Flume Driving

EVAH MCKOWAN August 1 1929

Flume Driving

EVAH MCKOWAN August 1 1929

Flume Driving

Out in the Moyie Valley, B. G, they drive their logs down a man-made stream that threads tunnels, spans canyons and rides atop trestles for fourteen miles


MUCH is being written today about the utilization of Canada’s waterways by commerce. There are few more striking instances of this than that of the Upper Moyie Valley in East Kootenay, British Columbia. Here, water that would otherwise be idling and tumbling its way down the rocky course of the Moyie has been utilized by means of a flume—a man-made, woodencased, trestlesupported, levelrunning river channel—to float logs from the timber limits of the British Columbia Spruce Company through forests, around hills or through them in tunnels, over deep canyons, across marsh-like lakes and into the log ponds at the mills—a distance of some fourteen miles.

Three factors were necessary for the success of this extraordinary enterprise—the largest of its kind in the British Empire. The first was an unfailing supply of water, which was furnished by the springand glacierfed Moyie River. The second, gravity, was supplied by bounteous Nature. The third requisite was a well-built flume, which was erected by the enterprising firm of logging engineers, De Wolf and Ham.

Gravity never gets out of order. It costs little per hour or per mile or any way one wants to rate it. In the Moyie Valley it is the power that keeps water and logs moving at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, supplying the giant mills with more logs per day than could be handled by an extensive railway logging system or an expensive fleet of trucks, and at an operating cost that is some four hundred per cent less than would have been entailed by either of those methods.

Inaccessible Treasure

NATURE was in a smiling mood when at work on the formation of the Upper Moyie Valley. On the hill and mountain slopes, worn down by the river in ages past, she planted one of the finest stands of Engleman spruce in the world. Then the smile, one surmises, became a chuckle. For she had sealed it in there. Mere man would never get it out. At the foot of the valley she had erected the “Box Canyon,” a river opening, the perpendicular walls of which have said to eountless loggers and road and railroad builders: “Thou shalt not pass.”

What remained, then, was to go around and try to get into this richly timbered valley in some other way. This meant the crossing of swamps and lakes, the circling of a mountain and the scaling of a divide. It meant so many miles of hauling that ordinary methods of logging were impractical.

Engineers surveyed the ground for the building of a railway. Construction over the detour was going to cost from thirty-five thousand dollars a mile in some places to fifty thousand in others. Roads over which trucks might haul the spruce would amount to almost as much.

There was only one possible verdict—the timber wasn’t worth it.

The cost of transporting logs from the woods to the mill is the factor that decides whether or not a piece of

timber is merchantable. Costs of getting the logs on the skidways may vary but a few cents between one piece of timber and another, also of manufacturing the lumber

but a few cents. But the costs of log transportation between two stands of timber may involve a difference of several dollars.

Some ten or a dozen years ago, when easily accessible stands of timber began to be pretty well cut in the Kootenay, the experiment was made of fluming the logs from the back-country stands of timber to the mills. A few early failures were due to the building of flumes without an assured supply of water, or to the insecure construction of the trestles and boxing of the water channels. Finding that it was no job for amateurs, the mill men looked about for experienced engineers. Prior to 1918, Allen De Wolf installed a flume for the McLaren Mills at Crow’s Nest Mountain, and another fof the Baker Lumber Company at Waldo. As they worked successfully, he was summoned by the manager of the C.P.R. mills, at Yahk to put one in for the transportation of their timber. Again the experiment worked.

Enter the Flu me . Builders

A LARGE quantity of the inaccessible timber in the Moyie Valley was in the hands of the East Kootenay Lumber Company. License fees were piling up and at any moment a fire might sweep the valley, wiping out their holdings. Allen De Wolf and these flumes he was building interested them. A syndicate from Wausau, Wisconsin, was at that time looking over the East Kootenay Company’s holdings with a view to buying and locating. But Box Canyon and the Palmer Bar Divide loomed large as an obstacle to commercial development.

East Kootenay officials told the Wausau people about Allen De Wolf and his successful logging flumes. De Wolf was sent into the valley to report on the feasibility of fluming the timber out by way of the Palmer Bar Divide. His verdict was that it could be done. So the Wausau people, though knowing nothing of that method of logging, acquired the timber of the Moyie, incorporating as the British Columbia Spruce Mills Limited.

Arthur Ham, an old teammate of De Wolf, had returned from the war. They formed a partnership for the practice of logging engineering, and in the fall of 1920, after some other contracts had been cleared up, agreed to construct a fourteen-mile flume in the Moyie Valley.

Up and down the Crow’s Nest Pass logging experts shook their heads. It couldn’t be done. For eight miles, perhaps. For fourteen miles, never. It would have to be a flume of many curves. Friction on these curves would cause the big logs to slow up. Little logs would overtake them, pile up and jam. Overflows would wash out the foundation and wreck the flume.

No one heard these doubts repeated of tener than did De Wolf and Ham. To all queries of “Will it work?” they returned the cheerful and assured answer: “Sure it will work.” But there was just a chance that the doubters were right. The engineers were in the position of having to show themselves as well as the others. There was no record of logs travelling such a distance in a flume.

Over the matter of curves they put their heads together. True, there must be many curves in the flume. True, the big logs would slow up in rounding them. The remedy adopted was to steepen the grade on curves so that the quickened speed of the water would accelerate the course of the logs at those points. Their idea has worked. There has been no difficulty with the larger logs, even on the sharpest curves.

If they could have run the flume down the valley beside the river all would have been “velvet.” But there was the matter of the detour over the divide. Water directed in a flume maintains its preference for running down grade. So, many miles up river it was necessary to strike along the hillside, beginning and keeping sufficiently above the height of the Palmer Bar Divide to allow of down grade all the way.

Around Hills and Under Them

rT'0 FOLLOW the course of one of -*■ the logs in its journey down the flume, a beginning should be made where it is cut, at a point, say, just above the juncture of Ridgeway Creek and the Upper Moyie. Here, in the deep green silences, one of the noble spruce—to be called Moyie Spruce in the markets of the world— is being felled by two swarthy bushmen. Following the warning cry of “Timber!” there is a snapping and crackling of surrounding branches and an earth-shaking crash as the giant comes to earth. Swampers attack it to trim away the branches and sawyers sever the log from the trunk. It-is “snaked” to the skidways by an almost human horse, rolled down the skidways by a deft turn of a canthook, and with a mighty splash joins other logs in the pond that has been constructed to feed the flume. The walls of the tunnels were mainly loose gravel— like a wall of marbles Mr. De Wolf states—requiring careful breast boarding. If a run once gets started in a loose gravel tunnel the engineers have a problem on their hands. There is practically a moving mountain behind what has already come.

The log is directed by a pike pole in the hands of a riverman into the flume and commences to travel at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. Beside the flume, the unused balance of the Moyie River tumbles on its way, soon dropping away into the deepening valley while the flume keeps an almost level course along the bank. At times the course is straight through tall timbers.

Again, with quickened speed, it curves sharply round the contour of a hill. Now the way is cut through gravel and rock slides: now trestled over a creek canyon.

At the end of seven miles the log enters the hill at the first tunnel. Emerging from this, it is borne along over what the engineers term “heavy construction” for eight hundred feet when Tunnel number two is reached. For six hundred feet it floats in darkness, emerging from which it is borne across Nigger Creek Canyon on a trestle 110 feet high and 520 feet long. From this point two miles of precipitous cliffs are encountered which the flume traverses on trestling standing on niches chiselled in the solid rock. In many places the lower posts of the bents are sixty feet long, while the upper and opposite posts are only a few feet.

Leaving the cliffs of the divide, the log is borne across a swamp, still on a trestle, and from there on its way follows Palmer Bar Creek in more or less even country until the moment when it takes a swift, final slide into the mill pond.

Building to Schedule

C' ONSTRUCTION on the Moyie flume began in the late autumn. Soon, on account of the depth of snow in the valley, work on the flume proper was impossible. But

proper was work that could be carried on in winter was rushed forward. Three shifts of eight hours each were put on at each end of each tunnel; the total 921 feet of tunnelling being completed in seventy-five days—twelve feet per day.

The first crews employed were mine tunnel workers, used to making their way through hard rock. This rumbling of gravel against their lagging, or tunnel walls, and sounds of slides coming down overhead made them distinctly nervous. Then a new worker suggested that they were not the men for the job anyway. They were replaced by men from railway tunnel operations, men used to loose gravel work. They knew how to safeguard every move. Much better time was made in consequence.

The meeting of the ends of the tunnels in the mountain was almost perfect in each case, indicating the utmost accuracy in surveying.

Another winter job was the driving of piles for the trestle that must convey the flume across a swamp-like lake. These piles were driven through holes in the ice with a pile-driver that was moved along the ice on skids. A cut-off gang followed, capping and bracing the piles.

A mill was being erected at the head of the flume for the cutting of lumber and timbers for its construction; also the snow of winter was utilized for the hauling of foundation and trestle timbers to places where there was not a natural supply.

But, though everything possible was being rushed in the winter, the results still looked afar off to the heads of the Wausau syndicate. A tunnel here and there and a few timbers strewn along the right of way did not look like logs coming in to the mill. They pressed for a date when they might expect to operate the flume.

De Wolf and Ham’s answer was that the date of completion depended on the date of commencement, which in turn depended on the breaking up of winter. But they offered to set a date of completion on the day that they should commence work on the flume. On May 17 the frost was sufficiently out of the ground and the work was begun. On that day they did their estimating of the number of days they would require to complete the fourteen miles of flume. This date worked out to be September 21.

“We’ll give ourselves a little leeway,” Mr. De Wolf said. “We’ll tell them the first of October.”

“No,” said Mr. Ham. “We’ve figured it out to the best of our ability. We’ll stand by our figures and tell them they can use the flume on September 21.”

This was done. During the four months when upward of one hundred men were rushing the work, there were anxious moments about that date. There were times when difficulties piled up and construction was as much as a mile behind schedule. But a lucky break here or there would compensate and work would speed up. On the evening of September 20 the last board was in place, and on September 21, as estimated, logs were floated down into the mill pond.

Everything about the construction of foundation and boxing was timed with the precision of clockwork. There were few wasted moments; no instances of men piling up costs by waiting for materials. As the flume was built, lumber was floated down from the mill to the workers, the water being run out of a gate in the flume behind construction where it would not damage the foundation.

At the mill, small piles of six or eight boards, in the order in which they would be required, were placed diagonally across the flume. At the ring of a telephone, timed just as long before it would be required as it would take the lumber to float down, these piles were shoved into the flume by a touch at their front end, and were on their way without the delay of a moment, the piles floating in the water as a single timber.

Having the boards in proper order is a detail in construction organization which keeps down costs and makes the work run smoothly. Men, building flume boxes on the top of a high trestle, donot want to be running round over each other’s feet searching for the right board for the right place.

The Missing Boards Mystery

rT'HE construction of the flume was not 4without its amusing incidents. One that held up, or at least diverted, operations was the determined opposition of some miners to the building of a flume across the dump on their claim. That soil was theirs and it did not suit them to have a flume running across it. The British Columbia Spruce Mills had to take the right-of-way case to Victoria, and in the meantime the grimly determined prospectors patrolled their dump with shotguns, successfully preventing further work on the flume until the right to do so was established in court.

At some distance further along, trouble began to develop about the shipment of boards to the point of operations. The proper number of boards did not arrive; each shipment would be one or two short. The construction foreman used picturesque language over the telephone to the mill foreman.

"What the devil’s the matter with you fellows that you can’t send what we ask for? Can’t you count or can’t you understand English?”

The mill foreman used picturesque language over the telephone to the construction foreman.

“Yes, we can understand you. And we’re sending the stuff just as ordered. Can’t you see!”

Then the mystery was solved. A board floated down and in it was stuck a miner’s pick which had escaped the hands of its owner. Light dawned on the foreman. A mining flume was known to be contemplated in a cross valley. Lumber, priceless in the hinterlands, was being delivered to the miner’s very door. They had had part, though probably not all, of their revenge.

Eight years have passed since the completion of the Moyie flume. It has been the sole source of log supply for an immense mill that cuts in the neighborhood of 170,000 feet of lumber each day, and not once in that time has the log pond been empty in cutting season.

Forty-two million feet of logs run down the flume in a year. The record run has been 5,500 logs in seven hours time—an average of about eight hundred an hour. Almost the only mishaps to the flume have been occasioned by overfeeding on the part of men too anxious to establish records. Logs rolled in too fast have a tendency to jam somewhere en route, so a schedule has been adopted, based on experiments made to determine the capacity of the flume.

The flume is patrolled twice a day— before starting time in the morning and again in the noon hour. Four men have a beat of three and a half miles each. Occasionally a rock slide will have come down and diverted the flow of the water, or a tree will have fallen across the box. If nothing has happened, the patrolmen use the telephone stations on the line attached to the flume to send in the message, “All clear,” and with tremendous splashes the merry work is on its way.

River Driving de Luxe

IT IS a far cry from the river log drives of some parts of Canada to this modern. water logging scheme. Jean-Baptiste, of the Gatineau, found himself, in his search of a job as riverman in East Kootenay, standing beside the chute where the logs that have come down the flume take their final swift slide into the pond, giving this new kind of river logging the “once over.” He joined the man on guard at the switch of the flume where logs are diverted into the big rear lake or sent on to the pond at the foot of the jack-ladder, and watched the dizzy procession of logs slipping, slipping by, smoothly and without a hitch.

And Jean Baptiste, daring veteran log rider and riverman, used to leaping, bobbing timbers, log jams and kindred excitement, threw back his head and laughed.

“Pretty tame, dat,” he answered the switchman’s look of surprise. “You don’ need no real riverman here. I go back to the Gatineau.”

But being on the spot, Baptiste thought he might as well see it all. He walked the plank beside the flume, coming at last to its source. He saw enough of the efficiency of modern methods to balance in his mind any lack of the color and romance to which he had been accustomed. He met logs by the hundreds—three foot and over logs, ten-inch and under logs— on their swift and eventless way to the saws. He saw power-jammers neatly stacking more and yet more logs on the many platforms and skidways beside the flume as the trucks rolled up with their loads from other parts of the limits. And, beyond all that, he saw many stretching miles of virgin hillside timber.

Returning to the mill town he saw, not a shack or unpainted building, but streets of modern cottages, sidewalks, waterworks, electric lights and a community hall. A giant concrete refuse burner replaced the sawdust pile to which he was accustomed. A modern hotel stood in the place of the traditional rambling log cookhouse.

He glanced into the mammoth concrete mills with the hiss of steam from the boiler rooms splitting the peace of the day, and the shriek of gang-saws and carrier saws and the rumble of wheels reverberating to the surrounding hills. He saw beyond it long stretching, steeltracked, electric-lighted streets of square lumber piles and seeming acres of drying sheds.

He saw nowhere lost motion or energy, but concentrated, well-directed purpose in every man’s movements. He watched it all throughout the day, and toward evening, though a little homesick for the sight of a red shirt, the smell of baking beans and a tale of a log drive jam, he sought the office of the logging foreman and asked to be put on the payroll.