Before the introduction of the steam engine, log transportation was in the hands of men and animals. Various techniques were used to lug logs to a loading area or to riverbanks to be shipped to local sawmills.
No prior knowledge of log transportation is needed to successfully deliver this lesson plan.
Bernsohn, Ken. Cutting up the North. Vancouver: Hancock House Publishers, 1983.
The physical evidence of historic logging in British Columbia has, for the most part disappeared. Today one may find rotting sawdust piles or impressions of old logging roads as a sign of early logging operations or portable sawmills. As we journey through time, we are able to understand the influence of technology on the logging industry. Previous to the introduction of the steam engine, skidders, cats and logging trucks; logging techniques were dealt with by shear manpower. The processing of lumber was much more dangerous and time consuming in earlier days. It took a great amount of time to cut, trim, transport and process one tree due to the lack of technology, men and money. Men completed every aspect of logging manually, with hand held saws, horses, sleighs and rivers.
Logging was first arrived out along river banks as heavy logs could be floated to the sawmill. As forested areas along riverbanks became harvested, logging operations were forced to move farther into the woods. In order to transport logs out of the forest to the river and sawmill, various techniques where utilized.
In the late 1800's men manually cut down trees using axes and large hand held saws. A saw commonly used, known at the Cross Cut Saw, was large enough to cut the biggest of trees. This was a two-man saw and had many different styles and shapes. The name "Cross Cut" came from the design of the saw, which would cut across the grain of the wood where Whip or Rip saws where used to cut with the grain, creating lumber. A common problem encountered with sawing trees to fall included pitch filled butts on the trees. To avoid the pitch, choppers would insert planks into a notch cut into the tree about 5 feel from the ground. Men would stand on these planks to saw the tree, which would allow the men to avoid the pitch butt and cut the tree with greater ease. Even with this technique, there was still some pitch to be found in the tree, therefore men would have to drip kerosene on their saws to avoid pitch sticking to the saw. A small drop on a saw would dissolve the pitch allowing the men to continue saw a tree down.
Due to the large size of trees, choppers had to work in pairs to tackle one tree. "Choppers", men who chopped down the trees, had various techniques for falling trees. These men had to plan precisely where the tree was to fall to avoid injury to other choppers in the area. When a tree began to fall, it was dangerous for all choppers in the area. Branches above would often break off and fall to the ground, hitting the choppers below. Many men lost their lives due to careless accidents such as these. The term "Timber" originated due to the danger that lie ahead of a falling tree. Choppers would yell "Timber" to warn other choppers in the area that a tree was about to fall, allowing them to get out of harms way.
Two men bucking logs with a crosscut saw on the lake shore
After a tree had fallen, "or Buckers", men who squared logs, would square and peel logs for railway ties. In the spring and summer, peeling was easier as the sap was flowing. Bucking was a one man job, once bucked logs were prepared for skidding. Limbs were removed and the ends were shaped to have a point on the end. This technique allowed logs to be pulled through the forest with ease, where they would not get caught up on rocks or other trees.
The kitchen, dining, bunk house and office of Logging Camp #2 at Horseshoe Hill on the long road to Shelley.
Individuals would learn techniques from someone else. McConaghy states that "if you get slapped with a kick back on a tree you learn pretty quick what is right and what is wrong." One was always learning by working beside experienced men because if you where a good worker, men would work with you instead of working against you, trying to make things difficult. There were rewards for good work and men improved themselves knowing that there was return for their hard work. For example, chockermen, men who would chain up logs behind the cat, were high up on the list. Real good chokermen could ride on the arm of a cat out of the bush instead of walking.
There were two well defined methods of transporting logs out of the forest to the mill after they where cut and trimmed. These techniques consisted of the movement of logs to a collecting site and the transportation from the collection site to the mill. Moving logs to the collection site was usually a short distance, before the longer trip from the collection site to the mill was a longer distance.
Skidding logs out of the forest in the early years meant using teams of horses. Large workhorses skidded logs with a rope to the landing site. From the collection site logs were loaded on a cart the size of a small apartment, pulled by workhorses and taken to the river. This work was dangerous and often meant death to many of the horses. If the logs were not loaded properly they would shift and roll on top of the horses. Skidding was also dangerous for horses having to travel over steep slopes to the collection site, logs would most often outrun the horses. To prevent accidents on slopes one end of the log would be attached to the horse while at the other end a cable was winched around a tree at the top of the hill. As the horse descended down the hill the log was slowly released from above. This took a great amount of time until the introduction of skidders. Once logs where brought to the collection site, they were transported to the mill by river or road.
Pole and plank roads where built, allowing for lumber transportation out of the forested area to distant sawmills. Horses where used to haul logs on a sleigh called a slideass, which where hauled down a pole road. Pole Roads where constructed out of logs approximately 6-10 feet apart. These poles where greased with oil in order for the slideass to move smoothly down the track. Men who maintained this job where often refered to as "grease monkeys".
Logging at Shelley on pole roads. Loading a slideass with horses, 1926.
Plank roads where later built after the introduction of the logging truck. These where similar to the pole roads, however boards where nailed down on top of the poles allowing trucks to have a smooth surface to drive on. In the summer, logging trails were muddy and the plank roads allowed for trucks to travel with ease. These roads where not permanent and once one area had been harvested, workers would pack up the road and move it to the next location.
A loaded logging truck on a plank road, Newlands, B.C.
Rivers were another effective way of transporting the logs. During the winter, logs were piled at a landing area until the river thawed. Once the river had thawed, loggers would push the logs into the river where they would be boomed down to the mill site. Floating logs down the river was not easy, log jams and accidents were always around the next corner. Fin Booms where built to direct logs around obstacles such as sand bars, in the river. These where constructed of logs tied together with rope and anchored down to a cement block at the bottom of the river. This device was called a "fin boom" due to the planks of wood inserted in the logs. The adjustable planks acted as "fins" at the right place in the current to guide the logs in a certain direction in the river, to reach the mill site.
Men working on a log boom.
During the boom season, loggers would become "river rats" for the summer. These men patrolled the booms and adjusted the fins when need be. They also kept an eye on logjams and other barriers that may be in the way. Accidents or even death was a negative aspect of this job as men would often fall into the river trying to clear logjams. To keep a steady flow of the logs river rats used peaveys to move the logs along the river. Peaveys where wooden tools made with steel spikes and hooks on the end to roll the logs.
The introduction of the steam engine marked huge changes in the logging industry. The type of steam engine used in logging was the steam donkey. This form of equipment replaced horse teams used to haul large loads of logs from the forest to the landing area. The steam donkey consisted of a steam boiler and engine that connected to a winch. This was then connected to a donkey sled. The donkey moved by dragging itself with a winch line. They were use for transporting fallen trees to a processing area and also for dragging the logs to the river. By the 1930's gas powered machines where replacing the steam donkey and by the 1950's they were fazed out all together.
Man standing beside steam donkey in front of stack of logs.