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Logging in Sumpter Valley


Logging in late 1890 and early 1900 was primitive and labor intensive. The railroad was the only way the heavy logs could be moved from the cutting area to the sawmill, especially if the distance was more than a mile apart. Logging trucks would not become standard until the late 1930s and early 1940s.


Sawyers  - The sawyers were a hardy bunch of men. The men formed teams of two that could work together with a smooth rhythm while sawing. The cross cut saws were six to eight feet long with handles on both ends. One sawyer pulled while the other pushed. This process was then reversed when the handles neared the tree. This action would move the saw back and forth over a three to four foot area of the saw teeth. Once the tree was felled, it would be cut into 16 feet lengths starting at the butt. The limbs of the tree were removed with double bladed axes. The sawyers mark the butt of each log with their “brand”, that showed which loggers felled the tree. They also place a number next to the brand showing the number of logs this team had cut. Each logger carried a satchel in which was his lunch, a five-pound hammer, splitting wedges, files, whetstone, and an extra pair of heavy work gloves. This bag was slung over his shoulder until he arrived at a tree to be felled; then it would be put safely aside. He also carried his cross cut saw, a double bladed axe, and a bottle of turpentine in his hip pocket. The turpentine was used to remove the tree sap (resin) from the saw so that it would cut easier.

This photo shows a typical logging crew of the period. The cross cut saws can easily be seen, along with several double bladed axes. The man, second from the left, most likely worked at the landing. He is shown with a “PeeVee” in his left hand. This device was used to rotate or roll the logs. The gentleman with the vest, by the window, was the boss or foreman. The round device in front is a pedal operated whetstone for sharpening their axes. The pretty young lady is part of the kitchen staff. Photo is from the History Collection of the Baker County Library.


Skidders – The skidding, or dragging, of the logs from where they fell to the landing was done with teams of horses. The teamster or in this case a skidder would drive the horses to where the logs laid, after the Swampers had cleared away all the tree limbs to allow easy access to each log. The horses did not like walking on the limbs and would spook if they were not removed. A chain was then fastened around the log near the end and attached to the doubletree, or crossbar, which allowed a pair of horses to drag the log. When the log size was large teamsters would double up using four horses to pull. Upon arriving at the landing, or loading area, a landing boss would tell the teamster where to leave the log. One team would remain at the landing to help move logs that had already been brought in, if required. By rotating the teams in this manner, it provided a break to the horses from the continuous pulling. Photo is from the History Collection of the Baker County Library.

Landing – The area where the train cars waited to be loaded is called the landing. The landing boss directed all activities in this area. He made sure the skidders placed the logs where they could easily be reached for loading on the rail car. He would direct the teamster to bring in logs of a certain diameter if the logs at the landing were all one size, thus providing a mixture of sizes for the “Top Loader” to work with. The skidders would reverse the logs so that buts were alternated to produce a more uniform load on the rail car. The Top Loader would select the log he wanted to load next and where he wanted it to be placed on the rail car. He would direct when and where chains were placed to secure the logs on the car. He decided when a car was loaded and another should be brought forward so it could be loaded.

Haul Back Loading - The team of horses provided the power by pulling on a cable or chain that was wrapped over the log so that as the horses pulled the log rolled up the ramp and onto the car. The man on the right steadied the log so it rolled evenly. The man standing on the top log on the left in the picture was called Top Loader, and he directed the loading operations.  “PeeVees” can be seen in the hands of each of the loaders. Chains securing the logs can also be seen on both cars. Photo is from the History Collection of the Baker County Library.

“A” Frame Loading – Horses were no longer used following the development of the “Gypsy steam engine” and an associated boiler system, which was sometimes called a “Donkey” because of the type work it did. Haul back loading was replaced with a “Jammer” which consisted of a Gypsy, an “A” frame with a pulley at the apex, and a source of steam power. Cable from the Gypsy would be run through the pulley on the “A” frame and out to the landing area. Some logging operations put the “A” frame plus the Gypsy and a boiler on a rail car. One of the logging companies working in Sumpter Valley was the Stoddard Lumber Company. Stoddard mounted the Gypsy on the front end of its Heisler locomotive and used the steam from the train to power the Gypsy.

These pictures shows loading of logs using an “A” frame and Gypsy. It was taken at the landing of Denny Siding, named for the creek it was near, of the Sumpter Valley Railroad, and shows the loading of a log onto a rail car. The log is suspended just above the car ready to be lowered at the direction of the Top Loader, who can be seen between the legs of the “A” frame. In this setup the “A” frame was mounted on a rail car. The two men on the ground are guiding and steadying the log as it is lifted. They are called “End Hooker” or “Dogger” after the device they place in the ends of the log. When the log is in place and the pressure released on the cable, the doggers will pull the ropes they are holding to remove the “Dogs” from the end of the log.  In the background on the left can be seen a stack of firewood for the locomotive. The men in the picture are; Top Loader – Kenneth Miles, Doggers – Everett Metsker and Al Olsen, and the Gypsy Operator – Ed Dougherty.

Photos from the collection of  Delma Miles, ca 1939, who's husband Kenneth Miles is in the pictures.


This picture from the Author's collection shows a "Dog" up close














Thise photo show the Dogger’s action. The cable from the Gypsy is run through a pulley located at the bottom of a tree uphill from the railroad car. It then goes up the tree to another pulley located near the top and then down to the log being loaded.  The log being loaded is slid up the slide formed by the two timbers just under the log.



Hob Nail Boots – Worker safety was important in the Logging Industry. The bark of a tree provides protection for the sap carrying layers just beneath. When a tree is felled the bark sustains damage due to striking the ground or another tree on the way down. The sap oozes out causing the outside of the bark to become slick. When the tree falls it may not be on level ground. A logger trying to clear away branches would like to just walk down the downed tree chopping limbs, but not all limbs could be reached easily. Some are on the sides of the trunk and he must lean over to reach them. Sometimes the log may be several feet above the ground. Consequently he is trying to keep his balance and wield his double bladed axe with enough force to sever the limb. A very dangerous situation no matter how you look at it. Almost every worker had a need to walk on a log sometime or another regardless of what his job was. The Hob Nail Boot provided surefootedness for the workers. The leather of the boot extended well above the anklebone of the wearer, thus, providing protection to the foot. The soles were thick, heavy and long lasting. The surefootedness was provided by a set of calks or Hungarian nails installed in the sole and heal of each shoe. These protruding spikes easily dug into the bark. A worker without these boots could be fired on the spot. The workers loved them. Their wives did not. The nails would raise havoc with linoleum or wooden floors. Casual shoes could be found by the entry door of most lumberjacks home.


Tin Pants – It’s only a nickname given to the type of pants the lumberjacks wore due to their indestructibility. Broken limbs and other sharp protruding items were always snagging worker's clothes. A pair of “Levi” pants wouldn’t last a week. Workers preferred pants made out of a heavy sailcloth or canvas. Suspenders were commonly worn, so the pants would have additional metal buttons along the waistband that the suspenders could be fastened onto. The hip pockets were larger and looser than what we see today. This made it easier to carry a pint whisky bottle full of turpentine. The Turpentine helped remove the resin from the crosscut saw blade and made cutting easier.



Wage Schedule 1932


Stoddard Brothers Lumber Camp

Curry, Oregon






            Logging                                                                      Rate


1            Foreman                                                          $175.00 month

6            Teamsters                                                               .30 hr  (9 hr day)

2            Swampers                                                               .27 hr       “

1            Landing man                                                            .25 hr       “

1            Cat Driver                                                               .40 hr  (10 hr day)

1            Choker Setter                                                          .33 hr  (9 hr day)

1            Bull Cook                                                   $  75.00 month

1            Scalier                                                                     .35 hr  (10 hr day)

1            Blacksmith (part time)                                      $    2.25 day

            Log Cutters (Contract)                                              .70 per M board ft.




3            Engineers                                                                 .40 hr  (10 hr day)

3            Fireman – Hookers                                                  .35 hr          “

3            Brakeman – Hookers                                               .35 hr          “


Railroad Maintenance


1            Foreman                                                                  .30 hr  (10 hr day)

4            Laborers                                                                 .20 hr         “   


This schedule shows the wages for various positions for the three labor categories; Logging, Transportation, and Railroad Maintenance, plus, their associated pay scale. Typically, due to the isolation of this type work, room and board was also provided as part of the pay. Alfred Woolman, who worked for Stoddard Lumber Company, provided this wage schedule to, his son, the Author.




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Connecting Train

© Copyright 2008 Clifton Woolman.