Timbering and logging—cutting trees and transporting them to the sawmill—are the hardest parts of processing trees into lumber. In the early days trees were cut with axes and the logs were dragged to the mill by oxen, mules, or horses. As sawmills became larger more efficient means of securing logs were needed.
In preparing a tract of land for timbering a crew of men built a rough skidroad through the trees by removing brush, stumps, and large rocks. Two sawyers then started cutting the trees adjacent to the skidroad. To direct the fall of the tree, a notch was chopped in the side of the trunk toward where it was to fall. A crosscut saw was used to fell the tree. A crosscut saw was five to seven feet long. A handle was attached to each end, and two men pulled the saw back and forth. If the tree was large, wedges were driven in the saw kerf opposite the notch. Skilled sawyers could cut a tree in a few minutes. The tree was then cleared of limbs and sawed into logs of suitable lengths. The two sawyers worked with a fitter, who notched the tree for felling and then measured the logs to be cut from it, and knot bumpers who cut the limbs from the felled tree. A six-man crew could cut and prepare about 225 logs a day.
Moving the logs out of the woods was accomplished with a team of horses. When the day’s work began the teamster curried and fed his team and drove them to the skidroad. Here the skidding crew prepared a train of logs, fastening a dozen or more together end-to-end with devices called grabs. A grab was a short piece of chain with a swivel in the middle and heavy pins at each end. The pins were driven into adjacent ends of the logs to fasten them together. The teamster then hooked the horse team to the front log with special grabs and the horses pulled the train of logs to a landing located either along a stream or along the logging railroad.
If the logs were to be floated downstream to the sawmill, as was done before railroads were built into the woods, the logs were stockpiled until a flood occurred; then they were rolled into the stream and floated away. After logging railroads were built, the logs were loaded on railroad cars by steam-powered log loaders and taken to the mill by rail utilizing steam-powered geared locomotives. At the mill the logs were rolled into ponds where they floated until taken inside to be sawed.
The cutting and skidding of logs often took place miles from the mill and the town. Men working in the woods lived in camps that sometimes were large enough to accommodate 100 men. Food was hauled to the camps by the log train. The camps had their own cooks, and hearty meals were served to the hard-working men. Most stayed at camp at least a week before coming to the nearest town. Some men stayed as long as a month, and when they visited town they had a boisterous celebration making such communities as Cass roaring, wide-open places. As the original forest was depleted, logging jobs became scarce. At the same time, around the 1950s, the character of logging changed. The horse teams were replaced by caterpillar tractors, crosscut saws were replaced by chain saws, and the log train by trucks.
This Article was written by Roy B. Clarkson
Last Revised on November 05, 2010
Clarkson, Roy B. On Beyond Leatherbark: The Cass Saga. Parsons: McClain, 1990.
Clarkson, Roy B. Tumult on the Mountains: Lumbering in West Virginia 1770-1920. Parsons: McClain, 1964.
Blackhurst, W. E. Riders of the Flood. Parsons: McClain, 1954.