THE LOG DRIVES ON THE EAST COAST
When we think about the early settlers pioneering in the new lands on the East Coast; fishing and farming normally come to mind. This area was originally colonized for its fishing rights and the settlements here were developed all along the coastal areas. It was a good way to make a living. Settlers could sustain themselves and their families for about six months this way but what about the cold winter months? The answer lies within the lumber trade. Logging on the East Coast become a major way of life.
East Coast Forests
In the 1800’s; England was the world’s superpower and they had to maintain a vast navy and merchant marine . This was the era of the wooden ships and the problem was that they were running short on timber. Normally they would get their timber from Scandinavia but this was getting harder due to ongoing European wars. So they looked across the Atlantic to the East Coast. What a better place! The interiors of the East Coast colonies were one vast forest stocked full of the spruce and pine needed to construct their ships! A new industry was soon developed that could provide the much needed revenue for the settlers on the East Coast, over those harsh winter months.
Lumber camps were quickly set up deep in these forests on the East. The camps were very primitive, one story structures constructed from logs. Most often a large one room space. Just imagine the living quarters! Both ends were lined up with beds and mattresses fashioned from tree boughs. The centre space had a long table for meals. A fire pit in the middle of the room would provide the heat. It was a very crude and cramped living space indeed! Where did they wash! Not an easy life for the men at all! Oh yes; and I imagine the slang! Bet it was pretty colorful!
However; the settlers were in need of work. They would head into the woods in late fall and there they stayed until late spring. Six days of the week and from sun up to sun down these men were cutting and stripping trees in their assigned areas. The days were long and the work was hard. Trees were felled by the axe then until the crosscut saw was introduced around 1870. At the days end; they all trudged back to camp to eat, play cards, get some sleep and prepare to start the day all over again. Liquor, for obvious reasons would not be allowed in these camps. It is hard to imagine enduring life like that back then.
The next phase of the process was hauling these cut logs out to a a central depot known as a“ brow”. This gathering spot was located along the banks of a close by river or stream. The fresh cut logs were most often hauled out of the woods by horse and then manually loaded with pulley and chains onto sleds for transport. Surely back breaking work! But a good strong work horse was a big part of the team and certainly lightened the workload. This process was done by mid-winter because the snow was hard packed then and it was easier to transport the logs. Often time; as the winter wore on, the work crews grew smaller. Between the work, the unsanitary living conditions and the general remoteness of where they were, skedaddling for home was a common thing.
The final phase was the actual log drive. In the fall; dams would have been built upstream to hold back the water for when the spring freshet came. When the brows were ready and full of logs, these dams were opened up with dynamite and the backed up water could come rushing through. I tell ya; you had to be fast and you really had to know what you were doing. The water was flowing fast and you had to get the logs organized in it before the water level dropped back down. Log drivers rode the logs all along the river to keep the flow steady. Imagine this; these men jumped from log to log to managed the flow with a long graffling hook. Log jams down river were inevitable and would have to be broken up again with dynamite. The men who had these booms were a special breed and surely risked their lives in the process. All these logs were headed to the mouth of the river where the mill was set up. And the product was shipped abroad from there.
These log drives continued to the middle of the last century (about 1950). By that time; mechanization was in place. The logs were still transported by horse but to a nearby rail siding for transport to the mills; by train. By the early 1940’s; log trucks were equipped to haul the heavy loads. People thought that when the age of wooden ships ended, that logging would slow down but with the advent of pulp mills to make paper for newspapers and magazines; it really didn’t. Loggin was a profitable business in the East Coast. It was not until recently in the computer age that it all changed.
I think back to those days and how hard it must have been to live that life! You worked hard all day at farmin’ or fishin’ and then head to the woods for six months for that backbreakin’ work! Its survival! It’s looking after your family! You really have to stop and think how good we have it; in this day and age. Be ever so thankful to our ancestors and our homeland!