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Log Marks

Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!

By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Society Museum

Cat’s head, diamond, lazy-v, crow’s foot…these are names of some of the markings placed on long logs in the early days of the Penobscot River log drives. Visitors to the museum see markings similar to these recorded in a ledger on display in the logging room. The ledger has an accounting of Logs Counted Thru Stone Dam (1902-1904) and has separate columns for each employer/contractor/operator who had crews in the woods cutting long logs. The marks were identifiers and made it possible for the correct persons to be paid for their work.

The ledger has 180 pages with daily listings (June thru October) of the number of logs credited to each operator. For some days, up to 34 different log marks were recorded! Some person or persons had to be at Stone Dam making the tally as the logs passed through. The ledger, mostly in one person’s beautiful cursive handwriting, was probably recorded by a clerk at a later date.

The December 1927 issue of The Northern magazine has an article by A. G. Hempstead explaining the use of log marks. They were used until about 1917 when the shift was made to 4-foot wood. The article includes a chart showing several of the common marks.

Log marks were made with an axe, usually by the yard man at the landing. The cut was made through the bark into the wood itself and at both ends of the log. Then the log was rolled and a second mark placed. This was to enable identification of the log in the water without the necessity of rolling it to find the mark. If the logs were extra-long, they might also be marked in the middle (to prevent someone from cutting off the ends, placing new marks and claiming the log fraudulently).

Hundreds of these marks were registered with the Penobscot Log Driving Corporation and were also to be supplied to the Registry of Deeds in Bangor, but that often was not done. The marks changed from year-to-year so that an operator could identify logs from different years. The marks were usually a combination of letters and symbols and rivermen could read them as easily as we read printed upper and lower- case letters.

When GNP switched over to pulpwood in its operations, they adopted the log stamp/log hammer and used the letters GN. (The museum has two of these as well as several from other companies.) The stamp was similar to a branding iron except no heat was used, just a hard whack of the stamp/hammer onto the sawn butt of the pulpwood. A few operators painted a simple mark instead.

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