As a beginner lumberjack, the whistle punk’s job was to operate the whistle on a steam-powered winch that dragged freshly-felled logs to the river or road to be taken away.
The whistle punk was a go-between. They would string out a thin steel cable (aka “jerk wire”), attached to a steam whistle on the winch.
They got as close to the lumberjacks as the jerk wire allowed, often threading it through the broken-off necks of beer bottles wedged in the crooks of branches to help it slide freely. That wire could be half a kilometre long, so the less friction the better.
When a lumberjack shouted that a log was ready to be winched, the whistle punk gave the signal with a series of tugs on the jerk wire. This sounded the whistle back at the engine, telling the operator to fire up the winch.
Get this wrong and they either had no log on the end of the line or, worse, lumberjacks caught in the deadly path of a huge log being winched too early.
The jerk wire was the important connection to the action which was often far away, out of sight and out of earshot. The whistle punk used the jerk wire to let the crew know what was happening.
Quite the responsibility.