lunch sled was the most popular institution in the lumber industry. Its arrival at the noon rendezvous has been hailed with joy by hungry men on every logging job since Paul invented it. The crew that toted lunch for Paul Bunyan had so far to travel and so many to feed they hauled a complete kitchen on the lunch sled, cooks and all. What if the warm food freezes on your tin plate? The keen cold air has sharpened your appetite to enjoy it.