Document 41: R. J. O'Farrell Looks Back at the Evolution of Logging in the Northwest

R. J. O'Farrell, "The Evolution of Logging—Some Personal Glimpses," University of Washington Forest Club Quarterly 8:4 (Autumn 1929): 10-17.

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The Evolution of Logging
—Some Personal Glimpses
Lumberman, U. S. Forest Service

[ORIGINAL] EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. O'Farrell's long experience in the logging camps way back in the "early days" makes his account of added interest. He is still directly in touch with the logging industry, as his work with the Forest Service keeps him in the camps a good deal of the time—so his knowledge of the subject is strictly "first hand."

Back in the early nineties [1890s] the writer started handskidding for a Bull team. This meant cutting and placing skids [planks or tree branches] under the logs so that the skidding team could haul them to the main skid road. This was excruciatingly hard work with hours from daylight to dark. On the main road from six to twelve pairs of bulls [oxen] were strung out to haul the turn of logs [sets of logs chained together] to the landings [where the logs would be loaded on to ships or trains].

Good "Bull Punchers" [the men who drove the teams of oxen] in those days were celebrities, usually Scotch [Scottish] or of Scotch descent; rugged, honest and drinkers of plenty of hard liquor. These were later supplanted by "Hoss Teamsters" [horse drivers]. Horses were found to be more mobile than bulls, better pullers and they got out more logs. In the main, horses continued as the motive power until the advent of steam donkey engines.

The first of these was a very simple contrivance, with all upright spool with about three wraps of the main line on it. [Document 15 contains two photographs of donkey engines.] The end of the line was coiled as the turn came in, in readiness to be dragged back to the woods by a horse for another turn. This device was followed by a horizontal spool or drum for the main line, the line and chokers [pieces of wire rope fastened around the logs] being pulled back for each turn by a horse. In case of hangups [a situation where a turn of logs snagged on a tree or in the brush] the horse was used to pull slack. . . .

The next improvement in the yarding [hauling logs out of the forest] end of the game was the "High Lead." Some one discovered that by placing the main lead block [a block with a pulley; this block was located roughly halfway between the donkey engine and the logs being yarded] on a high stump that the logs came in better; from this others reasoned "why not put it on the top of a tree?" As a result, the trees were topped and the main lead block placed from 150 to 200 feet above the ground, giving clearance for the logs being pulled in. [The image below contrasts bull-team yarding to high-lead yarding. In addition, document 18 is another photograph of high-lead yarding.]

The "High Lead" also developed a new occupation in the woods known as "high rigger." At first these men were usually ex-sailors who soon developed agility in climbing trees; so that now they go up and down a tree like squirrels. The high lead is still used with good results where topography permits.

During all these years no thought was given to living conditions of the men in the logging camps. Employees carried their bed rolls, or "crummies" as they were known, from camp to camp. Most of the camps furnished straw to take the place of springs and mattresses. If the straw was missing the employee could cut hemlock branches for "feathers." Bunks were usually built as three "deckers," a new man usually starting at the top and awaiting an opportunity to work down. These "crummies" contained all the "Lumber Jack's" prized mementoes of other days. (Usually among a lot of other knick-knacks were several photos of bedizened [dressed-up] "lady friends"). These were kept under his pillow, which usually consisted of a gunny sack filled with straw with his mackinaw [wool blanket] laid on top. Naturally there was no use for a bed maker as no one would consent to a bed maker rummaging among his intimate effects. Anything in the way of luggage besides this "crummy" was considered excess baggage and was taboo. No baths [were available], unless he availed himself of a river or lake. Food, while always substantial, did not include such a variety as is served in all camps of today. In all except the longest days in summer, men carried lanterns to get back and forth to work.

Having no railroads in the woods necessitated long walks each way. If a man came in wet, as frequently happened in winter, the bunk house stove provided the only means of getting his wearing apparel dried out; this often resulted in putting on wet clothes the next day. The average man's improvident way of living did not provide many extra suits. The tendency of this mode of living was to weed out the weaklings, leaving only those with a rugged constitution to battle on, most of them looking forward only to night and pay day. Pay day was a hilarious event with much bad liquor. During the sobering up process after this monthly spree, several days were required to get the camp output back to normal. Most of the operators favored this monthly spending orgy, as experience had shown them that men were more contented and worked better when "broke."

The logging methods just described all encouraged destructive and wasteful logging. Prices were low and the operator argued, "Why not skim off the cream and move on to other virgin [old-growth] stands?" This resulted in taking out the No. 1 and 2 Douglas fir and cedar logs, leaving the ones that contained knots and the hemlock in the woods.

Fire in the woods was considered a "necessary evil." That is, as long as it was not hindering the logging game, "why worry about it" was the attitude. What State laws there were on the prevention and suppression of fires were vague and poorly enforced. In fact, the principle was well laid down, that as long as the fire was burning in cut-over lands, no expenditure of State money would be allowed. There was no thought of a future crop.

However, during all this time progressive thought was crystallizing. Better days for the logging industry were in the offing. In 1916, Congress passed the Adamson act, placing all Interstate Carriers [interstate railroads and trucking companies] on a 8-hour day basis [where workers were expected to work 8 hours pers day]. This law went into effect January 1, 1917. The World War came on and Col. Disque at Portland was arranging to supply the nation with aeroplane stock. To supplement the expected shortage of men, the Spruce Division had been formed; detachments of these were being sent into the industry on an 8-hour basis. This resulted in the industry generally accepting the 8-hour day. [Document 28 and document 29 relate to the Spruce Production Division and the changes in the timber industry during the First World War.]

In the meantime the "Wobblies" [members of the Industrial Workers of the World] had been hammering away for better living conditions in the camps of the industry, the carrying of blankets from camp to camp being particularly obnoxious to them. An incident that came under my observation will explain their methods. One evening a delegation of ten of the employees of a logging camp came over to the office with a written demand for the things they wanted. The demand[s] included: better grub and more of it, another board on the walk to the latrine, bunk houses swept out more regularly, and numerous other minor improvements. The timekeeper informed them "that the boss would not be in until next day." Next morning the crew did not turn out. When the boss came down next day he sent word to the effect that anyone not liking the way things were being run to come and get his time [that is, quit]. Word came back, "We'll be there, old cocky." Shortly afterwards the entire crew filed in and got their checks. This was the latter part of June and the camp did not turn a wheel [work at all] until the latter part of September. Every effort of the operator to get a new crew was thwarted by pickets along the line in to camp.

Some of the camps had started furnishing blankets, sheets and pillow cases before the advent of the 8-hour day. A few of the old "blanket stiffs" very reluctantly gave up carrying their rolls, but most of the men hailed the change with delight. At some places the event was celebrated by bon fires made of the erstwhile "Crummies."

It is now hard to find a camp that does not furnish blankets, sheets and pillow cases, and a bedmaker to make tip the beds, sweep out and start fires in each bunkhouse morning and evening. Most operators make a charge of $1.00 per week for this service, which includes a daily paper for each bunkhouse and a good assortment of magazines. All upper berths have also been done away with. [In other words, regular beds replaced bunk beds.] Sanitary toilets, hot and cold water, shower baths, wash and dry rooms have been provided for the men. Each camp has some sort of electric lighting system. The food served is more wholesome and of a greater variety than that served in the city, except in the most exclusive and high priced restaurants. The men are hauled to and from work. One bad feature remaining is that where men are working quite a way from camp, they are compelled to carry lunch buckets (or "Nose Bags" as they are known) for their noon lunch.

The World War brought a big jump in prices of all grades of lumber with a proportional increase in labor wage. Labor seems to have gained a victory by reason of the war; for while lumber prices have been receding since shortly after the war, wages have held fairly steady.

The "Wobblies," who for many years were an irritating factor, have practically gone out of business. The rank and file of these men were good workers, but like some other labor organizations they fell into the hands of bad leaders. Some of these leaders became rank agitators who believed in disrupting industrial operations wherever possible, even calling men out on a strike who were satisfied with their jobs.

The State of Washington now has an efficient and beneficient industrial insurance law, under which a small amount deducted from the pay of each workman provides for first-aid, hospital attention, compensation for time lost by reason of accident, and compensation to dependents in case of fatalities.

The State also has a stringent fire law, and in conjunction with the Washington Forest Fire Association (an organization made up of private timber owners) appropriates money to enforce the law, detect and put out incipient fires [fires that have just started] and hire crews for suppression of larger ones. The U. S. Forest Service also keeps a trained force in the woods, with a system of trails, telephones and lookouts. Owing to the interrelation of the work all three organizations cooperate toward the common purpose of preventing and suppressing fires in the woods.

With the end of the virgin stands in sight, the logger also has experienced a change of heart. He now realizes that there are few unappropriated [unowned] stands ahead and that he had better get the most from what he has. He has also become fire-conscious; he has learned from bitter experiences that fires do not pay. In all up to date camps, fire prevention has assumed a role of major importance. Most every camp has a Fire Warden whose sole duty during the summer months is to see that all fire equipment is in working order and placed at the most advantageous points, maintain a patrol after each trip of the locomotive, examine spark arresters [devices meant to contain the sparks emitted by trains] and ash pans, and put on night watchmen if necessary. The fire equipment of a well organized camp is almost as complete as in some of our cities. Every employee is given to understand that he is a volunteer fireman.

While all of these changes have been for the betterment of the industry as a whole, the most gigantic strides have been made in the improvement of machines for getting out the logs. As logging boundaries were pushed back further into the hills topography became rougher and logs smaller. To get the logs out without a prohibitive cost, it was found that the donkeys [donkey engines] that did good work on fairly level shows [operations] were entirely inadequate. At this juncture the great American manufacturer was called upon to use his inventive genius to solve the problem: how he responded has been proven by the high powered, complicated skidders of today. These machines reach out into places considered inaccessible a few years back and get logs, in some instances, at a lower cost than prevailed on level ground. The hard, exacting labor of fighting logs around stumps has been done away with, as the logs are for the most part suspended in the air. The output per man has been increased, but the initial expenditure for equipment has also been increased many fold. It is now impossible for the little fellow to get into the game on a "shoe string." In addition to the big investment in machinery, a large enough block of stumpage [trees] must be tied up [owned] to justify the outlay. The tendency of the day is for the lumber industry to concentrate in larger units with better financing and with a longer operation in sight. This is perhaps justified by the expensive and complicated problems presented in going up the mountain side for logs.

Even inclines [large elevator-like platforms used on steep slopes] are resorted to, in overcoming elevation, where the cost of switch-backing a railroad is excessive. The writer worked on one that overcame 1,500 feet in elevation in one mile of track with a maximum gradient of 59%. A specially constructed donkey with a large brake was used to . . . [ease] the load down the hill, an empty coming up at the same time with a passing track at the halfway point. It took a lot of nerve to ride the cars up and down . . . .

Another innovation is worthy of mention. In those early days falling [cutting down trees] and bucking [cutting felled trees into logs] was done by day labor. [In other words, every faller and bucker was paid the same amount per day.] Of late years it is practically all done by the thousand feet log scale, "bushelling," as it is known. This involves the employment of another man to scale [measure] the logs for every five or six sets of fallers and buckers. He gives them a little slip at the end of each day showing how much each bucker has cut. In the case of fallers the slip will show [how many trees] each pair [of fallers has cut down]. At the present time all good fallers and buckers prefer this method.

 This article applies directly to the west side of the Cascade Range of mountains. On the east slope horses are still the most popular motive power for getting out logs, although caterpillar tractors (Cats) have proved their outstanding merit.

While these more or less rapid changes were being made in the method of getting out logs, the writer was continually engaged in some activity of the game: handskidding for a bull team, swamping [cutting brush out of the way] for a line horse, working on the rigging [the sytem of wire ropes and pulleys used to yard logs], tending hook [supervising the yarding process], falling timber, timekeeping, scaling logs and cruising timber [estimating the number and kind of trees in a tract of forest]. This he followed up in 1910 by joining the U. S. Forest Service, being allotted to timber sales. This has kept him in logging camps continually, so that these glimpses extend over a period of thirty-five years of actual contact with logging. What he has tried to do in this article is to hit only the high spots.

About the time that the writer signed up, the Forest Service entered the logging business, selling stumpage [trees] to private operators but retaining supervision of its cutting. This means that the Forest Service will sell the timber, but it must be logged the way the Service wants it logged. Owing to the overlapping of personal interests of the parties concerned it required considerable foresight and tact to frame a contract that works out satisfactorily to both parties.

The plan finally adopted has worked out so well that now there is very little complaint from purchasers of Government stumpage. Naturally purchasers were timid at first. They were afraid that the unwinding of governmental red tape would involve them in serious difficulties. After a few sales were under way the purchaser learned that all he bad to do was to live up to his agreement and business moved along smoothly and expeditiously.

Briefly, the Government's plan is to sell all mature and overmature timber [old-growth forest] that is depreciating in volume [where old trees are dying faster than new ones are growing] to supplant it with a new growing crop. In all sales, regeneration of the stand takes precedence over everything else. That is, if a new crop does not replace the old, the plan is a failure. So far, indications are that in the humid climate of Western Washington all that is required to get a new crop is to prevent recurrent fires after the slash [the waste wood left on the ground after logging] has been once burned over. Nor is it necessary to burn the slash over once. However, this is a safety measure. The Government contracts provide for seed trees to be left on the logged over area. These act as an insurance in case of accidental fires in the future; the idea is that they will survive a much more severe fire than the young trees and give off more seed should the first new crop be lost.

Government contracts provide for the cutting of all snags [dead trees that are still standing; many logging companies did not cut snags because they contained low-grade lumber]. The object is to make the area easier to protect in the future. This clause is not objectionable to the logger as it helps him in avoiding hang-ups during the yarding. These contracts also contain a number of clauses on the protection of the area under sale from fire. The purchaser gladly accepts these, as he feels that while he is protecting the sale area from fire he is also protecting his own operation. Moreover all these additional expenditures are anticipated in the appraisal and allowed for in appraising the stumpage value.

The Government's idea is to keep abreast of all advanced thought in keeping fire out of the woods and everything that is considered helpful is incorporated in the agreement before a sale is consummated. On the other hand the purchaser has met these innovations with an open mind and is more than willing to give them a trial.

Statistics show that the number of fires directly chargeable to logging operations have been greatly reduced in the last few years. This is conclusive evidence that the efforts of all concerned have not been in vain.

It will be seen that the loggers and the manufacturers of equipment have maintained the great American principle of meeting every problem that has confronted them; so that it is now possible to get out the timber no matter where it grows, the only limitation being that there must be sufficient volume to make the logging venture profitable.

It is a far cry from the bull teams of a few years back to [the] powerful . . . skidders of today; yet this has all occurred within a part of the lifetime of an individual.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest