Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!
By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Historical Society Museum
Longfellow wrote, “Under a spreading chestnut-tree, The village smithy stands.” In the northern Maine woods of the GNP logging operations, the blacksmith was found deep in the woods at each of the company’s various logging camps. The blacksmith, one of the highest paid employees, was vital to the whole logging operation. His work was hard and he worked long hours not just shoeing work horses and sometimes oxen but also repairing or replacing tools and equipment such as chains, sleds, neck-yokes, wiffletrees, cant dogs etc. He forged and sharpened tools. He was a highly skilled workman. On occasion, the blacksmith was called on to build a coffin.
Most camps had their own smith and sometimes he traveled from camp to camp working all night so the horses would be ready to go out at daylight. Sometimes he left a number of shoes at each camp so the teamster or camp boss could nail them on as needed.
Shoeing an ox was more complicated than shoeing a horse. (Yes, GNP used some oxen in the early days). An ox hoof is cloven and it required two shoes and when being shod, the ox had to be lifted off the ground using a leather sling and winch. An ox leg cannot be lifted off the ground as is done with a horse being shod.
Most of GNP’s camps had a blacksmith shop or smithy and it was usually one of the first buildings constructed as the smith’s talents were needed often. In addition to the shoeing jobs, he might be called on to repair an iron stove that cracked on a cold night, fix a broken handle on a cant dog and sharpen points and hooks on various tools. He repaired sled runners and sleds. The camp cook might need a repair on a bucket or metal cookware. Loggers had him repair knives and create blades for the “spruce gum boxes” that were fashioned from old saw blades. These hand-carved boxes were done by the loggers as gifts to wives and lady-friends. Many jobs kept the blacksmith busy at his forge.
Visit the museum to see a forge once used by blacksmith Martin George in his blacksmith shop in Millinocket on Aroostook Avenue. (In area of current lot directly behind the behind Variety Store.) The forge was donated by Dana W. Brown along with his collection of logging tools, Native American artifacts and more. Most are displayed in the Dana W. Brown Logging Room. Brown stated at the time of the donation that George often hauled the forge by wagon to the Rice Farm and other places where horses were kept. On display in the same room are several of the spruce gum boxes made by loggers and the “crooked” knives used to carve them.