Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Michigan Logging Photos

Most of the year, I spend giving presentations on science topics, but during the Winter I switch gears for a couple of months and do a lot of history programs.  One of those programs is about the history of logging White Pine in Michigan (and other Great Lakes states).   This is one of my favorite programs.  Over the past couple of years I have amassed a collection of logging tools, photo postcards, and photographs.  I have shared a few images in the past in three posts.

     Days Gone By - Logging Photos

     Logging Tools Part 1 - Axe and Saw

     Anatomy of an Axe

Here are a few more photographs from my collection. Each of these photos shows logging operations somewhere in mid-Michigan.

This first image shows a group of "river hogs".  River hogs would accompany the logs down the river during the spring log drives to prevent and clear logjams.  Information on the back of this photo identifies the location as the Sugar River in northern Gladwin County.  This was one of the last years that logs were run down the rivers in mid-Michigan.

River hogs on the Sugar River, Gladwin County, MI - 1906

While river drives were conducted in the spring to take advantage of high water levels, the majority of logging operations were conducted during the winter months.  This photo shows a group of "shanty boys" under typical working conditions.  Logging was conducted mainly in winter for a number of reasons.  First, it was much easier to transport logs by sleigh over ice and snow than it would be to use a wagon over rough uneven terrain.  Second, logs cut during the winter contained much less sap than they would during the warmer month and therefore did not gum up saws and other equipment, making them easier to cut.  This image was taken in 1880 at a lumber camp owned by Eddy, Avery & Co. north of Farwell, MI.  Eddy, Avery & Co. was one of the big lumber firms based out of Bay City from the 1860s to the 1880s.

Logging Crew, Clare County, MI - 1880
The next photograph shows a group of shanties from which the shanty boys derived their name.  This would have been home for about 6 month out of the year - from fall until the spring river drives.  Although these shanties were constructed of logs, they were only meant to last as long as the surrounding pines stood.  When the local pines had been cut down the logging camps were usually abandoned.  They definitely lacked the creature comforts that people expect to find in log homes today.  This photo is also from the area north of Farwell in Clare County and also dates from the 1880s.

Logging camp shanties, Clare County, MI - circa 1880

Logging in the winter offered both advantages and challenges to the loggers.  After logs were cut, they were transported using horse-drawn sleighs.  The constant horse and sleigh traffic broke down the surface of the icy roads over which they traveled.  As the road surface deteriorated, the sleighs became less efficient and the horses had to work harder to do the same amount of work.  In order to keep the road surface usable, the reads would be resurfaced nightly.  A special sleigh called a "sprinkler" was used for this purpose.  The sprinkler consisted of a wooden box mounted on sleigh runners.  This box was filled with water.  As the sprinkler ran down the road a pair of pins would be pulled out allowing the water to run out as a thin layer on the road's surface.  This photo was taken in the same area of Clare County and dates to 1885.

Loading the sprinkler, Clare County, MI - 1885

The iced roads allowed for the easy transport of large loads of logs from the woods to the riverbanks where they would be stored until the spring floods  The sleighs used for transporting logs consisted of two pairs of runners (front and rear) connected together, with a pair of horizontal "bunks" on which the logs would be stacked.  A group of shanty boys known as "top loaders" were responsible for loading the sleighs.  The top loaders were experts at using one of the indispensable pieces of logging equipment - the cant hook.  The cant hook consists of a long wooded handle (used as a lever) with a flat metal tip and a moveable hook known as a "dog".  This tool was used by the expert top loaders for lifting, turning, and rolling logs onto the sleighs.  As the logs were loaded onto the sleigh, they were chained in place so that they would not roll off during transport.  The photograph below is from 1885 and again was taken in Clare County.  It shows a group of top loaders, with their cant hooks, seated atop a loaded sleigh while a teamster, with the reins in his hands, stands beside the sleigh.

A typical sleigh load, Clare County, MI - 1885

After the sleighs were loaded, the teamsters were responsible for delivering the logs to the banking grounds beside the river.  Each teamster typically owned the team of horses that he worked with.  In the photo below, the teamsters can be seen riding in their typical positions atop the loaded sleighs.    over the course of a day, each teamster would make several trips from the skidway (where the logs were loaded atop the sleighs) to the banking grounds.  As the logging moved further from the river the number of trips that each team could make was reduced.  This photo also shows how the heavily forested areas would look after they had been logged over.

Five loads of logs, near Farwell, MI - circa 1885

Eventually, in many areas the easily harvested logs were gone.  The lumber companies constantly sought ways to harvest the tress that were further from the river.  Once a certain distance from the river was reached, horse-drawn sleighs ceased to be an economically viable - they would be unable to complete enough trips during the course of the day.  Eventually, logging companies sought solutions through technology.  In 1877 a light rail line was constructed near Farwell, MI.  This was widely recognized as the first logging railroad in the world.  The small size of this train can be seen by the man standing atop the first car of logs.

World's first "logging railroad", Farwell, MI - 1877

Even with the use of trains, lumber camps still required large numbers of horses to skid the logs from where they were cut down to the train tracks.  The photo below shows a camp near Farwell in 1878, just one year after the train was introduced.  This image shows a large, well organized camp with lots of men and lots of horses.

Lumber camp near Farwell, MI - 1878

The demand for logs was so great that solutions were sought to allow logging during the summer months.  Sleighs could not be used for the obvious reason - lack of snow.  Wagons were also impractical; they were too small and could not handle the rough terrain and heavy loads.  Just dragging the logs over the ground on sledges was also a poor solution.  The answer to summer logging was found in the "Big Wheels".  The big wheels were invented in 1875 in Manistee, MI by a wheelwright named Silas Overpack.

Big wheels consisted of a pair of 9 -10 foot diameter spoked wooden wheels connected by a hardwood axle and a 16 foot long tongue.  Logs were chained beneath the axle and when the tongue was pulled down they were lifted up off the ground.  This allowed the logs to clear the stumps and rough ground of the forest floor.  Logs of 20 to 30 feet could be lifted entire and the front end of logs of up to 100 feet could be lifted, allowing them to be skidded over the ground.  This innovation accelerated the pace of logging in Michigan.  By the mid-1880s they were in common use throughout northern Michigan and rapidly expanded into the the other white pine states and to the Pacific Northwest. 

The photo below dates to around 1910 and was taken near Stanton, MI.  The condition of the formerly forested terrain can be seen behind and around the big wheels.  By the 1920s much of Michigan had been completely deforested and the logging industry had moved westward seeking new stands of timber.

"Big Wheels near Stanton, MI - circa 1910

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