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article number 309
article date 01-21-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
The Story of the American Lumbering Industry, 1850 – 1924.
by Joseph Illick, Pennsylvania State School of Forestry

From the 1924 book, A Popular History of American Invention.


IN the fifteenth century, when Columbus discovered the New World, most of North America was covered by vast, primeval forests. In the region now known as the United States these forests reached from the Atlantic coast to the grass-lands lying almost entirely beyond the Mississippi River.

West of the fertile plains of mid-continent they began again, practically covered the lofty Rockies, down to the edge of wide desert areas separating them from the heavy wooded slopes along the Pacific.

Naturally the first settlers who landed on the eastern seaboard found timber everywhere. Low swamps and high slopes were alike teeming with trees of all variety. There seemed to be no end of them.

Nowhere on the face of the earth, perhaps, had man found bigger and more magnificent forests. Here, in America, was a sylvan realm of nearly 900 million acres. The early settlers found this original timber-land far richer than any of which they had dreamed.

Europe has only twenty-five important timber trees, few of which reach an unusual size or attain a great age. In North America there are at least 525 different kinds of native trees, many of them famed throughout the world for their huge bulk and antiquity. In the Eastern States there are white oaks standing, that were acorns when William the Conqueror took England, 500 years before the white man came to this country.

On the Pacific coast were redwoods, erect and towering to the sky that had withstood the storms of 2,000 years before the first caravel sailed the blue waters before them. Some of those grand old redwood-trees had been there since the days of Greece and Rome.

They were among the oldest living things on the face of the earth. They were approaching middle age when the Christian era began, and they were full-grown long before Europe had even heard of Jamestown and Plymouth Rock.

THIS GIGANTIC FIR, FIFTY-ONE FEET IN CIRCUMFERENCE, WAS STAND IN LONG BEFORE COLUMBUS DISCOVERED AMERICA. In North America there are at least 525 different varieties of trees, many of them famed for their bulk and age. Copyrighted by Darius Kinsey, Seattle.

In an effort to find room for themselves and their families by redeeming the wilds from the rule of beast and savage, the early colonists became our first lumbermen. They began the gigantic task of reducing the forests with crude axes and saws.

To begin with, they made small clearings in the forest, getting wood for their log cabins, and at the same time gaining land on which to sow and cultivate their first crops. It must have been a heartrending struggle.

After their homes were built and they had a patch of corn around them, they still found themselves completely isolated. Huge trees hemmed in their advance on every side. The forest was both friend and foe, for though it supplied them with shelter, food, and fuel, it also blocked their progress.

Thousands of acres of the very finest timber had to be destroyed in order to make room for additional farms and buildings.


During this initial development of American civilization, the pioneers began to realize the great wealth and worth of the forests. Not only were rough logs used for homes, schoolhouses, and churches, but for strongholds, forts, and stockades to shelter the brave frontiersman and his family from the attacks of the Indians.

With the establishment of trading-posts, more lumber was needed for construction, and as water transportation was developed there began a commercial demand for timber.

That demand grew in leaps and bounds. Thousands of colonists came, cities and settlements had to be built. Ships, fashioned of native oak and pine, carried the riches of the New World to the Old. As industry increased, factories were erected. Yet more wood was required for the making of furniture and wooden implements.

Wider and wider grew the inroads into the thick forests. Trees were cut down and worked into matches; they were ground to a pulp to make the paper on which news is printed; they were required for turpentine and resin; they were put into the still, so that we might have alcohol for varnish and fuel. The children’s toys, the farmer’s scythe and plough, a thousand necessities added to the call for lumber.

Vast quantities were shipped to Europe, where there was not much timber of the quality found in America; and as the demand upon our resources became greater and greater, the means and methods for acquiring it had to be increased.

A HEAVY STAND OF TIMBER ON THE RAINIER NATIONAL FOREST, WASHINGTON. Sawtooth and Bird Mountain left of centre. Nowhere on the face of the earth were there such stands of timber when the United States was first settled. Courtesy of the United States Forest Service.

Remarkable as has been the enlarging of the facilities for the employment and usages of wood in trade, the work of felling trees and making the trunks ready for the factory and sawmill is done almost entirely by the axe and saw, implements which in form are little removed from those used by our forefathers.

Who made the first axe? This is very much like asking who first ate an oyster. Long before recorded history, man swung an axe. At first it was simply a pounding instrument or a weapon, made of flint and rock. Some ingenious inventor of the Stone Age probably bored a hole in this tool and drove in a handle. It gave him a lever, adding force to his blow when he broke up dead branches that had fallen from trees during a storm.

Some early tribes, and among them the North American Indians, chipped a groove about the stone head and bound a piece of pliable wood around it, holding it down in place with withes and gum. Then one end of the head was chipped down to a fairly thin edge, and the axe—as specimens from the oldest dwellings and caves show—developed into a cutting tool.

To this day most axes are made so that they may be used both for chopping and pounding.


When man learned to use metals, as he did in the Bronze Age, he made axes with a sharper edge. Then only did he try his hand at felling the first tree. There are carvings and drawings of ancient Egypt showing workmen hewing with axes not very different from those of the present day.

The broad axe was a popular weapon of the Crusaders. Centuries ago, the Arabs and the Turks gave the axe a still keener edge, making it of steel; consequently it was lighter to handle.

The European settlers of America had fair hatchets and axes that had been perfected in pattern by long years of experience. They found the Indians still using stone axes and flint hatchets, with an occasional copper or iron one. But the handles of their war axes or tomahawks had a bulge or curve in the lower ends and were flared out somewhat to give a better grip.

Taking the hint, the colonists began to improve their European tools, so that at the present time there is no better implement in the world than the American axe. Its well-shaped handle, or helve, is made of that king of native woods, hickory, a very strong wood with a spring, or “give,” to it. The shape varies according to the locality in which the axe is used.

In the north woods, where logging is done in the winter, the lumberjacks wear heavy, warm gloves. The axe-handles are therefore made rather thin. In the southern lumber camps they are much larger, partly because the negro choppers of the mild South need not wear gloves, and also because their hands are usually bigger than those of the northern woodsmen.


The metal from which the head of the American axe is made has been constantly getting better. For many years axe-heads were made of iron, and the cutting edges were strips or “bits” of steel inserted and welded into them.

It was thought necessary to have the head made of iron or soft steel, so as to prevent its breaking through at the thinner part, in which was the eye, and into which the handle was forced. Axes often broke in this way during cold weather.

Strangely. enough, the quality of steel for axes might never have been perfected had it not been for the demands of the American navy. It is a far cry from battleship to lumber camp, but it is a fact that many axe-heads are now made of armor-plate.

The metallurgists of the Carnegie, Bethlehem, and Midvale steel companies had huge orders for armor-plate with which to protect battleships from the heavier guns then coming into use. As a result of many tests it was found that remarkable changes in the quality of steel could be gained by what is called “heat treatment.”

Although the various steel companies tried to keep these processes to themselves, the secret leaked out, and the American axe-makers got the benefit of it.

Fayette R. Plumb, an axe-and-hatchet manufacturer of Philadelphia, produced an axe in 1911 which was of the same kind of steel throughout. It was a tool with a one-piece body, or head, made of metal which could be hardened so as to hold a keen edge, and through special heat treatment or tempering, it had greater toughness and ductility about the eye than had the old-style, soft-steel axes.

Sometimes the heads of such axes are tempered so that they can be used for battering and pounding, and yet not be hard enough to splinter when driving. Those who know only the common axe have no idea of the razor-like edge and wonderful balance of the axes used by the skilled woodsmen of the American lumber industry.

“It can be said, therefore,” to use the words of Mr. Plumb, “that while the early development of the axe and the handle was a slow growth of composite experience, its latest development is due to the genius of American metallurgical engineers. It is a part of the progress which gave us armor-plate for battleships, and the steel-piercing projectiles that render all older fortifications useless.”


The perfection of the American saw has been brought about in the same way. Various manufactures have improved upon an implement which was old when Moses was at the court of Pharaoh. According to one old legend the original saw was suggested by the well-known weapon of the sawfish; according to another, one of the Greeks copied it from the toothed sting of the wasp.

Saws of flint have been found among the remains of the caveman, and with the increasing skill gained by primitive man in the use of metals, saws became effective implements. For work in the felling of trees, the cross-cut saw, a blade six or eight feet in length, with handles on each end, is used.

The big developments in saw-making have come largely through adapting the notched blade for work when the logs have been sent to the mills. These improvements will be taken up at a later stage. We are now prepared, with the weapons we have at hand, for the first phase in the age-long battle with the forest.


Lumbering, as it is now carried on, is indeed warlike in its methods. The attack upon a great tract of timber-land is planned and timed like a campaign. First to appear on the scene is the scout or “cruiser,” a man of good judgment and wide experience, whose business it is to map out the operations.

With one or two companions, he makes his way into the deep woods and gives his judgment on the value of the “stand,” as the trees there are called. He estimates the age of the trees, their condition, and marks places where the felling is to begin. The services of a lumber “cruiser” are valuable. On his opinion, projects involving millions of dollars are set in operation.

Under the direction of the advance courier, the first attack is made by blazing what is called a “tote road,” that is a broad path into the forest, over which is taken lumber for the building of the camp, and all kinds of tools and supplies.

For the most part, lumbering is a winter trade; in the summer-time the quarters for the cold weather are built and everything made ready. A large bunk-house is erected for the men, a separate kitchen or cook-house is usually built near it, the two connected with a board passage. There are stables for what horses or mules may be needed.

A LUMBER CAMP. For the most part lumbering is a winter trade. In the summer-time headquarters for the cold weather are built and everything made ready. A large bunk-house is erected for the men, and a separate kitchen or cook-houses are usually built near it. Photograph by the United States Forest Service.

Another structure, a combined office and store called the “van,” houses the superintendent, the bookkeeper, and the timekeeper. A blacksmith’s shop is provided for the sharpening of tools, making repairs to machinery, and for other such jobs. Such is the settlement which, far from civilization, springs up in a forest clearing.

A MODERN LUMBER CAMP ON WHEELS. Rows of camp cars on rails, each now a train in itself. On one side are the bunk cars or houses; on the other a nurse-house and kitchen. Photograph by Darius Kinsey, Seattle.

On a winter morning, the men, snuggled in blankets, are soothed in sleep. Out of the still cold comes the annoying sound of an alarm-clock; then the instantaneous pounding of pots and pans, and the boom of a deep voice:

“Roll out, you bench-legged wood-hicks!” The order resounds through the bunk-house.

Out they roll, these big-chested, broad-shouldered lumberjacks, all eager for flapjacks and for coffee, hot as molten lava—an amber brew that would scald the gullet of most men. Swedes, French-Canadians, Poles, Russians, a motley gang they appear as they finish their bacon and eggs and corn bread, then struggle into their red-plaided Mackinaw jackets.

Up the main road, the broadened tote road of the earlier days, either in wagons drawn by mules, by sledge, or, if the work has just begun, by foot, go these bewhiskered, tumble-haired lumberjacks, smoking their foul-smelling pipes, their hot breath forming little white clouds in the chilly air.

On they go to their stations, eventually separating into smaller groups, and soon the sound of steel against wood echoes among the tall, straight boles.

CAMP TRAIN AND LOGGING-CREW OF THE MODERN TYPE. The structures run into the forest on rails, and are really large, comfortable cars. Photograph by David Kinsey, Seattle.

The lumberjack must so adjust his attack that the tree will fall where the “head feller,” or boss, says it must; otherwise other valuable trunks may be damaged, or somebody hurt. The direction of the fall is so nicely calculated that a lumberjack can place a wooden peg lightly in the ground, if the earth is not too frozen or stony, and drive it home by the fall of the tree-trunk he fells.

By varying the point at which the axe notch is made, the direction of the descent is determined. This notch having been made deep enough, two men, working by hand a ponderous cross-saw, cut into the living wood, until they meet the notch.

Further guidance is given to the fall by driving wedges into the cut made by the saw. The wedges also keep the blade from becoming wedged, and the sawing is made easier by putting a little kerosene on the moving steel. Again, were it not for the notch on the opposite side the trunk might split upwards under the strain, as it grows weaker, and thus spoil the log.

“Timber!” yells the axeman, and the tree topples, and down it goes to its appointed place.

The warning is merely a flourish, for the lumberjacks know almost to an inch where the forest monarch will come to earth. But often there are amateurs about, who are in danger of being hurt.

THE WORK OF SAW AND AXE. The work of felling trees and making the trunks ready for the factory and sawmill is done almost entirely by the saw and axe. Copyright 1909 by David Kinsey, Seattle.

One day, in the southern pine woods, a moving-picture photographer asked the boss if he might cut down one of the smaller trees. He wished to prove that he could wield an axe with any man.

“Well, don’t take that axe, stranger,” said the boss. “I’ll get you a spare one.” Axes such as first-rate woodsmen use are too sharp to be trifled with by beginners.

The camera man began operations. After he had struck half a dozen blows all the lumbermen got up and moved back. They did not go to right or left, they retreated out of range of the top branches for the final crash.

No one could tell in what point of the compass the unskilled chopper would deliver his handiwork. Presently the boss began to shift about uneasily. Approaching one of the motion-picture men, he said, briefly:

“If that man is a friend of yours, you’d better tell him, without hurting his feelings, to stop that there fool chopping.”

“What’s the matter? Is he likely to do any damage?”

“Don’t think he’ll do much damage to the woods, but in about three clips more he’ll kill himself.”

It was true; the trunk would have fallen on top of him had he not been led away to safety.

Once a tree is down, it is soon dissected. Sometimes huge trunks for special purposes are brought out of the woods in full length. The custom, however, is to saw them in twelve and sixteen foot lengths, according to whatever standard may be adopted.

The cross-cut saw may be driven by steam, compressed air, or electricity where the forest floor is level enough to permit the transportation of power machinery. If one can get a traction engine of the simplest type into the deep woods, it is an easy task to rig it up to do the sawing.

INTERIOR OF A MODERN BUNK-HOUSE. A part of a whole train of houses on rails. The sleeping accommodations are about as good as those to be found in a tourist’s sleeping-car. Photograph by Darius Kinsey, Seattle.
WHERE THE FLAPJACKS ARE FRIED. In the modern logging-camp of the west coast, the kitchen car is equipped with the cooking appliances of the city restaurant. Unlike the cooks of old-time camps, the men who prepare food for the western lumberjack of to-day wear the familiar white uniform and cap of the hotel chef. Photograph by Darius Kinsey, Seattle.


Power-driven saws for felling trees are well enough where the surroundings are entirely favorable, as they might be on the lawn of a Long Island country house. But owing to the uneven surface of the woods, and to the ravines and slopes, none of the patented machine tree-fellers has been highly successful.

Many efforts have been made to place a fool-proof felling machine on the market. Most of the earlier machines were useless because of some weakness in the mechanism. Some of the devices were too heavy; others were too difficult to operate. With all there was a certain risk, for in case a tree should “kick back” during the fall, the machine would be smashed and put totally out of commission.

Up to the time of writing, although several inventors have worked on the idea with great hope of success, we still lack an infallible tree-felling machine. Great Improvements have been made, and perhaps in the future power fellers may take their place in large lumbering operations.

Most of the tree-felling and log-bucking or sawing machines known to this date have many points in common. They consist of strong frames, usually made of metal, which may be readily tied or lashed either to a standing tree or the felled trunk. Stout saw-blades extend out from the frames, or over them, and to these are attached the driving-rods.

The power may be supplied by a gasoline-engine, or electricity may be used; in the Western States there is abundant water-power which drives electrical installations and permits the distribution of current over a large territory.

When the transportation of engines is practicable, compressed air and steam may be employed. The engines usually vary from four to six horse-power, and drive the heavier saw-blades at the rate of from 140 to 145 strokes a minute. The movement of the blades is controlled so that the sawdust is removed at each stroke, and that the steel strip may be freely and rapidly drawn forward and back.

BEFORE POWER SAWING MACHINES: BACK-CUTTING DOUGLAS FIR WITH THE CROSS-CUT SAW. First the axe Cuts a deep notch, then two men with the cross-cut saw cut into the wood until they meet the notch. Photograph by Cress Dale Photo Co., Seattle.

One of the original American machines on the market, the Ransome, had a trial in Hyde Park, London. Among the spectators was the late William E. Gladstone, the great British statesman, who for exercise often chopped down trees on his estate before breakfast.

Gladstone approved the machine, saying that, although it gave the human frame little exercise, it accomplished in three minutes what would take an axeman three hours. This machine was too heavy in its original form, as it weighed about 350 pounds. Many improvements have been made since then, and there are tree-felling appliances now which weigh only 125 pounds.

Stephen Tracy, a lumberman in the heart of a pine country in the State of Washington, having studied the problem of tree-felling for several years, perfected a machine in 1921. With it he cut down trees six feet and two inches in diameter in twenty-one minutes, using a seven-foot blade. The big advantage of this machine is that the saw may be changed to three operating positions, or angles, in about twenty seconds.


In the early days of lumbering, when the wood was used only a short distance from the points at which it was obtained, transport was a simple thing. Logs could then be hauled out by gangs of sturdy settlers, all working together as friends and good neighbors.

This primitive type of transportation is called hand-logging. It is a method still in use in Europe and the Orient, and was common for many years in the Appalachian Mountains, and in the cedar regions of Maine. That it is even now practised to a limited extent in British Columbia is shown by the fact that the Provincial government still issues permits to hand-loggers.

As soon as the sawyers and the “swampers” have taken off the branches of a tree and cut it into logs, the problem is how to get the trunk to the yard or mill as quickly and cheaply as possible. The first time-saving step called for the aid of animals, a process of transit in the lumber regions that was called skidding or “snaking.”

Teams of horses, mules, or oxen were, and still are, taken into the woods, dragging after them long steel chains, to the ends of which are metal hooks. The driver fastens this chain to a big log, or winds it around and secures it by the hook, cracks his whip, and then the log starts on its way to the open.

Sometimes it stops short, for a snag in the path, a stone, or some such obstacle causes it to stick; it then takes more horses, more whips, and strong language to get it on the move again. This makes logging slow and tedious and unprofitable, especially if the ground is soft or uneven. The timber sticks in the earth, and every time a log digs in its nose, there is a waste of horse and man power.

MODERN MACHINERY HAS MADE IT POSSIBLE TO HANDLE LOGS OF THIS ENORMITY. Sometimes huge full-length trunks for special purposes are brought out of the woods. Usually the trunks are sawed up into lengths according to a standard. The three Douglas-fir logs on the front car total about 18,000 feet of lumber (log scale). Photograph by C. K. Kinsey, Seattle.

In casting about for some means to make the passage of the logs quicker, the lumberjacks in various parts of the country put sleds or wheels or similar devices, on the front ends. Such devices appeared at the same time in various regions of the United States, and sprang from an obvious need.

In the North, a rough-skidding sled for each log was called a “go-devil,” while in the South, a natural fork of a tree placed under each log to be snaked, was known as a “lizard.” The lizards were especially helpful in the swamps of Louisiana, where their strange name seems to have originated.

William Baptist, a Michigan lumberman, who went South to undertake some logging work for several large lumber firms, invented, in 1893, a steel cone which could be fitted over the ends of logs and spiked in place. To a hook on the end of this cone was attached a chain or cable by which the log could be drawn over rough ground, or over swamps.

The tapering end permitted the log to slide more easily than would otherwise have been possible. Later, tongs were fastened to the edge of the cone which bit into the bark and held the metal cap more or less firmly. These cones are still used, either for animal hauling or power skidding, in some parts of the country, and are worked with side lines on the logs.

Perhaps the better method of holding up the end of the log was the use of a pair of wheels at the forward part, the hind end being dragged. These wheels were made bigger, until they were often six or eight feet, carrying under them bunches of smaller logs.

These “bummer carts,” although they are used extensively in the South, had their origin among Michigan loggers, who, perceiving that the stands in their native State were becoming exhausted, had gone to seek new forests to conquer below Mason and Dixon’s line.

THE “BUMMER CART.” This type of cart, invented many years ago in Michigan, is extensively used in the South. It consists primarily of a single pair of wheels, sometimes twelve feet in diameter, drawn by horses or mules. One end of the log drags on the ground, and acts as a brake on down grades. From a photograph by United States Forest Service.

The “big wheels,” as these carriages are also named, came into use in all parts of the United States, and many of the largest, with huge masses of logs under them, may be seen in California and Arizona. To accommodate such loads the “big wheels” are made twelve feet in diameter, and are drawn by from four to six horses. Another type of this carrier, known as the “slip-tongue,” has a movable shaft bolted on the axle.

The axle lever is fastened to the shaft by an iron rod, and when the horses begin to pull the first thing that happens is that the drawing out of the shaft pulls out the lever, and raises the load. If the cart should start to run down-hill, its progress will be checked by the lowering of the load, which scrapes along the ground, acting as a brake.

While skidding or snaking was being developed, the woodsmen of the North were taking advantage of the winter snows and ice to speed their logging enterprises. From their efforts were developed many picturesque devices.

First a snow road was opened, and then it was converted into ice by going over it with sprinkling wagons, such as one sees in summer in the city streets. On the frozen, road horses can draw long sled loads of logs.

At Ann River, Michigan, in 1892, there was hauled in this way a load consisting of sixty-three logs, of which fifty-eight were sixteen feet long, and the remainder had a length of eighteen feet each. The whole consignment contained 31,480 board feet of lumber and, including the chains used in keeping it in place, weighed 114 tons.

Pulled by four horses, it was regarded as the largest of its kind ever drawn under such conditions, and it was placed on exhibition, in 1893, at the World’s Fair in Chicago.

DRAGGING FIR LOG, FOURTEEN FEET IN DIAMETER, ON A SKID ROAD. Long steel chains are hooked to the logs, and when the road is fair this method of logging answers well enough, but when the ground is uneven and full of snags and roots it is tedious and sometimes too expensive. Copyrighted by Darius Kinsey, Seattle.


From Manistee, Michigan, from where sprang many a big idea in the lumbering industry, came George T. Glover. He was a lumberman, who started to make his own ice road for hauling logs without taking the trouble to have it sprinkled, and he was the first to apply the tractor to the hauling of logs.

Glover started out with what looked very much like one of the traction engines which haul threshing-machines about the country in harvest time, but the lumberjacks soon saw that he had something quite different.

The machine was run by steam generated by burning wood. There was plenty of steam, for some of it was intended to rush out in big jets on the iron wheels of the engine, heating them so that they would cause the snow to melt.

The water would then be expected to freeze, providing a slippery passage for the sleds of logs which the Glover engine was to haul. Steam also slightly warmed the water in the tank carried at the back of the engine, so as to prevent it from freezing.

The general idea of the invention was good, but in his complicated machine the designer had attempted a little too much. He took out a patent for it in 1889, and actually built four machines which were offered for sale by a Chicago firm.

Although not a success in a commercial way, largely because it could not be made to meet so many demands of service at once, the Glover tractor was the forerunner of the Lombard tractor, the most effective machine in lumber transportation.


Alvin O. Lombard, a true son of the woods, did much to make a success of power log-hauling. He was born in 1856, at Springfield, Maine, and was hardly out of his teens before he was learning the lumber industry from the ground up.

His father owned a little water-power-driven sawmill in which was a primitive saw of the reciprocating or up-and-down type; he was really a farmer who conducted milling and dealt in shingles as a side line. In the winter time he worked in the woods getting the logs to keep his mills running in the warmer weather.

Alvin Lombard, consequently, became a lumberjack, and followed the gangs in the woods or drove logs down the streams with the coming of spring.

Interested in mechanics, young Lombard took contracts to build and operate sawmills. From this he ultimately saved enough money to erect a mill of his own, cutting logs during the cold months.

His interest in mills caused him to invent a water-wheel regulator, and later various machines for the barking of wood-pulp logs. The idea of inventing a log-hauler, which would stand service in the Maine woods, came to him out of the hard school of experience.

He knew practically nothing about drafting and machinery construction until he was more than thirty years old, but he soon made up for lost time. His belief that a steam log-hauler could be made amused the leading lumbermen.

When he took a model of his device to one of the largest lumbermen in Maine, a man who, years afterward, became one of Lombard’s enthusiastic customers, he was told that it was useless to talk about hauling lumber over a snow road by steam; it could not be successfully done.

But after Lombard had convinced the lumber bosses of the value of his invention, he had to overcome the prejudice of the lumberjacks. At first, there was the usual outcry against the invention because it was depriving both men and horses of their jobs, for a big hauler could do the work of about sixty animals and thirty drivers.

These teamsters eventually graduated into engineers and firemen, and learned to take great pride in their new calling.

ALVIN O. LOMBARD’S FIRST LOG-HEADER. It was a steam-tractor with an endless, belt-like tread instead of wheels. From it he evolved at a cost of half a million dollars this gasoline auto-tractor, which can carry five tons on its own body, and from thirty to fifty tones behind it.

Lombard’s first log-hauler, still used in various parts of the country, was a steam-tractor with an endless, belt-like tread instead of driving wheels. This chain of plates, roughened, was able to get a firm hold even on broken boughs and stony earth. In winter, a sled was substituted for the front wheels, and the whole machine steered by a lever.

In the north woods the machine, not unlike a trackless locomotive, is still popular, and it can be run fairly well with refuse branches instead of gasoline as fuel. It will haul 250 tons on level ground, and as high as 300 tons on a firm, smooth road.

One of these Lombard tractors pulled fourteen sled-loads in a train, each load holding from 6,000 to 7,000 board feet of newly felled trunks. Another, used in Franklin County, Maine, from January to March, 1921, hauled 531 sled-loads, measuring three and a half million board feet of logs. It would have taken sixty-two horses to have drawn the same amount of lumber in that period.

The success of the steam-tractor gave Lombard the backing he wanted. He began experiments which cost him about half a million dollars in all, and out of them came the auto-tractor truck.

For several years he worked on all kinds of metals and alloys to get something for his machinery which would stand the extreme cold of the woods. He wanted a machine that would survive a temperature of thirty-seven degrees below zero.

Year after year Lombard drew on his expense account at his shops in Waterville, Maine. All shapes and sizes of parts were put through the most gruelling tests.

Forty gasoline-engines were made and sent out into the coldest parts of the State and kept there for three years. Chain-belt treads and wheels were knocked about and tumbled hither and thither, in imitation of the service expected of them.

Experimental auto-truck tractors were guided through thick underbrush, and they came out coated with mud and ooze from the swamps. Back to the works went these experimental machines, there to be doctored up and sent out again.

THE LOMBARD TRACTOR AT WORK. One hundred horse-power, with special cab and with sled-runners instead of wheels for winter work. Thus equipped, the tractor will move through snow-drifts of four and five feet depth.

The first patent for the auto-tractor was issued in 1901, but it was not until fifteen years later that Lombard was really satisfied with it. His final product was a combination of wagon or truck with a gasoline traction-engine. It weighs nine and a half tons, but its bearing weight per square inch is less than that of the hoof of a horse.

When at work it will carry five tons on its own body, and, according to the conditions of roads and weather, will draw from thirty to fifty tons behind it. Its speed varies from two to six miles an hour, and it can make good time, dragging four to eight loads of pulp-wood behind it as it plunges through snow-drifts five feet deep.


Despite the signal progress made by men like Lombard in fashioning tractors, a great deal of timber is transported by water; and one of the most thrilling phases of the lumber industry is river-driving.

At first, our forests were cut along watercourses, so that the trees would either fall athwart, or they could be skidded or slid down inclines into them. In the winter-time the logs were left on the ice until spring set them free and sent them oceanward on the rushing currents.

A picturesque, daring gang of men, called river-drivers, do the piloting. Taking their lives in their own hands, these hardworking river-drivers vault lightly from log to log in the swelling streams. The soles of their heavy boots are studded with steel brads to prevent their slipping on the slimy and uncertain bark.

With long poles, the ends of which contain pike and hook, the river-drivers shove logs on their way which have been caught on snags or rocks. They must prevent the forming of jams, which would delay the passage of the huge trunks down-stream. The key-log, which is the cause of the stoppage, must be removed, so that the bodies of the trees move smoothly once more on their way to weir and mill.

A false step, the least error in judgment, and the river-driver may be ground in the whirl of the moving timber and maimed or killed. To the ordinary man such a life as this would be terror; to the river-driver it is the very joy of living.

RIVER-DRIVING. Much timber is transported to the sawmill by streams. “River-driving,” as it is called, demands courage and skill. The heavy boots of the river-drivers are studded with steel brads to prevent slipping. With long poles, bearing on their ends both pike and hook, the river-drivers push on their logs which have been caught on snags or rocks and which threaten to cause a jam. From a photograph by United States Forest Service.

Despite the hard work of the river-drivers, however, nature is often too much for them, and there have been log-jams which have glutted large streams for weeks. The enormous accumulation of logs in the St. Croix River, Wisconsin, in 1892, stretched up-stream for six miles.

The Chippewa River, in 1866, was choked from bank to bank with cut timber for ten miles. Expert and daring river-drivers were recruited from all over the country; with their aid and a little dynamite, the stream was finally cleared and the logs finally sent on their way.

But river-driving is declining because of the great losses which attend that method of transport. Although logs are marked by the private sign or brand of the owner, it is no easy task to recover them all. It has been estimated that the losses from all causes in river-driving amount to from ten to thirty per cent.

Logging men, despairing of government aid, at their own expense cleared the channels of these streams of as many snags and as much underbrush as possible, so as to let the logs slip by easily and prevent jamming. To stop the logs from getting into sloughs or being stranded on low mud flats, stream banks were often fortified against them.

In order to permit log-driving in streams where there was a limited supply of water, dams were built across stream beds for the purpose of stopping the flow. The water, suddenly released, flowed down the stream bed with such force that all the logs were carried along with it. This system prevented the logs from being hung up on rocks and snags, over which they were now carried by the volume of water.

The size and character of these dams vary greatly. At Wind River, in the State of Washington, is an unusually large one; in Blount County, Tennessee, is another, which can raise the water level thirty-five feet. Such structures range in size from small ones, which can be built for $1,000 or less, to enormous concrete bulwarks, costing as high as $200,000.

A TYPICAL DAM. Jogs must be brought down on stream during the six or ten weeks when water is high, and, because of the uncertainty involved, dams are built to insure having enough water. From a photograph by Cress-Dale Photo Co., Seattle.

Despite all the drawbacks of the transportation of logs by merely throwing them singly into the streams, it is astonishing to realize how long this old method continued. When swift and turbulent streams were available the procession of logs stretched through several counties. In the Penobscot River, in Maine, for instance, log-drives, ranging from 150 to 240 miles in length, are common.

The uncertainty of the flow of streams, however, grew more and more of a factor. Both in the driving of loose logs and in rafting them, it is necessary to bring them down-stream during the six to ten weeks when the water is high, in the spring of the year.

In that short period, if the supply is obtained only by depending upon the water transportation, there must be brought within reach of the mills enough logs to keep their saw-tables busy for the whole year. In order to store reserves for that purpose, reservoirs, called “booms,” were located along the banks of streams, where there are suitable pockets of quiet water.

The success of lumbering operations under the system of stream transport really depended upon the establishing of suitable storage basins for the floating of the logs. Out of this situation came one of the boldest exploits in lumber-industry promotion known. It came of the often repeated visits of “The Mysterious Stranger.”


He appeared in the cold winter of 1836, in the town of Williamsport in Pennsylvania: a tall, lean, lank man, with the spirit of the woods about him. From his headquarters in the leading hotel he took long walks or sleigh-rides into the heart of the country. He was always alone.

“Queer as Dick’s hat,” intimated the farmers, as they watched him walking among the pineries or exploring the inlets and backwaters along the banks of the Susquehanna. The stranger was John Leighton, an Easterner who had come all the way from the Penobscot, down in Maine.

He returned about every two years, in December or January, and each time he got options on timber-land and river property. According to his idea there were in Lycoming County as good pine forests as were to be found in the land of the moose.

“He says he is going to build a boom here, whatever that is,” was the rumor that went round Williamsport. Then they got it that a boom such as he planned would be the largest reservoir for logs in the world. Nobody took any stock in the idea, but still the Stranger kept coming and looking.

He was back again in the winter of 1844, this time with a man whom he introduced as Major James W. Perkins, of Lincoln, Maine, a capitalist who said he would furnish the money to begin the boom provided the legislature would grant a charter to a company.

Along came the charter in 1846, and several years later were begun the cribwork and the gates for the great Susquehanna Boom, which was to put millions of dollars into the pockets and the tills of the thrifty folk of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.


The receiving centre for the logs cut from neighboring slopes was built and filled, and huge piles of lumber were turned out daily from the busy mills established at its edge.

The great Susquehanna Boom, as it was then called, had by 1860 become a focus for a new prosperity for Williamsport and all the countryside.

Then came a flood which sent the river into a mad torrent capped with foam, and one night there echoed through the city the crash of cribwork and the thumping of heavy timbers on the throbbing throat of the river.

THE GREAT FLOOD OF WILLIAMSPORT PA. Lumber crashed through the city but the city would rebuild.

“The boom has gone out!” were the tidings which spread from house to house. The people realized they had lost a veritable bulwark of prosperity and power. More than 50 million board feet of logs had been hurled out of what had been thought a safe haven, and were being tossed on the swelling stream toward the Atlantic. The damage was repaired, and Williamsport settled down into its accustomed calm.

When a similar disaster came in 1861, however, the boom was long left as it was; owing to the uncertainty of the money market due to the Civil War, it was impossible to raise the funds for reconstruction. Rebuilt at the close of the conflict between the North and South, the cribwork was again swept away in 1889, and 300 million feet of lumber were turned loose.

This world-famous boom had, up to the year 1898, held 40 million logs, which yielded 6.4 billion board feet of lumber; in other words, had the logs been sawed into planks one inch in thickness, they could have been made into a walk forty-nine feet wide which would have reached clear around the world.



The enormous losses which lumber men met even under the best conditions caused them to look around for safer methods of transportation if they were to depend upon water as a carrier. They obtained a better control by building their logs into rafts secured by chains or frames. Usually the raft floats on the stream with the current, while on larger rivers and on lakes it is convoyed by tugboats.

Many logs and enormous quantities of lumber were brought down the Mississippi and the Susquehanna River when that method of transportation was at high tide.

Next the ocean was braved. In the year 1884, James D. Leary, of Brooklyn, New York, a wealthy contractor, hit upon the idea of sending a huge raft of logs from Nova Scotia down to New York in charge of a tug. Not far from the coast of Massachusetts the tug left the raft to go into port for coal, and when she returned there was no sign of the logs.

Months afterward the raft, or what was left of it, was washed ashore on the coast of Norway.

Better success was reached in ocean-rafting in the Pacific, where milder weather conditions prevailed. The Benson Lumber Company, of San Diego, California, which has been building rafts for the last twenty years, declares that it has lost only one out of forty-four in all that period.

Rafts of this kind are bigger than an ocean liner, being from 700 to 1,000 feet in length, containing from 7,000 to 10,000 tons of timber, and drawing from 25 to 30 feet of water. These structures make a voyage of 1,000 miles down the coast, from the Columbia River, near Portland, to San Diego. They are held together by a cradle-like construction of timbers into which the logs are guided and lashed with chains.

A CIGAR-SHAPED RAFT READY TO BE TOWED TO SAN DIEGO. Ocean-going rafts of this kind are often bigger than an ocean liner, measuring as they do from 700 to 1,000 feet in length and drawing from twenty-five to fifty feet of water. These rafts are towed 1,000 miles down the Pacific coast from Portland to San Diego. About one out of forty-four is lost. From a photograph by A. M. Prentiss, Portland, Ore.


Another method of water transportation, popular in States of the Pacific slope, is that of the artificial or controlled stream, called the flume. The flume is a long V-shaped wooden trough, differing but little in principle from the aqueducts which the Greeks and Romans built in stone.

Flumes came into use in the Western States in order to convey water down from the mountains for irrigation purposes, and also for washing the gold from the pay dirt. They began to be used in the redwood industry in California, in 1890 for the transportation of logs, though preferably for conveying dressed or sawn lumber. The lumber was put in the big trough and borne slowly by the few feet of water therein to its destination.

Another type of flume was built with square corners, on the model of a packing-box. Both forms may be seen in use for the needs of agriculture and lumbering all along the Pacific coast, and far back into the ‘Western States.

One of the most useful flumes in the far West is that of the Fresno Flume and Irrigation Company, built originally for purposes of irrigation, but, in 1891, first used for the carrying of lumber from a sawmill at Shaver, to a planing-mill at Clovis, a distance of sixty-five miles.

“A good example of a log-flume,” says Mr. F. A. Leete, of the Imperial Forest Service of India, who recently made a tour of America’s woodlands, “was seen at Addio, Idaho. A flume for sawn lumber was also observed at Bridal Veil, Oregon, and another at Lamoine, California.

The tract worked by the lumber firm is high up in the mountains, the lowest part being 3,000 feet above the public railway. Sawmills are situated up above the wooded area and the sawn timber is sent down the flume, five miles long, in one case, and ten miles in the other. It takes from fifteen to twenty-nine minutes for a piece of timber to come down.”

IN THE WEST THE FLUME IS USED TO TRANSPORT LOGS. The flume is a water-trough, which may be as long as sixty miles. It began to be used in the redwoods about 1890. From a photograph by the United States Forest Service.

Like the mountain torrent, the flume is serviceable only down-hill. In lumbering and milling operations many heavy supplies, such as machinery and tools and food, have to be taken to the base, and the cost of doing so over rocky and wooded crags is large.

Some of the best engineers in the country have aided development of the flume for lumbering. One of them, F. M. Kettenring, lives in the city of Vancouver, from which he goes forth to superintend the building of flumes of his design. As a civil engineer he has made a special study of the trestle-works and supports, and reduced construction costs.


Nearest to aerial transportation is the overhead skidder, the invention of which, in 1883, revolutionized the entire lumber industry. On November 23 of that year, Horace Butters, of Ludington, Michigan, obtained the first patent for power log-skidding machinery ever issued in the United States. Butters was a member of the firm of Butters and Peters, logging contractors, who at the time were clearing a large tract near Ludington.

There were reaches of rough ground in the pine woods where he was at work, and delays were many because logs were always getting into pitholes or striking roots and snags.

When a lumberman undertakes a contract to deliver a certain number of thousands of logs to a mill, every minute is precious. Butters had been brought up to the lumbering business, and had tried every plan he could think of to get his timber to the sawmills on time.

He wanted more power to “snake out” his logs, and so decided to get a steam stationary engine of the hoisting type to do it. Whether he was the first man to think of that idea is hard to tell; there is a story that several Southern lumbermen hit on the scheme of yanking the logs out of the woods over the ground by using steam-winches or donkey-engines.

Butters, however, rigged up an overhead cableway, connected at each end of its 800-foot span with a towering tree. On this he put a carriage or trolley, and by steam hoisted to it a log. Then he used the same power to pull the loaded carriage along his wire cable to its destination.

By this device, he avoided the bogs and the pitfalls and the uneven ground.

TRANSPORTING LOGS BY WIRE ROPEWAYS. Horace Butters is credited with the invention (in 1883) of the system whereby logs are transported by wire ropeways. The system was brought to its present perfection by Spencer Miller and G. Haines Dickinson. The wire cable is attached to a stout, well-gauged tree (here shown) and known as the head spar. The other end of the cable (not shown) is fastened to another distant tree—the “tail spar.” The logs are then transported on the cable, as shown. When all within reach have been removed, the cable is attached to another tail spar. Thus the cable is fastened to successive tail spars until a complete circle has been described. Sometimes, as in this case, two or more cables transport logs simultaneously. EDITOR’S NOTE: Note the crazy lumbermen sitting on the suspended log.

Butters bought his hoisting-engine from the Lidgerwood Manufacturing Company, of Brooklyn, New York, a circumstance which ultimately brought capital and engineering talent into the development of power-skidding. The history of the invention from that date is closely linked with the careers of two able inventors, Spencer Miller, chief engineer, and J. Haines Dickinson, logging engineer, for the Lidgerwoods.

The company was the successor of the old Speedwell Iron Works, established in 1802 at Morristown, New Jersey, in whose shops Morse designed and operated the 1rst telegraph. There, too, was built the machinery for the steamship Savannah, the first steam-vessel to cross the Atlantic.

The firm had already developed many types of hoisting engines, but logging was only an incidental customer. When the demand for engines for log-hoisting came Miller needed some help, and he engaged Dickinson, who had graduated from Cornell University in 1890.

While a student in the engineering department there, Dickinson saw some lumber magazines belonging to his brother who was studying forestry. He was impressed with the idea of applying power in the deep woods, and decided to take up machine-logging as a profession. He wrote a thesis on logging in which he referred to the Butters invention and its possibilities.

After a brief stay with an iron company in Trenton, he entered the Lidgerwood organization. With Miller he worked out fifty patents applicable to log-skidding machinery, and the details connected with them. The perfecting of blocks and carriages of various kinds and of means for hauling in the slack has made it possible to bring lumbering of that kind to the highest plane of efficiency.

Butters made a connection with the Lidgerwoods and the first year sold ten of his machines to his fellow loggers. The first lot of these mechanisms were crude enough, but they certainly did the work.

Power-skidding is now a wonderful triumph of engineering skill, and is used everywhere. The original Butters patent has run out, but the many improvements of the Miller-Dickinson patents have kept pace with the needs and the progress of the industry.

The cableways can now be made 2,000 feet long, and if there is a deep ravine for them to be crossed, as in a mountain country, they can be lengthened out to 5,000 feet, or nearly a mile.

Although there are slack-hauling devices with the new power-skidders, there is always more or less sagging which must be allowed for, either by very high towers or by making use of the mountains as supports and anchors.

PORTABLE HIGH-SPAR SKIDDERS. The high spars make long span possible. Deflection in main cable with load at middle is 5 per cent of total length of span. By courtesy of Lidgerwood Mfg. Co.

The skidding of logs can be carried on over a wide area with only one plant. The cable is attached to a stout, well-guyed tree, known as the head spar. Near it are the hoisting engines and drums which hoist the logs into position and haul them either entirely off the ground, or slightly dragging the surface.

The other end of the cable is attached to another tree, known as the “tail tree.” After all the logs within easy reach of this overhead line have been skidded away, the end of the cable is removed, and secured to another tail tree.

This changing is continued until the cable anchorages at the tail end have been swung completely around a circle, with the head spar as centre, and the length of the cableway as a radius. Thus large tracts of territory can be cleared of logs at moderate expense, before it is decided to move the head spar to a new locality.

THE “TOPPER” AT WORK. The “topper” has the dangerous task of cutting off the thin, weak top of the tree that is to serve as the head spar of a wire-rope log-transporting system.

Lumbermen consider the Lidgerwood improved, quick-moving overhead skidder the latest and highest development in methods which keeps the logs entirely clear of the ground.

In this device, the head spar is of steel, and is mounted on a portable platform from which it can be readily lowered for quick moving. It can also be readily transported by railroad. One of the features of this mechanism is the interlocking drum.

The outhaul and the skidding or inhaul drums of the engine are so cogged that the man at the lever who controls the machine can have complete command of it, whether the load is being skidded up-hill or down, carried over level ground, or swung across the deepest canyons.

The device is also equipped with a mechanical slack-puller, and its capacity is increased by multiple skidding lines, which permit other loads of logs to be attached in the woods, while one is being hauled into the head spar.

In order to get the logs out of the Southern swamps with less effort than formerly, powerful hoisting-engines of the Lidgerwood type were mounted on scows. As far as is known the first operation of this kind was in 1893, when the firm sold a two-drum engine to the Louisiana Cypress Company.

Among the inventors who were busy with the problem of skidding at this time was William Baptist, of Michigan, whose name has already been mentioned in this account of lumbering. He was a man of little education, but had a vast fund of common sense and ingenuity as well as an unusual reserve of patience. If any thing failed to work, he stuck to it until it did.

The Southern lumbermen took to the idea of jerking or pulling their logs out of the swamps, and Baptist went down South to help them with their problems. There he originated and introduced the method known as “pullboat logging.”

HAULING LOGS OUT OF SOUTHERN SWAMPS. To accomplish it, powerful Lidgerwood engines were mounted on scows in 1893. Probably William Baptist, of Michigan, was the first to apply the idea. As developed by the Lidgerwood Manufacturing Co., a heavy pulling cable and a lighter cable for returning the pulling-line from the river to the point from which the logs are to be dragged are used. Logs are pulled over distances as great as a mile to the river-bank.

Meanwhile, the various types of skidders were being perfected. The first ground skidder with power was put into operation in the pine regions near Pitcock, Georgia, in 1896. In 1897, W. A. Fletcher, a lumberman of Kirbyville, Texas, invented the first pine logger. Then various loading devices were devised to get the logs more quickly upon the railroad-cars.

By means of the skidding system, logs are assembled at central points, a plan known as “yarding.”

The object is to deliver them by overhead cable to the actual tracks; but this is not always practicable. Often they have to be taken to the main railroad.

The logs are collected together and laid on beams, known as skidways. The piling of the timber, either on sled, wagon, or railroad-car, no matter how good the machine aid may be, requires the use of a pole with a hinged claw on it.

This device, used in handling logs by hand, is also employed in adjusting the top log on a load, and is known as a “peavey hook.” It is certainly a man’s work to handle one.

LOGS HAULED UP A ROAD BY A STEAM-WINCH AND A CABLE. From a photograph by United States Forest Service.


The decrease of log-driving and the fact that the timber had to be cut farther and farther away from the streams led to another epoch-making development in the industry.

Important as the overhead skidder is in rough and mountainous country, there are often operations in which it pays to build a railroad into the woods, to connect with public trunk lines. This now seems so obvious a plan, that one wonders now why it was, that the man who first built such a means of transportation in the forest was denounced as a crack-brained visionary.

Why any one should have opposed the introduction of an actual railroad into the realm of trees is all the harder to understand in view of the fact that rude tracks made by putting two poles a few feet apart were early used in lumbering operations. Upon these poles were placed cars with flanged wheels, which were pulled backward and forward by animal power, and sometimes by hand.

As soon as the sawmills created a great demand for lumber, the poles were crowded out by sawn or hewn stringers. Skidways of smooth timbers, a short distance apart, which were in effect incline or gravity railroads, needing no power, had also been installed.

Roads with wooden rails were in use in many sections of the country, and just who started them first is not recorded, but similar tracks had been used, for that matter, in the British coal-mines for generations.

Real railroad logging, however, we owe to W. Scott Gerrish, a logger who did much contract work in southern Michigan. He went to the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, in 1876, to celebrate with many other good Americans the hundredth year of their independence.

In the Machinery Hall he saw a small steam-locomotive which was being offered to the manufacturers of the world as an easy and quick way of carrying finished or unfinished products about their plants. When he went back to Michigan he began to put in practice his theory that a steam-railroad could be used in the woods. He was told that he was getting foolish.

Soon he had in operation a seven-mile railroad, connecting Lake George with the Muskegon, the construction beginning at Ferwell. The first cars run had only four wheels, but they were soon superseded by the eight-wheel type, as the original cars were found to be too rigid on curves, and they had an unsteady motion when loaded with heavy logs.

LOADING LOGS ON FLAT CARS. Powerful steam-derricks load gigantic fir logs on flat cars in the mountain “draws” of the west coast. Wherever it is possible to do so, the logs are hauled out on cars drawn by special logging locomotives. From a photograph by the Dale Photo Co., Seattle.

There are no spring-cushioned Pullmans on the logging railroads, even in this day, as revealed in the description of an English visitor, who says that for the most of his trip on one of them his heart was in his mouth.

But the Gerrish experiment was such a success that five years after it was started there were seventy-one logging railroads in operation in Michigan alone, and five in Wisconsin. Now there are approximately 2,000 logging railroads, with 30,000 miles of tracks, in various parts of the United States.

Conditions in the lumber regions brought into use new types of locomotives which would meet peculiar conditions. It is remarkable how many of the Michigan loggers, men without any special technical training in engineering or mechanics, have aided in the making of engines and machines for transporting logs.

E. E. Shay, a logging contractor in the Wolverine State, decided that the kinds of locomotives then existing did not suit him, and he started in to design one of his own. In 1885, the first Shay locomotive, now made by the Lima Locomotive and Machine Company, was given to the transportation world. Its gears were adjusted so as to give it the largest possible amount of drawing power.

HIGH-LEAD SYSTEM OF GROUND SKIDDING AND LOADING. Illustrating the use of two tail-blocks and showing method of side-lining. By courtesy of Lidgerwood Mfg. Co.

The constant improving of the power-skidding devices, and of loading apparatus, naturally has enabled the railroads to handle more lumber. In some of the mountainous regions of the far West, aerial tramways, which are really modifications of the overhead-skidder idea of Horace Butters, swing logs directly down upon the platform cars on the railroads.

In the sky-line or aerial tramway, the Pacific slope, which for years rejected the skidding idea, has made a rediscovery of a device which came originally from the woods of Michigan. The tramway, as it has intermediate supports, can be made larger than a skidder.


Hand in hand with the rise of lumber transportation in the United States, came the development of the sawmill. The early colonists had been content to use a big saw, which was operated by two men, one of whom stood in a pit across which the log was placed, while the other was over the pit. They pulled the blade up and down, after the manner which they had inherited from European forebears.

Sawmills operated by wind-power, by horses, treadmills, and steam had been established in England, Germany, and Holland after much opposition from the pit-sawyers, who thought that their livelihood was in danger. The first American sawmill run by water began work in 1634, on the Falls of the Piscataqua on the line between Maine and New Hampshire.

The logs were fastened on the carriage and shoved toward the reciprocating saw, which worked along on the up-to-day and down-to-morrow principle, yet with a great deal more speed than could have been reached by pit-sawing.

Gang-saws—that is, notched blades put side by side—were soon introduced in this country. Such devices had been known in Europe for several centuries, the first having been employed, so far as is known, in 1575, in Ratisbon, on the Danube.


The lumber industry was never able to make a high-speed record until the introduction of the circular saw. This saw was really a rediscovery, as a small tool like it was used by Hippocrates in cutting holes in the skulls of some of his patients in ancient Greece, to relieve pressure on the brain; an operation which physicians and surgeons call trepanning.

Samuel Miller obtained a patent for a circular saw for wood-working in 1777, in England. His invention would have been practically unknown, however, had not General Sir Samuel Bentham, once with the British Admiralty, and later a manufacturer of power tools, taken an interest in it. He took up the inventions of Miller and Trotter, and also invented a circular saw of his own. Later circular saws were adopted for shipbuilding, at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, England.

Benjamin Cummings is credited with being the first American inventor to make a circular saw. He knew little or nothing of the progress of saw-making in Europe, but started out on his own account. He was born at Bentonville, New York, 1772, and came of old English stock.

A millwright by trade, he made the first circular saw ever seen in America in his own blacksmith-shop, while the villagers looked on in wonder. He intended it for use in his own sawmill at Schenectady, New York, and although it took some time to adjust it to the existing power, he was finally successful.

Hammering out the first American circular saw in 1814 was only one of Cummings’s many accomplishments. He accumulated some capital and engaged in various contracting enterprises, including the digging through a mile and a half of bed-rock for the Erie Canal, and the construction of the first low bridge. He also aided in the construction of the first ten miles of the railroad built between Albany and Schenectady.

The day of the circular saw had been hastened by the granting of an American patent to Robert Eastman and J. Jacquith, of Brunswick, Maine. Eastman arranged for putting into the rims of his saw some extra notches, which he called “false teeth.”

About 1840, circular saws appeared into which teeth had been fitted. Then, in 1846, an inventor named Spaulding, of Sacramento, California, devised a curved socket which held the “false teeth” more securely. This plan made circular saws popular because they could be easily repaired by putting in a new tooth when one was broken.


The band-saw, a narrow bit of metal made into an endless strip, with teeth on both edges was a most important addition. It is indicated that early attempts to make a saw of this nature failed on account of the difficulty of joining the ends.

The French have always declared they invented the band-saw, although a very strong claim is put forth for William Newberry, who obtained a patent for such a saw in 1808, which to all appearances solved the problem of the welding of the ends.

Many French inventors gave their attention to the band-saw, and among them was Mademoiselle Crépin, a young woman of Paris, a member of a family of high social standing. She did not care for a life of fashion, and devoted herself to mechanical pursuits.

Among her inventions was a band-saw, for which she obtained a French patent in 1846. Its merits were seen by Périn, a saw-manufacturer and an inventor of saws, and he bought her rights. He exhibited a band-saw—a composite invention—in 1855, at the French International Exhibition in Paris.

One of the sensations of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia was a band-saw in swift operation, which had been just perfected by the well-known saw-manufacturers, Henry Disston and Sons, Incorporated. From that date may be traced the introduction of the band-saw into the American mills.

There has long been a keen rivalry in American mills between the band-saw and the circular saw. For the portable mills the round form is more popular, as it can be taken easily about the country and into remote places near the lumber camps.

The standard circular saw is fifty-four inches in diameter, although one of the type, said to have been the largest in the world, was 108 inches across.

Since it saves kerf, time, and power, the band-saw has a front place in all the big mills. Mill operators in the larger towns, and in the centres of industry like the band-saw, because its thin blade, rapidly revolved over wheels, makes a very narrow cut and wastes little wood in dust.

In the seventies, a six-inch band-saw was considered remarkable, but now eighteen-inch ones are common. In length these saws vary from forty to sixty feet. They travel at the rate of about one and a half miles a minute, which is faster than the swiftest express-trains.

The great demand for American saws, for they are now sent to all parts of the world, is due not only to their form, but to the peculiar excellence of their steel. Saws were once imported exclusively from Europe, and even after the industry of making them was started here, the metal came from abroad.

WIDE SPRUCE SLABS IN A WEST-COAST MILL. From a photograph by the Cress Dale Photo. Co., Seattle.

Technical men have done much to perfect saw steel, but the saw-makers have also done a great deal to help themselves in getting the raw material which suited their requirements. The success of such makers as Henry Disston is a case in point.

Disston was a mechanic in Philadelphia, working in a small shop where saws were made. When the concern failed he took it over in payment of a claim for wages, and without any capital built the great house which now bears his name.

He realized that the quality of the steel available was not what he wanted, and therefore, in 1855, started a small works of his own where he made crucible steel. The product was so good that other industries asked him to sell them some. Thus to this day the firm has a large steel trade independent of its main business, which is that of making notched cutting-tools.

Another famous firm of saw-makers, the Simonds Manufacturing Company, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, has a steel plant of its own where it makes high-quality material for its goods. This company began many years ago as a scythe-factory.

A GREAT LUMBER YARD AND SAWMILL. The thirty thousand sawmills of this country produce about 40 billion board feet of lumber each year—enough to load 1.6 million railroad-cars. From a photograph by The Great Southern Lumber Co.

Saw steel must have qualities different from those required in other cutting instruments or in chopping tools, because the heat from the friction must be considered in the operation of the saw. It is a delicate question to determine when steel of this character is too hard or too soft, and what ductility it should have.

In most American saw steels there is from eight to eighteen per cent of tungsten. Saw-makers have secret processes and formulae which they guard jealously, as competition among them for the trade of the 30,000 sawmills in this country, to say nothing of an extensive foreign market, is very keen.

The superior saws and axes and other wood-working appliances which have been developed in this country, owe their origin largely to the demands of those men who are closest to the timber.

The ingenuity of manufacturers has been taxed to the utmost to fill the wants of the lumberjacks and the contractors, and often to develop the inventions which those woodsmen either made or suggested.

The lumber industry of America is so big that it is almost impossible to comprehend its size. About 30,000 sawmills that now operate in this country turn out something like 40 billion board feet of lumber each year.

Think of it! This amount of lumber would load 1.6 million railroad-cars, and if made up in a single train would reach two-thirds around the world.

In addition to sawmills there are about 75,000 other wood-using establishments at work utilizing the wood that is taken from our forests, and making it into usable household and factory products.

We are a nation of wood-users. Perhaps no other people use so much wood as we do. It ministers to our wants continuously from the cradle to the coffin. It supplies us with countless conveniences and many necessities, from toothpicks, shoe-pegs, and matches to big buildings and large factories.

PNEUMATICALLY OPERATED TRIMMER-SAWS. In the box sits a man who brings down any combination of saws that he wants for trimming. The first circular saw of this type was fashioned in America by Benjamin Cumming in 1772. From a photograph by the Cress Dale Photo Co., Seattle.
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