The Gang Man

Continuing a vivid account of the old-time lumberman's battle with the giants of the Manitou Forest

ARTHUR HEMING December 1 1930

The Gang Man

Continuing a vivid account of the old-time lumberman's battle with the giants of the Manitou Forest

ARTHUR HEMING December 1 1930

The Gang Man


Continuing a vivid account of the old-time lumberman's battle with the giants of the Manitou Forest

DURING the coming of winter the handy man and his helper had been busy in their little shack beside the big shanty. They had been at work on the making of many things: “sleeps” for the dragging out of single sticks of square timber to the main roadway, or to the river, or to the lake; the making of big A-shaped snowplows for use on the main roads, and huge bobsleighs for the hauling of both logs and timber, and all sorts of minor implements and tools, and the getting ready of horseshoes.

As the white pine in that district was of excellent size and quality, most of the men at Camp Five were engaged in making waney timber as well as square timber. There were three timber gangs of eight men each. A gang consisted of one liner and his helper who attended to the chopping down of trees; two scorers who scored the felled trunks, two hewers who hewed the scored trunks into waney or square timber; and two small-road cutters who cut out and cleaned the little trails to river, lake, or main roadway.

While twenty-four men were thus engaged, eight more were employed at log making, and, together with three

teamsters, twelve main roadmakers and the other men about camp, the whole crew now numbered fifty-three. After the New Year extra teamsters would be coming in.

The finast class of square timber made in Canada was called waney timber. It was made from nothing but the very largest and the very finest white pines. In appearance waney timber differed from square timber by the fact that its four corners were not hewn sharp but were left unhewn. The natural round of the tree formed four bevels, or wanes, from two to six inches wide, where each of the four corners or sharp edges would have been, had the stick been hewn into square timber. So valuable was the finest quality of white pine, especially when it was received in England, that every possible square inch was saved, and the making of it into waney timber meant the hewing away of less wood. So perfect had to be the quality of waney timber, that in selecting trees for that purpose care had to be taken to avoid blemishes of any kind. A liner who was bent on making firstclass timber never passed a stick which contained even as small a blemish as a single black knot. All waney timber was shipped to Great Britain, where much of it was sawn with very fine saws into boards and sold at a high price. The very best of it was bought by the British Navy to be used in making patterns for machinery.

The second class of white pine timber was called square timber, and it was hewn with a sharp, or “proud” edge at each of its four corners. It was made from coarser and smaller trees, and knots did not injure its value. The choicest of square timber went to Great Britain too, and was there sawn into planks for the docks of ships, while the coarser sticks were used for the building of docks, piers, bridges, and for railroad work.

The finest white pine grown in Canada was found in the region of the Madawaska and the Petawawa Rivers, while the heaviest stands of white pine were found in the Lake Kipawa country. In the middle eighties only about four pines from among a hundred mature ones were

chosen for the making of waney timber; and only about twenty from the hundred for the making of square timber. The rest, if used at all, were made into sawlogs. But nowadays, so scarce has white pine become, even square timber is seldom made, and everything or anything goes as sawlogs, even though it contains crooks, rots, spunks, shakes and knots.

Felling a Forest Monarch

nPHE three timber gangs were under the leadership of -*• the head liner, Jean Sebastian. They worked through the bush in advance of the sawlog-makere, and were provided with chopping axes, scoring axes and broadaxes, chalk lines, chalk and charcoal, róssing irons, timber dogs, and chains.

They were a picturesque, gaily dressed lot, some with long red or blue woollen toques with cord and tassel, others with high-crowned cloth peak caps with earflaps, others again w'ith tam-o-shanters or glengarrys, and still others with fur caps with or without flaps or bands to turn down over the ears. All wore cotton or woollen shirts with cloth or leather waistcoats over them —the word “vest” was then seldom heard and while trousers were made of heavy woollen material, mostly of a native homespun called eloffe, many of them were lined with white factory cotton.

While some wore heavy woollen jerseys—the word “sweater” then being unknown—others wore hooded coats of blanket, duffel, or frieze, the edges being bound with red or blue braid, the seams piped with the same colors, and the waist girded about with a highly colored L’Assomption sash. On their hands they wore woollen mittens, with or without deerskin mittens over them. On their feet they wore heavy woollen socks or long stockings, duffel neaps, and deerskin moccasins, or kneehigh, oil-tanned, beefskin shoepacks, and, of course,

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The Gang Man

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snowshoes. When the men were working, they usually discarded their coats, even in the coldest weather, as they were supposed to work hard enough to keep warm without them.

Jean Sebastian, taking charge of one of his timber gangs, led his men up the new road to where they were going to start operations. After selecting the choicest tree, he assured himself that it was sound before starting to cut it down by striking the tree on all sides with the back of his axe, just as a doctor taps a patient with his finger to learn if all is well within. Being fairly well satisfied that all was right within the trunk, Jean walked around it again, this time looking it up and down from top to bottom to see which way it might lean, and the size and position of the limbs, in order to decide how best to fell the tree where it would be least liable to be broken or injured in falling, and where it would be most easily squared and hauled away.

All this required much experience and good judgment, and, seeing that even the best position he could choose would be uneven, the next thing he did was to arrange a springy bed upon which to fell the great tree. This was done by felling three smaller trees across the line on which the big tree was to lie. This bed was made to ease the shock of the large tree’s fall, and thus prevent its trunk from cracking or breaking, and also to hold it off the ground so that the scorers and the hewers could square it more easily.

As Jean and Old Evening, his helper, took their positions, Jean cautioned: “A little to the east.” For every tree, even a leaning one, can be made to fall in many directions, while a perpendicular one can be made to fall in any direction.

Each had an axe with a beautifully curved, slender, three-foot handle, with a three-pound head, the blade of which had been ground to an extra-keen, thin, flat-

tapered edge of crescent shape; the thinness to increase penetration, and the crescent to prevent jamming.

As both stood on the same side of the tree, facing one another, they started chopping alternately, belt high, into the tree. The stump or bottom side of the opening which they made was cut horizontally, while the upper side was chopped on a downward slant at an angle of fortyfive degrees. As they worked they kept steadily increasing the size of the notch by chopping away nothing but the wood above their first horizontal cut, and in that way they eventually chopped beyond the centre of the tree. Then they moved to the opposite side of the trunk, and in exactly the same way they started chopping there. When, however, their blade had cut so far into the tree that they neared the first notch, they directed their blows in such a way that a wedge-shaped strip of wood, the butt of which remained about six inches thick on the east side of the tree, was left uncut, so that when the tree fell the thickness of that side of that wooden welt would force the tree to swing and fall just as Jean wanted it to— a little to the east.

With surprising grace, skill, strength and speed those two axemen chopped through the huge tree, and presently its crown began to tremble. Jean shouted, not to Old Evening, but to anyone who might be within danger’s reach, “Look out below!” while his helper continued to strike a few more blows.

The tree’s great crown began to shiver. Next it swayed uncertainly, then leaned; the slow beginning of its outward swing. Gradually the swing-swing increased. Then, steadily multiplying its speed, it tore through the branches of nearby trees with an appalling crescendo rush and roar, smashing them to right and left; and finally, out of a volcano-like explosion of broken branches, flying twigs, pine needles, and powdered snow which filled the air and blotted out the view,

came the tremendous boom of its thundering crash.

Preparing the Log

JEAN examined the butt for shakes, or rot in the heart, which is often found in very old trees. If, in this case, he had found it, he would have had to decide how much should be cut off the butt to free the stick from the rot or shake, otherwise it would be rejected as a cull.

Next, Jean mounted the great trunk, limbless for fifty-two feet, and tested it again by giving it repeated blows with the side of his axe. Thus he walked the full length of the trunk, striking it as he went, before he decided where he should top it and butt it. Then he marked those two places. As the tree had fallen in a suitable position for being hewn, Jean decided to begin work without severing the top, otherwise he would have cut the top off first, just where the clear bole of the tree reached the lower limbs. Then he would have had the trunk canted into a suitable position to be scored and hewn.

Now, with a long-handled róssing iron Jean began to chip off, or ross off, as it is called, the bark of the tree until he had made a smooth-surfaced strip a few inches wide, and the full length of the timberto-be, in order to chalkmark a line where the first waney corner should begin. Standing on the centre of the trunk, with a helper at either end holding a taut chalked cord, Jean carefully examined its lie against the wane-to-be until its line was exact.

Then, raising the taut cord as an archer pulls upon his bow string, Jean suddenly released it, and it struck so hard upon the smoothed bark that it left a straight white line from end to end. Then they did the same on the other top-side of the trunk. The work of lining had to be carefully done, so as to allow the largest squaring of timber.

When the liners moved away to fell and line another tree, the scorers mounted the big trunk. The handles of their axes were also curved, but in length they were four feet instead of three, while the heads of their axes weighed six pounds each, and the blades ground fairly straight to prevent the centre going in too deep and thus cutting beyond the line. Yet these blades were also slightly rounded at the corners to prevent jamming. Then the scorers, standing on the trunk, each facing outward but in opposite directions, began chopping below the chalk line a series of V-shaped notches about thirty inches apart. When near the butt of the great stick they would sometimes chop a foot deep. Next they began splitting off those slabs of wood called score blocks—between the notches. Wrhen that was done along the full length of the trunk, they began score-hacking to the line, always taking care not to cut past it, and thus eventually they had both sides of the trunk trimmed fairly flat. Then they, too, moved away to make room for others.

Now the hewers came, and, standing on the ground, one on either side of the timber, and each facing in the opposite direction, they began hewing. The straight but obliquely-set handles of their great broadaxes were only two feet in length, but the heads of those axes each weighed twelve pounds, while their fairly straight blades were ground fiat on the inside and bluntly tapered on the outside, and were edged like a razor. Slowly they moved forward, hewing as they went, until each had reached his end of the timber, and then in order to hew the other half of his side of the stick, each, without turning around, worked backward, as his peculiarly shaped axehead and handle did not allow him to hew with the other side of the blade. For that reason hewers usually worked in pairs, a right-handed man and a left-handed one.

Before turning the timber over in order to square it by hewing the other two sides, they kerfed it and topped it, and pointed two sides of each end at about forty-five degrees. Then the hewers moved away to

hew another stick, while the liners and the scorers, with the aid of a timber-dog and a handspike, turned the timber over on its side. Then Jean, as liner, carefully examined it again, by standing on it to see if it was level. Next he lined it again, and when the scorers and hewers had completed those two sides, and finished pointing both ends, the head hewer marked the stick with his marking iron. He did it by cutting J. R. Booth’s initials on the top and two sides in the centre of the timber, and finally cutting his own initials on one end.

“Swinging L'p” The Timber

SEVERAL weeks passed. Dark, dreary, leaden clouds were flying swift and low. Trees cringed and moaned.

The teamsters were now engaged in “snaking out” sawlogs, and the head teamster, Alex Doré, was “swinging up” timber. The work which the horses were doing was the swinging up of one end of every stick of square or waney timber upon a mound of earth, a rise of rock, or a big log, in order to raise that end of the stick three or four feet above the ground to prevent it from being buried out of sight in the deep snow before the midwinter hauling began. With his big team hitched to one end of a stick, Alex would swing it up and into balance, so that no matter how deep the snow fell during the next few weeks, the upper end of the timber could be easily seen and dislodged and hauled away.

Meanwhile the sawlog-makers, headed by Baptiste Belanger, had been following up the work of the timber-makers. Their gang was composed of three log-makers, two small-road cutters, two chainers, and one teamster. They were equipped with chopping axes, cross-cut saws, saw wedges, and a hammer for the same, as well as files, gauges, and sets for the saws. The log-makers felled their trees in exactly the same way as the timber-makers, for in that part of the Great Northern Forest cross-cut saws had not yet come into use for the felling of trees.

As soon as Baptiste and his helper felled the big tree they had selected, the small-road cutters trimmed the branches from its upper trunk, and Baptiste carefully inspected it to make sure that it did not contain such blemishes as crooks, rots, spunks, shakes, or spike knots. A crook meant a bend in the log. A spunk was a rough-barked lump which indicated rot. A shake signified that the grain of the wood was separated. A spike knot was a knothole which looked as though it had been made by a spike. Satisfied that the tree was free from blemish, he measured it into log lengths of thirteen-and-a-half or sixteen-and-a-half feet. In each case the half foot was allowed to cover the loss of wood at the ends of the logs when they “broomed up” on the drive by the force of the water driving them against rocks.

Baptiste also bark-marked each log with the owner’s registered mark, which in the case of sawlogs was an emblematic blaze representing a turtle. It was made twice, on opposite sides of the log and at least two feet from either end.

While the log-makers were at work the two small-road cutters were busy cutting out a trail to be used in snaking out the logs to the nearest rollway. A rollway was made by clearing space at a certain selected place on a main roadway, and placing parallel to that road an unsound log to act as head-block, upon which were


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placed the butts of two long, strong young trees to answer as skids. Upon those skids the logs were piled and left until after New Year, when sufficient snow would afford good sleighing for the big bobsleighs which would transport them dow-n to Bear Creek or Manitou Lake.

Scaling and Piling

■COR the snaking out of logs, Buck

O’Brien, the teamster, used but one horse, a steel chain, and “pig’s feet” tongs. The latter he fastened to the end of a log. Then the log was hauled down the newly-made trail to the rollway, where Archie Gordon, the roller, hammerbranded it seven or eight times on each end with J. R.’s trademark. Then Archie mounted the pile and stood waiting with canthook in hand, while another teamster and a single horse, hauling upon a long decking chain passing through a pulley-block suspended from a high tripod, hoisted the log up two slanting skids where Archie, with the aid of his canthook, rolled it into place on the pile. But Archie took care to place the downroad end of the log even with the downroad side of the pile, so that when loading the logs on the bobsleighs, an even end could be made of the load next the horses.

Rollers, like other workers, had their troubles, and one of their worst was caused by a bottom skid breaking, and making it necessary to overhaul and repile that great heap of logs. Or another trouble might arise from logs rolling out of “bed” and having to be replaced. Or from logs being so wet, or so covered with ice, that they were hard and dangerous to | handle.

When the scaler, Walt Wyman, he of j the squirrel-tail mustaches, came along | with a wooden tablet strapped to his left j forearm, and a flexible, metal-tipped yardstick in his right hand, he measured the j diameter of every log in the rollway and, computing their board measure, noted it | down on his tablet. Then with a long crayon-holder which looked like a fishj rod he put his own mark upon the head | of every log. His mark consisted of a j certain figure which the bush superinj tendent had allotted him— in his case the | figure 8. In fine weather scaling was j easy work, but the scaler also had his troubles which came by way of icy ends ! on logs w’hich prevented him from marking them, or from frost coming out of log ends and preventing his crayon from scoring, or from snow being so deep that it had to be shovelled away before he could get near enough to measure and mark the ends of the logs. The scaler, however, sometimes had the help of the clerk, who could stand on the other side of the rollway, and call out the size of the top ends on his side of the pile that the scaler might record them.

As the winter lengthened there de{ veloped a growing rivalry among the shantymen, w-hose whiskers had lengthened and grown much more dense and j matted. While most of the men were content with either walrus or squirrel-tail j mustaches, others sported goatees, some j harbored Galway sluggers, others fostered ; long, wind-tossed Piccadilly weepers, while | still others hid behind huge, wiry, springy ! mattresses of beards.

Already the portage-teamsters from j distant Mattawa had found their toilsome way, by river and lake, into camp, and as they had brought in beef and butter and sugar the shantymen were happy.

J. R. Booth

ONE Sunday afternoon that “Napoleon of the Northland,” J. R. Booth, arrived in camp. For, even then, J. R. had become a national character and one of the most interesting business men in Canada. He was born, of Irish parents, on the fifth of April, 1827, near Waterloo, Quebec, twenty-four miles north of the Vermont border. Of schooling he had next to none, only enough in fact to enable

him to read and write, but he had a way of spelling and figuring all his own. When in his teens, his father, a farmer, gave him a piece of land to till for himself. He planted it with oats, but when frost killed the yield he turned away from his field, took back all his tools, and told his father he was going to be a carpenter instead of a farmer. He bought an axe, a saw, and a square on credit, and applied for a carpenter’s job on the Central Vermont Railway. They set him to work as a bridge builder.

Two years later he left that work too, got married, and he and his bride drove across country for three days to reach Bytown, now the City of Ottawa, on the Ottawa River. The first job he got there was working for a man named Leamy who j owned a sawmill at the mouth of the Gatineau River. Later, young Booth rented a little sawmill at Hull, where the afterward famous millionaire match maker, E. B. Eddy, had the upper floor. But when the landlord raised the rent, J. R. left there too, crossed the river, and started a shingle factory of his own in Bytown—where today his great mills stand. His first assistant was a boy named Robert Dollar, who afterwards became the worldfamous American, Captain Robert Dollar, j the millionaire lumberman and owner of I world-circling steamship lines. From the ! making of shingles, Booth enlarged his business by buying logs and making lumber. Later he bought timber limits, and hired his own shanty crews.

During those struggling years, his wife, j a fine type of woman, was more than a j blessing to him, for she not only helped J. R. with his accounts, but, acting as his I treasurer too, she paid his workmen every ; week in silver—for there were no bills in those days—and the safe from which she j took the money was a little wooden match| box which she kept on the clock shelf in ¡ her kitchen. Even in these days Booth was a man of great determination, of farseeing imagination, and thoroughly honorable in every way. When dull times came ! and there was a slump in the lumber j business, and other lumbermen grew afraid and wanted to sell some of their holdings of timber limits, J. R. bought all he could j at the low prices they offered, and thus he j added to his wealth of timber.

His first big deal, which helped most to i put him on his feet, was when he got the S contract to supply all the square timber needed in the erection of the first Parliament Buildings at Ottawa.

Though for a number of hours that Sunday afternoon J. R. sat among his crew in the camhoose shanty, he made no formal speech to them, and when not consulting with his foreman he chatted informally with anyone who happened to be near him. Next morning he was up and out with them, moving among his men, keenly observing, enquiring, and showing his interest in everything they did. If a man faltered or made a blunder, off came J. R.’s coat and he showed the man how, for few were better axemen than he, even j among so many veteran shantymen. And j in that easy, friendly way, he encouraged I his men, showed his faith in them, and won their support to help him finance the building of his huge mills.

“Jean, my boy, I want you to pilot one of my largest rafts. And I’m counting on your running it through in record time. For unless we can beat the other companies’ rafts to Quebec I may lose my best chances for an early sale.


AS THE winter progressed it seemed as though the weather was determined to stop the work of the shanty men.

So numerous were the storms and so heavy the falls, that the snow kept mounting from one to two, to three, until it was four feet deep on the level, although it was only Christmas time, and the principal hauling season had not even begun. If a few more such heavy storms arrived within the next month or two, when the teamsters would be engaged in hauling big loads of timber and logs on their ponderous wooden sleighs, the great depth of the snow might block the roads so completely that it would put an end to the getting out of the full season’s cut. Great piles of logs would be stranded in the bush for another year, to become damaged by insects.

Beyond taking two days of rest from their work, Christmas and New Year were observed in no unusual way, for the shantymen were not even served with a special dinner.

For months the handyman and his helper had been hewing sleigh runners out of solid timber, setting them as wide apart as wagon wheels, fastening them together with strong traverses, and then coupling two bobs, or two pairs of runners, together, so that their bunks were eleven feet apart.

In loading such sleighs, a horse, block and tackle, and a long decking chain were used to hoist on the logs. But when hauling square timber the bobs of the sleigh were placed from twenty to forty feet apart and fastened with a clutch chain. The log loads of the middle eighties were small, compared with the great loads of nowadays. Then the logging roads v/cra rough and ready, and not to be compared with the snowplowed, snow-rolled, watersprinkled, ice-shaved roads of more recent times.

When hauling started in full swing, breakfast was served at three o’clock in the morning, and soon after that the teamsters were to be seen loading their sleighs by torchlight. What a picture they made! A whole train of them, winding their torch-lit way down the ru^^ed hillside roads, between walls of snow, while the “sandhogs,” or “sand-hillmen,’’ working in torchlight too, were sprinkling loose hay or hot sand —heated at roadside fires —in the runner ruts to check the speed of the descending sleighs. Otherwise their loads of many tons would force the big sleighs out of control, and plunge them down upon the helpless horses, forcing them into snowbanks, cr smashing them against wayside trees, which might break their legs, or kill them.

When the sun arose and drove many a golden spear between the snowimprisoned trees as though to rescue them from that relentless jailer, winter, the snow-white snowshoe rabbits stared in wonder at those shaggy men, who now appeared with caps, eyebrows, and beards sparkling with sun-gleaming crystals. Sometimes, too, rows of little icicles locked their mustaches to their whiskers. And those shaggy, long-haired horses; how strangely picturesque they also appeared, with their heads, necks, chests and forelegs plastered white with sparkling hoarfrost, and exhaling unbelievable volumes of curling breath which rose high among the trees, and reminded one of the exhaust from steam engines. Then those joking, laughing, shouting teamsters, standing on their loaded sleighs, with reins over shoulders to leave their hands free, were violently beating their arms about their bodies to restore warmth to their tingling fingers, while that irrepressible Harry Johnson, at the top of his tenor, was singing, “ The Face on the Barroom Floor.”

To be Continued