Before we had modern chainsaws and machinery, clearing out trees and producing lumber for many uses, was all done mostly by men who were called lumberjacks and a select few women during WWII called lumberjills. This work was difficult, dangerous, seasonal, low-paying and undeveloped in living conditions. These men were able to create a process and a culture that we still reminisce on today.
There were many names associated with lumberjacks and they all had specific jobs that were needed in order to have a smooth operation. Some of these jobs for logging crews would’ve been a whistle punk, chaser and high climber. The whistle punk would sound a whistle as a signal to the yarder operator who controlled the movement of logs, and he was also a safety lookout. The chasers would remove the steel cables, or chokers, on downed logs once they were at the landing of the sawmill. The high climbers would use iron climbing hooks and rope to ascend a tree, chopping off limbs as he went. He would then top off the tree and attach pulleys and rigging to take the rest of the tree down in sections. Not all loggers would cut down trees, that job was also held to specific men called fallers and buckers.
All workers would live in a logging camp and it would be divided up between jobs. Beds were made of hay and cabins could house up to 70. The only women at the camps would be the wives and children of some of the lumberjacks. The cooks would have to feed everyone around 4,000-5,000 calories a day.
“The amount of work that a man or horse can do in the woods or elsewhere will depend entirely upon the amount of food that he can digest over and above what is actually necessary to keep him in good condition in a state of inactivity. As regards these lumbermen, it is safe to say at they are physically strong and well, for only such can endure the work... Our fifty-five men have consumed in twenty weeks the following quantities of first class provisions:
30 bbls. (barrels) flour 500 lbs. tea
22 bbls. pork (salt) 4,000 lbs. fresh meat
15 bbls. beef 150 lbs. baking powder
1,200 lbs. lard 300 bu (bushels) potatoes
400 lbs. butter 30 bu. beans
1,200 lbs. sugar 150 gals. (gallons) molasses
8 bbls. crackers (hardtack) 6,000 pickles
Together with cabbage, onions, turnips, etc. This represents a great deal of eating, but the work done will balance it off.” -Charles Ellis from the article “Among the Michigan Pines”
Since there were no modern machinery to help with the takedowns and movement of the lumber, the machinery that they did have was all powered by steam, horses, water or by pure strength and endurance. Logging was also done in the winter so that dirt trails could turn into icy transportation for the logs. The logs were then put onto a riverbank to wait for spring so they could float down to the sawmill. Log rolling, now a sport, was used to move the logs while in the river. Lumberjacks would have spiked boots to help grip and move the logs where they needed to go and prevent falling. At times, there would be pileups that would prevent movement of the shipment down to the mill. Dynamite was used in the center of the log jam to release them to continue the flow of work and this dangerous task was done by hand. Here is a short video showing how. https://youtu.be/QIi7IySOBiQ
To get paid for their work, every company had its own brand that was labeled onto each log that was felled before being sent downstream. It would typically have the initials of the company or an image that represented the company. These labels had to be registered in the county of the log’s destination. Some of the sawmills could be hundreds of miles down the stream so this was a good way of keeping track.
Modern technology has drastically changed the industry and production of harvesting trees. Although the process is still the same guidelines, the tasks are now considerably faster. The job of the lumberjack, now known as a logger, will always be dangerous and labor intensive.