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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 14, in which we examine Abel Woodman.

“A Character is Coming to Crossett.”

This was the headline on a small announcement item greeting scrupulous readers of the December 1947 issue of Forest Echoes. As our faithful Peeling Back the Barkers know, Forest Echoes was the popular local monthly magazine published by the Crossett Lumber Company of Crossett, Arkansas, between 1939 and 1962. But who was this new character being teased in the magazine’s final issue of 1947? Curious readers were assured of an answer in the new year: “Don’t miss next month’s Forest Echoes, you owe it to yourself to meet this character.”

As promised, the mysterious new character made his debut in the January 1948 issue. Found in a one-panel comic in the back of the magazine was a well-built man with beady eyes, smoking a pipe and holding a large axe. The man was dressed in traditional lumberjack garb (boots, suspenders, flannel shirt) and there was no doubt about his location—a large Crossett smokestack was visible in the background.

Abel Woodman, January 1948

First-ever appearance of the man who would become Abel Woodman, January 1948 (click to enlarge).

The only problem was he had no name. To rectify this, the Forest Echoes editorial staff created a contest, inviting readers to submit their name ideas for the new character. As seen under the cartoon above, the best entry would win a $25 U.S. Savings Bond (side note: The “I ain’t Mr. Hush…” comment references a famed 1946 contest on the Truth or Consequences radio game show, where host Ralph Edwards phoned random people and asked them to identify a mystery voice known only as “Mr. Hush”).

The following month a winner was announced. Thanks to the entry of William “Bill” Preston Haisty, the new character was officially christened “Abel Woodman.”

Winner William "Bill" Preston Haisty, February 1948

Click to view the full February 1948 Abel Woodman cartoon.

Abel Woodman immediately became a regular monthly feature of the magazine. At the back of every issue readers would find Abel delivering a message on forest conservation, job safety, or some other local topic, always in his own humorous way. Like the Forest Echoes publication itself, the Abel Woodman cartoon was a reflection of life in Crossett and Crossett’s view of the world (in this case through the eyes of artist Lee Davis). Abel Woodman cartoons provided a unique commentary on issues specific to Crossett (a new town jail, Crossett High football, a redesigned company logo, the joys of Crossett bleached food board!) as well as more general concerns (taxes, the dangers of drinking and hunting, anxiety over the atomic bomb).

Abel remained a permanent fixture on the inside back cover until the final issue of Forest Echoes in June 1962 (the year Georgia-Pacific purchased the Crossett Lumber Company). For this fourteen-year run, the Abel comic was drawn by artist Lee Davis. In his final year Davis found a way to put himself in the action alongside Abel.

Abel Woodman by Lee Davis, March 1962

Davis did get help from the public along the way. In 1958 Forest Echoes held a “Cartoon Editor” contest, inviting the public to submit “a situation and appropriate remark for an Abel Woodman cartoon.” Ten winners won $10 each and had their cartoon ideas drawn by Davis and printed. The first winning entry (from Lloyd Gardner) was published in March 1958, and is notable in that it foresaw “Moon Trees” a good thirteen years ahead of Stuart Roosa’s journey into space.

Abel Woodman March 1958

The final Abel Woodman cartoon ran in the last issue of Forest Echoes in June of 1962. His glory years seemingly already behind him, Abel had been reduced to company shill—touting the benefits of charcoal made by the Crossett Chemical Company. Despite this inauspicious end, Abel Woodman lives on in Crossett. In 2002 an “Abel Woodman” statue was erected in a small park in the middle of town. The original Abel Woodman also lives on here at FHS in our collection of Forest Echoes magazines, and our other materials documenting the history of the company town of Crossett, Arkansas.

Continue below to view a few more Abel cartoon classics. (more…)

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 13, in which we examine Herman I. Cautious and Paula Bunyan.

The first week of May marks the annual occurrence of North American Occupational Safety and Health Week. Sponsored by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), NAOSH Week is intended to raise awareness about occupational safety, health and the environment. In honor of NAOSH week, and in the spirit of workplace safety, Peeling Back the Bark brings you not one, but two new forgotten characters of forest history.

Herman I Cautious headIn early 1960, the Pacific Plywood Company of Dillard, Oregon, launched an innovative new safety program. Under the slogan “Caution Pays You,” the new program awarded employees for eliminating workplace accidents. Accident-free years would bring cash awards, based on money collected from monthly contributions into a Safety Dividend Account plan. To help launch this new safety program, a promotional character was introduced: Herman I. (Izzy) Cautious.

While his name was a basic play on a safety question (“her man, is he cautious?”), there was no doubt about Herman’s commitment to workplace health. Always safely decked out in hardhat and gloves, Herman appeared on posters and signs around the plant to raise awareness for the program. His image was accompanied by the “Caution Pays You” slogan, which was trademarked in 1960.

Herman I. Cautious

Pacific Plywood employees with Herman I. Cautious signs. Bob Young at far right.

The idea to use monetary rewards to reduce accidents came from Pacific Plywood Company’s Safety Director Bob Young. He and others at the company had big plans for the program.  An article in the May 1960 issue of The Lumberman stated, “Considerable interest has been shown in the plan by outside industries, and many inquiries have been made about its operation even before it has been started.” It’s unknown how much interest was shown in the Herman Cautious character, though. He was used on company safety awards for a short time, but then appeared to quickly vanish from the public eye.

Pacific Plywood Co. safety award

Herman Cautious wasn’t the only hardhat-wearing forest-related safety character to fade from view in the early 1960s. The U.S. Forest Service has a forgotten safety character of its own: Paula Bunyan. Paula, drawn by legendary Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin, was presented as the “Guardian of Safety” for the agency.

Paula Bunyan

We’ll let the official backstory on Paula speak for itself: “She is the daughter of Paul Bunyan, the legendary, swashbuckling, and sometimes unsafe north woods hero. Being a woman, Paula knew how to get her message across to her father and converted him to a safety conscious individual without impairing his tremendous production. This spread his fame all the more. We feel the modern day forester is susceptible to the wiles of such a safety symbol.”

(more…)

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 12, in which we examine Benny Beaver.

Although Benny Beaver is back in the news, don’t be confused. The one making news is Oregon State University’s mascot, and that’s because he’s been redesigned. Again. The Benny Beaver beloved by forest history buffs was the mascot for the Redwood Region Conservation Council (RRCC).

Benny BeaverThe RRCC was a forest products industry group in the Redwood-Douglas fir region of California that sought to inform the public about the necessity of conserving the area’s natural resources, in particular commercial timber, and the importance of doing so for the benefit of all. The RRCC was involved in certifying forests for the American Tree Farm System and already employed Woody and the Keep Green program to get the word out about fire prevention when Benny was introduced.

What makes this character stand apart from all those is that his creators went to the trouble of formulating a backstory for him. Benny was introduced in the summer of 1965 (we don’t know when they stopped using him). In the introduction below, besides learning about Benny’s extended family and ancestors, they even implied that he was OSU’s Benny Beaver—hence the reference to being mauled by a wolverine (in 1965’s Rose Bowl, the University of Michigan handily defeated OSU.) And when Benny was introduced, Bernard Z. Agrons was RRCC’s president, so we think that’s where the name of Benny’s great uncle came from. Anyway, his creators did such an entertaining job on the backstory that I’m going to let the announcement of Benny’s “hiring” do the talking.

Benjamin “Benny” Beaver—faller, bucker, dam-builder and member of the world-famed lumbering family—has joined the Redwood Region Conservation Council as its supervisor of forest activities.

Benny applied to RRCC headquarters for work following a six-month period of convalescence.

Last January 1 while inspecting the culinary qualities of the wood structures which support Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, he was seriously mauled by a curmudgeonly wolverine. Seems the wolverine had left his home in Michigan for a trip to Disneyland and had stopped off in Pasadena for some mild exercise. A beaver with a football was all he could find to tussle with.

Healed, Benny headed back to his familiar forest where, he says, the most dangerous creatures are 21-year-old loggers on Saturday night and a funny old bear who wears a silly hat.

Benny’s first assignment will be to work with that bear—Smokey they call him—in an effort to keep the Redwood Region green. But being a charter member of the “hard-hat-on-head, we’re-not-dead” club, Benny indicated he would try to talk Smokey out of wearing his felt campaign hat.

“Widow-makers,” he warned, “can drive you into the deck like a wicket.”

Well known as an industrious woods worker, Benny has numerous qualifications for his job in forest conservation.

His great-great-great granddaddy pioneered the technique of selective logging, and early lumberjacks copied Benny’s great uncle Bernard Z. Beaver’s method of getting logs from the forest to the mill by river floating.

As a matter of fact, Benny’s cousins still excavate canals—some several hundred feet long—to float wood for life’s necessities into their communities. Their dams are engineered perfectly to keep the water in the canals at a proper depth….

The announcement concluded: “RRCC hopes the Redwood Region will welcome Benny Beaver. We expect him to fight wildfire, prevent litter-bugging and help us tell the public that conservation means the wise and multiple use of our natural resources.”

That last statement reveals the stumbling block to success that so many forest history characters trip over: they are given too many things to simultaneously to represent and it confuses the target audience. Is Benny about fire prevention? Stopping litter bugs? Wise and multiple use? Aren’t the first two really just part of the third? This problem of a muddled message is why the Forest Service later created Woodsy Owl—people were trying to use Smokey Bear to talk about litter and other issues and it diluted the power of Smokey’s message. Further complicating Benny’s path to stardom was the introduction of Cal Green and Sniff and Snuff in California the same year Benny was introduced. How’s a beaver in cut-off overalls supposed to compete against charismatic Cal and the sartorial splendor of Sniff and Snuff? As Benny might say, dam if I know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

Fighting forest fires in northern California kept Benny as busy as a, well, you know.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

The RRCC made ads like these available to newspapers.

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead

Redwood Region Conservation Council letterhead featuring Benny Beaver.

RRCC Benny Beaver poster

RRCC vice president Norman Traverso with student poster contest winners, 1966.

RRCC bookmark.

RRCC promotional bookmark featuring the “Woody” character.

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Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 9, in which we examine Sam Sprucetree.

Sam was a character created by Consolidated Papers, Inc., of Wisconsin to help tell the role of forest management in paper production. Sam’s autobiography—an 8-page booklet titled “Sam Sprucetree: My Autobiography Sort Of”—appeared sometime in the 1970s, probably in 1978. For reasons that will soon become clear, it was probably Sam’s only appearance.

In the tradition of Woody and Ev’rett, Sam is another in a long line of anthropomorphized trees created to help explain a complex topic to the general public, in this case a public that was hearing conflicting information about forest management practices. Based on a code printed on the back of the booklet and the remark in the “introduction” about Consolidated’s forestry program having started “more than four decades ago,” I think this was printed in 1978. At the time, both public and private foresters were experiencing a great deal of scrutiny and criticism about clearcutting as a result of the Bitterroot and Monongahela controversies. My guess is that Consolidated Papers produced Sam’s story—with its explanation of how its foresters instituted selection cutting on company land—partly to counter the blowback from the clearcutting controversies.

In a curious twist on the anthropomorphized tree genre, Consolidated Papers opted to let Sam tell his own story. A straight-forward history of the company and its longtime embrace of forest management couldn’t possibly match the appeal of a thinking, feeling tree, nor would a tale told in the third person. In “Sam Sprucetree: My Autobiography Sort Of,” when a forester comes by and marks his trunk with paint, Sam knows that the end of his life is at hand (or branch), which prompts him to share his story. It’s a classic take on a rich, full life: there’s the requisite childhood trauma and obstacles to overcome, but unlike many of today’s celebrity memoirs, Sam doesn’t complain or whine about the hand life dealt him. In fact, in the face of death, he’s at peace with his fate (though you’d never know it by looking at his facial expression on the cover).

Click on the image to read the book. Don’t wait for the movie. But if you do wait for the movie, rumor has it that either one of the apple trees from “The Wizard of Oz” or Daniel Day-Lewis will play Sam.

Sam has borne witness to the changes in attitudes towards trees and forests over the last 75 years or so. He has seen it all during his long life, a life that started in the “cut and get out” days of the early 20th century, when loggers indiscriminately logged white pine in the Lake States region. Sam shares the lessons he’s learned from each phase of his life—that early loggers were bad, fire is evil, foresters are heroic, and being designated for cutting and turned into pulp is an honor—perhaps the greatest honor for a spruce tree. His noble death enables him to realize a lifelong dream.

Sam sheds tears of joy when he finds out that he’s been “scheduled for a ride.”

Like many of these publications, this one does do a good job of explaining the topic for a general audience of all ages. What I find interesting after having read so many of these promotional publications, however, is not what’s in print, but what’s not in print. While there’s a very exciting recounting of how a team of oxen nearly dragged a log over Sam and killed him when he’s just a sapling, there’s no mention later of any threats from mechanized vehicles operating in the woods, nor from chainsaws or other modern methods of logging. Perhaps the PTSD (post tree-matic stress disorder) he suffered when threatened by the log or later by fire has rendered him mute on the subject. It might also explain his weird vision of what fire looks like.

Sam survives being nearly killed by oxen only to be threatened by fire (below). He didn’t need a tree surgeon for his injuries, he needed a tree psychologist.

The booklet ends with Sam knowing that he’ll be logged. Which begs the philosophical question: If an anthropomorphized tree falls in the forest, does he make a sound?

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