Paul Bunyan on Wheels
Ontario's lumber industry is streamlined for war, but it's the Buck Beaver's loading gangs who keep the logs tumbling from the skidways
the old Buck Beaver To the young Road Monkey: “Git on with clearin’ that snow.” Said the young Road Monkey To the old Buck Beaver:
“Where d’y’ want I should go?”
“Dust off them skidways,
And level that road.
The sleighs are all ready To carry their load.”
Said the old Buck Beaver To the young Road Monkey:
“The pieces are starting to roll.”
ALGONQUIN Provincial Park is a huge chunk of forest land in eastern central Ontario, roughly rectangular in shape, covering 2,740 square miles. Larger than Prince Edward Island, Algonquin ranks with the biggest national park reservations of North America. It has been provincial government property since 1893, is a game protected area. Within its boundaries are more than a thousand lakes, ranging in size from the wide reaches of Openongo to pocket handkerchief ponds bearing such commonplace names as Mud, and Moon, and the headwaters of three important rivers—the Petawawa, the Madawaska, and the Muskoka.
In summer Algonquin Park is a popular vacation country. As many as eight thousand cars have been checked at the park entrances in a single normal season. Hotels, boardinghouses, camps and trailer sites care for warm weather visitors. The park’s permanent population consists of forest and fire rangers, beaver, deer, bear, wolves and the smaller wild life—and lumberjacks. This report has to do with the lumberjacks.
Ontario’s lumber industry is overshadowed in most folks’ minds by the more spectacular operations among the tall trees of British Columbia, and the roaring rivers of New Brunswick. Yet Ontario’s lumber operations return the provincial Department of Lands and Forests close to three million
dollars annually. Latest available figures show 12,501 square miles of forest under timber license in 1941, producing 197,445,689 feet of saw-log timber from 7,113,353 pieces. A piece is a log not less than eight feet long. Some pieces are twenty feet in length. Sixteen feet is a fair average.
Saw-log timber is a big item of lumber production, with pulpwood about equal. Additionally, Ontario forests are producing boom and dimension timber, car stakes, fence posts, telegraph poles, railway ties, shingles and cordwood for fuel. These are by-products of the main industry, but they have their place in the general scheme.
Ontario lumber is being used extensively in the construction of military and air-training centres. Yellow birch, cut in Algonquin Park and on other Crown lands, makes airplane propellers, and, on a rapidly growing scale, fuselage coverings. Only perfect logs—veneer logs—are good enough for this job. They are round, straight grained, flawless —beautiful wood. Other less exquisite pieces are turned into ammunition boxes and similar standard military containers. One firm operating in the park is taking poplar, loading it to a shook mill in Pembroke, where it is cut into match splints. Before the war Great Britain imported her matchsticks from the Scandinavian countries. Now British match companies are getting their wood from Canada—billions of splints each year.
Eleven operators were cutting lumber in Algonquin Park this winter, ranging from large organizations like John S. L. McRae, Gillies Brothers and Thomas E. McCool, each running two or more camps and employing from two to three hundred men, to single camp outfits with fifty men on the payroll. Among them the eleven firms took out 24,350,000 board measure feet of hard and softwood saw-logs, 3,025 cords of pulpwood and fuel. Altogether, 1,515 woodsmen found jobs in Algonquin Park camps during the season.
Successful operation of a large-scale lumber camp involves a wide variety of highly-specialized practices. The land must be surveyed, skidways located, routes mapped for roads to be constructed
later through the virgin forest, over lakes and streams. When the freeze-up becomes permanent the roads have to be made, and once made, they have to be maintained. The men in camp must be housed and fed, their equipment provided, their health cared for, simple luxuries made available for their comfort. A lumber camp is a small village populated exclusively by males, containing all the components and all the problems of such a community.
A certain amount of cutting goes on in summer, but real activity in the park begins with the making of bush roads in the fall, then carries on through the early winter felling, and midwinter loading. Camps are busiest from around the middle of January until the spring break-up, generally speaking; but the job leans heavily upon weather conditions. An early winter means an early start in the bush. A late freeze-up—as happened this year—delays the beginning of operations, compels a more feverish activity when loading finally does get under way.
The natural beauty of Algonquin Park is preserved for travellers by provisions protecting the forest for a distance of from one to three hundred feet from the shore lines and highways. No trees may be felled in the reserved areas. On the other hand, timber limit license holders have to go where the trees are. Most of the worth-while lumber is likely to be found in remote locations, sometimes ten or fifteen miles from the mill or a waterway capable of carrying a spring drive. The trees are felled then cut into logs on the spot. The logs are hauled downhill—skidded in the language of the lumberjack—to a convenient point beside a bush road. There they are piled one above another in a tidy heap of pieces, called a skidway, and there they remain until weather conditions permit them to be hauled away, either on heavy-duty trucks or on sleighs drawn by light trucks.
THE SEASON begins, in early autumn, when bulldozers and grading crews go to work cutting the roads. The brush is cleared, scrub is
removed, and open spaces wide enough to permit the passage of trucks and sleighs are made ready. These are one-track thoroughfares, extended at convenient spots to allow vehicles to pull off the road in an emergency. Almost all traffic moves in single file, operates on a rough-and-ready sort of schedule. Trucks hauling sleighs go into the bush in trains, are loaded one after another, pull out together.
Making and maintaining a winter road fit to carry logging operations is. an exact, if rugged science.
It begins with dragging. A drag is nothing more than a slim, trimmed tree trunk, hitched behind a horse. The road surface is smoothed with these primitively efficient tools, then rolled with a mighty cylinder of boards standing as high as the horse that pulls it. The roller packs the snow, makes a hard, even surface equal to the tough task ahead.
Next the water tanks swing into action. Like all other paraphernalia (except motorized equipment) used in Algonquin Park camps, the water tanks are built in the camp blacksmith shop, and of wood. A tank is an oversize packing case, with a wagon tongue at each end, because it is too big to turn round in narrow roads. It is mounted on sleigh runners, and holds hundreds of gallons. Usually a small tractor supplies the motive power.
Ice is a treacherous jade. Thin spots in lakes and creeks must be built up, since it takes a two-foot thickness of ice to absorb the punishment a logging road gets. At the weak places, holes are cut, the water rises, floods the surface and freezes. This process is repeated until the road is strong enough tocarry the load. First testsaremadewith the tractor alone. Then a small amount of water is pumped into the tank and the heavier vehicle covers the route. If the tank doesn’t break through more water is added. An ice road that will sustain a fully-loaded water tank is ready for the heavy-duty haul.
Where sleighs are used, the water tank keeps the l oad iced. Two holes are bored in the bottom of the tank, then plugged with long poles fitted with handles at the top. The holes are spaced, one on each side of the tank, at the width of a timber sleigh. Two men operate the water tank—a driver, on the tractor and a "conductor,” sitting up aloft. Nobody seems to know just why the conductor is called a conductor. Maybe the tradition dates back to Paul Bunyan. Actually, conductors are usually youngsters beginning their bush careers, or men too old for more strenuous tasks.
The conductor’s job is to load the tank, then empty it according to the needs of the road. The full tank, hauled by its tractor, moves out creaking ponderously over the road. The conductor yanks the pole plugs from the bottom. The water squirts cut, then freezes, leaving two narrow strips of
glare ice on either side of the road where the sleigh runners need smooth going. This procedure is repeated continuously day after day on bush roads where logs are hauled by sleighs. It takes from two to three weeks hard work to make a road, under the best possible weather conditions.
Logging roads must be cared for as tenderly as your rich great-aunt on a visit. Grooves four inches deep are cut into the ice on curves, to hold sleigh runners on the track. Straw or hay is spread on the hills, providing traction for truck wheels, holding back loaded sleighs on downgrades and preventing them from climbing all over the trucks in front. Bales of hay and straw are dumped at convenient spots, then forked onto the roads where the stuff will do the most good.
Road maintenance crews are responsible for keeping the skidways free of snow and ice that would hamper the work of the loaders. Men of these gangs are called by a variety of pet names, but "road monkeys” seems to be the one most commonly used. "Chickadees” is an alternative. The foreman of the road gang is a "buck beaver” as is almost any lumber-camp foreman or straw boss.
HAULING didn’t start in Algonquin Park this year until the end of January. They were loading ten-wheeler trucks at Golfcheskie’s camp, a J. S. L. McRae operation, on the bright morning when E. L. "Red” Ward, District Forester for the Algonquin region, and Tom McCormick, Chief Forest Ranger, drove this correspondent out from Park Headquarters to see what was what. Camps are named for the foreman in charge. Many of the veteran lumberjacks working in the park are Poles, or of Polish descent, and this particular buck beaver is named Golfcheskie—at least, he pronounces his name as though it were spelled that way.
Loaders work first on the skidway farthest from the point of delivery, reducing hauling distance with each skidway cleared. Often the loading gang is located so far from the main camp that the noon meal is sent to them. We hit the scene of action just as the men were settling down for lunch.
There were about twenty of them; teamsters, truck drivers, loading gangs and road monkeys. Some pink-cheeked lads in their teens, others oldsters with grooved and weathered faces the color of tanbark. The lunch site was beside a frozen creek, an open space among the tall pines, with a lively fire glowing in the middle of it. Big iron pots hung from poles fixed between crossed supports formed of saplings cut from the surrounding bush. Trimmed tree trunks were laid on the snow-covered earth to serve as seats, forming an approximate square. The men helped themselves to the food as they wanted it, filling tin plates and
pannikins, taking knives and forks from a box and returning to their places on one or another of the logs. It was rather like a picnic; not a lazy summertime picnic, but a functional picnic. These men needed a hot meal at midday. This is the way they got it.
Lumberjacks eat robust food and a lot of it. For this lunch there were beans, beef stew, bread and butter, corn syrup, cookies and strong tea. The food had been carried from the main camp on a horse-drawn sleigh, then heated over the open fire. A hole cut in the ice covering the creek supplied water for the tea. And that was tea to peel the hide from a sturdy oak; strong, black, clear, scalding hot, drunk without milk or sugar; but nevertheless, in some way palatable and stimulating. Life among the skidways doesn’t have room for the softer amenities.
Second and third helpings of food were stowed away. Used dishes were dropped into a box to be carried back to camp. One or two of the men lighted pipes, or rolled cigarettes. Not many woodsmen smoke, and those who do take their tobacco in its simpler forms. For perhaps ten minutes they smoked and talked, joshed one another, relaxed in the comfortable warmth.
It was then for the first time that we noticed the birds. The woods in winter are for the most part filled with an almost awesome silence. Deep snow blankets them. There is no traffic. The wild life, except for an occasional deer, remains hidden and secret, only their tracks betraying them; but the minute an open campfire makes its presence known, blue jays, chickadees, whisky-jacks and squirrels come hurrying from their remote places, chattering and scolding above the blue smoke plume, searching out the scraps of food they know will be there. "They fly for miles when they spot the smoke,” Tom McCormick said. They were here now, a dozen or more of them hovering and swooping above the camp site, resenting our presence, bidding us to be off about our business.
This business was not far away. Down the bush road from the lunch camp a skidway was waiting to be broken asunder. The truck drivers climbed into their seats, the teamsters took the feedbags off their horses’ heads, and the loaders, riding the trucks, went back to work.
Meet the Top Loader
A SKID WAY may be as small as a backyard garage, or may be piled large as a two-story suburban residence. Truck loading from the skidway differs in some respects from sleigh loading, although the general principle is the same. Both use jammers controlled by a team of horses, but where trucks are used the logs are hoisted high in the air and lowered into position. In the case of
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Paul Bunyan on Wheels
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sleighs, which arecloser to the ground, the logs are drawn up skids directly onto the vehicle with a chain called a decking line.
A jammer is a woods-made hoisting crane, constructed of two trimmed tree trunks, assembled with the tops bolted together, the feet wide apart, and mounted on runners, since the jammers are hauled from one skidway to the next. The apparatus is anchored to a convenient tree with thick manila rope. At its peak it carries a diamondshaped block, fitted with wire rope tackle. The tackle in turn is threaded through a pulley bolted to the base of the jammer and connected to a heavy chain hooked on a whiffletree to which two horses are harnessed.
Five men—besidestheroad monkey who is always somewhere in the offing, wielding his snow shovel — work on the skidway, in addition to the teamster and the truck driver. There are two tailers, two senders and a top loader. The tailers, using cant hooks and crowbars, with an occasional lusty wallop from the lumberjack’s most versatile tool, the axe, loosen the heavy logs from the pyramided pile, tumble them down and roll them toward the sleighs or trucks. Two peeled poles— skids—each fitted with a razor sharp claw at one end, are set at ^n angle in the side of the truck. The senders bring the logs to the skids, tugging and rolling them with their cant hooks. Chains are coiled around each end of the log, and hooked onto the wire rope tackle.
The top loader is Mr. Big. He stands on the truck, sizing up each log, its length, circumference and general contours. At his signal the teamster shouts an order to his horses. The animals throw their weight into their collars, walk away from the truck, stretching the chain behind them. The jammer groans a protest, and bends forward as the block and tackle picks up the load. The log slides up the skids as the horses move forward, then rises in the air, hangs there until the top loader, his cant hook biting deeply into the hark, signals for the team to hack up, guides it into the desired position on the truck. The number of pieces a truck may carry, the proper balance of the load, the exact spot where each log must lie to maintain that balance, these are the top loader’s responsibilities.
An average truckload runs from
twenty to twenty-five pieces of mixed lumber; but there might be thirty-five logs on a load of softwood, and as few as five huge tree trunks on a load of fully-grown birch or maple. Some of those pieces run as high as 3,000 pounds dead weight.
Introduction of motorized equipment to the woods has speeded up hauling tremendously. In the old days when all hauling was done by teams, the horses could make only from two to three miles an hour over bush roads. Loaded ten-wheelers do ten to twelve miles an hour through the bush, make still better time on the higkwa . Working as they were in Algonquin Park last January and February, under pressure of wartime demands for lumber, plus a late starting season, the ten-wheelers we:« making five round trips in each shift, running two shifts daily. Sleighs drawn by light trucks, ballasted with sand or rocks to keep them on the road, do twenty miles an hour, empty, through the bush, return, loaded, at ten to twelve miles an hour. From the rear an empty sleigh, hauled at twenty miles an hour by a two-and-a-half ton truck, careening from side to side, swooping around corners, grinding through grooves cut in the ice, smashing against an occasional stump looks like an extremely reluctant dragon being pulled by the tail, very much against his will, toward a destination he abhors.
Dawn to Dark
THE TRUCKS do not carry the sleighs to the skidways. Instead they rendezvous at a convenient point some distance away from the branch road, usually on a lake or at a wide bend in a creek. There are two sets of sleighs for each truck train, and each train will have half a dozen or more trucks in it. As the operation starts the empty sleighs are taken into the bush, then drawn by horses to the skidway, loaded and returned to the junction. The trucks back up one by one, are coupled with a trailer hitch to the centre pole of the loaded sleigh, and drive off. By the time they return another half dozen loaded sleighs will be waiting for the pickup.
In the woods the working day begins at dawn, goes on as long as there is enough light for the men to see by. For teamsters it begins an hour earlier, since teamsters must feed and care for their own horses.
Lumber camps don’t change much in their physical aspects or their component parts. A certain amount of legal supervision has improved living conditions, requiring metal fittings for the men’s sleeping quarters and the like; but a typical Ontario lumber camp is still a cluster of log cabins, comprising a storeroom and office, bunk houses, a combination kitchen and dining hall, stables, a blacksmith’s shop, and a filing shed. The camp is heated with sheet iron wood stoves, lighted by coal-oil lamps.
The company clerk has charge of camp affairs. He keeps the records, handles the stores, orders supplies in consultation with the cook. Sleighs, tanks, rollers, drags, jammers, cant hooks, pike poles, tables, benches,
axe handles and all the rest of the camp’s assortment of gear are made in the blacksmith’s shop. The blacksmith and his helpers also shoe the horses. The filer, whose tricky job it is to keep the saws sharp, rates a specially-built cabin, with a wide window set for a north light and a skylight over it, like an artist’s studio. Crosscut saws used in the bush must be filed by hand, since there are more than sixty separate operations in the prdcess, the filer is an expert and very busy man. Under average light conditions, he can sharpen about ten saws a day.
Your reporter hopes there will be no hard feelings if he ventures a personal opinion that about the most important man in any lumber camp is the cook. They are a remarkable people these camp cooks. They bake, every day, dozens of prodigious loaves of bread the size of sofa cushions and brew gallon upon gallon of powerful black tea. They cook soups and roasts and stews, potatoes and cabbage and beans. Especially beans. All this they do on vast wood-burning stoves, stoked with chunks of maple, without the aid of gas or electricity, thermostats or thermometers. Their methods would probably cause a graduate in home economics to faint dead away, but the woodsmen, coming fresh to their meals from the keen cold outdoors, pitch in with enthusiasm, relishing every bite.
The food is rugged, highly-flavored, generally excellent, and there is plenty of it. Bread of all kinds, and meat, form the base of the lumberjacks’ diet, with some difference of opinion as to whether the bread or the meat is the more important item. It is an accepted fact that a good cook can make a camp successful, a poor cook ruin it. Some woodsmen roam from camp to camp, have taken their time in as many as half a dozen camps in a single season, looking, not for better wages, but for better cooking.
The chief cook is The Cook. His two or more assistants—the number depends upon how many men have to be fed three times a day—are cookies. A chore boy keeps the kitchen supplied with fuel. He may also be known as a bull cook. Don’t let that word “boy” fool you. We saw one chore boy with long white whiskers.
Pieces hauled from the bush reach one of two immediate destinations. They may go direct to a nearby sawmill, or they may be loaded onto a dump—a sort of super skidway— at a point where, when the ice breaks up, they can be rolled into the water and moved down river to a more distant mill in the regular spring drive.
The urgent wartime demand for certain hardwoods has led many of the larger operators to put new sawmills at strategic points convenient to the cutting area. There they build a hot pond beside the mill, and in the hot pond they thaw out the logs to be sawn. A hot pond is a square pool cut through the ice, insulated with boards and heated with steam pipes. Sleighs and trucks unload their hardwood at the edge of the pool. The logs are rolled into the hot water, where they float torpidly,
almost submerged. The point is that you cannot successfully saw frozen hardwood.
A CHAIN conveyor carries the thawed logs up a jackladder to the top floor of the mill, where the sawyer controls the frenzied rushing to and fro of a furious contraption called a saw carriage. Steam operated, the saw carriage is piston propelled over a short length of the track, forward then back, repeating the movement interminably all day long—a mechanical maniac running noisily amok in dense clouds of steam.
The sawyer operates from a point below the saw carriage at about track level. Before his eyes a narrow band saw of deceptively fragile appearance is bolted in perpendicular position, its cutting edge toward the end of the mill where the raw logs enter. Two men, a setter and a dogger, stand before twin levers on the saw carriage. A third receives the logs at the top of the runway, cant hooks them to an incline equipped with an endless chain belt that hustles them onto the saw carriage. The dogger pulls a lever, clamping down the “dogs” that hold the log firmly in place. The carriage hurtles back along the track. As the band saw’s teeth meet the wood a strip is sliced from the outside edge, cutting below the bark. The thin bark-covered segment resulting from this first operation is a slab.
Now the log, one side smoothly sliced, has to be turned. The thing weighs a ton or more. How are they going to turn it? That’s easy. From the floor, on the log side of the saw carriage a fresh monstrosity appears; a solid steel upright, ruggedly fanged, looking like the neck and head of a savage prehistoric beast. This frightful thing is hurled furiously upon the helpless timber, seizes the log in its ruthless jaws, lifts it and tosses it up and over on the carriage, as human hands might flip a match stick, exposing an uncut side to the saw. In the mill this weapon is known as a “nigger,” a masterpiece of understatement. Another slab is torn from the wood. The process is repeated, until the tree trunk, shorn of its bark, rests squarely on the
saw carnage. Then the carriage dashes backward and forward until the entire log is converted into boards.
Clocking this performance, it took a minute and ten seconds to saw a birch log approximately fourteen feet long and eight inches in diameter. This one mill produces between 25,000 and 30,000 feet of sawn hardwood lumber in a ten-hour shift —about five miles of nice clean white boards.
Sawyers, cooks, filers, blacksmiths, company clerks, buck beavers and top loaders are the best paid men around the lumber camps. Road monkeys and bull cooks receive the lowest scale. Average lumberjack’s wages run from around $45 to $65 a month, with sleeping quarters and food provided. The men pay a dollar each a month into a medicalservice fund, and each camp has a local physician on call for its needs. Company clerks are expert in first aid, many of them having trained with the St. John Ambulance Association.
Accidents happen. A log rolls out of control, a saw slips, a sleigh overturns, a tank goes through the ice; but these men know their rough, hard business, and serious casualties are rare in proportion to the number of men employed. Lumberjacks live cosily, if not luxuriously, eat lustily, breathe copious quantities of fresh air in close communion with the birds and the animals of their white wilderness. They sleep well.
They are a happy, friendly lot, not given to worrying about trifles. They play hoary practical jokes on newcomers, exchange salty repartee with one another, scribble their brags on the ends of logs in the skidways, decorate sleighs and trucks with slogans.
There was, for example, the driver who had tied a banner across the radiator of his truck, one of a sleigh train loading at Al Bleskie’s camp. In yellow letters on a purple background, this flamboyant pennon announced to the world: “There’ll Always Be A Scotland.” The truck, identified by the name and address of the owner painted on the side of the cab, belonged to A. Yaskolski of Halfway, Ont.
There’ll always be lumberjacks, too.