AT THE END OF 19TH CENTURY, MOUNTAIN LUMBERING WAS DONE BY MAN, ANIMALS WITHOUT MACHINES
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Mountain lumbering during the end of the 19th century was performed with little mechanical engineering, as it was done by man and his animals. Location of the timber meant little or nothing to the skill of the mountain lumberjack. He would evaluate the forest, hill, vale and mountainside and put his dexterity to work.
While taking logs down mountainsides, various methods were used, all according to the circumstances. Sometimes the men constructed dry segments, which reached from the upper edge of a cliff or a rock edge to the base of a hill. The method used was by laying large poles or trunks of straight trees together the whole distance. This was so constructed as to keep the log from running off the sides.
Logs were rolled into the upper end, the descent or dip often being very steep. The log would then pass on with lightning-like velocity, and in the wintertime, burying itself in snow and leaves below. The roughness of the surfaces caused the friction to be very great, causing the bark and smoke to fly profusely.
During this time of the year, many times, when the descent was more gradual, and not too steep, and when there was not an adequate supply of logs to pay the expense of a slice-way, a large tree was felled, the top trimmed out, the largest limbs subsequently being cut off approximately a foot from the trunk. This was attached to the end of the log by strong chains, and as the oxen pulled the load, its undersized limbs were thrust into the snow and frozen ground. This feat prevents the load from forcing the oxen teams forward too quickly. Should the chain give way, which attaches the hold-back to the load, nothing could save the teams from sudden devastation.
To acquire logs in such hazardous locations was truly dangerous as well as difficult. It was indeed a dazzling display to witness the descent of these massive logs, breaking and quaking whatever might hinder their erratic plunge down the steep mountainside, making the mountains echo and ring with the concussion.
In other instances loads were eased down hillsides by the use of "tackle and fall," or by taking a bite around a tree, and hitching to one yoke of the oxen. In this method the load is tailed down steep settings where it would be impossible for the lead oxen to resist the pressure of the load. Sometimes when the whole load is propelled downward the poor oxen are subjected to a horrible death.
After the immense trees are finally on level ground, the atrocious road is repaired. New skids are peeled by hewing the bark of the trees smoothly and laid along the road. All needful repairs are made on the bobsled, which positioned the team in challenging difficulties. Trees intended for the big load were carefully prepared, and hauled to some fitting place on the main road where they are reloaded, putting on two and sometimes three large trees. With everything in readiness, the men followed up with handspikes and long levers. And then comes the tug of war. The entire load is moved forward, necessitating every ounce of strength, both from men and oxen united, to perform the feat of getting it to the landing.
Logging roads were generally laid out with due regard to the conveniences of level or gently descending ground. But in some instances the unevenness of the country exhibited adverse options. Sometimes there were moderate increases to ascend or descend on the way to the landing.
Every lumberjack carefully watches his oxen. He sees that each animal is performing his duty in urging forward the laboring sled. He examines every hoof, the clatter of shoes, to detect any lameness. He observes every part and joint of the bobsled while it shrieks along under the gigantic log bound to it. He examines the chains, and above all, the ful-hook and the dog-hook, the former that it does not work out, the latter that it does not lose its grappling hold upon the tree. There is really too much to be looked after in his passage to the landing to allow much boredom or leisure.
However, after his load is sold and on his return home, the mountaineer lumberjack exhibits relaxation and comfort in his surroundings. The hanging, jingling chains conduct a constant chorus as they trail along the hard-beaten path. With his staff under his arm, he leisurely walks along, thinking as he goes, releasing from his mouth the twisting smoke from his reliable pipe, which resembles a walking chimney. He strides steadily along whistling, humming, or sometimes discharging through his fully-toned voice the words of a familiar song, or perhaps a tune that has yet to be revealed. And so, this gentleman of the past has helped make our Country what it is today, a "great Nation of the free."
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