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Lesson Plans
Log Transportation

Log Transportation

Grade Level

  • Grade 11 & 12

Main Idea

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.

Subjects Covered

  • English Language Arts 11 & 12
  • Social Studies 11
  • History 12


Students will be able to describe:

  • Different techniques used to process and transport logs.
  • The importance of river systems.
  • Different jobs in logging operations.

Teacher Notes

No prior knowledge of log transportation is needed to successfully deliver this lesson plan.


  • "Log Transportation" handout
  • "Log Transportation Assignment" handout
  • "Group Discussion Photo" handout
  • Pencils/Pens


Steam Donkey
A machine that created the steam that powered winches.
River Rat
Men who patrolled fin booms in the river
Fin Boom
directs logs in a river
Pole Road
Road constructed of logs
A resin derived from the sap of various coniferous trees, as the pines.
Plank Road
Road constructed of logs and lumber
Men who would chop down trees.
Men who could square logs.


  1. Divide class in groups of 3 or 4 and distribute "Group Discussion Photo" handout to each group.
    1. Allow 10 minutes for each group analyze their thoughts of the photo.
  2. After 10 minutes have a member from each group explain to the class their findings.
  3. Once all groups have presented their findings, distribute "Log Transportation" handout to each student.
    1. Have each student skim over the reading.
  4. Ask class if their thoughts of the photo have changed after skimming over the reading.
    1. How
    2. What further information can they provide regarding the photo.
  5. Discuss with class which techniques of log transportation they think are more efficient and why?
  6. Have students choose one of the following two questions from the "Log Transportation Assignment" Handout to write a 500 word essay on


Bernsohn, Ken. Cutting up the North. Vancouver: Hancock House Publishers, 1983.

The Exploration Place.

Group Discussion Photo


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.

Log Transportation Assignment

Choose 1 topic below to report on.

  1. Choose one technological change that allowed for the easy removal of logs from the forest and write a 500 to 700 word essay on the topic. Include pictures and diagrams.
    1. Steam engine
    2. Gas
  2. Choose a technique used to transport logs and write a 500 to 700 word essay describing the importance, uses, construction, benefits and drawbacks of the system. Include pictures and diagrams.
    1. Plank Road
    2. Pole Road
    3. Horses
    4. Rivers
    5. Skidding

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