Just like the guy in the commercial, 100 Mile Ranch resident Dick Munro embraces the idea that just because you’re amazing at one thing, doesn’t mean you can’t be amazing at other things, too.
From railroad engineer and realtor to pilot and World Champion Tree Climber, Dick Munro has done and excelled at it all.
Born Richard Alex Munro, the third child to Alec and Freda Munro, Dick was ambitious and innovative right from the start, skipping Grade 6.
At age 12, shortly after losing his father, an engineer with the PGE Railway whose steam engine hit a snow slide and slid into Seton Lake, Dick began delivering papers for the Vancouver Province. Three months later, signing up the most new subscribers netted him a free trip to Victoria.
Upon graduation from Squamish High School, he began driving various trucks for a year before joining the PGE Railway in 1956, passing his exams and becoming the youngest railroad engineer in Canada.
The same year, his desire to serve his community kicked in and he joined the Squamish Volunteer Fire Department, which his grandfather had started and with whom both his father and grandfather had been fire chiefs. Dick later became the fire chief for all three fire halls in Squamish.
After driving trucks over the years, he realized a longtime desire of owning and operating a logging truck and formed R.A. Munro Trucking.
In 1963, his interest in logging sports was kindled. Surrey’s Danny Sailor, the World Champion Tree Climber at the time, came to the Squamish Loggers’ Sports for an exhibition. A theatrical performer, among Sailor’s tricks was standing on his hands on top of the pole, and after throwing his hat off from the top of the pole, beating the hat to the ground.
Sailor took Dick under his wing and showed him the ropes of tree climbing. Using an old pair of spurs, Dick learned how to ascend and descend from great heights.
“I went up to the power lines and started practising on their poles.”
Like any sport, there is a technique to racing up and down 100-foot poles. Strength is certainly a virtue as is being a lightweight.
Regular long climbing spurs were used, but they were shortened and bent to customize them. Climbers wanted spurs that would grip on the way up, but could “’roll out” coming down, so they wouldn’t catch on the poles.
Using soft gloves for a better grip on the rope, Dick says they turned their hands backwards and slid down on the backs of their hands.
“We glued a chunk of horse or moose hide on the backs of the gloves, so you wouldn’t burn through them on the way down.”
He explains that during competition, the spurs have to touch the tree every 15 feet.
“You rang the bell at the top, and immediately dropped about 10 or 15 feet. The closer your hands were together the slower you went.
In those days, it was much easier finding the ideal 80- and 100-foot trees than it would be today, he notes.
“Both peeled trees and trees with the bark still on were used, but the peeled trees were faster – the bark didn’t slow you down on the descent and your spurs wouldn’t get caught in bark grooves typical of Douglas-fir.”
The trees used in the World Championship in Oregon still had the bark on them, Dick says, adding the optimum diameter for pole-climbing trees was 30 inches with as little taper as possible. The more consistent the diameter, the faster a climber could go because he wouldn’t have to keep adjusting his rope length, he explains.
Dick remembers trying to get the bigger trees out of the bush for tree climbing.
“They needed two trucks to get them out – the butt end was on the first truck and the top was on the second truck, which drove backwards out of the bush.”
In August 1962, he won the Novice Tree Climbing Division at the Squamish Logger’s Sports.
In 1966, Sooke was sanctioned to hold the Canadian Championship Tree Climbing event, which Dick won in July.
The PNE in Vancouver was sanctioned for the BC Championship Tree Climbing event in 1966. In August, he captured that title, which resulted in an invitation to climb at Expo ’67 in Montreal the following year.
Accompanied by his wife, Dick spent a month in Montreal, and he appeared daily in the timber show on La Ronde. He calculated that by climbing a 100-foot pole four times a day for a month, he climbed 1.5 miles straight up.
Later that same year Munro was in Oregon and won the World Championship Tree Climbing Event in Albany.
In 1970, Dick left the lumber business, got his pilot’s licence in 1971 and moved his family up to the 100 Mile House area.
Again, he showed his versatility by driving various trucks, a school bus, purchasing his first aircraft, becoming a realtor and starting Aspen Realty with Phil Roux, Gordon Marshall, and Gordon Ireland. While real estate and flying moved to the forefront of his busy life, Dick didn’t completely leave the logging industry behind.
From 1974 to 1978, he organized a logging show at McKinley Beach at the Lac la Hache Regatta and was also involved in the Likely Logger Sports, which was huge in its day. He started the Lac la Hache Volunteer Fire Department and was chief from 1974 to 1980.
At 50, Munro obtained his commercial pilot’s licence, and in 1990, he began flying bush planes in Fort St. James. Several years later, he formed his own charter business – Cariboo Air.
While he has given away most of his tree climbing trophies over the years, he still has his World Championship hardware. Dick remembers his pole-climbing years fondly.
“It was great, especially meeting the people and seeing the places I did. I made a lot of good friends over the years, and I’m still in touch with some of these guys.”