Lumberjacks & Sawyers: “Felling Forest Giants” circa 1920s Pathe

Lumberjacks & Sawyers: "Felling Forest Giants" circa 1920s Pathe

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“Early documentation of the American forest industry.” Silent.

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Originally a public domain film from the Prelinger Archive, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.
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A lumberjack is a worker in the logging industry who performs the initial harvesting and transport of trees for ultimate processing into forest products. The term usually refers to a bygone era (before 1945 in the United States) when hand tools were used in harvesting trees. Because of its historical ties, the term lumberjack has become ingrained in popular culture through folklore, mass media and spectator sports. The actual work was difficult, dangerous, intermittent, low-paying, and primitive in living conditions, but the men built a traditional culture that celebrated strength, masculinity, confrontation with danger, and resistance to modernization…

Lumberjacks worked in lumber camps and often lived a migratory life, following timber harvesting jobs as they opened. Being a lumberjack was seasonal work. Lumberjacks were exclusively men. They usually lived in bunkhouses or tents. Common equipment included the axe and crosscut saw. Lumberjacks could be found wherever there were vast forests to be harvested and a demand for wood, most likely in Scandinavia, Canada, and parts of the United States. In the U.S., many lumberjacks were of Scandinavian ancestry, continuing the family tradition. American lumberjacks were first centered in northeastern states such as Maine and then followed the general westward migration on the continent to the Upper Midwest, and finally the Pacific Northwest. Stewart Holbrook documented the emergence and westward migration of the classic American lumberjack in his first book, Holy Old Mackinaw: A Natural History of the American Lumberjack, and often wrote colorfully about lumberjacks in his subsequent books, romanticizing them as hard-drinking, hard-working men. Logging camps were slowly phased out between World War II and the early 1960s as crews could by then be transported to remote logging sites in motor vehicles.

The division of labor in lumber camps led to several specialized jobs on logging crews, such as whistle punk, chaser, and high climber. The whistle punk’s job was to sound a whistle as a signal to the yarder operator controlling the movement of logs and act as a safety lookout, and a good whistle punk had to be alert and think fast as the safety of the others depended on him. The high climber (also known as a tree topper) used iron climbing hooks and rope to ascend a tall tree in the landing area of the logging site, where he would chop off limbs as he climbed, chop off the top of the tree, and finally attach pulleys and rigging to the tree so it could be used as a spar so logs could be skidded into the landing. High climbers and whistle punks were both phased out in the 1960s to early 1970s when portable steel towers replaced spar trees and radio equipment replaced steam whistles for communication. The chokersetters attached steel cables (or chokers) to downed logs so they could be dragged into the landing by the yarder. The chasers removed the chokers once the logs were at the landing. Chokersetters and chasers were often entry-level positions on logging crews, with more experienced loggers seeking to move up to more skill-intensive positions such as yarder operator and high climber, or supervisory positions such as hooktender. Despite the common perception that all loggers cut trees, the actual felling and bucking of trees were also specialized job positions done by fallers and buckers. Fallers and buckers were once two separate job titles but are now combined.

During the era before modern diesel or gasoline powered equipment, what machinery existed was steam-powered, and animal- or steam-powered skidders could be used to haul harvested logs to nearby railroads for shipment to sawmills. Horse driven logging wheels was a means used for moving logs out of the woods. Another way for transporting logs to sawmills was to float them down a body of water or a specially-constructed log flume. Log rolling, the art of staying on top of a floating log while “rolling” the log by walking, was another skill much in demand among lumberjacks. Spiked boots known as “caulks” or “corks” were used for log rolling and often worn by lumberjacks as their regular footwear…


He who has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor. – Proverbs 22:9

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