The Gang Man

Toiling long hours in wet clothes, risking their lives on slippery logs in seething, roaring rivers—such was the life of the oldtime raftsmen

ARTHUR HEMING December 15 1930

The Gang Man

Toiling long hours in wet clothes, risking their lives on slippery logs in seething, roaring rivers—such was the life of the oldtime raftsmen

ARTHUR HEMING December 15 1930

The Gang Man

Toiling long hours in wet clothes, risking their lives on slippery logs in seething, roaring rivers—such was the life of the oldtime raftsmen


SPARE time came when April’s sun and wind and rain were thawing the snow, and washing the hillsides and the still ice-bound river banks. It was the time when the men were engaged in the work of mending and securing dams; in repairing boats; in making floats and capstans with which to warp, or haul, the big booms containing timber and logs, along or across Manitou Lake; in making poke-poles, oars, and paddles; in rehandling broken peavies; and in making or repairing other implements used on the drive.

Then, too, booms were laid and snubbed about the mouths of rivers to catch and retain the down-coming logs. That was heavy work, as each boom was composed of from fifty to sixty sticks, and each stick ran from forty to fifty feet in length. Yet during that season the men found time for loafing, trapping and fishing, and for making presents for those at home.

Meanwhile the days were growing longer and becoming milder. Already the men were getting sunburned, and millions of tiny snowflies speckled the sparkling snow like soot. The rivers and lakes were aglare with rippling rills and sparkling pools. Yet for weeks acrewide masses of snow would remain beneath the closely standing evergreens.

Out on the still ice-bound lake, paddling ducks were already mirrored in shallow, crystal-bottomed ponds, while a gang of singing shantymen were laying and securing another great string of timbers. This time they were placing them on the outside of the first boom at the mouth of Bear River. The new string was called a “storm boom,” and was used as a safeguard in case the first boom should be broken by a violent wind storm. Otherwise thousands of pieces of timber might be scattered many miles around the shores of Manitou Lake.

Everyone was waiting and watching and longing for the “break-up” which would set the rivers free, and clear the lakes of ice, and allow the breaking of the rollways. Already the “dam watchers” were camping in tents beside the dams, to watch for leaks or breaks, and to make immediate repairs or at once send word to the foreman for additional help, as delay might mean not only the loss of the water, or even the destruction of the dam, but the stranding or “sticking up” of the whole year’s harvest of timber and logs.

At last, however, the day of the drive arrived. Even before daylight it began with a change in the breakfast hour, for from now on breakfast was to be served at four o’clock, the first lunch at ten, the second lunch at three, and supper at six-thirty. In between times the grub table was to be always laid, so that at any time, day or night, anyone could have a snack.

Starting the Drive

T-JOW boyishly, lightheartedly, these shantymen 11 tackled that work! Work which meant from fourteen to sixteen hours of daily toil, working, eating, and sleeping in clothes drenching wet; daily risking their lives on slippery, leaping logs, in seething, roaring rivers; and meeting it all with a joke, a laugh, a curse, or a song. All the while those shantymen displayed thoughtful generosity, enduring activity, common sense, modest bravery, and such an utter lack of swank or swagger that one wonders why the pages of history and fiction have so seldom contained a true description of Canadian shantymen. In the middle eighties those shantymen were from among Canada’s finest pioneers,

who, in order to earn ready money to help carry on the work of clearing their wilderness farms, were forced to work at least part of the year at lumbering.

Jean, having now been promoted to foreman, ordered the breaking of the rollways, or dumps, around Moose Lake. At each rollway from three to six men worked at prying the logs free with the aid of peavies to start them rolling and tumbling and splashing into the water. Two men were standing in an anchored boat, and, with the aid of eleven-foot pike-poles, kept the logs moving farther from the shore in order to make room for other down-rushing logs from the rollway. At these rollways the men started to work as soon as the broken ice commenced to move away from the shore below. The first work was to loosen the logs at the lower end of the dump, so that the rest of the rollway would have a chance to roll down freely into the water. That was exceedingly dangerous work at which many a man had been killed. A single sawlog might weigh a ton, and many rollways contained hundreds of such logs. There was little hope for the survival of the rollway breaker

who happened to be working in between the logs and the water when such a rollway broke free, if, in his effort to escape, he had the misfortune to slip when that thundering avalanche was about to crush and bury him.

Meanwhile, the spring freshet, unless controlled by dams, would be racing away at such terrific speed that it might mean a complete hold-up of the drive, and thus convert the winter’s work into such a disastrous loss that the owner might be ruined. So important was the part the foreman of the drive played that the fate of the owner sometimes depended entirely on him. While the worst thing that could happen a drive was low water, the next worst was head wind, for that might hold back the logs for many days. Still another bad thing was dead water, for then the men might have to wade while they poled every separate log.

When once started the drive had to be pressed forward with all possible speed, owing to the rate at which the spring freshet travelled, otherwise it would outrun the drive and leave the whole winter’s work

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The Gang Man

“hung up” on the river banks, there to remain at least a year until another spring freshet could carry it on its long violent journey to the far-off cities of Ottawa or Quebec. The former was the river destination of the free-running sawlogs, and the latter the river destination of the rafted squaretimber. The hanging up of a drive was considered unpardonable mismanagement and brought disgrace on the whole outfit—except, of course, in an unusually dry season, when there was not enough water in the river« beds to float the year’s work.

Jean also set a number of men placing “glance rooms” in the river-bed below the dams, where there were abrupt turns and the force of the torrent might be apt to drive the logs upon the bank and strand them there. They were chained to large standing trees, and were braced with logs jutting out from the shore, with one end of each being spiked to the boom. At other places where the current might be very strong and the bank low and flat, and where some indestructible barrier was needed to turn the force of the river, Jean had “side piers” built in the form of long log cribs which rose several feet above the high-water mark, and which were filled with tons of stones to keep them from shifting when the dams were opened and the river-bed flooded. Along the river banks, too, occasional out-slanting trees were chopped away to open up a better view from one bend of the river to another, to enable signallers stationed there to wave their birchbark flags, and thus, in a few seconds, transmit word the whole length of the river should the channel be blocked with bad jams of logs which would require the water to be shut off before the logs could be removed.

When one considers that a fall of one inch in a mile of river water will produce a current, and that a drop of three inches to the mile will cause the current to run at the rate of three miles an hour, and, furthermore, that a drop of three feet in a mile will create a torrent, is it any wonder that those mountain streams of Manitou Forest were difficult to control or to drive? Nor should one be surprised that there were so many wooden crosses along the banks of those streams tributary to the Upper Ottawa River, when one remembers that the square timber with which they were about to build their great rafts would have to descend nearly a thousand feet 'before it could reach the City of Quebec.

During the winter all the square timber had been hauled out upon the ice of the rivers and lakes, and only the round sawlogs had been piled in rollways. Now, as the breaking of the rollways continued on the banks of the narrow lake, the current steadily carried the logs down toward the dam. In a few days all was ready to let loose a strong additional flow of water and start the driving of the timber and logs down Bear River.

One morning right after breakfast Jean ordered the hoisting of the stop-logs from the gate of the dam. This released a solid glassy stream of water which hissed and leaped and lunged and roared as it plunged at great speed down the rocky gorge, until it was a madly rushing river which foamed and fumed for four miles or more through rocky passes. Finally it came out upon flat gravelly beaches and entered Lake Manitou.

Away down in a deep granite canyon the river ran a roaring white torrent in which the logs went lunging along, their ponderous black backs surging out of foam, their already battered yellow heads lurching up and down, and now and again butting a terrific blow against a jagged underwater rock, making a report like a distant cannon. Then the Spirit of the River, as though catching a log off its guard, would whirl its head about and

send it broadside against another rock. The current would instantly overpower it and hold it down, while other downcoming logs would plunge against it or leap upon it, until in a few moments a great tangled mass, sometimes weighing hundreds of tons, would form, and not only block the passage of other timbers but sometimes block the passage of the water, too, and dam back the river until it flooded the valley and floated the oncoming logs high upon ledges of rock or even among the trees, leaving them there when the water receded.

The Jam Breakers

rPO BREAK that jam, Jean and a number of his best men—who had followed him without word of command, for none but volunteers ever worked on jams—ran out and mounted the mass; the long sharp steel spikes with which their shoe soles were studded gripping the wood as they leaped from log to log. Then as fast as they could whirl their peavies they rolled the loose logs aside in their search for the key log, the finding and removal of which would loosen the pile. But frequently the key log was hidden from sight, and there was nothing to do but unpile the whole mass. As that would require much labor, other volunteers came aboard to lend a hand. Then as the big jam diminished in size the jamcrackers—for the safety of those who were to remain behind—gradually returned ashore, until at last only Jean and a helper remained to loosen the final logs. When the last timbers began to roll and plunge, they made a dash for their lives.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, early or late, thus the men toiled along the river, from cool morning gloom to warm evening dusk. All the while, morning, noon, or night, their clothes were wet, and their blankets too, for their tents were so rotten that the rain ran through and soaked their bedding. Yet nowhere could one find a merrier crew. But what a battle the shantymen waged, not between man and his fellow but between Nature and man. That has ever been the great combat which Canadian shantymen have had to fight, and their fighting has been superb, for Nature has always been a worthy foe.

When the drive reached Manitou Lake they left it in the mouth of the river, with the two big retaining booms holding it back, while they broke the rollways around the lake’s southern shore.

From the beginning of the drive there was keen rivalry among the different camps as to which crew would lead the way, and now all four gangs were racing to be the first to enter Indian River. Within a week’s time the men of Camp Five had completed the breaking of all the rollways on the shores of Manitou Lake. Then the next thing to do was to sweep the logs from the shore and enclose them in larger booms, which was done by dividing the men into boat crews and coupling three or four boats together, tandem fashion, that they might tow one end of the enclosing boom while they worked their way in between the floating logs and the shore. Thus they enclosed the logs in the encircling boom, the other end of which was fastened to the shore. In that way all the booms were gradually filled, closed, and snubbed ashore to await the working of the horse-powered windlass on the cadge-crib, when the contents of all the smaller booms would be emptied into larger ones which would be cadged down the lake to Indian River.

The cadge-crib had been made by the handy man and his gang. It measured thirty by forty-five feet, and was made of top-flattened logs held together at either end with strongly pegged traverses. In

the centre of the crib was erected a capstan made from a four-foot section of a twenty-inch-thick tree, and which revolved around a perpendicular three-inch steel spindle, the lower end of which was securely embedded in the big centre timber of the raft.

The capstan was worked by horse power, a single horse being hitched to either end of a twenty-foot beam countersunk in the head of the drum, and round which passed in three or four coils an eight-hundred-foot, two-inch rope, one end of which was attached to a fivehundred-pound anchor that was lowered to the bottom of the lake, while the other end of the rope was secured to the containing boom. Thus, by dropping the anchor six or seven hundred feet from the boom, they winched the boom up to the anchor by horse power. By continually raising, transporting, and dropping the anchor again, they slowly but surely hauled their huge booms of timber and logs across the bays, or rolled them along the shore like horizontal cartwheels. Thus by working both horses and men in day and night shifts they were able to tow their booms down the lake at the rate of about two to three miles an hour on a calm day.

The Banding Ground

XTOW for a number of days the drive ran rapidly, and when it entered a series of long, narrow lakes, it was taken in charge by several strange little amphibious vessels known as “alligators,” each of which had its own name, for instance “The Mink” or “The Beaver.” The latter was a famous cross-country runner, and had on a single trip covered over one hundred and fifty miles over hill and dale, river and lake, where nothing seemed to daunt her, not even a mountain. For she as gaily climbed a hill hundreds of feet high as she crossed a lake hundreds of feet deep. She did it by putting out ahead of her a steel cable, hundreds of yards in length, snubbing it to a tree or a rock or to her anchor, and then with her powerful winching engine winding up the cable on her big steel drum, thus hauling her flat-bottomed self up to the far end of her steel line. By continually repeating that operation she pulled herself over an extraordinarily rocky region, while in going through a pass she often had to haul herself over boulders eight and ten feet high.

Booth’s banding ground was in Paulson Bay where the Riviere des Quinze emptied into Lake Temiskaming, and on the shore of which were erected in separate places the tents of Booth’s five gangs. Inside a great enclosure, made by joining several half-mile booms together, was now corraled all the square timber that the five gangs had brought down. Already the making of three rafts was well under way, and Jean and the foreman of Camp Two lost no time in starting on theirs. While attending to the erection of his tents and getting his camp in shape, Jean set a number of small gangs at work making cribs.

Cribs and Drams

DUT as a crib is sometimes called a dram, and a dram is sometimes called a crib, the difference should be explained. In the middle eighties, all rafts of square timber made to run the Ottawa River were composed of cribs, while all the rafts of square timber made to navigate the Great Lakes were composed of drams. A dram was made by first forming a frame fifty feet wide by three hundred feet long, of the largest timber at band, which was coupled together, end to end, by means of wooden cap-pieces, each six feet in length by ten inches thick, and through either end of which was bored a huge auger hole that fitted over an oak picket protruding vertically from either end of each stick of frame timber. The next largest timbers were then selected and placed lengthwise inside the frame

until it was filled, but care was taken to interlace alternate short and long pieces, so as to strengthen the joints of the great floor thus formed. Then fifty-foot-long traverses, each not less than ten inches thick, were placed crosswise at intervals of ten feet, and each stick of timber was securely bound to a traverse with a twisted birch withe, after which the spaces between the traverses were filled with timber laid across the dram. Next, the third or top tier of timber was laid lengthwise. Thus was a dram built so that it could withstand most of the storms on the Great Lakes.

A crib, however, was a much simpler and smaller structure, though it, too, was made to navigate stormy lakes, as well as two great rivers, the Ottawa, and St. Lawrence; and on the former there were a number of long timber slides to run, as well as many great dangerous rapids to shoot.

To make a crib, the first thing they had to do was to select two suitable timbers and rope them together, for, as loose square timber always floats on edge, that was the easiest way to make them float fiat. Then about ten inches from the edge of the kerf on either end of each stick, and six inches from the centre edges of the two timbers, they marked a spot where the point of the three-and-ahalf-inch auger was to start, when it bored each of the four vertical holes through those two timbers, and through which were then driven oak pickets until they protruded two feet below the timbers. The timbers were then turned over, and upon those four pickets were placed two six-inch-thick traverses, flattened on the lower side, and in either end of which was a hole into each of which one of those pickets was fitted. Then the traverses were driven home.

Thus the two timbers were secured exactly parallel, and with their outer sides twenty-five feet ten inches apart. Three more traverses were then laid across the frame, and while one was placed in the middle, the other two were laid parallel to the first two, but a foot from them, and all three were secured in place with ten-inch spikes. Then the space between the two square timbers of the frame was packed with one layer of timber of the right size, and as the length of every stick -was marked on its side, that was easily arranged by the timber sorters. Then the timbers were wedged and driven tight.

But even though it now formed a small floorlike raft, the crib was not yet finished until three or four pieces of extra-fine timber were hauled up on top of the traverses to act as “loading sticks.” These were secured in place by having, on either side of them, square wooden “Calumet pins” driven down into twoand-a-half-inch auger holes in the second and fourth traverses. Next a wooden rowlock was made fast on the centre of either of the outer loading sticks; and at either end of the centre loading stick, two inch-square thole pins were driven in, so that oars could be worked against their square edges. Thus oars could be manned on every side of the crib. The twentyeight-foot sweeps were made four inches square, but flattened at the outer end to form an oar blade, and shaved round at the inner end to form a handle for the oarsman. Besides, every timber in the crib was numbered with black paint, so that in case one or more cribs were broken, the same timbers could be assembled and replaced in their respective cribs.

That was the way all cribs were made, though they might run from twenty-four to sixty feet in length, according to the size of the timber; the average being, however, about thirty-three feet in length. The reason all square-timber cribs were built to the exact width of twenty-five feet, ten inches, was that they might pass safely through the twenty-six-footwide timber slides the Dominion Govern-

ment had built to enable raftsmen to avoid rapids that were impossible to run.

The Man From Haileybury

ONE morning, while they were making cribs, Jean caught sight of a threeand-a-half-fathom birchbark canoe coming. It was from Haileybury. Even then, such was the name that dignified a lonely log shack on the western shore of Lake Temiskaming. It was soon to be known as the first house built in a famous mining town, the gateway to one of the greatest gold and silver mining regions in the world. Now it merely stood in the middle of a small stump lot, surrounded by a great white pine forest. The canoe contained two Indian canoemen, and the white free trader, Charles C. Farr. Knowing that the shantymen would be needing new clothing and other supplies, Farr had brought over merchandise to sell to them.

Farr was a tall, stoop-shouldered Englishman with a drooping mustache, rusty clothes, and a merry laugh, who was ever as ready to discuss the plays of Shakespeare as he was the skinning of wildcats, or the latest novel, or the largest moose. He was for many years one of the outstanding characters of that region. A remarkable pioneer, and a man of sound vision as to the future development of that country, he, more than any other man, was responsible for the opening up of that district to the free trader, the settler, the prospector, the miner, the banker, the paper-maker, and all the swarm of other business men who followed in their wake.

As soon as Jean’s raftsmen had built a number of timber cribs, he had them set about forming his raft by coupling the cribs together by means of two-inch planks with big holes bored in either end which, when fitted over the corner pickets, fastened the cribs together. Thus, any number of cribs up to about two hundred could be coupled together to form a raft. Rafts required crews at the rate of one man to every two cribs, and every two men occupied a tiny cabin of their own. Those kennel-like cabins measured six feet six inches long, by four feet wide, and the householders had to crawl through their kennel-like entrance on their hands and knees.

Floating Villages

HTHE pilots’ cabins, however, measured I six and a half feet square, and each one was provided with at least two bunks. There were four of that size, one of which was for Jean, who, as head pilot, shared his cabin with his clerk; and Jean had chosen the crib that carried the queen timber as its centre loading stick. Another of those cabins was occupied by the second and third pilots; and a third by the cook and choreboy; while the fourth acted as a storehouse for the cook’s supply of food. Over one of the largest cribs of all—in this case, fifty-five feet long—a roof was erected of a double layer of loose one-inch boards. In the centre of this crib lay the camboose frame filled with sand on which the cook built his fire, the smoke of which ascended through a large square opening in the roof. This crib was called “The Cookery,” or the cook’s crib, upon which the meals were served, the men sitting on stationary benches rigged round the four sides of the crib.

Upon other cribs rested four pointer boats, two of which were six-oared and two four-oared. There was also a set of ropes, one of which was two inches thick, while five were an inch and a half, and still another was three quarters of an inch thick. All were four hundred feet in length. Besides, there were more than enough sweeps for every member of the crew, so that the entire raft, between three and four acres in size, could be propelled by sweeps being manned on all four sides at the same time, the bow and stern men doing the steering, while the side men did the propelling

Thus one can form some idea of the appearance of those old-time portable villages, travelling on townsites of beautifully hewn square timber which looked like newly cut cream cheese, and which often crowded certain sections of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers in those picturesque lumbering days which have vanished forever from those romantic waterways.

So great was the volume of the squaretimber trade in those bygone days, that when Jean was working as a raftsman during the summer of 1879 he saw in a single day seventeen rafts snubbed above the Calumet Rapids, while fourteen rafts were snubbed below them, and for a mile above those rapids the rafts left so little open water that there was only enough open channel left to propel single cribs through it to the rapids.

A week late the steamer Meteor arrived to take in tow two of the rafts that Pierre Leteic and the foreman of Camp One, Joe Wilson, had just completed; and with the steamer came the boss, J. R. But he did not come to take over the management of the work or to dictate to his men, but just to look on and see how things were going and to encourage them. When Jean showed disappointment in not getting his raft away with the others, J. R. said:

“But you had the biggest drive and the longest run and yet you nearly won.” Then he added with a smile: “And you’ve still six hundred miles to run.”

Shooting the Rapids

TN FOUR or five days the steamer would

be back again to take in tow another raft or two, and Jean encouraged his men to make it theirs. And so it was, and a beautiful morning too when they started down the lake.

Two days later, the Meteor left the raft at the head of the Long Sault Rapids. Jean ordered it snubbed ashore for the night, as at daybreak they were to begin the work of river travel with the shooting of those six-mile-long rapids.

“Hurrah, mes bons hommes! Levez, levez, levez! Up, up, up, up!” Jean shouted as he beat with a stout stick upon the roofs of the tiny cabins, and thus he heralded the dawn of another day upon their raft. After breakfast the work of manning the separated cribs began, the best of the men working one man to a crib, but only when two cribs were coupled together for the run, while the second-raters worked two men to a single crib. But before entering the rapids each run-his-gang man was supplied with thirty-five feet of three-quarterinch rope for the purpose of fastening the timbers in the crib. This was done by first driving an iron dog, or wedge, into the bow end of each timber, and then passing the rope through the eyelet of one dog and over and under the first traverse, and then through the eyelet of the second dog. Then by securely fastening the two ends of the rope, all the timbers were laced in place.

Their cribs were navigated with a sweep at either end, the crew rowing and steering it sideways into the swifter current, which soon caught it and carried it toward the rapids, while the raftsmen were steering it into the centre of the channel. Then when they were about to take the first pitch, they shipped their oars to prevent them from being washed overboard or broken. Though the Long Sault Rapids were six miles in length and had a drop of fifty-two feet, they were not considered bad, yet they did have a number of big pitches, the first and the last being the worst. On reaching the banding ground at the foot of those white-waters, the men went ashore and returned on foot to the head of the rapids to bring down other cribs. Thus by the afternoon of the third day they had finished the run, and their raft was once more banded together for further travel.

To be Continued