The Lumbering Process

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Lumbering has four phases: logging, driving, manufacturing, and transport. The details varied depending on whether a homesteader was carving a farm out of a forest, an independent logger was felling and selling logs to a mill, a commercial mill handled the entire process from logging through sales.

Early on, logging was generally limited to the winter months, mid-November through mid-March weather permitting, when horses or oxen could drag felled and trimmed logs and sleighs of logs on snow-covered ground to collection points at the edge of a nearby river, lake, or later a railway stop. With the invention of big wheels, logs could be more easily moved throughout the year.

Driving involved getting logs from a collection point to a sawmill. Early on this generally meant floating logs down a river after the spring thaw, which was a dangerous ride for the men called "river hogs." Later railroads were used to get logs to mills throughout the year much more safely and in locations without rivers and streams.

Manufacturing wood products involved cutting logs into lumber and other wood products. Early on, this might have been as low tech as moving the log over a hole deep enough for a man to stand and then using a two-man saw to cut up and down the length of the log. Where a dependable source of moving water was available, water powered mills made the process more efficient, and just a couple men could produce many more board feet per day. Later steam-powered systems linked to belts could drive a series of saw blades and increase output dramatically.

Transporting wood products involved finding a buyer, taking the products to market, and selling wood products. Small local mills would sell to local people who carried lumber home with them. With improved manufacturing techniques, mills could produce much more lumber than was needed locally, and the excess could be taken to market by sailing ship, steam ship, rail, and eventually trucks.

Process Details

Logging Near Arcadia

Driving Logs to the Mill

Arcadia's Lumbering Railway

Manufacturing Wood Products

Transporting Arcadia's Wood Products

Logging Near Arcadia

“After selection, a chopper used an axe to fell the trees, laying them parallel to a newly cut road. Felling was the most demanding job in terms of skill and precision and made the chopper the “aristocrat” of the camp, sawyers then took over, squaring the butt end and removing the branches with cross-saws. At this point, the tree also might be “bucked” or cut into logs, although some operators waited to buck at the river’s bank.”  -- Barbara E. Benson. 1989. Logs and Lumber: The Development of the Lumber Industry in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, 1837-1870. Page 90.

TeamPullingLog570pxDragging Individual Logs
The man with the axe probably removed branches from the log. The man with the cant hook, Lee Fuller, rolled the log into position. A third man used the team of horses to drag the log through the light snow to a collection point.

LargeTeamPullingLog570pxLogging Teams near Arcadia
Several teams of men and horses are getting ready to pull the logs stacked in the background.

PersonHaulEdit570pxUsing a Sleigh to Move Logs
Lee Fuller and a team of horses use a sleigh to haul logs out of the woods in the winter.

StacksOfLogs570pxStacks of Logs at a Collection Point
This is an area just east of Arcadia. The Lutheran church steeple is just barely visible in the background.

 

 

CantHook100px
Cant Hook
This lever and hook were used to handle logs.

 

LoggingRHullBigWheels570Big Wheels
Using a pair of enlarged wagon wheels, an axle, and chains to lift the logs, they could be moved several at a time even in summer.

Driving Logs to the Mill

Early lumbering was limited to trees along the edge of navigable streams and rivers. In the spring when the snow melted and spring rains swelled waterways, logs that had been piled up nearby were pushed in and directed downstream by men riding the logs. Even with spiked shoes and long pike poles, this was a dangerous job. Logs would roll. Rivers would vary in speed and direction. Obstacles could appear out of nowhere. Logs would get stranded or pile up in log jams. Managing these logs downstream was a job for the fearless athletes of spring, the "river hogs."

RiverHogs570pxRiver Hogs Driving Logs down the River
Armed with a piked pole and spiked shoes, men known as "river hogs" rode logs down river where boats could not go. This was dangerous work. 

When sawmills shared the same waterway, logs were branded with a log mark used to identify the owner. To do that, a hammer with a log mark was used to pound an impression into the end of each log. For example, the Starke Land & Lumber Company used a log mark that consisted of a star containing a letter K or a picture of a key for "star K" or "star key." At the end of a trip downstream, river hogs would use each log's mark to sort logs into each owner's storage area built from logs chained together.

LogMarkingHammer3at570pxThe Head of a Log Marking Hammer
This log hammer was used by the Starke Land & Lumber Company to brand its logs. Note the hole shown at the top for a handle.

Around 1870 Sylas C. Overpack of Manistee began building and selling big wheels like the ones shown here. Initially the wheels were the size of standard wagon wheels, but larger wheels could lift more and bigger logs, so he soon began using wheels ten or twelve feet in diameter. Big wheels made summer logging easier, especially when combined with railroads that could carry logs the rest of the way to the mill.

LogEndwithStarKeyLogo570pxA Marked Log End
This is the end of a log with an impression of a star and K, one of the brands of the Starke Land & Lumber Company. 

LogMark200px
Log Mark Closeup

 

Arcadia's Lumbering Railway

With the advent of narrow gauge railroads, logging became a year round business. No longer did driving involve floating logs down a river in the spring. Instead, logs were piled up next to conveniently located railroad tracks where they could be loaded onto cars and hauled by steam engine to the mill.

In 1881, Henry Starke began construction of a narrow gauge railway used to carry logs to the mill. In 1893, Henry Starke began work on a standard gauge railway that also provided passenger and freight service that could connect to still more standard gauge rails. Arcadia could deliver logs and lumber east to the rest of the world.

ABRR1880s-2At570The Trestle East of Arcadia
This is the Starke Land & Lumber company's narrow gauge railway hauling a load of logs across the trestle probably west toward the mill in Arcadia.

ABRRSteamLoader570pxCrane and Big Wheels
On the left is the big wheels used to bring logs to the collection point near the ABRR railway tracks where a crane loaded them onto railway cars.

 

Manufacturing Wood Products

ABRRStdGauge-1at570pxA Sawmill Out in the Country
Temporary sawmills like this one were often set up at collection points. Note the wagon on the left collecting shorter logs used perhaps for wood burning stoves.

StarkeSawmillFront570pxLogs Delivered to the Starke Sawmill
This photo shows the view looking north at the north end of Lake Arcadia. The logs in the water were carried up the conveyor belt on the left and into the sawmill.

SawmillWorkersEdited570pxSawmill Workers
Larger sawmills employed more people to produce many more board feet.

 

Transporting Arcadia's Wood Products

SSArcadiaArrivingHarbor570pThe Arcadia Approaching the Sawmill
This photo shows the steamer Arcadia in Lake Arcadia heading north toward the Starke sawmill. The Arcadia was a steam barge used by the sawmill primarily to haul lumber to other ports. Note the lumber stacked everywhere along the shoreline. (Click here for more about the Arcadia.)
Postcard Photograph. The L. L. Cook Co., Milwaukee

NeffDockWalloping570pxLoading Lumber onto the Neff
Workmen for the Arcadia Lumber Company add lumber one board at a time to the Syndey O. Neff, a steam barge similar to the Arcadia. This is the shore of Lake Arcadia near "the point" looking north to the Arcadia Furniture Company in the background. 

NeffEdited570pxThe Neff without Lumber
The Neff was built in 1890 in Manitowoc as a schooner-barge. It was converted to bulk freighter in 1896. Details: Propellor driven. Wood. 150x30x10ft. 347 gross tons. In 1940 she sprang a leak at the mouth of the Menominee River in Menominee, MI, sank, and was abandoned there. (Click here for another view of the Neff.)

ABRRStdGauge-12at570pxLogs on Railway Cars
These Arcadia & Betsey River Railway (A&BRR) flat cars have logs waiting for the sawmill.

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