Ax Men @ HistoryChannel.com
Brief History of Logging:
Starting as early as the arrival of settlers in Jamestown in 1607, lumber was essential to the North American economy. Shipbuilding fueled the need for lumber, and the demand for timber increased exponentially as the industrial Revolution pushed settlers into the western territories. Railroads carried people and goods westward, spurring the advent of logging in the Midwest and in the newly settled Pacific Northwest in the early 19 th century.
The passage of the Homestead Act in 1862 tempted settlers into making the long and arduous journey west by the promise of 160 acres per family on which they could live and work. These plots of land were often heavily wooded, requiring homesteaders to clear the land before it could be used. Around the same time, the timber supply in the Midwest was dwindling, forcing loggers to look for new sources of "green gold." By the start of the 20 th century, the Pacific Northwest was well on its way to becoming the place for quality lumber.
Early loggers and settlers cut timber near water and moved farther away as that timber on that land was depleted. The water made it easy to move timber to mills and overseas, but as loggers were forced farther and farther inland, they had to come up with new ways to transport their product. Their solutions were more resourceful than revolutionary, but they got the job done.
One popular method of hauling lumber was to use oxen and horses to drag logs over skid roads - rough tracks through the woods. Log flumes, now known as a popular theme park ride, actually got their start as a way to move logs by way of manmade water troughs. If loggers were working near a stream, log drivers could be used to guide loose logs to more substantial waterways, where they could be tied together into rafts. Another way to get lumber to market was by way of crude railroads that were built out of the very lumber they were designed to transport. Once the logs reaches a main waterway they were sent to sorting yards and then either to the mill, where they were transformed into a usable product, or exported to places as far away as China and Australia.
The ways in which logs reached the mills weren't the only differences in the early days of logging. Before feller-bunchers and chainsaws, men used three basic tools to get massive old growth trees on the ground - a handsaw, a springboard to mount a tree and upon which they perched while they cut, and always a trusty ax. Loggers worked from dawn until nightfall, then retired to logging camps because town was too far away to visit more once a week.
Through the 19 th century logging camps were bare bones and the men that inhabited them lived only a semi-civilized existence. Men used their cork boots as pillows, camps were often infested with lice and other diseases, and it wasn't uncommon for men to wear the same clothes for months at a time. These rough conditions inspired an image of loggers as amazing men of strength, brawn and might.
Mythic figures such as Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, became familiar fictional characters in American folklore, representing the tough spirit of America's real-life loggers. Over time, labor unions demanded better conditions for loggers. As things improved, more wives and families moved to live with their husbands and fathers in the logging camps, eventually creating mini communities that offered schools, cookhouses, saw shops and even mailrooms to their residents.
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