Totem Pole Tales-Whitman's Lumber Camp
Submitted by Nute Chapman
From Onaway Outlook July 27, 2012

Caption: THE WHITMAN HOMESTEAD was at the southeast corner of the intersection of Black River Road and the railroad.
Take note of the two small children peeking out of the blanket.  Also note the pile of railroad ties.
width="600" This week's history comes from the intersection of Black River Road and the Detroit & Mackinac (D & M) Railroad about 1901. The Black River Road, north from what is now M-33 and 68, ended at the railroad. We will talk more about this intersection when we visit the "brick yard."
The following information comes from our family history book, put together over 20-plus years ago by the Good Helper.
The Whitman Lumbering Camp
The Whitman Camp was located on the Black River Road where the railroad crosses. Harrison Whitman lumbered this land where he lived, plus land from the Draper School (now owned by Earl McGregor) to the corner of South Black River Road (now owned by Arland Mlinser).
Logging camps were no bed of roses, the men were hard workers. The day's work began early in the morning. The "cookee's" first job was to build the fire in the kitchen stove so the cook could get started on the large breakfast. The next ones up in the morning were the "teamsters," who fed and harnessed the teams. Shortly after the rest of the crew rolled out of their warm bunks. Just before dawn the cookee blew a long loud signal on his tin horn and the men would all file into the cook shack.
Breakfast consisted of fried potatoes, sowbelly, sourdough flapjacks, molasses syrup and gravy. Steaming cups of boiled tea or coffee that was guaranteed to make a weak man strong or a strong man weak. At noon to save precious daylight, a meal called "flaggins" was brought out to the men, loaded on a sled or wagon. After a long day of hard labor in the woods the men went back to eat supper. He ate another hearty meal in silence, an unwritten law in the lumber camps. Garbage disposal was not a problem; in most camps a pig was penned near the back door of the cook shack to take care of leftovers, if there were any.
Logging camps were crude. Water was dipped from a well or stream or was hauled in by the barrel ful. The crude buildings were dimly lit by smoking candles or kerosene lamps.
"Loggers, woodsmen or lumberjacks," these were the hardy men who lived and worked in the logging camps. Chopping down and sawing the trees into logs - swamping, skidding and finally loading the logs onto the sleigh and decking them high at the rollways.
"Road monkeys" were the men who built the roads in the lumber camps, they began their work before the snow fell. They would cut the roads through the forest to make it easier for the teamsters to haul the logs out.
The cross-cut saw, sometimes 7 or 8 feet long with a cutting edge slightly curved from end to end, it had a handle at each end so two men could work - one from each side of the tree. Using a cross-cut saw, two sawyers working together, could "buck' about one hundred saw logs a day.
Skidding tongs were steel tongs, similar to the ice tongs. They were clamped on one end of a log, which was then dragged or "snaked" to a "cross haul" or skidway by a team of horses or oxen.
Cant hooks were used for loading logs on sleighs, on skids and on decking logs at the banking grounds or rollways. The cant hook men placed the hook on a log and bore down on the handle - gave it a pull and the log would cant over. A good cant hook man was highly respected in the logging camps. Canting logs was a dangerous job.
Logs were decked or stacked into piles at the skidway. Men called "top loaders" worked oil the top of the decked logs with cant hooks. One slip and the whole pile of heavy logs would come crashing down and could possibly kill or injure a man or two.
A "scaler" was a man who estimated how many board feet of lumber there was in each lot at the skidway. He used a logger's rule "cheatstick" to measure the logs. It looked like a yardstick with a metal tip on the end.
A brand or "mark" strike with a marking hammer was put on each end of all cut logs to designate ownership. The raised designs on the striking surface of the hammer were many. There were triangles, circles, figures and combinations of them.
In the wintertime the roads had to be wet down so the sleighs could haul the large loads of logs out of the woods. The "sprinkler" was a device used to ice the sleigh roads. A square, strongly built wooden tank, holding as much as 100 barrels of water, was placed upon a pair of sleds with a tongue at each end to save turning it around. The tank was generally built as wide as the log road, or the width of the sled, which had 11 to 14 foot bunks. The water escaped from two holes located directly over the runner tracks. On cold nights the water froze almost as it reached the road. Icing the road for the sleighs was done at night by teamsters (icers) so as not to interfere with the teams hauling logs by day. Crude boilers were sometimes used to keep the water from freezing in the tank before it reached the ground.
"Chickadee's" were the men who had the job of keeping the logging roads and trails free of horse manure, so the sleigh would move freely on the on the iced roads.
Sleigh roads were usually down inclined ways leading to the banking grounds. To keep the horses from being run over by a load of logs going down an incline (called sluicing a team) and spilling the load, was for men to hook ropes to the sled, then loop the other ends of the ropes around two or more stout trees or stumps to hold the sleigh in check. The sleigh was then gently eased down the treacherous iced road by gradually letting out on the taut ropes until the sled was on level ground once more. Any braking device on a sleigh was called a "snubber."
A stout team of horses had no trouble pulling a sleigh with a heavy load. They were shod with sharp caulked shoes that gave them good footing for an even pull on their many heavy loads of logs.
On weekends, if you stayed in camp, you would clean up, sometimes shave, visit or play cards. The men would delouse their blankets and clothing in a deadly mixture of scalding water, yellow laundry soap and Peerless Tobacco. Sometimes the men would stand by a hot stove, holding their long johns to the heat, which would force the lice to come out where they could be captured. It was a losing battle between the men and the "graybacks" lice.
-Onaway Outlook, July 27, 2012, p.3. Retyped by J. Anderson.

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