Young Sarpaneva earned money for his studies by spending many summers working at logging camps in North Karelia. Floating logs was backbreaking work, requiring fearsome skill in moving about on top of slippery logs and breaking up logjams gathering in eddies. Despite this, Sarpaneva described his days as a river driver at the Meteli log sort as “perhaps the best time of my life”. During his free time, Sarpaneva painted landscapes and did portraits of his workmates, depicting them as, for example, well-seasoned and work-toughened Siberian lumberjacks. They would very co-operatively and patiently sit as his models. When he finally finished, they would come to carefully scrutinise his work, barely uttering a single word. Some of the watercolours he did during this time have survived.
Timo Sarpaneva was a conscientious log driver, eventually rising through the ranks to become a “crew boss” (Kymppi in Finnish). He relished this title. Later in his life, he would be celebrated twice as an honorary doctor, an academic and a professor. He was also granted several orders and decorations. But in his stories and memoirs, the title Kymppi was always at the top of his list.