The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Museum’s collection has strong representation from local logging heritage


November 1, 2017

DOLLAR CAMP was the source of a number of items in East Linn Museum displays.

For The New Era

“This is a logging town, so why don’t you have more about logging?” a recent visitor to East Linn Museum asked.

Actually, the museum has quite a few logging artifacts in the hallway leading to the backroom and in that room, too.

They’re just spread out. Most come from Sweet Home’s heyday as “Timber City,” when the town grew, thanks to nearby forests of virgin timber.

Pound for pound, logging gear outweighs that of farming, mining, or ranching. That’s counting ox yokes, Peaveys (named for their blacksmith inventor), a variety of saws, the Denby truck, tongs used in high lead logging, small stuff, and the really weighty blocks (big pulleys, to the uninitiated) also used in high-lead logging.

Those blocks tip the scales in favor of logging equipment.

Not to be missed, either, is the old Dollar Camp cook stove by the back door with more axes and crosscut saws in its vicinity than are found in the hallway. Most of this equipment harkens back before 1974 when the museum was founded and antiques were sought.

The earliest days of logging here required simple tools, particularly since the commercial aspect had limitations. You can think of pikes and hooked Peaveys for rolling logs cut, perhaps with axes and sometimes squared with broad axes, to be sawed with a pit saw. Oxen provided moving power when logs had to be pulled from the woods.

Crosscut saws, double-bitted axes, and spring boards are said to have come into use in the 1850s, at about the same time the Ames family settled in the Sweet Home area and built a small sawmill on the creek bearing their name. But we seldom envision early pioneers as hauling double-bitted axes, crosscut saws, and spring boards with them.

Crosscut saws up to 9 feet long and spring boards came into play with the trees of the West Coast posing special challenges. Since the wood at the trunk’s base is harder and denser, springboards – upon which a pair of fallers stood on opposite sides – allowed cutting to be made in softer wood. Sometimes a 6-foot stump got left, though.

The museum’s springboards look well splintered from the caulked boots of the loggers. The spike-soled boots allowed the men to get better traction when climbing and leaping around on logs. Most loggers had to be agile.

When you glance upward at the collection of chainsaws swung from the rafters in the lower room – and they are well bolted in, you might relegate crosscut saws to the distant past. It comes as a surprise to realize chain saws didn’t really start being used until after World War II.

One old logger reminisced about his earlier experiences using a crosscut saw and a springboard. His day took a literal downward turn. His spring broke, and he discovered he was rolling on a decline toward the edge of a cliff. He managed to hook his legs around a small tree and stop his descent. In later years, when he told the story he would laugh and laugh while imagining the astonishment his fellow fallers felt at suddenly being alone on the end of the saw.

The wood-burning steam-operated donkey engine arrived much earlier in the woods than power saws, in the 1880s, invented by John Dolbeer. You can see a model of a donkey engine and also hear a brief recording of one at work. With a few spritz of forest-scented air freshener, you can imagine yourself in virgin forest hearing a logging crew handling the falling of a Douglas fir, but using a power saw, not a misery whip or Swedish harp, as crosscuts have been termed.

Donkey engines started the trend of adding mechanization to logging. Using cables, they pulled logs out of the brush to the landing or wherever they were to go. Usually the engines were mounted on a sledge made from two appropriately shaped logs with upward curved ends. So strong was the engine it could pull itself forward through the woods when its cables were fastened to a sturdy tree ahead.

During in-ground lead logging, the donkey engine simply jerked logs forward itself over the surface but this meant logs sometimes got torn up on rough ground and they could catch on obstacles. Therefore, someone thought up high-lead logging and this wasn’t too long after donkey engines were invented.

An interesting old photograph can be seen in the museum’s logging section, depicting a ladder of springboards ascending a limbless tree trunk. Various men stand or sit on the springboards. They must be simply posing, you think.

Maybe not. The spar pole supported the block and its cable, suspended high in the air by the rigging crew and when the block’s cable was pulled by the donkey the logs lifted over obstacles. Because logs, for various reasons, might hang their full length from a cable as a donkey reeled them in, a spar pole had to be tall and clear of impeding limbs that could interfere with swinging cables and logs and be hazardous.

A ladder-like system of spring boards to trim the tree appears to have been tried, but then someone thought of having a man climb the prospective spar pole using a rope and spurs, lopping off limbs with a one-bit ax and a short saw along the way.

Risking one man as a high climber worked better than using a crew with spring boards and axes. After all, a spar pole’s length could run from 120 to 220 feet tall.

Some view the faller’s job as being the most dangerous. The faller has to deal with possible falling limbs while he works on a tree or of having the tree split or fall in the wrong direction. Others say the bucker has the more dangerous task. As he removes limbs from the log and saws it into specified lengths, he is continuously fearful of having the log roll and of being crushed.

In the days of high climbers, also called tree toppers, there wasn’t much question of who had the most dangerous job. The high topper got paid more.

You’d think such a man would take up harp lessons, get religion and be on his best behavior, just in case, and maybe some did. But they come down in logging literature as being high-risk takers and daredevils.

Like one from this area remembered by a rigger, Gene Gregory, some could top the tree and after successfully withstanding the recoil of the top falling, maybe in triumph stand up and look down on an admiring audience. A high topper at work often attracted mesmerized onlookers.

Being a logger took brains and skill and high toppers could believe they were among the best. One’s equipment is in the museum, including his spurs and belt.

This country, in general, suffers from the contagion of innovation. People rapidly become infected with new ideas, some good, some bad. The introduction of chokers into the logger’s world in the 1920’s was a good idea since it made hauling out logs easier and safer.

Mechanization of logging including the initial introduction of the donkey engine, the use of more advanced skidders, trains, caterpillar tractors and trucks had mixed results, at least from the point of view of the old logging maxim of “cut and get out.” “Putting daylight” in the swamp meant literally removing arboreal obstacles which might obstruct the fall of sunlight.

From this nation’s beginnings, trees have been regarded as being of off-and-on value. To farmers they were a nuisance. For lumbermen, they were an exploitive commodity. Farmers often girdled trees, let them die, chopped them down and burned them. Lumbermen saw them as an unending resource from which the most marketable could be removed while debris and those less desirable were abandoned, along with sawmills, as logging crews moved on.

Fortunately, for our area, by the time lumbermen arrived there was an awareness that “cut and run” couldn’t last forever. Still, with big trees, big machines moved in and innovation prospered. In some parts of the Northwest, trains built into the woods carried flat cars holding huge pieces of equipment such as skidders and loaders. Whole camps for the loggers got hauled along and the loggers would ride an empty flat car to work. Flumes and high trestles for train tracks marked a use of expendable lumber so available it could be squandered.

Trees and labor came cheap at the time. In the early 1900s an acre of timber sold at six dollars and a logger was worth a dollar a day, plus food and lodging in a camp. But grub had better be good! In some places a little chicanery brought the acquisition of timberlands at lower prices.

Lumber barons prospered. The Dollar Camp stove at the museum is a reminder of this, for Robert Dollar was one of those entrepreneurs who not only moved ahead in the timber world, but who also branched out into owning steamship lines, including passenger vessels.

We don’t realize how expansive Robert Dollar’s organization was because here what we see are the scars left by removal of the Dollar Railroad and the razing of the reloading campsite on the Upper Calapooia. Parts of the former railroad now comprise the South Hills Trail in Sweet Home.

Dollar Camp, of course, handled the timber brought to that rail head from the Calapooia’s watershed and Tidbits Mountain.

The railroad didn’t come to Sweet Home until 1931 and Dollar died the same year it reached Dollar Camp, in 1932, it was one of several camps he operated in Oregon.

The coming of the Oregon Electric Railroad cracked open the East Linn area for logging. It coincided with the building of the Santiam Highway over the pass. And the highway superseded the previous toll road. Back in 1871 when that toll road was built, the Oregon legislature awarded 800,000 acres to the toll road corporation to aid in its building, and when this toll road right of way was bought up by Linn County, timber acreage went on the block, which helped attract logging interests to our vicinity.

Already, recognition had developed regarding the Pacific Ocean. It was the western edge of the United States and timber didn’t grow there. “Cut and get out” began to look like a bad proposition and already the smell of conservation hung in the air. Theodore Roosevelt had liked the idea of reforestation and big companies began to see promise in it.

One of the major jobs of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s was to replant logged-off lands all over the nation.

In the meantime we here experienced the greatest timber boom this area will likely ever see. World War II accelerated it and the rebuilding of war torn areas and of houses for returning veterans kept the boom going.

Big outfits and little ones could make a living. Herb Thums recalls horse logging with his dad around Crawfordsville when he and his brother worked at one end of a cross cut saw as teenagers with his dad at the other end. In later years the brothers also logged on the property of the owner of the Snyder sawmill in Brownsville. The pair had borrowed a little Cat and they used a transportable pole, metal ones like the Skaget having come into style. They moved logs with an A-frame.

Stewart Holbrook, who died in 1964, visited Sweet Home when the mills were humming and the town had grown a reputation for logging. Holbrook wrote many articles and books about logging, having been a logger himself, and the museum has some of his work. The books give a really good picture of logging history. But Holbrook found Sweet Home disappointing and he wrote about it. Lorraine Wright, a museum volunteer, took umbrage at the time and wrote to Holbrook, a letter he didn’t answer.

“What had he expected?” she wanted to know. He’d passed through Sweet Home on Sunday evening. He should have come on Saturday night.

By the 1970s words of foreboding were already being heard. The virgin timber was rapidly disappearing from the Northwest. Much of what remained virtually became tree museums, preserved as examples of the unspoiled virgin forests.

Yet the legacy of logging is still alive today, being passed down to the next generations as a heritage. Better forest management and the expanded utilization of forest resources, replanting, and what old timers would consider the coddling of new growth, fertilizing and thinning, provide a future for logging.

Two volunteers at the East Linn Museum, looking around at the logging gear, noticed something missing. No caulked boots could be seen.

Stagged pants, caulked boots and tin hats have long been regarded as appropriate wear for a logger. Stagged pants, of course, were over-alls cut off boot height so they couldn’t snag on the brush. Tin hats, aluminum ones, are newer additions to logging wear, having come in only about 60 or so years ago. But caulked boots are really traditional.

The logging gear is on display at the museum, reflective of an occupation still vital to this area in which bold and enterprising men engage.


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