Excerpt from A Story of Early Lumbering in Minnesota, by Joseph Ansel DeLaittre as told to Calvin Lowell DeLaittre (1959). Reprinted with permission from the DeLaittre Family.
My own first memories of the logging camps go back to 1885 when as a boy of 7, my father took me on a visit to the Bovey-DeLaittre Camp at Hill Lake (then called Quadna Lake) located about 16 miles south of Grand Rapids by tote road. We came by train to Aitkin and then traveled by team and bobsled to the camp. I can remember walking down to the landing with Pete Lavadier, the camp cook. But the walk so tired me out that Pete carried me on his back on the return trip. Father and I, at this time, also visited Grand Rapids, then in its heyday as a logging center. We stayed at Jim Sherry's log "stopping place" which was located near the present site of the Blandin Paper Mill.
However, it was on Nov. 28, 1899, at the age of 21, that I left Minneapolis by train for Aitkin to spend the first of three winters in the woods as timekeeper and scaler in a Bovey-DeLaittre logging camp.
I stayed in Aitkin with my uncle, Charles P. DeLaittre, for a few days. The town at this time was an outfitting center for many small loggers and jobbers; and my uncle bought and sold logs, and ran a logger's supply store. In those days, hundreds of lumberjacks came into Aitkin in the spring and fall on their way to and from the logging camps. Aitkin's leading hotels were the Willard, the Foley, and the Grand Central. Potter and Casey kept the general store and Tinker Marr, the hardware store and also the undertaking parlor. Sam Hodgedon and Jim McDonald ran a small sawmill.
Because of excessive fall rains, the roads were impassable to team and wagon; so on December 4th, together with 18 year old Isaac McMurdy, who was going up to work in the woods, I started to walk to the Moose River Camp 28 miles north of Aitkin. We crossed the Mississippi on the old bridge (which is still used north of town) and walked up the "river road," which followed the Mississippi in a north easterly direction.
The lumberjacks always claimed that Angus Macmillan (an old timer with the company) crossed the Mississippi at this point, before the bridge was built, by taking a couple of hefty rocks under each arm to hold him down, and walking across on the bottom. It seems he couldn't swim.
The first day out, we walked 10 miles to Sutton's stopping place and then 4 miles beyond to Lo Seavey's Ranch where we stayed all night. This was a typical log "stopping place" located at the junction of Big Willow and the Mississippi. It probably originated as an abandoned logging camp, and it contained bunks to sleep 8 or 10 men. Mr. Seavey was an old friend of my father.
There were quite a number of small farms scattered through this country in those days, which offered rude accommodations to the lumberjacks walking up to the camps or back to town. Pete Waldeck, Mother Allen, Mr. Gardiner, and Scotty Munger all kept such stopping places. Many of these establishments were pretty rough, and the lumberjacks claimed that sometimes the eggs were deliberately burned to disguise the rotten taste.
Later on, during my stay in the woods, I had occasion to walk from camp to Aitkin, and stopped over for the night at a small camp half way down owned by A. C. Smith. It was one of the worst nights I ever spent. I slept in a shack heated by a stove, but it went out during the night and it got very cold. My coverings were horse blankets, somewhat crusted with manure; and they were extremely odoriferous. When I could no longer stand the smell, I threw them down. However, I soon became cold, and reluctantly pulled them back up again. The "up and down" procedure went on all night.
To get back to the story, the next morning we left the "river road" at Seavey's Ranch and pushed north for the Moose River Camp where we arrived about noon. This camp was located about 3 miles from Moose Lake where the logs were dumped to be driven down the Moose River into the Mississippi in the spring.
This was the last year Bovey-DeLaittre logged on Moose River and they had about 5,000,000 feet of timber to cut and haul to Moose Lake. 5,000,000 feet amounts to roughly 50,000 logs. The task was accomplished by about 60 men. They were principally Scandinavians; but there were also some French, Finns, Poles, and about 10% native Yankee stock.
The camp was constructed of Norway logs and consisted of the sleeping camp and the cooking camp with the usual covered passage between, where wood was piled. There was also a small office about 16' x 16' where I slept, kept records, and maintained the "wanigan" (supplies for the men). Finally there were the "hovels," low buildings of rough construction housing the 30 or 40 horses.
The sleeping camp had bunks, one over the other, filled with straw; the deacon seat was built along the foot. There was a long stove in the center which was fired with four foot wood, mostly birch. Above the stove was a rack on which the men hung their socks at night to dry—about 150 pairs in all. Sometimes some of the men were not very particular whose socks they took in the morning and got someone else's. This usually started a chewing match. Over the stove was a sky light which lifted up so as to freshen the air. The men nearest the stove got too warm during the night and opened the sky light. Then the men in the corners, or farthest away, got cold; so they got up and closed the sky light. This went on all night sometimes. Wooden sinks with tin wash basins were provided for the men to wash their faces and hands and a barrel stood handy from which to dip the water. Generally, there were three roller towels on which to dry off, and by the time 60 men used these towels, they were pretty wet. The water for the camp was obtained from a swampy pug hole and was brownish in color. We said, "The company doesn't have to use much tea this winter."
The camp foreman was Jack McCullough, originally from New Brunswick. Jack laid out the logging roads, supervised all of the various logging activities and made sure the men carried out their work properly.
My uncle, John L. DeLaittre, father's younger brother, was superintendent. He was more slender than my father who was rather portly. Consequently, the Indians in that country called the two DeLaittre brothers "Little Guts" and "Big Guts" respectively. Uncle John was in general charge, and ordered the supplies necessary to keep the camp going. In later years he ran several camps in this area and traveled from one camp to another with a cutter and team.
The timber around the Moose River Camp was about 80% white pine; and the balance was Norway pine, spruce, and balsam fir. The density of the timber stand varied a good deal, running from 5,000 board feet to 25,000 board feet per acre. The white pine cut 4 to 5 sixteen foot logs per tree. At this date, we cut to a 6 to 8 inch top log, although in an earlier day, a 10 or 12 inch minimum diameter top log was more common. The largest tree which I saw cut in my three winters in the woods was a white pine over 5 feet in diameter. The first 16 ft. log scaled 1,204 board feet. This tree produced 6 sixteen foot logs and a 12 foot log, or 108 feet of merchantable length, for a total scale of 4,280 board feet. I often went to look at this tree before it was cut. It was just like an old friend.
The logging roads were a remarkable feat of rough engineering. The timber in this area usually occurred on the higher ground and the roads were laid out to tap each bunch of timber and still maintain level or slighty downhill grades from the timber to the landing. Of course, it was impossible to haul the loaded sleds up any substantial slope and every effort was made to avoid such an adverse grade when the road was laid out. The road occasionally crossed other people's lands. One fall when the crew went up to camp, they found that a shacker had built a house right in the middle of the logging road. It was the clearest place he could find on his forty to build on, and of course, he was perfectly within his rights, so the foreman rerouted the road around the house.
The roads were prepared for icing in the fall by a rut cutter which cut a rut through the snow 4" wide and 3" deep for the sled runners to run in. These ruts were then iced by the "sprinkler" which was a wooden tank mounted on a sled. It was filled at the lake by means of a barrel dropped through a hole in the ice. A horse then pulled the barrel up skids and dumped it into the tank. As the sprinkler moved along the road, a plug on each side of the tank was taken out to let the water run in the rut to freeze. Men called road monkeys straightened out the ruts and filled in the low places with snow. When the ruts were frozen solid, the heavy loads were moved along the road with ease. When the logging road had a steep down grade it was quite a trick to prevent the load from going too fast, which would either dump the load, or kill the horses, or both. Consequently, a "road monkey" named George Morrison, ran ahead of the horses with a bundle of hay in his arms which he threw in the ruts to "brake" the load and keep it under control.
The men who chopped the falling cut in the trees were called the undercutters. They were skilled in the use of the double bitted axe, and knew just where to "notch" the tree to make it fall in the direction desired.
After the tree was notched by the undercutter, the "sawyers" completed the job of cutting the tree down with a 2 man cross cut saw. Of course, when the tree was about to fall, the sawyers would holler "timber" to warn everyone to get out of the way. Sometimes when the wind blew in the wrong direction, it would hold the tree up, even when wedges were used to force it over. This was a dangerous situation as the men could not be sure which way the tree would finally fall. After the tree was cut down, the undercutters marked the 12-14-16 and 18 foot lengths on the fallen trunk, so that the sawyers could cut the tree up into logs.
Then a man and a pair of horses, together with a cant hook man, skidded the logs to the rollways which were located parallel to the logging road. Preparatory to loading the sleds, the logs were decked up on the rollways 8 to 10 feet high by another team and man.
In the early days the logs were "go deviled" out of the woods (skidded on a piece of hardwood shaped like a wishbone called a "go devil"). Later on, as the hauls became longer, narrow sleds came into use hauled over the snow covered roads by oxen or horses. Still later these sleds were widened enough to allow two horses to walk between the iced ruts.
Our sleds were built right in camp by the blacksmith and his helper; and in my time they were heavily constructed. The bunks which carried the logs were timbers 16" square and 16 feet long and the runners were 8 feet apart. The average load contained 7,000 to 10,000 feet and weighed 25 to 30 tons. "Picture loads" were sometimes constructed of picked logs which scaled twice this much. Such "picture loads" were frowned upon by Uncle John, because it was hard on the sleds and broke up the road.
The logs were loaded on the sleds by means of a cross haul. A team pulled each log up parallel skids on to the sled. Two men with cant hooks controlled the position of the log as it mounted the skids; and another man, called the top loader, put each log in place on the load.
Cross chains held each course of logs as the load was built. Charlie McKinney who worked for the company was a good top loader. He took pride in building his load as vertical as the side of a house. Inasmuch as the logs weighed from a half ton to two tons each, this was no mean feat. It necessitated great skill and experience combined with brute strength and ability to pull and pry the logs on top of the slippery load, and accidents were not uncommon. After 1906 logs were loaded by means of an A frame and block and tackle, which was less hazardous to the men.
Occasionally a loaded sled was left overnight, and in the morning it would be frozen in. When this occurred the runners were hit with a maul to loosen them, and the leaders were turned to one side although this procedure sometimes broke the pole. It was a three mile haul to the Moose Lake landing where the logs were unloaded. The sleds were driven out on the lake and it took two men to unload the logs. They first knocked out the fit hook in the binding chain and the logs usually cascaded off the load. But sometimes it would take some hazardous work with the cant hooks to start the logs.
In the fall when the ice on the lake was thin and brittle, the horses were hitched on the end of the pole so they would not drown if the sled broke through the ice. I have seen loads drop through the ice, and the teamster and men would then have to get a chain and snake the logs off the load into the water. After a while the sled would come to the surface, and then they would snake that out and put it together, and start for camp—pretty late sometimes. Everyone said, "cold beans for supper," when they finally showed up.
I slept alone in the little office. Camp was astir at daybreak; in December this would be about 6:00 A.M., considerably earlier in February and March. The air was often blue with cold and the water pail frozen over. However, I always had a good supply of birch bark on hand which ignited so explosively that the round oak stove was red hot in seconds. Tamarack, and finally green birch were added to make a hot fire which burned slowly.
The cook announced breakfast by beating the familiar triangle although it wasn't really necessary because everyone was up and waiting to eat. "Pork and Beans" were the staple item in the lumberjack's diet. Sometimes it was served three times a day. Potatoes and meat were also seen on the table. Occasionally buckwheat cakes were served. The batter was poured directly on top of the big cooking range which served as a huge griddle. Most cooks allowed no talking at meals, a custom which also spread to some western logging camps.
In the very early days, the beans were baked in a "bean hole" in the rear of the camp. This was a hole in the ground about 2 ½ or 3 feet deep and 2 feet in diameter. A hardwood fire was kept burning in the bean hole for several hours. Then most of the accumulated hot coals were taken out. The bean pot was lowered into the hole and the coals shoveled back in, completely covering the pot, to a depth of several inches. Dirt was banked and packed over the coals and the beans cooked overnight.
After breakfast, I usually looked in on the camp to see if any of the men were "laid in" sick. The rest of the morning I spent checking on the cutting (stump heights and log lengths). Logs were properly cut 3 inches longer than the 12, 14 or 16 foot lengths as the case might be. Stump heights in those days were 18 inches; and some of the men kicked at going that low. I also made sure that the men took all of the trees on the company owned land.
One time, when I was looking over Section 35-50N-27W to see if all the trees had been removed (the section was mostly swamp and the trees scattered), I found a tree lying on the ground with its bark all gone. This tree had been felled years ago but had never been cut up and was all worm eaten on the outside. Had the sawyer saw it up. It was about 3 ½ feet in diameter and it was wonderful lumber except for a ruin of rot of about three inches on the outside. This led me to compare pine trees with people. I likened this tree to a fallen woman who, beneath her obvious shortcomings, had a heart of pure gold.
Sometimes a bunch of trees were all rotten like the slums of a city. You find many times that a fine, big, old growth pine tree, when cut down, has a rotten heart or that a rough looking pine, when cut down has no rot at all. I remember one tree in particular—a fine barked tree which, when it had been cut down, proved to be hollow inside with only a 3 inch portion of wood next to the bark. It looked just like a flour barrel. Such defects were difficult for the timber cruiser to detect. The history of lumbering tells of many apparently fine stands of timber which when cut, "underran" the cruise because of rot and other defects.
The cookees usually brought out lunch to the men in the woods piping hot in big tin cans which they hauled on a one runner bobsled. It was often eaten around a fire, and if the weather was cold or windy, the beans sometimes froze to the plate, and the men ate with their mittens on.
About 11:00 A.M. each day I walked to the landing where I spent the afternoon scaling the logs which were dumped daily on the lake by the sleds. I usually got back to camp about 5:00 P.M. just in time to eat supper. After supper, I sold supplies to the men such as shirts, boots, tobacco, snuff, etc. Any purchases were charged against the men's wages; thirty dollars a month and board for the sawyers, undercutters and teamsters. The swampers (common labor) received $26.00 per month and the cook $45.00. Most of the men used large quantities of snuff; and I remember selling one man 16 one pound jars over the winter months.
The camp was often visited by peddlers who sold cheap watches to the men. One young fellow, Andrew Risk, picked out a great big "turnip" of which he was tremendously proud. He came into the office one day with the most woebegone face, holding his watch in one hand and the stem in the other. He said, "Look what I've done, Joe! I've pulled the guts right out of her."
I also had charge of the medicine chest which was put up by Goodrich and Jennings of Anoka especially for lumber camps. It contained, among other things: Epsom salts (which the men used extensively), cough medicine, sarsaparilla, white liniment for lameness, and Johnson's liniment for sore throats.
We had a low injury rate during my three winters in the woods, although one man was killed. Hospitalization was provided for the lumberjacks by the "Catholic Sisters" in Brainerd. They used to come through the camps selling hospital "tickets" to the men for either $3.00 or $5.00 each. I recall that Frank Lydic came down with pneumonia, and spent 3 or 4 weeks in their hospital on one of the tickets. Another time our cook came down with the smallpox and was taken to the pest house in Aitkin. The camp was quarantined, but no one else came down the dread disease.
Jack McCullough, the foreman, often dropped in to visit me in the "wanigan." One evening he said, "Joe, my overshirt is getting pretty well worn out and thin. I want a new one." I gave him a new shirt and as it was cold, he put it right on over his old one. Altogether he bought two or three shirts that winter and always put them on over the others, but when he stripped for his bath in the spring, I swear he had on only one shirt. There was only one conclusion I could reach. He must have worn out the other shirts from the inside.
Everyone was usually in bed by 8:00 or 8:30 P.M. except on Saturday night when the men stayed up until 9:00 or 9:30 singing and playing games.
Some of the men had good singing voices. One such was Matt Kinney who used to sing a song on Saturday nights called "When Summer Comes Again." Other men's voices left much to be desired; and one night, as we were seated on the deacon seat listening to a certain man sing, old Mike Dwyer remarked loudly, "Well, he doesn't quite come up to a canary, but he does beat a crow."
One of the games played was "weighing the sheep." We all sat around in a circle. The men who were playing the trick had a tub of cold water in the background, and they would lift each man by his elbows and say "too light" or "too heavy" as the case might be. When they came to the victim, they would say, "Just right," then lift him up, shove the tub of water under him and sit him in it.
Another game was called "hot ass." A man would hold a hat at his middle and another man would put his face in the hat. Someone would hit him a slap in the rear and he would have to guess who it was. If he guessed correctly, the man would take his place. Sometimes a shoe rubber was used and this was not so pleasant.
Most lumberjacks were great and sometimes gifted storytellers; and many yarns were told during the evening hours. However, I don't recall any Paul Bunyan tales.
Sometimes other activities went on after the lights were out. Fred Bonas cooked in a camp where the men used to tip-toe into the Cook House after the lights were out and steal the mince pies which had been baked for the following day. Fred determined to put a stop to this. The next time he baked pies, he filled half of them with mince meat. Ox manure was handy, and he used some to provide the filling for the balance of the pies. The pies were then put into the oven and baked in the usual manner. After the cook had gone to bed, three or four of the men sneaked into the kitchen, took some pies and went out the side door into the passage between the sleeping camp and the cook house. Here they were heard tittering and laughing—soon they started swearing and vomiting. This episode ended the stealing of the pies.
Neither cards nor liquor was allowed in camp, and no gambling debts were honored on the books. This rule, together with the long winters in the woods, may have accounted for the terrible sprees that some lumberjacks went on when they hit town in the spring. A typical example was Billy Nash who was always very "close" with his money during the winter in camp. He carefully mended his socks and shirts in an effort to build up his "stake," and held himself to only the bare necessities when he made purchases at the wanigan. Then he would "blow the whole works" in two days when he got to Aitkin.
Another man called "Dynamite Tom" had charge of dynamiting the stumps from the logging road. Tom was a highly educated man and claimed to be related to Thomas Carlyle. Unfortunately, he was a chronic drinker and he worked in the lumber camps in order to stay as far as possible from liquor. Occasionally the men would sneak liquor into the camp. I shall never forget how one of the foremen, old Mike Dwyer, got drunk and chased all the men out of the camp with a double bitted axe. The men were sore, and they wanted to quit, and Uncle John had to come up and fire Mike, and persuade the men to come back to work
The weather had to be pretty fierce to keep the lumberjacks in camp. When I first got to camp, we had a heavy snowstorm on Saturday which prevented the crew from working. The next day was Sunday which also meant no work. The men were very glad to go to work on Monday after having laid around camp for two days—"a double header" they called it.
Thermometers were seldom found in lumber camps because it was thought they would affect the men's disposition to work in cold weather. However, in 1893, John Ballord worked in a camp near Cloquet which boasted a thermometer. Christmas fell on a bitterly cold Saturday in that year, and naturally the men were not too anxious to work on that day anyway; and when one of the men noticed that the thermometer registered 40 degrees below zero he said feelingly, "Hell, it's too damn cold to go out in the woods today." But the foreman, an old timer named MacArthur, was determined that the men were going to work even if it was Christmas and 40 degrees below, and he went outside and smashed the thermometer with his cruiser's axe. When he came back in he said, "Now, the rest of you sons of bitches go out and look at that thermometer—all of you, now!" That made the men laugh, and they all went out and looked at the broken thermometer. Then they turned to and worked all day. MacArthur told Mr. Ballard, "If I let that crew, half of them Irishmen and the other half French, lay around here for two days there will be nothing but fights, and the camp will be full of broken heads."
The lumberjacks with their penchant for story telling used to tell some tall tales about the cold winters they had put in during the old days. One that always stuck in my mind was a story told by old Angus Macmillan. He said, "Boys, you don't know anything about cold weather. Why, one winter when we logged over on Bradbury's brook it was so cold that when the men went out to make water in the morning, their urine formed icicles and pushed them all over backwards."
Lumberjacks always figured that they were just as good as the next man. The men in charge had to keep this in mind when dealing with them because they were quick to resent anyone who "put on airs." One fall a young fellow came up to the company camps as a timekeeper. He wore a "stand-up collar" which didn't suit the men very well to start with, and then he also had a certain superior way about him that made them sure he "felt his oats." One day, when he was making up a list of supplies, to be brought up by the tote team, a man came in and requested him to order half a dozen cross hauls. (A cross haul is the method by which the horses deck the logs on the sled.) The clerk very properly made up the order. When the tote team came back from town, it brought a nice new box labelled "1/2 dozen cross hauls." The clerk obtained a hammer and screw driver and carefully opened the box, to find it full of horse manure.
As in any group, there were certain men who were fun makers. Such a one was my cousin, Percy DeLaittre, later a Minneapolis detective, who used to build a bonfire on top of the load of logs to keep warm (he said) but we thought it was mostly to make the men laugh. One time Percy was sent out with a couple of other men to swamp out a new road. He was so busy telling stories that he didn't get much work done himself, nor did the other men. About that time, a photographer came around to the camp, and in the evening when we were all sitting around, Uncle John said with intended sarcasm, "Percy, I believe I will send the photographer up to take a picture of your road tomorrow." Unruffled, Percy replied, "John, won't you wait a couple of days until we swamp out enough room for him to set up his machine?"
Another old timer, who was noted for his quick wit, was Charlie Foster who ran the tote team which brought up the supplies from Aitkin for the company camps. One day he brought up a load of flour (in sacks) and he was unfortunate enough to tip the sled over on a rough and rutted section of the road near camp. While he was ruefully surveying the sight of the flour soaking up water in the ditch, Jack McCullough, the camp foreman, happened by. "Charlie! What in hell do you think you're doing?" he asked the old teamster. Quick as a flash, Charlie snapped back," By God, Jack, I'm starting a bakery."
Many firms paid off their men in the spring with a "time check" good when the logs got down the river. Often "time checks" were bought up at a substantial discount by speculators from the thirsty lumberjacks who were anxious to get money for liquor. One well known but unscrupulous lumberman issued time checks good in three months to his men, and then secretly employed people to buy them up (at big discounts of course). Bovey-DeLaittre gave each man $10.00 in cash and a check for the balance, redeemable immediately at the company office in Minneapolis.
In the spring of 1900, when camp was broken up, the men were in a hurry to get down to Aitkin, a walk of twenty miles. They had their tussocks all packed the night before in order to get an early start in the morning. One of the old timers, Ephraim Landis, who was a great practical joker, got up that last night, and put some broken axe heads and other iron in each of the tussocks. In the morning the men, eager for a drink, started pell-mell for town. After going about 5 miles, they remarked to each other how heavy their tussocks seemed to be. Ten miles out, they opened their tussocks and discovered the iron and said, "By God! This must be Landis' trick."
The fall of 1900 found me back in the woods again. The previous spring, operations had been moved to a new camp called Jack's Camp (after Jack McCullough) which was located 5 miles northwest of Lake Esquagamah. The company owned about 50,000,000 feet in this area, all of which was eventually cut and hauled to Lake Esquagamah, and driven down Little Willow River to the Mississippi.
Uncle John was laid up in Minneapolis all this winter with rheumatism, so Jack McCullough and I ran the camp. Occasionally father came up from Minneapolis to look things over. I can remember so well that while scaling logs out on the ice, I would see a rig approaching far down Lake Esquagamah—maybe two miles away. It was a long time before I could clearly distinguish the occupants; and of course, I was tickled when it turned out to be father. What was my great surprise on one of these visits to have him uncover two shrouded figures in the back of the sleigh, and find my mother and my Aunt Sue from Aitkin. The camp accommodations for women were so rude that such visits were rare occurrences indeed. Another time, father walked 26 miles to the camp in one day on a surprise visit. Father was always sociable with the men—laughing and joking with them. When he was around, it was like having a sunbeam in camp.
The loads of logs were dumped out on the ice covered surface of Lake Esquagamah, and eventually they covered a huge space with some of the logs piled a half mile out on the ice. Each day I walked from camp to the landing to scale the logs. I easily kept warm while walking through the sheltering woods—even when the temperature got far below zero; but scaling far out on the lake with nothing to break the cold wind, was another matter.
In scaling, the log rule (we used the Scribner) was placed across the small end of every log and the board foot scale for that particular log was then read off the rule and recorded in the log tally book. Each log was crayon marked as it was scaled. Before the winter was over, I had completely filled the tally book with the records of 40,000 to 50,000 logs.
That winter a man was killed by a falling tree. A big pine was lodged in the fork of another tree. While the second tree was being cut, the first tree was loosened, and crashed to earth catching the man. He lived about half a day. We put the body on a sled and made a long roundabout trip of 40 miles to Aitkin because the normal route was not yet frozen over. I can still remember the timber wolves howling during the seemingly endless night ride. We eventually arrived in Aitkin, and I accompanied the body to Minneapolis.
By spring, Uncle John was back in harness again and helped take charge of the log drive down Little Willow to the Mississippi.
First, the logs which had been dumped on the north side of the lake during the winter were enclosed by a big "boom"—logs chained end to end; and a heavy rope was carried a half mile to a windlass located on the south shore. Then the huge mass of logs was winched slowly across, its speed depending on the direction of the wind. If the wind was adverse no progress could be made at all. At the outlet, where the dam was located, men guided the logs, a few at a time, into the sluiceways; and the drive was on.
The driving crew for the most part was comprised of different men than the winter crew. About 100 men were rounded up from the dives and saloons in Minneapolis. Naturally some of these men were pretty poor material. However, other and better men were recruited in Aitkin, and from the local farms. There were also some Frenchmen from Dayton who were always noted as "rivermen," and a few Indians. Indians were never put on the "rear" of the drive which involved heavy back breaking labor in rolling logs off bars, etc. They were better suited for lighter pick-pole work.
Many people marvel today that huge masses of logs could have been driven down such puny rivers as Little Willow and Moose River with all their meanderings and wanderings. In summer time, these streams are only about 10 feet wide. Successful driving of such small streams was made possible by the construction of one or more log and earth work dams. By controlling the gates of these dams, enough water was impounded, and then judiciously released, to carry the logs down the river. The company paid $1,000.00 a year to a Mr. Berry who owned land on which one of these dams was built.
Unfortunately, the dam at the outlet of Lake Esquagamah was very poorly constructed (the company had bought it from a previous user). There was a constant fear that it would go out, so more water was released than was desirable. By the time the drive reached the Mississippi, the big river was higher than Little Willow and the water was flowing back into Little Willow. The logs refused to go into the Mississippi and consequently, the drive was "hung up" at the mouth of Little Willow. The logs stayed there until the following spring when they went down with next year's drive.
Uncle John was very discouraged and "down at the mouth" when he saw the logs which were the results of a winter's hard work tied up for another year. However, Father, who had come up to look things over, jollied him up in his characteristic fashion and said, "Never mind, John, we'll put in a good dam this summer and take the next drive out in fine shape."
During the drive, I stayed on one of the Wanigans (we had four on the drive). The Wanigan was a scow type boat which accompanied the drive, about 25 or 30 feet long and about 9 feet wide. Each Wanigan carried a cook and bunks for 25 men. Meals were served on shore due to lack of space.
The drive took place during the long days of May and June and the men worked from dawn until dark. Breakfast was served at 4 A.M. and three other meals at 9 A.M., 3 P.M. and 9 P.M. The drive from Esquagamah to the Mississippi generally took a month. The distance in a straight line was about 14 miles, but it was two to three times that much by stream.
My third winter in the woods was spent at the Bovey-DeLaittre Headquarters Camp located about two miles south east of Jack's Camp. The company ran both these camps during the winter of 1901-1902—and cut about 8,000,000 feet, all of which was driven down Little Willow into the Mississippi. In the fall, Uncle John put in a new dam at the outlet in place of the faulty structure which had "hung" last year's drive. He built "her" good and strong; and this drive went down without any trouble as did the drives for several years thereafter.
Along toward spring, I had my first experience in timber cruising with Charlie McKinney, the old top loader. We looked over the timber in the vicinity of camp to see if we could pick up anything which could be logged with our own holdings.
I have previously mentioned his habit of swearing. In the course of running out our line, we were forced to cross a "jackpot" which is a cedar blowdown, a tangled mess of uprooted trees lying across one another every which way. In order to get through, we often climbed over the trunks 6 or 8 feet off the ground, and at other times, we crawled underneath on the ground. Charles was carrying a "double bitted axe" with a tea pail suspended on it over his shoulder. When he bent down to get under the trees, the axe invariably caught and pulled him backwards. This happened a number of times with Charlie getting madder at each occurrence. Finally, he could hold back no longer. He stood up and shouted, "God! You made the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars. When you got through, you had this dammed old swamp left over, and you threw it down here, right in our way, so we could not get along!"
Charlie McKinney eventually bought 80 acres from the company, and at the age of 50, after years in the woods, he undertook the tremendous task of clearing a farm on the site of the old driving camp on Esquagamah Lake. This task he accomplished, and he lived on his farm for almost 20 years.
I didn't go down with the log drive in the spring of 1902. I had learned that Charles Richardson, the company's old cruiser, was going to make a trip, and I prevailed on father to let me go with him. So on May 1, 1902, we left Minneapolis, by train, for Hibbing, then a town of 1,000 or 1,500 people. The Mesabi Range was in its first flush of development; and the Mahoning Mine, later to be the greatest iron ore open pit of them all, at that time, covered only about 80 acres.
Hibbing, in 1902, with its mixture of miners and lumberjacks, was running wide open. There were 34 saloons in town, better than one saloon to every other door. If you went into a saloon in the morning, you had to step over two or three sleeping lumberjacks to get up to the bar.
The second floor over most of the saloons was divided into rooms without doors. These rooms contained double beds but no rugs of any kind. The third floor called the "ram's pasture" was just one big room containing several rows of cots. Of course, there were no electric lights—only kerosene lamps.
As I was a tenderfoot, Charlie tried to show me all of the rough spots. He took me to one of these places; and we spent the night in the "ram's pasture," at a cost of 25 cents per night plus 25 cents per meal. It was pretty noisy most of the night with the lumberjacks coming in at all hours and going to bed with their "cork" boots on.
The next morning we bought supplies and hired a team and wagon to drive us to the locality where we intended to cruise—Township 60-22—about 22 miles from Hibbing. Someone had offered to sell certain "descriptions" in this area to the company, and we were to check the timber before the sale was consummated.
We set up camp on a little brook 3 miles west of Sturgeon Lake. Our beds were made from balsam boughs, and we spread our blankets over them. All we took off at night was our boots, and these we used for pillows. Our only covering was two thin blankets. It was so cold the first night that ice formed in our water pail, and we were far from comfortable. I remember that Charles was groaning in his sleep. When he woke up, he said that he dreamt he was lying on a piece of ice. My hat fell off and I dreamed someone had thrown a pail of water on my head and my hair had turned into icicles.
Our first job in this new country was to locate ourselves. We came across some blazed trees along a section line which we followed to the section corner; there we read the section number, and the township and range description on the section post and bearing trees. If the section corner and the bearing trees were burned out, as was so often the case, we walked a mile to the next corner or even to the next. In some places where fire had run extensively, we would run for the nearest swamp to find a corner post which the fire couldn't reach.
After locating ourselves, we then proceeded to locate the particular descriptions—"40's or 80's" which were for sale—and cruised them to estimate the amount of standing timber they contained.
I was compass man and as we cruised, I walked around three sides of each 40 acre tract while Charles paralleled my course about 300 feet inside the 40. He estimated as he walked along by mentally comparing the timber to stands of known volume in his past experience. Occasionally we measured up a windfallen tree to get an accurate check on the height of the timber. Later developments in timber cruising brought more scientific methods of estimating, but the company always found Charles Richardson's results satisfactory.
We stayed up in 60-22 about three weeks looking over the timber, mostly Norway; and then we walked to Hibbing and did some more cruising around the Powers and Dwyer Camps, about four miles from Hibbing.
From Hibbing, we went to Grand Rapids and loaded up our pack sacks again. My pack weighed 49 ¾ lbs. And Charlie's, 60 lbs. A boat took us down Lake Pokegama to Little Pokegama. From there we took our pack sacks on our backs and hiked across country to Township 53-27 in the southwestern part of Itasca County. On the way, we passed through Jim Sherry's old logging camps.
It is customary, when carrying pack sacks, to take a five minute's rest occasionally, sitting on the ground and resting the pack on a stump to relieve your neck. I usually was the one to call out for a rest, whereupon Charlie would say, "All right, if you want to rest, I will stop." One day I was determined to let him call the halt for a rest, so I kept on and on. At last he said he was not feeling so well, and he thought we had better stop for a while.
Usually when we came to a stream or a brook, we flattened out at the brink to get a drink. One particular pool was swarming with pollywogs which I attempted to chase away before drinking. Charlie thought I was awfully fussy. He said that he had an old fellow running compass for him on one of his trips who used to scoop up pollywogs and all in his tin cup, and then drink them down.
We cruised in this area about two weeks, estimating a number of descriptions, including some timber belonging to Fred Bonas, the old camp cook who made the ox manure pies. The company later bought his timber, and cut it with their own holdings when they logged in this country.
Our work over, we started back to Grand Rapids about 4:00 A.M. one morning. Along toward noon, hot and tired, we arrived at the point where the present highway bridge crosses the long arm of Lake Pokegama which stretches six miles to the southeast. Charles said, "There is a settler named Johnny Huff living on the other side of the lake. Now we will fire off our pistol, and if he is home, he will come over and get us in his boat, and save us that long twelve mile walk around the end of the lake." Johnny happened to be home, and not only took us across in his boat, but hooked up his wagon and drove us the last five miles into Grand Rapids.