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Logging In The Past


Becky Stewart


The stories of logging date back from the 1800's to thepresent. Many men have been involved in the "lumber age." It dealswith people whose names have been forgotten but whose labor and skills wereessential.

Logging was done where there were bountiful forests whichheld quality lumber. Also it was essential to be located near a river orlake, so that in the spring the logs, which had been cut and then hauledonto the lake during the winter, floated down the river or lake to the variouspoints awaiting them.

Many men in our community were involved in the lumber industryduring the early 1900's. In the winter, after the fall work was completed,they hired themselves out to companies or homesteaders and to the lumbercamps. Some also hired out their horses and teams to the logging companies.They left about the middle of December and returned usually around March10. They usually boarded the train at Noyes and were then transported tothe various lumber camps.

The logging camps consisted primarily of a store, one ortwo bunkhouses which housed as many as eighty to ninety men each, and thecookhouse, where the cooks prepared the familiar pork and beans, flapjacksand molasses, biscuits, meat and potatoes, when available, and other foodsthat hungry hard working men ate.

After working hard all day, from dawn to dark, the menhad little ambition or zest left in them when evening came. The eveningswere usually spent by the men not doing more than smoking their pipes orchewing tobacco. Sometimes fiddles and accordions supplied the music forstag dances and singing. The days experiences were also told among the men.

As a rule no liquor was permitted in the camps, but aftera season in the woods and getting paid, they often wandered into the nearby town and made up for the drought of the camps.

Lumbering meant an open life of rigorous work. Wages werenot set definitely, but there was some kind of system developed. If youhad a contract, and wanted to be paid by the month, during the early 1900'syou received about thirty dollars for the entire month. If you were paidby the amount of work you did, your pay depended upon the kind of work youdid.

You received approximately ten cents for cutting a tie,and another ten cents if you hauled it from the woods to the lake. Onlyone trip a day could be made, but one man could haul about one hundred tieswith a four horse team. The distance from the woods to the lake was aboutten miles each way. Tamarack was usually used for ties, because of its sturdiness,but there were also a few cedar trees used. Cedar trees were used extensivelyfor posts. They received about one half cent for each cut post, and anotherone and half cents each for hauling the posts to the lake. One trip a daycould be made, but a man could haul up to six hundred posts with a four-horseteam.

If a farmer had his horses hired out, he received betweenone and two dollars a day for each horse. It depended upon the strengthand sturdiness of the team.

The lumber jacks were identified with names which pertainedto the type of work they did. "Choppers" cut the trees,"Swampers"stripped the branches, and it was the duty of the "Barkers" toslash off the bark from one side of the tree so that it would slide easily.

When crosscut saws were used, the logs were measured outand cut at once; and they were carefully labeled with a company mark. Usinga heavy stamp hammer, a lumber jack would drive a raised pattern into eachend of every log and also make an imprint on the bark. This producedan identification which was unmistakable. Crosses, letters, figures andother curious marks appeared. It is interesting to know that twenty thousanddifferent log brands have been recorded in Minnesota's archives.

Logging sleighs were heavily built. They were usually madeof oak. The runners were from two to two and half inches wide. The bodyof the sled was about four feet wide, and ranged from fourteen to twentyfeet long. The length could be varied by shortening or lengthen-ing thechains which held the bobs together.

The logging roads also had to be taken care of by the lumberjacks. They required much attention, and work began on them early in thefall. Ruts three to six inches deep and somewhat wider than the runnersserved to hold the sled in place on the road. The road had to be sprinkled,sometimes every day, and the ruts often had to be cut out two or three timesa week. If the ruts were cut in the snow, a depth of eight to twelve incheswas required, and such ruts were later built up with ice. If the runnersever got out of the ruts, the whole sled would tip, turning over a wholedays work.

There were many accidents in the woods. Broken legs, cuts,men crushed under heavy loads of logs or by falling trees, were very common.An experience told to me by my grandfather, is one which could have beenvery serious. Inexperienced in cutting the trees, grandfather misjudgedthe height of the tree and when he cut it, a four horse team was standingon the lumbering road being loaded, and the tree fell towards the road,instead of away from it and it fell directly in front of the lead horses,which might have resulted in instant death if it would have fallen any closer.

Experienced log men could cut trees so that they fell inthe direction they wanted. This was done by cutting a tree low, a certaindepth on the side you wanted it to fall. Then it was cut or sawed on theopposite side a little higher and then adjusted to the fall wanted by drivingwedges on the sawed sides. If the tree was too long, the top was cut sothat when it fell it wouldn't split the whole tree.

If the men stayed on through the spring, they helped sortthe logs, according to the marks on them, on the rivers. Sorting the logswas a big job, because of the many different kinds of marks. The boom servedto catch and to hold the floating logs. It was made of logs fastened securelytogether end to end. These long chains of logs were anchored firmly to eachbank of the river. Although the boom was built to withstand the pressureand pounding of the logs, it sometimes broke. There were also sometimeslog jams. Lumber men had to know how to "ride" the logs, and controltheir spinning to search out key logs for the release.

The lumber industry has changed from manpower to oxpowerand horses, to the use of bigger and better machines. Lumbering is likea pageant that has passed by but is vivid in recollection. It constitutes,with its triumphs and tragedies, a significant part of the State and nationalexperience.

(1) Blegen, C. Theodore Minnesota A History of the State1963


Encyclopedia Britanica William Benton, Publisher 1966 Vol.14 pg. 412

Blegen, Theodore C. Minnesota A History of the State 1963pg. 315-337

Wilson, Howard Resident of St.Vincent, Minnesota

Stewart, Hilson, Resident of Humboldt, Minnesota

North Star of Minnesota Schilmn & Schaumn pg. 150-155

Hilson, Resident of Humboldt, Minnesota

North Star of Minnesota Schilmn & Schaumn pg. 150-155