Getting the Wood Out

Getting the Wood Out

Getting the Wood Out

By Put Blodgett, President

How to get heavy wood to the mill or processor?  This has taxed the ingenuity and strength of loggers since the days of the first settlers.

In Colonial days, the King of England claimed the finest white pines for his navy’s masts, much to the frustration of the colonists.  They cut some anyway, sawing them into narrower boards as if they had come from smaller trees.  The king’s tree wardens were very unpopular, even to the point of being tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.

After the mast tree was cut, a straight road was cut to the nearest river, one end of the tree hoisted to the underside of the axle between two giant wheels and several teams of oxen hauled the tree to the water.  After arriving at the seacoast, the masts-to-be were loaded on ships and sent to England where they were gratefully received as mast trees were becoming scarce in Europe.

As the years went by, timber harvesting extended further inland which increased the difficulty of getting the wood out.

In north central Maine, the heavily-timbered Allagash watershed flowed north to join the St. John river.  American loggers paid a duty to New Brunswick for wood that floated into the St. John which did not sit well.

Chamberlain Lake and its tributaries are the headwaters of the Allagash.  But Telos is connected to it to the east and a glacial moraine at the east end of Telos could be ditched to send water down Webster Brook to Grand Lake Matagamon and from there via the East Branch of the Penobscot to the main river and hence to Bangor where ocean-going ships could load lumber from the sawmills built on pilings that spanned the river.  But the logs further down the Allagash had to be raised 15 feet to the level of Chamberlain.  This was accomplished the first time by building a dam below Churchill Lake which was north of Eagle. The two lakes are connected, so the same elevation.  This raised the water level all the way back to where the water from Chamberlain entered Eagle.  A lock was constructed there and another lock built where Chamberlain water left that lake.  Logs were towed up Churchill and Eagle and through the lower lock.  The lock was closed and the lock at the outlet from Chamberlain was opened, raising the level in the lock to that of Chamberlain.  The logs were then towed down Chamberlain to the east, across Telos and to the dam at the top of the Telos Cut.  Water released from this dam propelled the logs through the Cut and into Webster Stream.

An investor purchased the township that the Telos Cut was in and upped the tax on logs going through this dam at the head of the Cut.  Loggers decided to drive their logs through anyway, but the investor got word of their intent.  He armed a group of 75 roughnecks from Bangor with knives and clubs and sent them to the Cut to deter the loggers.  The roughnecks were successful at intimidating the loggers and the Maine legislature finally had to set a fair tax.  That ended the “Telos Cut War”.  This first harvesting of the Allagash headwaters happened in the 1840s.

In 1902 a new idea was conceived to get logs from the Eagle/Churchill watershed to Chamberlain and then down the same route to Bangor.  A tramway was built from Eagle Lake to the 15’ higher Chamberlain.  A 6000’ 1.5” cable, weighing 14 tons, was brought up Moosehead Lake by boat but proved too heavy to haul overland to the site and had to be cut in two and then spliced after arrival.

The tramway consisted of two sets of small rails, one above the other in a wood box-like frame.  Concave steel trucks with wheels were clamped every 10’ to the now endless cable.   Logs were pushed onto two adjoining trucks by men with pike poles as the trucks came up around a submerged wheel in Eagle Lake. At the upper end they went over a 9’ bull wheel, powered by a steam engine, and slid into Chamberlain and the endless cable carried the trucks upside down on the bottom tracks back to Eagle.   The Tramway operated six seasons, 16 hours a day, and moved approximately 100 million feet of logs.

A 71’ tow boat was built on Eagle to tow the logs from the Eagle/Churchill watershed to the bottom of the Tram.  A 91’ tow boat was built on Chamberlain to tow the logs down that lake and across Telos to the outlet dam.

In 1925 Great Northern Paper Company contracted with Eduard “King” LaCroix to deliver 125,000 cords of pulp annually from the Allagash watershed to the West Branch of the Penobscot and hence downstream to its paper mill in Millinocket.

The East Branch was deemed too difficult to drive and the Tramway too slow to deliver that amount of wood.  First a canal was considered but then abandoned in favor of a railroad.

During the winter of 1926 two locomotives weighing 90 and 100 tons, two switch engines, 60 flatcars and eleven miles of rails were hauled from Quebec through the woods, across a bridge over the wide St. John River to the Tramway site—an incredible feat!   Then the railroad was built which included an 1800’ trestle across Allagash Stream and its adjacent wetlands and a 600’ trestle into Umbazooksus Lake where the pulp was dumped for its journey to the mill.

The Umbazooksus trestle had a 6” tilt and the box cars had a 12” floor tilt so that when the sides were unlatched, mulch of the pulp fell into the water, but bark piled up and caused problems.  To meet the contract commitment, the railroad operated round the clock from midnight Sunday to midnight Saturday.  The railroad operated from 1927 until 1933.

Deep in the Maine woods, it was too expensive to salvage and the remains, along with the Tramway, fascinated canoeists for years.  The two engines were housed in a huge shed with boarded sides and a tin roof.  But when the state created the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in 1966, it later gave orders to burn all buildings along the river to create the “Wilderness”.  Through some horrible mistake, the shed protecting the engines was burned which also consumed the wooden cab on the smaller engine.  They sit there today, forlornly rusting away.

New Hampshire’s White Mountains and the rocky streams on their slopes did not lend themselves to the log driving methods of Maine.  Logging railroads were the answer.

Between 1870 and 1919 there were 17 logging railroads carrying away the wood as the lumber barons stripped the mountains of their timber.  The resulting slash and the sparks from the engines caused massive fires that brought howls of protest from tourists.  The rapid run-off of rain and melting snow from the barren slopes left the down-country mills without water for power in dry times.  The combined uproar resulted in the 1911 Weeks Act (Weeks was a native of Lancaster) and the establishment of National Forests east of the Mississippi.

Space is getting short for a more detailed history of New Hampshire and Vermont early “Getting Out the Wood” methods.  For those interested in New Hampshire’s logging railroads read “Logging Railroads of the White Mountains” by C. Francis Belcher published by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston.

The Connecticut River provided for its watershed an opportunity for massive log drives that was wonderfully illustrated by the presentation at the 2018 VWA Annual Meeting.  For those that missed the meeting and are interested, the story is well documented by Bill Gove, long-time member of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, in his “Log Drives on the Connecticut River,” a well-researched history of the drives with a treasury of old pictures.  The colorful career of George Van Dyke and his Connecticut Valley Lumber Company is included.  The book was published by Bondcliff Books of Littleton, NH.

The ingenuity and toil that went into “Getting the Wood Out” should not be forgotten!