PRIEST RIVER — “Insanity.”
That might be the first word that comes to Doug Cook’s mind when asked what kept him in the timber industry for 50 years, but it was not his only answer.
“I loved every bit of it,” Cook said. “I loved the years of logging and enjoyed the people I worked around and the people I worked for. Looking back on it, I would probably do it all over again. Mistakes many; regrets none.”
It was for that passion and dedication, as well as his extensive career in the local timber industry, that Cook was named this year’s Bull of the Woods by the Priest River Chamber of Commerce. In her nomination letter, Liz Johnson-Gebhart, executive director of Priest Community Forest Connection, said many in the community know Cook as an “amazing, positive person,” and that his love for his family is “endless.”
To receive the Bull of the Woods honor, nominees are required to have worked in some area of the timber industry for the majority or entirety of their career — Cook started at the age of 9.
Cook started out at such a young age peeling poles for his grandfather’s company, Jack Cook Sr. Logging, one of the largest logging companies in North Idaho at the time.
He was paid the same amount as anyone else per piece of wood, making a “whopping” $32 that summer, he said, which, of course, a lot of money for a 9-year-old in 1964.
“Only problem was, come fall time, I had to buy my own school clothes with it,” Cook said. “That was just kind of a lesson in reality for a young fella.”
He worked for his grandfather off and on for the next seven or eight years, through high school.
It was about that time, after three years of dating, he and his wife, Larinda Cook, married when they were both 17 years old. In October, he said, they will have been married 46 years, with three children and four grandchildren. They have owned the Fall Inn for the past 33 years as well.
After they were married, Cook worked for Louisiana-Pacific, commonly known as the L-P mill in Priest River, located across the river where Stimson Lumber now resides. He worked there for about a year, he said, but wanted to get back into the logging industry, back in the woods, so he went to work hooking logs for Gerald “Beaver” Martin, an iconic name in the Priest River area timber industry.
In the early 1970s, economic struggles in the industry drove the Cooks down to Oregon for about a year, where he worked in the “big timber” business, which he said was a “real eye opener.”
“But Oregon still wasn’t home, so we came back home in 1976,” Cook said.
So they moved back to Priest River and he went to work for his uncle’s logging operation for a year. From 1977-1979, he went to work for Ron McDonald in Priest Lake, starting out as a choker setter.
Then in 1979, he bought his first bulldozer from his grandfather and started his own business making power poles.
“As time wore on, making poles and stuff like that, that market would waver a little bit,” he said. “So I would go back and forth from that to logs. And I finally went exclusively to logs.”
The most employees he ever had at one time was eight, he said, and because of the challenges in finding physical laborers, decided to sell the operation in 2004.
He then went to work for Mike Reynolds Logging for the remainder of his career, piling brush and running the loader, excavator and mulcher.
“Out of all the people I have ever worked for in my life, Mike Reynolds was my favorite,” Cook said.
Cook continued to work for Reynolds even after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2012. He worked for about two more years, he said, until he could not climb into the machine any longer. Cook was still walking with forearm crutches at the time, but within another four or five months, he said, he could no longer walk.
Although he is paralyzed from the chest down, that does not stop him from getting in the excavator to stack firewood, or work in the garden. He can do everything, he said, until it is beyond his reach. After all, as his daughter Jennifer Cook Maltba pointed out, one of his favorite sayings when she was growing up was, “Can’t was a coward and died in a mudhole.” Cook said that has always been his philosophy.
“Luckily, I have never ever had a day’s worth of depression,” Cook said. “In an odd sort of way, I enjoy life as much or more than I ever did before. You just have to have the attitude for it.”
While he said he prefers to stay out of the limelight, Cook said he is honored to be named Bull of the Woods.
“It is humbling and I appreciate it,” he said.
As Bull of the Woods, Cook will be in the Timber Days parade, which begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday. He will also be awarded a custom made Pat Reno saw blade during the parade.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.