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Longtime Snoqualmie resident Bob Drake’s legendary skill with wood and saw is immortalized in Valley artist Dick Burhans’ canvasses.
Portraits of Drake and his life’s work are on view at the Mount Si Golf Course Restaurant. Part of Burhans’ portfolio of historic images of the Valley, they show “Sawdust” Bob Drake doing what he did best: sawing huge, one-of-a-kind planks of old-growth timber, and creating masterpieces in wood.
“He cut amazing clear cedar boards,” remembers daughter Christine Drake of North Bend.
Few sawyers had the skill to do what Drake did, Burhans recalls. The man seemed to have a sixth sense for the tree trunks, and how to saw them to get the best use and the most planks from within.
Drake worked in the lumber business, just like his father before him. He started as a shake and shingle sawyer, going into business on his own. He cut cedar for everything from violins to signs, but his craft was at its height when he sawed huge planks of cedar to be shipped to Japan. Drake acquired the huge trunks from Weyerhaeuser or other sources and people in the region who knew what he needed.
“Everyone knew Bob Drake,” Burhans explained.
When a piece of her father’s wood was stolen, Christine Drake tried to get a value placed on her father’s creations. She was told by appraisers that they were unique.
“It’s just not obtainable,” she said.
In the 1960s, Drake built his personal sawmill by hand on his property.
Drake worked in his mill until the day before he died, in 2003 at the age of 83,
Drake never employed a helper, but sometimes put friends and family to work.
It was hard work helping her father, Christine remembered.
“I packed the shingles for him and he sawed,” she said. “I didn’t let my mind wander, or I heard about it.”
“He’s one of the few sawyers who had all of his fingers,” Christine added.
The only time he ever stressed, Christine recalls, was when it was time to load up the wood for its journey to Japan. He made sure everything was safe and secure.
But Christine mostly remembers her father for his humor.
The slender, six-foot tall Drake had a file cabinet full of jokes, always kept a pot of coffee on, and had Snickers bars in the cupboard for when children were around. His mill uniform was always the same: blue jeans, a blue shirt and logging boots.
Drake’s craft wasn’t limited to timber. He once built an airplane from scratch and nearly finished a helicopter.
Burhans’ paintings show Drake working with his Weimaraner dog, Rebel, in the background.
Rebel was no silly pup, Christine recalls.
“He knew how to get in and out of all those saws and machinery,” she said.
• See the world of Snoqualmie-sawyer Bob Drake at the Mount Si Golf Course Restaurant, located at 9010 Boalch Ave. S.E., Snoqualmie.