I’m busy writing How To Kiss A Troll and it’s so fun. Because it’s a historical I did a tremendous amount of research. I did the same for How To Fell A Timberman.
Now you might think, researching historical logging for one book would automatically be enough because hey, logging is logging right? Ha! I had this in my head too when I started this project but it ain’t so!
One of the biggest differences is easy to guess. Tree size. While pines in Minnesota grow tall, they aren’t nearly as deep in girth as many of the trees logged in the Pacific Northwest. That alone, means different kinds of tools were used to fell the trees.
Another difference is the climate. There’s a lot more snow in Minnesota to deal with. Minnesota loggers used that to their advantage and often skidded the logs out of the woods on special built sleighs that hauled them over ice roads. Of course there was the matter of cutting roads through tons of snow. They created their own snow removal systems. Unfortunately they had no trucks or snow blowers like what we use today. It was no small feat.
Cruisers: I mentioned cruisers in my first book. I’m sure there were mosquitoes in the Pacific Northwest but apparently they weren’t as pesky as I found no mention of them. In MN the guy/crusier who trudged through the woods looking for timber to log suffered greatly from these critters. Even today, MN is know for it’s dive-bomber mosquitos!
Horses vs Oxen: Another difference is that most MN loggers preferred horses over the slow, plodding oxen that were used in my first book. While oxen can be shoed horses were just plain easier to shoe. And believe it or not, horses were stronger and could pull heavier loads. I know, hard to believe. Oxen were however less excitable. Can you imagine hauling a huge sleigh of logs out of the words when all of a sudden the horses get spooked? Lives were literally at stake!
That doesn’t mean oxen were not used at all Minnesota. They were slow and powerful in their own way and moved well through brush. They ate less than horses, were less expensive to acquire and needed less care. Choosing to use Oxen or horses depended a lot on the location being logged. When ice roads were used, horses won out because as mentioned, they were easier to shoe. On snow roads, oxen were used.
Most trees were felled in the winter: Another difference in the logging is that in Minnesota logs were mostly sawed and hauled out of the woods in the winter, where as in the Pacific Northwest, it was a year round project.
Farmers turned loggers in the spring: Come spring in Minnesota, the logs were floated to the sawmills and/or moved by trains to respective markets. Many of the loggers were farmers who would head for the logging camps in the winter and return their fields in the spring. In fact, many farmers rented out their big farm horses to the logging camps in winter. Makes sense. They got their full money’s worth from horses by using them during plowing season on their farms and then renting them out to logging camps in the winter.
While the above is true many lumbermen worked in the lumber camps in the winter and worked at the sawmills in the summer.
Different terminology: Even the logging terms in Minnesota had different meanings than what they did in the Pacific Northwest.
The smaller trees in MN were logged with different kinds of saws than those used in the west coast; there were ice roads which demanded different methods of hauling the trees out of the woods etc. Rivers and lakes were plentiful and thus so were the steam powered sawmills.
One of my favorite MN terms that I came across was the Swing-dingle. A swing-dingle is a small lunch sleigh that traveled out to the work place in the woods and usually had a box lined with blankets to keep the food warm. Another term is the Wanigan which was the camp store and also served as the camp office. Sounds like an Indian term that I need to investigate. And then there’s a Turkey. No, not the bird. It’s a grain sack with a rope and it’s carried over the shoulder and is known as the loggers luggage. One has to wonder why it was called a turkey. If I find out, I’ll let you know. Another term that was different is related to the cruisers. When cruisers were sent out they said they had to “look the timber.”
Recycled train tracks: Another difference is that it seems the loggers in Minnesota had more railroad systems handy for shipping purposes. Sometimes temporary tracks were laid through the woods and used only for transporting logs. These tracks were often legs that sprouted off main railroad lines. I read that when the area was logged out, the boss man frequently had the tracks removed and reused them in a new location. I guess you could call them recycled trained tracks.
If you’re interested in learning more about historical Minnesota logging, I highly recommend a set of books called Early Loggers In Minnesota by J. C. Ryan. They are several volumes in paperback and they are reasonably priced.They aren’t easy to find on the Internet. I found mine at the Carlton County Historical Society and these people are extremely happy to help writers: 406 Cloquet Ave., Cloquet, MN 55720 Phone: 218-879-1938. I recommend calling them.