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Lumbering Questions

Often museum visitors ask “Why did the lumbermen cut and pile the wood in the winter? Wouldn’t it have been easier to do it without snow on the ground?” The museum’s logging/river drive room has several photos on display showing teams of horses pulling loaded sleds and other photos showing wood piled along streams and on the iced-over ponds.

John McLeod’s book The Northern, the Way I Remember, discusses this topic. He states, “The actual felling of the trees and cutting them into logs was relatively simple, the transportation being the real problem.” Transportation in winter made moving wood easier since the ground was frozen as were the water surfaces. When covered with snow, large loads could be moved more easily. The wood was often piled along the streams ready to be pushed into the water in the spring when melting snow raised the water level making floating the wood downstream easier. In some areas the wood was piled onto the frozen lakes. In spring as the ice melted, the wood continued its journey to the mill.

McLeod also explains the difference between “lumberman,” “woodsman,” “lumberer,” “logger,” and “lumberjack”. He states that originally “lumberman” referred to anyone who worked in the woods. Lumberer, lumberman, logger and lumberjack were used to identify any woods worker although logger and lumberjack were not often used in Maine. (McLeod’s book was published in the 1970’s.) The same person working on the river drive was referred to as a “river-driver” or if he was an expert, he might have been called a “riverman”.

Before the lumbermen arrived to begin their work, an “exploration – sometimes by the lumberman himself. More often by a hired surveyor or “explorer,” later called a “cruiser”. This person, often with a guide or partner, would go into the woods in the spring to locate a good stand of timber. The cruiser would also estimate the quantity available and estimate its worth. He would examine the land, locate drivable streams and determine what might need to be done to get the logs. Early aerial surveys were done when the cruiser climbed a tree and counted all the pine tops he could see.

McLeod’s book is a great read. If anyone has copies they no longer want, consider donating them to the museum. We often have people looking for them and other out-of-print books by local authors. We sell extras in the Museum Store.

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