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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Highlights in the history of
logging equipment and methods

By W.E. Crosby, Editor, West Coast Lumberman, [unknown date, maybe 1930s,
author compilation from his early columns, file at Un. of Washington Allen Library]

(Logging with oxen)
      In 1946 the Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times featured this photo of what was called "a typical ox team as used in the pioneer days of logging in this area. The photo was taken at the Jesse Cary ranch, a mile east of Hamilton, and the team was owned by Young and Byers.
      The huge log in the photo was being dragged to the Skagit river, in the "roading" period of early logging, when loggers were just starting to cut trees that were away from the main waterways. The bull puncher (standing in the center) was Johnny Brink and the tot in the streamlined buggy was his baby sister. Ed McClure was on the horse at the left, and his brother, Charlie, was the boy with the white shirt in the center of the log. Harry "Shorty" Cary was almost obscured on the log and his father was standing in back of the bull-puncher. The two ladies standing in back of the baby buggy were Mrs. Orlie Williams and Mrs. Frank Gee. You can just barely see a man near the log in the background who was feeding a deer.
      James M. Young, an Irish immigrant, moved to the upper Skagit river area in 1877 after working in Kansas and Nevada. When he arrived near Hamilton, he only had three close neighbors, Mount Vernon was the nearest post office and Mrs. Birdsey Minkler and Mrs. Karl Von Pressentin were the only frontier wives in the area. Young helped Frank Hamilton cut through the first road to Sedro from the Baker River, starting in 1896. He originally worked in logging camps and cleared timber on his land. After marrying in 1890 , he eventually sold 70 of his 170 acres, and most of livestock, and invested in timber. He was clerk of the district school board, served two terms as county commissioner, and promoted early tax levies for schools.

Chapter 1: Oxen, then horses, then steam
      The development of Western logging presents one of the most striking and interesting pictures of all American industry. Within a span of fifty years, or within the lives of many men now active in the industry, have occurred changes in methods, machinery and equipment that are hardly conceivable. One system of logging has only been well installed when another has taken its place. Oxen followed the hand loggers; horses the oxen; steam drove the horses and oxen from the woods and now steam is disappearing due to encroachments of other and better methods.
      There will be depicted in this series of articles some highlights in the history of Pacific Coast logging. An effort will be made to recall some of the interesting phases leading up to the introduction of various methods of logging and the acceptance of new equipment. This is the first time that such a history has even been written. Obviously it would be impossible to compress into four short articles all the facts in connection with the introduction of machinery and equipment. The outstanding events, however, will be mentioned and touched upon. We believe that this historical record will not only be of interest but of lasting and permanent benefit.
      Logging was the first industry to e developed in the Northwest. Even before the white people commenced to settle in Oregon or in the Western Washington, sailing ships put into the Columbia River or Puget Sound, to obtain Douglas fir masts and spars. The fame of these masts and spars spread and rather large shipments of these products were made from the northwest. Then came some mills. Logs had to be provided. But that was not a difficult job as the timber was close at hand. So-called hand logging was about all that was necessary. The trees were cut largely by axes and rolled into the water. As the demand for lumber, piling and spars grew, logging became more or less a detached business and has so remained to this day.
      Along in the late 1870s and early '80s, the Northwest commenced to really develop. Thousands of settlers were coming into the country. California was growing and requiring an ever increasing quantity of forest products. Men commenced to meet the demand. Mills were being established and logging became a real industry. That was the age of bull-team logging. The bull puncher was a man of real importance. Oxen were worth a lot of money, $150 per head or even more for intelligent leaders.
      There were no railroads in those days. At first the oxen were used to pull the logs to the water's edge. There is one record of five yoke of oxen having been required to haul a 32 foot log, 89 inches in diameter, to the Snoqualmie river from the champs of Chisholm and Jewett. As the most accessible timber was cut, some of the loggers commenced to use horses.
      In most operations where horses were used, they were employed to pull tram cars upon which the logs were loaded after having been yarded by oxen.

The first steam donkey
      By 1890, loggers were commencing to think of using steam. Down in California, lumberman John Dolbeer, of Dolbeer & Carson in Eureka, had developed the Dolbeer spool donkey, which was the first steam donkey ever to be used in the logging industry of the West. It is a matter of record, however, that many loggers did not think much of this donkey. It had a drum or spool that was placed vertically on a frame instead of horizontally as in the present. The cable was not reeled onto that spool. There would be three or four turn of cable around the spool and a man or two would be required to pull the cable away as it was wound in. In other words, it was operated as a winch. Manila ropes were used on the first steam rigs but it was not long before wire ropes were found more serviceable.
      While logging with oxen and horses continued well into the 1890s, that period marked the rapid introduction of steam donkeys into the western logging camps. Early in the '90s, advertising of steam donkey commenced to appear in the Puget Sound Lumberman, a well known lumber magazine of that era and later succeeded by the West Coast Lumberman. The first advertisement of the Dolbeer logging engine ever to appear was in the November 1891 issue of the Puget Sound Lumberman. That advertisement declared that one of these engines would do the work of 70 horses or 80 oxen." No wonder the loggers of that day were interested in that new method of logging.
      One of the earliest Dolbeer steam donkeys put into service in the Puget Sound country was the one installed in the Blanchard camp on Bellingham Bay in 1897. A Dolbeer spool engine was employed to log timber owned by General Alger. The Dolbeer engine had not been in use long before several other firms were interesting themselves in the production of steam donkeys. J.M. Arthur, a well known machinery distributor of that time, widely advertised a steam donkey, blatantly proclaiming that "steam is cheaper power than cattle."

Other steam rigs

(log buckers)
In the early days, loggers felled trees by hand and rolled them into the river.

      Another donkey that was among the first put into the woods was that known as Pine's Patent "Bull" Donkey, manufactured by a San Francisco firm, Marshutz and Cantrall. The first one was shipped to Hobbs, Wall & Co., operating at Crescent City, California, early in the summer of 1893. Several other redwood operators had these donkeys in their camps. That machine had a number of "vastly superior" improvements, including a device to evenly wind the rope of the drums and it had two horizontal drums. Its shipping weight was 24,700 pounds. The machine was made to be placed at the side or at the terminus of a logging railroad, log shute or flume. When a tree was cut the Dolbeer engine would pull the logs in to a landing, several of these would be dogged together. The hauling rope of the Bull donkey could be attached to the string of logs and the engine would pull them to the water. The engine pulled the logs at the rate of 10 feet per minute. While the logs were descending steep grades the load was held back by the tail rope. The machine was a forty horsepower rig, having cylinders measuring 8x12 feet, with a compound gear [rated at] 9 1/2 to 1.
      The Mundy was another brand that had a good run in those early days of steam logging. There is a record of one of these 100-horsepower engines hauling logs a mile. West Brothers, who were operating a camp at Oat Point, purchased one in the summer of 1895.
      [The manufacturers of the time] brought into play some real engineering thought and skill in developing donkeys that would meet the needs of the logging industry of that period. The Washington Iron Works of Seattle, already a lusty manufacturing company, brought out a new type donkey, selling the first one to Michael Earles who had a camp in Maple Valley. That engine went out in 1894. It had 9x10 1/4 cylinders with a 48x96-inch boiler and two drums. The main gear was 36 inches in diameter and the haulback gear 30 inches in diameter. The main drum had flanges 35 inches in diameter, with spool 12 inches in diameter and 33 inches long. It had a capacity of 2,100 feet of 7/8 inch rope. That was what was known as an "open face" engine, that is the frame was not closed in on the front and the side beams went just beyond the main drum bearings.

Donkey engine evolves and horses fade in importance
      Many improvements were made in quick succession to the donkey engines. One of the early difficulties was to provide sufficient steam. That was overcome by the introduction of the extended fire box. Solid steel frames were adopted, along with more and larger drums. The first donkeys were roading engines. Shortly after 1904 the combined roader-yarders commenced to appear. With the advent of the high-lead system [see Chapter 2 on July 1] the engine manufacturers had to provide a new type of equipment. Eventually, the powerful combination machines evolved that both yarded and loaded.
      The Willamette Iron & Steel Works of Portland was also at work on the problem and, about the same time, it designed and placed upon the market the first of a large number of donkeys that made logging history during the 25 to 30 years. Its first machine, a 10x10, was sold to L. Soldren of Astoria. Its first log slide engine, a 16x20, was sold to the Columbia River Lumber. Co. in 1905.
      One of the first steam donkeys introduced in Whatcom county, Washington — then the scene of a good deal of lumbering, was that bought by the late E.L. Guadette in 1895. That was a 36 horsepower machine and Mr. Guadette employed twenty men and six horses in addition. The same year the Pacific Lumber Trade Journal announced that Alex Polson had bought a Mundy steam donkey and would construct a logging railroad.
      The records reveal that Michael Earles, operating under the name of the Seattle Logging Co., had what was considered a "show camp," near Freshwater Bay. In the spring of 1898 he had two 85-ton roading machines. Earles was one of the loggers who had switched from oxen to steam.
      Notwithstanding the almost instant popularity of steam donkeys, horses remained a factor in the woods until about 1900. One writer in 1899 said of the horse: "Still he holds his place and will probably continue to do so until some machine is contrived that will leave the horse nothing to do. There are some splendid ten-horse teams in the words and it would be a pity to see them superseded by machinery."
      Even at that late date, 1900, steam donkeys were comparatively simple affairs and cheap, compared with present day prices. The donkeys could be bought then for $1,200-2,500. Even those prices were considered high for that time.

Transportation becomes a problem — the locomotive appears
      During the late 1880s and early '90s, it became apparent to shrewd loggers that transportation would become a big factor in western logging. There were few steams in Washington or Northern Oregon [that were suited to] "driving logs," a system universally used in the east. Railroads would have to take the place of rivers and lakes. Even as far back as 1883, some real thought was given to the subject.
      In 1893, Blackman Brothers, who were operating a logging camp just north of what is now Marysville [in Snohomish county], built and operated the first logging "Locomotive" in the county and probably one of the first in the West. Thought it was not much to look at, it created a great sensation in those early days. It had flanged wheels that ran on maple rails, which were spiked to heavy timbers. On the inside of the wheels were some gears and a pinion driven by power furnished by an upright steam boiler. That locomotive did not travel very fast, just about as fast as a good team of hoses could walk. Nor could it pull very much; a couple of loads of short logs was a good haul. The logs were hauled to the water near Marysville to the brothers' mill, one of the first in Snohomish county. They were big operators in their day.

Real railroads take over hauling
(Incline snubber)
This very steep incline railroad at an unknown location lowered rail cars full of logs downhill with the aid of a snubber cable. Photo courtesy of the late Roger Fox.

      The close-in timber was disappearing. Oxen and horses were out of the question for long-distance hauling. Even steam donkeys were not efficient for distance of much over a mile. So the loggers turned their attention to building real railroads and installing locomotives. The first [real] locomotives used in logging were engines obtained from the transcontinental roads that were building into the Northwest. We read in the lumber press of the period that by 1896, the Port Blakely Mill Co. had 30 miles of standard gauge railroad in Mason county and 76 logging cars. They were using a transcontinental railroad locomotive. The Peninsula Railway had 30 miles of railroad and 76 logging cars, and in 1897 Sol Simpson bought a 55-ton locomotive. In December 1898, C.C. Masten bought a new, geared Climax while operating at Svenson, Oregon, and early the following year, L. Soldern of Astoria, Oregon, bought one. There is a record of the Simpson Logging Co. receiving a Climax in June 1899. A report of the arrival of that locomotive stated that when it was shown on the Seattle waterfront, it attracted as much attention as "an elephant in the circus." It was about that time also that the first Shay locomotives appeared in Northwestern logging camps.
      It was during the gay nineties that many men started logging, who later became important factors in the industry. The Polson Brothers incorporated their company in the fall of 1895 for $40,000. Then, in January 1896, E.G. English, Thomas McCaffrey and E.C. Million organized a logging company known as English McCaffrey Logging Co. of Mount Vernon.
      In 1895, Sol G. Simpson of Kamliche and A.E. Anderson of Seattle incorporated the Simpson Logging Co., with a capital stock of $50,000. The same Peninsula Railway [as above] was organized at the same time. It is interesting to note that one of the objects of the company, as stated at the time, was to build a railway from Shelton to the Pacific Ocean and the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

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Story posted on June 28, 2001, moved to this domain April 18, 2011
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