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Valley Voices of the Past: Stacking the years (and the wood) together

Most couples go separate ways when the workday begins, but not the Toths.
Lunch dates are common for the Toths, who both drive the forklift at Vavemby’s Weyco. Lisa Skubovius photo

The following article, written by Lisa Skubovius, a former Times staffer, ran in a National Forest Week supplement to the North Thompson Times on May 6, 1997.

Most couples go separate ways when the workday begins, but not the Toths.

Les and Carol Toth head down the same road to work every day, bound for the Vavenby Division of Weyerhaeuser Canada, and they have basically the same jobs once they get there.

“We both drive forklift,” Carol explained, sipping a strong cup of “real” coffee while Les fixed himself a cup of decaffeinated java at their home in — you guessed it — the Weyerhaeuser subdivision of Clearwater.

“We didn’t plan this, how close we work together,” Les continued. “It just happened that way.”

There’s no way the couple, who will celebrate their 27th anniversary on May 15, could have planned their similar working situations. While living a life of togetherness, they have always followed their own paths, and the fact their working paths are closely aligned is more a result of the twisting path of fate than anything else.

And, of course, the twists and turns of fate are always interesting, especially when they lead back to the same place. Independent of their work, the couple’s main interests also center around the mill (or wood, at least): for well over 20 years, Carol has been an extremely active member of the IWA Local 1-417 and Les has been a high-relief wood-carver.

“I’ve been with Weyerhaeuser for 24-and-a-half years — it’ll be 25 years in December — and I’ve been involved with the union for 24 years,” Carol explained.

As for Les…

“I don’t know dates,” he said. “I wore out two machines (forklifts), and I’m on a third one. You can write that down.”

Carol, who has a better head for dates, elaborated that Les has been a Weyerhaueser employee for 26 years. She’s also got a head for dates of dates — that is, how and when the two of them met.

“He asked me out three years before I actually went out with him,” Carol described.

When Carol finally gave in to Les’ request for a date, he took her out for lunch in Hope, and then was in for a surprise when on their second date, Carol insisted on paying.

“I didn’t think the man should always be the one to pay, although at that time, that’s the way it usually worked. He had no choice. I was going to pay and that was that. He was a bit upset, though,” she recalled, laughing.

Now, almost 30 years later, Les isn’t bothered by bill-paying equality.

“He invites me out for dinner and says ‘I have no money, honey,’” Carol said, still chuckling.

Three months after those first dates, Carol knew Les was “the guy.” The young couple moved to Vernon, where they had their first and only child together, Mona. Les already had five children from a previous relationship, but they lived with their mother at that time, receiving financial support from him.

“How I got to work for Weyerhaeuser is I was hired by the railroad, which was beside the mill, and my boss said, ‘Leslie, you’re not going to make enough money here to run that Thunderbird of yours,’ so the next day I sought out the sawmill foreman and got hired that day,” Les explained.

After moving to Blue River to work in Weyerhaeuser’s Avola mill, and then being transferred to the Vavenby Division, Les had a good, steady job with the company, but his paycheque didn’t stretch far enough to support six children. And so, on that twisting, interesting path of fate, Carol sought a job with the mill for one simple reason…

“Poverty,” she said succinctly. “Besides, the personnel manager was looking to hire women.”

She got the job, and planned to work there for just five years. But plans aren’t written in stone for a reason. Carol didn’t plan to become involved with the union any more than Les planned to become a world-renowned wood-carver, and the Toths certainly didn’t plan to be the only wife-husband duo currently working at a mill in the North Thompson. It just happened that way.

“Because I was driving the forklift and they were just paying me the base rate, not the forklift rate, I went to a union meeting,” Carol elaborated. “At the meeting, I ended up becoming the plant secretary, or the union rep…and then I ended up becoming a union activist.”

Active is an accurate way to describe Carol’s involvement with the IWA Local 1-417. She’s currently the Second Vice for the union, and is up for the bi-annual re-election after 12 years in the position. As well, Carol has served as plant chairperson, a Safety Committee representative, a contributor to job evaluations and the co-coordinator of the mill’s Employee and Family Assistance Program and the Thompson-Nicola Assessment Referral Service.

“I’ve held all positions on the sub-local,” Carol continued. “And now I work part-time as a business agent for the local.”

Les was also a union rep in the early 1970s, but “he went carving,” Carol added.

The high-relief carving of cedar, to be precise. Les spends most every spare moment in his wood-working shop, and after 22 years of unrelenting carving, he’s created a truly unique, riveting and masterful body of work that has sold all over the world and is displayed across western Canada — and, of course, at the Vavenby Division of Weyerahaeuser.

So while the couple works together, driving forklifts side-by-side, they have their own distinct interests to provide a balance with their job similarities.

“It comes down to the basics: I like my freedom and she likes her freedom,” Les summarized. “Carol has her union business and Les plays with wood.”

Of course, there’s radio communications between their forklifts.

“We’ll say things like, ‘Hey honey, do you think you own this road?’” Les revealed.

While their teasing patter may surprise some of their co-workers, the couple makes sure their home life doesn’t become confused with their working life.

“We keep the two completely separated. We never discuss family business at work, and we don’t argue at work, or argue about what happened at work when we get home,” Carol said.

The Toths have received their fair share of teasing from other mill workers, though.

“We get bugged,” Carol admitted. “But not too much.”

There was the day the Toths got into a forklift race, trying to get their cars loaded faster than one another.

“Nobody has ever beat him, and I didn’t beat him that day either, but he ran into me, dropped his dunnage in front of me, revved his engine, played every trick he knew,” Carol recalled. “He beat me by one load. I’ve got the closest to beating him of anyone.”

The race was a great spectacle for everyone, including the bosses upstairs.

“It became quite a show,” she continued. “After it was over, he said, ‘The day you beat me at that job, I’ll quit.’ And my answer? ‘Go for it! I want a day shift job’…It was a day to remember.”

Now the entire mill is on day shift and the couple agrees there’s no competitive rivalry between them. Carol doesn’t argue that Les is the fastest forklift operator, and Les declares that Carol is the most conscientious wood-stacker around.

“She is the neatest,” he ventured. “No man could stack lumber like she does.”

“We really work well together,” Carol summarized. “We each do our jobs and take pride in them. You become part of the machine and the forks are your hands.”

In that case, as the Toths walk hand-in-hand on that twisting path of love and fate, the image is a little different than the traditional one.