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100 Years of Logging at Deep River

Larry T. Maxim

Last week Deep River celebrated 100 years of logging. There were those there who had almost "lived" the 100 years -- C. A. Appelo who just turned 81 and still lives it Deep River and Wm. Big Hill, 82, born in Naselle and who still lives beside the Naselle River. Octogenarian Bighill is still active and hardy enough to rebuild his front porch by himself. Bighill is a living example of the tough, rock-hard men who logged in the early days when giant trees up to 150 feet tall and an average ten feet across were wrestled out of the woods with nothing more than sheer muscle and sinew.

These survivors of a lusty age regard today's logging operations as a "mechanical convenience". Said one old logger, "In those days giant men brought out giant trees by hand; today giant machines bring out sticks on wheels."

Logging is an American invention, a product of the pioneer logger's astounding strength and stamina. At first he felled the tallest and finest trees near a river and rolled them down the bank of the Naselle, storing them in the river for "high water" which carried them into the Columbia. As the cutting area moved away from the proximity of the river, he devised a system of log roads, or "skid roads" as they became known, with oxen as the motive power.

There were no spar trees or mechanical contrivances to "yard" the huge logs out and in those days a "log" was something that was 65 to 100 feet long and from 10 to 12 feet in diameter. The skid roads were made in the shape of a "V" with one log at the bottom and a higher log on each side. These were swabbed with crude oil or whale oil for easier sliding.

The logs from which the bark had been "skinned" were dragged along these "skid roads" by long strings of oxen. Almost all young boys started their logging careers swabbing these "skid roads" with oil.

The chief moving force in those days was the "bullpuncher". Oxen are not known for their speed so it was the bullpuncher who encouraged the oxen to more speed and he was not delicate about it. The loudest sound in the woods, in those days, was the stentorian bellowing of the bullpuncher as he goaded and prodded the phlegmatic bulls. The bullpuncher invented his own type of profanity. It was colorful, roaring and powerful enough to sear the sides off the oxen. It was not unusual for a tempestuous and impatient bullpuncher to run up and down the long line of oxen, stabbing them with his goad stick while he consigned the "herd" to the most dire kind of fiery fury in a ceaseless roar.

The oxen were put to maximum use. When one was badly injured he was butchered for the cook shack and beef steak was served for the next few days. On Sundays the bullpuncher's voice was still, since this was a day of rest, and he checked their hooves which were shod with a split shoe. Nor would the bullpuncher work his oxen during bad weather. He did not want to risk his "machine" becoming ill as it was no small effort to bring new oxen far back into the woods.

Later on, to save time and get more logs out of the woods, the bark was skinned off the tree during the ride down the "skid road". The oxen had to be tough to survive but the men were even tougher. There was more distance to move from one tree to another because only the choice fir and spruce trees were logged. He had to carry everything with him, axes, 10-foot saws, springboards and gigantic "chokers" made of one and a half inch cable 30 feet long, many times through dense underbrush.

He also had to make his own "ladder" to get up to the 10-foot cutting level. The trees were cut at least that high from the ground because the tree was "softer" there and the logger got away from the flaring butt of the tree which was a few feet thicker.

To make his "ladder" he would chop a notch above his head, insert the "springboard," which was a short, straight grained plank with a steel toe. He would then jump up on this, cut another notch, insert another "springboard", continuing this until he was ten feet off the ground. At the same time he was dragging along the 10-foot saw, an ax and long slender steel wedges used to drive into a cut to be certain the tree fell the right way. At cutting level he would cut a notch around half the tree so that he could easily move around the tree while sawing it. In moving around the tree he never missed a stroke with the saw. While sawing he would move by clamping the springboard with his feet (one under, one over) and with astounding agility would jump and "set" the "springboard" in its new position.

After a cut of a foot, he would unhook his ax from his belt and deftly cut a huge notch, which was known as "facing" the tree in the direction it would fall. The time for a tough, experienced logger to fall a tree, eight feet in diameter, averaged one hour. Bighill recalls that in those days finances were no problem. "I got one dollar a day, and I only had to work ten to twelve hours for it," he said.

The loggers lived where they worked. The center of the camp consisted of the bull barn, cook shack and bunkhouse. The bunkhouse was crude, just enough to keep out the rain. The bunks were just as crude, a few rough boards spread with straw. The logger had to do his own laundry. His laundry machine -- each logger had one -- was a fivegallon kerosene can in which he boiled his socks and underwear, and sometimes took a "sponge bath".

As the "skid roads" extended further back into the woods a better and quicker means was needed, so the railroad came into use. More work for the logger. He had to carve out a rail bed and lay the rails. Oxen were still used, however, to drag the logs to the railhead which was extended as the haul became longer. At the railhead there were no derricks to lift the gigantic logs on the flatcars. Here again it was sheer muscle. Each log was loaded with jacks, not hydraulic, but screw jacks which were laboriously operated until the great log was lifted onto the train, two logs to the car. Then when the train pulled into the Deep River log dump, the same strenuous procedure of using the jacks to unload the cars.

The trains were the only way in and out of the woods. Everything came by train, groceries, equipment and a way into town for the loggers. Once a month or so, they would take a break and roar into town. They drank and amused themselves as hard as they worked and sometimes they would have to be "loaded" onto the train for the trip back into the woods. It is believed that the term "being loaded" originated with the loggers. After being "unloaded" at the camp they required a day or so for "readjustment", then back to their endless task of muscle against the forest giants.

Soon the operations were too extended for oxen and the first steam donkeys came into being. This was a very simple upright boiler that provided the steam for the winches. The first donkeys could hardly drag more than the oxen, but at least they did not have to be goaded. Gradually more powerful steam donkeys were used, each having to be almost "inched" through the woods to its location. Once it was set up it could drag itself from location to location through a system of pulleys and cables. Despite this mechanical contrivance, the job was not easier for the early logger because he had to drag the enormously heavy cable back out to the next log. These cables were thick and heavy and of stiff steel wire. As the steam donkeys were improved so was the system of dragging in the logs through the use of a spar tree. This was usually a tall straight tree about 150 tall. To it was affixed a system of pulleys and cables which would not only drag the logs out more efficiently but would return the cable by mechanical means for the next log.

The selection of this spar tree was of prime importance. It had to be in a position where it could handle logs in a radius of 800 feet. An error in selecting the spar tree would render it useless after a short time, with much loss in time relocating it, thus drastically dropping the production of logs for that given period.

The steam donkey was used until 1949 when the first diesel donkey was installed at Deep River. This was a huge 500-horsepower which could lift logs 1,500 feet out of deep canyons and across the roughest terrain. Over 150,000 board feet a day could be yarded with this diesel donkey.

C. J. Underwood, who was the Deep River camp boss for over thirty years, recalls this as a great stride in logging but also a decline, in a sense, "It seemed to be the start of pulling 'sticks' out of the woods," he mused. Underwood is now retired and at 65 he has the springing step of a young man and the agility of one half his age. In his garage are many mementos of the real logging days. "We really logged in those days," he said, "I don't know if you could have found a rougher or tougher bunch of men. They were huge men, giants like the trees and they drank hugely but they really worked and underneath were kind, simple, truthful men. I spent all my life in the woods and despite the rough and tumble life, the trials and tribulations, I enjoyed every minute of it," he added.

It was Underwood who first employed trucks at Deep River when the hills became too steep for the engines to climb. He cut into the steep hills, carved out road beds and hauled the logs by truck to the railhead. This was in 1938. At that time the trains still hauled the logs to Deep River. It was not until 1954 that everything was converted to trucks. As far as the old timers are concerned the word logging no longer means much and the word "log" should be changed to "stick". "You see a real log now and then, but not often." Underwood reflected sadly.

Published in The Tribune, Ilwaco, Washington, August 5, 1970.

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