Headline Fodder

ARTHUR LOWE November 15 1927

Headline Fodder

ARTHUR LOWE November 15 1927

Headline Fodder


IT'S my favorite view," said Doc Campbell, as he piloted me towards his office window and printed to the river below and the forests beyond. "That's where it all begins.”

A bunch of lumberjacks were poling logs towards the conveyor chute. They moved along the swaying boom with clumsy agility, guiding the sixteen foot lengths of spruce and balsam towards the mill. Very faintly we could hear the click-click of their iron pointed poles being driven into the water-logged lumber. Soon that same lumber would be leaving the mill again— in rolls of paper five miles long.

But Doc Campbell was wrong when he said it all began out there. It began in the laboratory of a chemist like himself; it began with a microscope and a test tube and some slivers of wood And now it is Canada’3 second largest industry, producing more wealth in a year than the gold and silver mines of the Dominion produce in a decade.

About the mining of precious metals there is both glamor and romance. A gold rush stirs the imagination of the most unimaginative, for it suggests adventure, hardship and wealth. The business of paper-making is more prosaic—and yet for those whose b it is to turn trees into newsprint there is romance and a i venture aplenty.

It was Doc Campbell who first explained the romance of the industry to me. Doc is research director for the Arntibi Paper Company and on the subject of paper he is almost fanatical. He began to study the subject as a youth in Glasgow and he passed from university to dversity equipped with nothing save a Scotch accent an d a thirst for knowledge. To-day he is recognized as an expe-t in his chosen field. He knows paper.

"If ye really want to ken something aboot papermnk'.rg.' said Doc, rolling his r's magnificently, “ye will go out and absorb the atmosphere. Take a look at the go yonder into the woods and see the camps—and when ye come back I’ll explain the workings of it a’.” The Abitibi Mills at Iroquois Falls might have been designed by a member of the Group of Seven. Certainly if they are ever painted by one of the Group the resultant picture will be labelled Canada, for in their stark immen-

sity they typify the spirit of a race. The huge buildings of blurred grey concrete are silhouetted against rugged hills upon which a handful of settlers have seared out their farms. Below the factory flows the sullen Abitibi, harnessed to provide power for the throbbing machines. Away on the right loom tremendous piles of pulpwood —so immense that the sixteen foot lengths of timber look no bigger than match-sticks. And as if to interpret the scene there comes the unceasing roar of man-made machines challenging Nature to a race.

It is difficult to realize that the mills came into being bit by bit. It would be easier to think that the same omnipotent hand which raised the hills and the forests created a factory, too, ready for man’s occupancy. But puny man dammed the river and hauled in his turbines; he blasted away the rock and built the factory: he

erected machines a thousand times mightier than himself, and he has hewn down a forest kingdom merely to supply one of his least important needs.

Absorbing the atmosphere at Abitibi is not a tedious business. The mill itself, even from afar off, is interesting, but so, too, is the town of Iroquois Falls which has grown up about the mill. It is frequently described as a model town, and so it is if ‘model’ is used in its happiest connotation, as a pattern for others to follow to obtain more pleasing effects. It is not a town in which streets, lawns and houses are laid out with mathematical precision. Instead, there are winding streets, irregular

lawns, fascinating stucco houses with long pitched sloping roofs, and pleasant copses of dogwood and mountain maple and flowering shrubs. And it is a frontier town, less than thirty miles from the end of the steel.

To the north and south lie the timber limits of the Abitibi Pulp and Paper Company, straddling the transcontinental railway from the Quebec border to Cochrane. The total area of the limits is 4,500 square miles — approximately the size of Portugal. Practically the whole territory is densely wooded with balsam and spruce and the work of reforestation is in progress in those areas which have been cut over. From the factory at Iroquois Falls a logging railway runs north for twenty-six miles with spur lines branching out to the various camps.

Each year the Abitibi Paper Company produces enough newsprint to make two billion newspapers

The business of supplying a paper mill with lumber is no simple matter. An organization is required, comparable in many ways with the transport service of an army. Communication must be maintained between the front line and the base; camps must be supplied with food and careful generalship must be exercised in getting out the timber.

Actual lumbering operations begin in the late Fall, but there is activity in the camps throughout the summer. Forestry engineers cruise the limits and map out the areas to be cut; contractors start the erection of their camps; fire rangers keep their lonely vigil perched at the top of spidery observation towers; spur lines are built to new camps and a hundred and one other jobs are completed ready for the winter advance of the lumberjacks.

The magnitude of the lumbering operations can best be appreciated when told in figures. The average daily production of paper in the Abitibi Mills exceeds 550 tons and the average daily consumption of pulpwood is between six and seven hundred cords.

In well timbered country, seven cords to the acre is considered fair cutting so that for every day of the year a hundred acres of forest must be laid bare to keep this one mill in operation. A hundred acres of forest—in terms of cut lumber—is a pyramid a hundred feet high and approximately a hundred feet at the base.

The visitor to Iroquois Falls is able to visualize the daily consumption of timber even more graphically. Not far from the mill a massive crane chugs to and fro alongside the river swinging logs from the giant piles on the banks into the stream. It is a curious crane with mighty jaws of steel and from the distance it looks not unlike one of those antediluvian monsters which once roamed the northern marshes. It operates in simple fashion.

The huge head burrows into the pile; the jaws scrunch together; there is the scream of running tackle, and it swings streamward, its maw filled with logs.

Although the pulp and paper companies own extensive limits, and operate

the logging railways and camps, the actual business of cutting and hauling the timber almost invariably is done by contract. Why this should be so is a mystery—but it is a mystery the contractors do not worry about. The arrangement usually proves an extremely profitable one for them.

“Sure, I reckon this year I makka da plenty mon’,” said one such contractor as he showed me about his camp. “I figure this year I sell in da store 'leben, twelve thousan’ dollars’ worth da goods .

The Italian, I learned, had secured a contract from the company to cut sixty thousand cords of wood at a price per cord which he estimated would show him a fair profit. In addition he had undertaken to erect a camp, supply the lumberjacks with food and conduct a store for their benefit—and his own. Actually, he intended to cut no wood at all. That part of the job would be let out in turn—at a profit—tosub-contractors. These same sub-contractors would pay him, in addition, one dollar a day for each of their men to cover the cost of food. But it was from the store the Italian hoped to reap his richest harvest. Tobacco, shirts, mackinaws, four point blankets, boots, socks—“Sure, I sell 'em cheap and I makka da plenty mon’.”

The camp, consisting of a mess room, a bunk house, an office and a pig pen, was nearly ready for occupancy. The pig pen was occupied, in fact, by thirty squealing porkers. “Coupla hundred men leave over plenty food for da pigs," the contractor explained.

The camp itself was set in a moss covered clearing sheltered by jack pines. Through the trees on one side could be seen the shimmer of a lake: on the other three sides there was dense forest—eerily still. About the buildings of new sawn wood there was nothing beautiful; they looked as incongruous as screaming billboards set in the middle of a beautiful glen—but in spite of their ugliness there was some thing friendly about them. Soon they would be echoing with shouts and laughter and the tramp of

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feet; there would be snow piled on the roofs and snow banked against the raw sides. They would become part of the landscape.

“When cutting begins in this sector,” the Chief Forestry Engineer told me, “the pulpwood will be hauled to the railroad. The contractors will need about twenty teams of horses to handle the sixty thousand cords. Before being shipped the branches will be lopped off and the trees themselves will be cut into lengths of approximately sixteen feet.”

In spite of tremendous quantities of timber available the forestry department is always concerned with the conservation of supply. No matter how elaborate the safeguards there is always the possibility of a disastrous fire sweeping away thousands of acres of forest. Every year, too, hundreds of trees are destroyed by insect pests.

The methods of conservation and development are various. Tracts of muskeg are drained and thus thousands of stunted trees are brought to commercial size. Pestology experts devise new ways of fighting tree diseases. Millions of new trees are planted in areas which have been cut over and exploration parties are continually prospecting for new timber stands in the north.

Among the majority of people there exists an impression that the Dominion’s timber supply is inexhaustible. When confronted with facts and figures they point vaguely to Northern Ontario and Quebec—“But look,” they say. “All that is virgin country. We haven’t begun to tap our timber resources yet.”

But the men who have explored the north country know how false this opinion is. The timber belt extends no more than fifty miles north of the transcontinental railway. Beyond that the only stands of commercial value are confined to the river basins. For the most part the country is covered with scrub and stunted trees.

Although companies such as Abitibi lease vast limits a good deal of the lumber used is secured from settlers. The value of the paper industry to agriculture in the north can hardly be overestimated, for, in purchasing thousands of cords of pulpwood, the mills enable settlers to earn money while clearing their land. Every year the Abitibi company alone spends ^ver a million dollars for pulpwood,

exclusive of that cut on the limits. The expenditure of this sum enables at least two thousand farmers to establish themselves every year.

Pigs and Paper

Y\7"ELL,” said Doc. Campbell, after I ’ * had spent two days absorbing atmosphere, “have ye found a background for your story yet. Do you ken anything aboot papermaking?”

“Very little,” I told him, “but I’ve discovered that pigs are a by-product

He nodded appreciatively. “There’s vairry little goes to waste. But do you ken anything aboot the theory of papermaking?”

I shook my head.

“Then we’ll start with a tree,” he said. “A tree is composed of tiny hair-like fibres joined together by a cementing material called lignin. These fibres, aboot a tenth of an inch long, are composed of a substance called cellulose—and cellulose is vairry wonderful stuff.

“The problem of the paper-maker is to separate the cellulose fibres from the cementing material. This can be done in two ways—by mechanical means and by a chemical process. And noo,” he concluded rising from his chair with the satisfied air of a professor who has succeeded at last in impressing an idea upon the brain of a particularly dull pupil, "we’ll awa’ to the mill and ye can see the twa.”

We passed along water-splashed corridors, by whirring machines, down steps, and at last we came abruptly to the end— or beginning—of the mill. We emerged upon a gallery high above the river.

Down below us we could see the concrete dam which checks the flow of the water. We could see, too, stretching endlessly down the river, the sixteen foot lengths of spruce and balsam imprisoned by the boom. Near us we could hear the crank of the conveyor chute carrying the logs up into the mill.

The conveyor, an endless platform pitched at an angle of forty-five degrees, is very similar to the escalator in a store. Arranged across it are steel teeth and the logs are fed upon it horizontally. At the top of the chute the logs, held firm by the teeth, are forced against revolving saws and cut into four foot lengths. These lengths then pass along to huge barking drums to be stripped of bark.

Doc led the way down a narrow staircase and we came out at the top of the chute. Looking out we could see the endless chain of logs tapering away to the river and moving up towards us with the speed of a trotting horse. In the doorway a man stood, ever on the alert, straightening out the timber for the saws. In his hands he held a logging pole, poised like a spear. Now and then he would jab it forward and with a turn of the wrist swing a log straight with the teeth.

This first process in the manufacture of paper is a noisy one. The circular saws screech incessantly, drowning even the rattle of the steel conveyor. Above the din can be heard the crash of logs being hurled against each other in the drum barkers.

The drum barker is a large, revolving, fabricated steel drum made up of angle irons and bars and it is inclined slightly along its axis. The logs are fed in slowly at the upper axis of the drum, and as it revolves they are tossed against each other and the bark is removed by abrasion. Because the steel drum is inclined, the wood gradually works itself to the lower end, which is half open, and through this opening is discharged out into a canal, where it is washed with water. When the wood has been washed free of loosely adhering bark, it finally is removed from the canal by means of a conveyor.

After their terrific pounding the logs gleam like new peeled sticks and the possibility of any bark escaping into the machines seems remote. No chances are taken, however, and men stand alongside the conveyor watching for logs to which bark is still adhering. These logs are returned at once to the drum barkers.

The bulk of the pulpwood passes along the conveyor to a proportioning point. Two-thirds go into the groundwood mill and the remaining third is diverted to the sulphite mill.

Doc pointed to the parting of the ways. A man with the back and biceps of a prize fighter was hauling off one log in every three from the conveyor and placing it upon a second conveyor beneath.

“As I was aboot to tell ye,” Doc roared above the din, “we use the twa kinds of pulp in the manufacture of newsprint. Groundwood pulp alone would make brittle paper and sulphite pulp alone

would be too expensive for the pairpose. So we mix the twa. The logs yon man is pulling off are for the sulphite mill. Three quarters of the pulp used is groundwood and we’ll watch that being made fairst.”

The logs designated for the groundwood mill are discharged by the conveyor into storage tanks arranged lengthwise along a corridor-like room immediately above the grinders. It is a room of mysterious echoes; a dark room through which men prowl silently, guiding here and there the ceaseless stream of trees into the countless bins. An acre of forest vanished as we watched.

Down below the storage bins we came to the grinder room. It was difficult at first to see what was happening, for the air was thick with steam and the workmen moving to and fro in the mist seemed as unreal as shadows. Doc tried to explain but his voice was lost in the crescendo screech of whirring wheels.

The grinders are very similar to huge sand stones and they are driven round by turbines at a speed of 245 revolutions a minute. Enclosing each stone there is a steel structure provided with three boxes into which the logs are fed. One side of each box is closed by the surface of the stone itself and on the other side a piston ram presses the wood in the box against the surface of the revolving stone. In this fashion the fibres in the wood are separated and groundwood pulp falls off the stone.

At Abitibi there are over a score of grinders in constant operation. The room in which they are situated reverberates with noise and the air is filled with the unforgettable smell of wet sawdust. Windows, floors, belts, walls, even the men themselves, are liberally besmattered with yellowish pulp.

As we stood looking at the grinders there came a deafening crash as a jammed log was forced relentlessly against the stone. The crash was followed by the splutter of flying pulp and I looked down to find my clothes splashed with white. Doc nudged my shoulder and peeled off a circular flake. “Paper—already,” he

shouted. “You see it’s vairry simple.”

The pulp which falls off the grinders contains large and small slivers. To eliminate these it is thinned down with water and discharged by gravity into a sliver screen. These sliver screens are large, vibrating, perforated cradles, in which are revolving scrapers. The small fibres pass through the holes at the bottom of the cradle and the revolving scrapers force the slivers over the sides to be washed away by a stream of water. The pulp itself is pumped into the wet room where it is further refined to eliminate the small slivers and knots. When this process of refinement is finished the pulp is ready for the papermaking machine.

“So much for groundwood pulp,” said Doc. “It’s the most important but the least interesting part of our work. We’ll go awa’ back to the proportioning point and look at yon logs for the sulphite mill.”

So This Is Sulphite

'T'HE logs f°r the sulphite mill, diverted from the conveyor after passing through the drum barkers, are taken to a machine which reduces them to chips, half an inch long and three or four inches wide. Beyond this machine there are wire net screens through which the chips are sorted.

Compared with the rest of the mill there appears to be something almost soothing about this section of the factory. It is dimly lit, and rather dirty in a friendly sort of way. It contains no aggressively modern machines pei forming mysterious jobs at a furious rate. Indeed, there is only one machine and that merely whittles away wood in a leisurely fashion. For the rest there are flapping belts, dusty flywheels, chips and sawdust.

The chips are sorted into three grades. Those of correct size pass at once to the

sulphite mill. The tailings are carried away to the steam plant where they are burned in the furnaces and oversize chips are crushed before being converted into sulphite pulp.

The sulphite mill is Doc Campbell’s particular pet—mainly because it furnishes him with most of his problems. There’s waste in the manufacture of sulphite, and Doc abhors waste. He spends sleepless nights thinking of ways and means to avoid it. Eventually, of course, he will succeed and a few thousand acres of forest will be saved in consequence—or else newspapers will be sold at a cent apiece.

The first section of the sulphite mill resembles a chemical factory rather than a place for the manufacture of pulp. To the conscience stricken it might even suggest a foretaste of the hereafter, for it is a gloomy building, lit by crackling blue flames, and filled with the pungent fumes of burning sulphur.

“In yon retorts,” said Doc, pointing to three boiler-like contraptions, “we make sulphurous acid by burning sulphur and collecting the gas caused by combustion.”

He shouted something unintelligible in the general direction of the retorts and from the shadows appeared a stoker, stripped to the waist and glistening with sweat. The stoker threw open one of the retort doors and immediately a gust of intense heat swept out into the room accompanied by a suffocating smell. Looking through the door I could see a blazing mass of molten sulphur. The stoker shovelled in some more of the glistening fuel from an immense heap behind him and slammed the door shut.

“The fumes from the burning sulphur pass through these pipes into the Jansen towers outside,” Doc continued. He moved to the door and pointed to the concrete towers, which looked, for all the world like bulbous chimneys. “The Jansen towers are packed with limestone over which water is trickling. The gas combines with the water and forms an acid which eats into the rock and a substance known chemically as calcium bisulphite is formed. It is this substance which combines with the lignin in the wood to form a compound soluble in water.”

After being reduced to chips the wood destined for the sulphite mill is delivered to huge chip tanks located immediately above great vertical boilers, eighty feet high. Doc led the way up flight after flight of wooden steps and we came at last to the tanks. Beneath our feet were the boilers containing acid and steam at a pressure of 150 pounds to the square inch. At one end of the room a man sat watching a board upon which were arranged indicators and gauges. Suddenly he swung round in his chair and shouted an order. Two men who had been sitting on an upturned box sprang to their feet and dashed to a valve immediately above one of the boilers. Together, as though not a second could be wasted, they began to turn an iron wheel.

“Is there too much pressure in the boilers?” I asked Doc, as I began to edge hastily towards the stairs.

“No,” he said. “They’re just filling one of the boilers with chips. We’ll gang across and see it.”

The two men had opened a valve in the chip tank above the boiler and we could see the chips rushing down to the black cavern beneath. Presently there was another shout and with frenzied haste they closed the valve.

“These boilers,” said Doc, “are lined with acid proof bricks. Every nine hours they are filled with chips and cooking acid. The mixture is heated by steam to a temperature of 365 degrees Fahrenheit at a pressure of 150 pounds. After being thoroughly cooked the liquid containing the lignin is drained away and the pulp discharged in a circular tank, underneath, where it is washed. Knots and slivers are emoved by passing the pulp through

screens and it is then ready to be mixed with groundwood pulp for the manufacture of newsprint.”

“But in the manufacture of sulphite there’s a terrible waste,” Doc continued with a mournful sigh. “For every three tons of wood used we get less than two tons of pulp. Ye ken the lignin is completely wasted, it just flows into yon river.”

“Cannot you find a use for it?” I asked hopefully.

Doc’s eyes brightened. “It has been used for cementing briquettes and for spraying roads, but that does not pay for recovery. Some day, perhaps, a commercial use for it will be found, but in the meantime it’s a sore waste.”

It is about the only thing that is wasted | at Abitibi, however. Slivers and knots ! recovered in refining the pulp are used for the manufacture of wrapping paper. Sawdust and tailings are used in the furnaces to produce steam. Even the water which passes through the mill each day is weighed and analyzed so that no appreciable quantity of pulp can_ pass unchecked into the river.

Headline Stock

"pROM the sulphite mill we wended our

way to the papermaking department— and here it is that the power of the industry is typified. I stood in the doorway and listened to the roar of the mammoth machines—a full-throated roar like the grind of a hundred presses rolled into one. Near us we could see a sheet of pulp moving so quickly that it looked like a white blur. Above our heads water hissed from j a hundred faucets. Away in the distance j there was a maze of wheels and fans and flying belts, and winding through the maze there was paper—paper traveling at the speed of a galloping horse.

Before passing along to the papermaking machines the pulp is mixed together in the proportion of twenty-five per cent, sulphite and seventy-five per cent, groundwood. To this mixture a very small quantity of blue-red dye is added to offset the yellowish tinge of the j wood.

The paper machine itself can be divided into four sections. The first section is composed of a long, moving table of wire gauze, turning over rollers. On to the surface of this gauze, the mixed pulp, suspended in water, is allowed to flow. As I the gauze speeds over the rollers the water drains away through the mesh and leaves a thin, even layer of pulp.

The second section of the machine consists of three pairs of revolving rolls, very similar to clothes wringers. Between these rolls the thin layer of pulp passes, supported by a moving belt. The rolls squeeze the water out of the endless sheet and it is then strong enough to pass through the machine without further support.

The third section of the machine is composed of about thirty-six cast-iron drums, through which steam is passing. The paper passes over the surface of these drums and in this way the remaining water is removed by evaporation.

In the last section of the machine the paper passes between a series of polished steel drums arranged one on top of the other. These rolls, known as the calender stack, remove any wrinkles from the surface and give it a certain gloss. After being slit into reels suitable for printing presses the paper is packed and shipped. Every day enough paper is shipped to girdle the earth with a band a foot wide. I Each year enough is manufactured to produce two billion newspapers, and the demand for more and more paper is ever increasing. Abitibi is but one of a score of mills of almost equal size—so it is not difficult to get some conception of Canada’s contribution to the paper industry

“Yesterday,” said Doc Campbell, “it was a tract of virgin forest. To-morrow it will be screaming headlines, scandals, blurred pictures and stock market reports.

I dinna ken if it’s a’ worrth while.”