The Work

The chosen uniform for many loggers was the bib-overalls and long sleeved wool or flannel shirts, the farming attire, as many were farmers as well. Long-handle or Long-John underwear was worn under their country uniforms through the cold winter months, covered over with their wool winter coats. To keep their faces from getting so cold in the frigid winter winds, they grew thick beards to protect their faces from frost bite. All the men wore different kinds of hats for head protection in the winter months and shade protection in the summer months. The chosen foot wear for many was leather Brogan boots, others wore hob-nail heeled boots.

The lumber jacks worked long, hard days. In 1910, Tennessee non-union workers made around 14 cents an hour. They worked 6 days a week at 10 hours per day instead of 12 or 14 hours per day the year before.

The Peavine employees made on average $1.00 a day, which would equal out to about 10 cents an hour. Boys in their early teens worked their way through adolescence in the timber. Younger boys, called chore boys, worked for even less pay. They were used to do odd jobs such as carrying wood in for the fire, water boys for the men and kitchen dish clean up.

Even though the company had steam run equipment, a lot of the work still had to be done by hand. The huge trees were taken down using various lengths of cross-cut saws, which were designed to cut both ways. The standard saw was 6-8 feet long. At times 12 foot saws pulled by 4 men were needed for larger trees. The saws were sharpened differently, for different species of trees and different seasons. The standard saw team used 3 men, a lead chipper or lead notch man with two sawyers. The chipper was considered the most important man on the team.

For the largest trees, spring boards were used. A board of about 12 or 14 inches wide were inserted in the trees through a saw cut about 4 or 5 feet off the ground. The two men working the cross cut saw stood on the boards to saw another cut higher up the tree which was above the trees sprawling roots, known as the butt swell. The tree had first been notched out by broad band axes on the opposite side of the cut. Two men worked the saws, one on each end. The loggers pushed and pulled on the saw, after the length had been pulled through the trees base by his sawing partner it was reversed and drug through the log in the opposite direction. Since the saws were very sharp, two strong, experienced men pulling them, could take a tree down in minutes.

1890's Loggers on string board big (125K)
Photo used by permission of Robert VanAtta and VanNatta Forestry, Logging Machinery, Log Skidders, Timber Museum
Men using a spring board, oxen teams to pull logs on skid road.

Huge trees were felled, some were as old as 180 years. White Oaks often attained a height of 100 feet and a diameter of over 6 feet. Hemlock trees were typically seven feet in diameter. Yellow and tulip poplar typically attained a height of 120 to 140 feet and a diameter of 7 to 9 feet. The American Chestnut tree sometimes were over 12 feet in diameter.

One tree, in particular, reached a girth of 28 feet. Seven children joining hands were required to reach around the tree.

The largest tree ever logged in the state of West Virginia in 1913 was well over 1,000 years old. It was 13 feet in diameter, 16 feet from the base and 10 feet in diameter 31 feet from the base. One of the largest trees taken from the Bethany Community was so big that it had to be knotched to fit on the flat car, so the standards, large metal poles placed down into holes along the rail car, could hold it on the car. One Bethany tree was so large that is reported that a team of mules could be turned on the stump left behind. work with cross saw on fell tree 1890 (24K)
Photograph used by permission of Minnesota Historical Society.

As the tree lay on the ground, swampers or swamp rats were called to remove the limbs with axes. They piled up the limbs and brush so the mules could get to the log. With the brush cleared, the men seen in this picture taken from another logging operation, took their cross cut saws and began cutting the tree into 16 foot logs. It wasn’t uncommon for two men to cut 35 or 40 logs per morning. One tree would give up several logs.

The logs were bundled and dragged away to the skidder by the teams. Horses, mules sometimes as many as six mules were used to pull the logs out to a clearing on a chosen path called a skid road which was located near the tracks.

The skid road was simply a cleared walk way with smaller logs laying vertical to the path spaced a few feet apart. They had been laid into a small trench around 4 or 5 inches into the ground to keep them in place and then greased with lard so the logs being pulled would slid easily oven them, making it easier for the teams to pull them.

Logging for Peavine RR (394K)

The skid road can be seen in this Peavine picture.

A team of two horses could skid fifteen to twenty average sized logs measuring sixteen foot long at one time. The log bundle called a train of logs, had been joined together with special logging hooks called Grabs. The Grabs had been driven down into the logs by workers known as Grab Jacks.

For the steeper areas of the mountainous terrain, the two mule team was broken up into one mule per smaller log bundle, for the safely of the mule and driver. There were two ways of safely bringing the heavy logs down the incline. The first way was the skid road could be cleared in a zigzag fashion. By zigzagging down the steep incline, the steepness could be greatly eased. The second option could be made along side the cleared road where the steepness was greatest on the side of a steep trail where the logs might skid on their own momentum. At these places, the teamsters could release the mule from its gears and move into the clearing trail to let the log skid itself down the mountainside After the logs had been skidded past the steepest area, they would be moved back onto the trail and the mule team would be joined again to take the logs the rest of the way to the landing. Several good Horses and mules were sometimes severely injured. Some were run over by logs. Sometimes their legs were crushed or cut so badly that there was nothing else to do but shoot them and push them over the cliffs where the turkey buzzards ate at them.

At the level spot at Davis Creek, the little train circled back around to the changing tracks. Chapman creek is also in close vicinity of Davis and Dry creek. There was a landing or holding place for the logs at Chapman Creek, called the log landing, where a steam powered Barnhart skidder loaded the 12, 14 and 16 foot logs onto the train all the while the smoke escaped out a pipe in the arched roof. Men using cant-hooks, rolled the logs into place for the loader or skidder. Bruce Fillers had the job of log roller. He also rolled the logs onto the flat car when necessary. The skidder, a modern marvel, had a circular base that allowed it to turn 360 degrees for easy movement. The skidder crew consisted of three men. One to drive the machine and two to work the cable. The driver, who stood, had many levers in which to direct the giraffe like neck. With precise means, the cable hooked to a pulley could easily lift the heavy, flat bed length logs by grabbing the grab hooks and placing them into place onto the flat cars. It rode to the sight on the flat cars of the train and remained there for the loading. When the flat car was full and all the grab hooks had been removed and the load was securely wrapped with thick cable, the train was moved up to the next pile of logs for loading.

Log loader with crew, Heilman Lumber Company. Circa 1911.

This Peavine logger and skidder crew was blessed with one of the day's most modern machines.

The main saw mill for milling the logs, was located where Dry Creek and Davis Creek merged in a Y shape. A Peavine spur from the main line near the camp went up into the mountains along side Davis Creek to the Spruce thicket area. It is believed that a branch of the rails went over the hill, connecting the railroad to Jennings Creek area. An average saw crew was expected to cut 10,000 board feet a day. This meant felling and bucking 10-12 trees, 14-30 inches in diameter each day.

Other portable bandsaw mills were placed in the mountains as necessity warranted. A typical bandsaw could cut 100,000 board feet of lumber in a day.