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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dog-Warpin' on the River: A Family Tradition

“The forests of Maine have been a resource since the area first was inhabited by humans – but the uses of the forest have changed and grown – from timber for masts and shipbuilding, to sawn lumber for myriad building projects, to raw material for papermaking, to a recreational resource that boosts the tourism economy.” ~Maine History Online

Rose O’ The River, by Kate Douglas Wiggin, takes place in Maine in the heart of the logging industry in the early 1900s. Although modern technology and enhanced safety regulations have helped in improving the job of a logger, it is still today considered a highly dangerous occupation. Requiring brute strength and incredible bravery, it's not for the faint of heart.

In the early logging days, men lived in camps on location while their families lived at home. Often, the cabins the men lived in were on skids so they could easily be moved from site to site when resources had diminished in the current location. The living conditions were deplorable, camps were often rampant with lice and other diseases, and the men wore the same clothing for months at a time. Later, through the unions, logging camps allowed the men to move their wives and families to these remote locations where small communities, complete with schools, were founded.

This is just one of the great photos of logging camps, showing a cabin on a skid that can be found on the Sierra Logging Museum's website.

As much as we view logging with a wary eye, it was and still is a way of life for many Americans. Sons followed their fathers into logging just as their fathers followed their grandfathers. I wonder if the wives just accepted their husband’s job and the dangers that went with it. They had families to feed, clothe, and educate, and living in such rural logging areas didn’t leave a multitude of job options available. Their husbands worked long hours, cutting down trees in the forest, hauling them to rivers or streams with horses, oxen (picture Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox, Babe), and later steam powered trains. Then came the really dangerous part, standing on the logs in the water, guiding them downstream to their desired location doing what loggers refer to as “dog-warping,” all the while trying not to think of losing your footing, falling off your log and getting smashed between two logs, and drowning. Below is a short video clip from the late 1940s. You can see how dangerous it must have been and there don’t appear to be any safety measures in place; OSHA wasn’t even started until 1971!

I’ve found myself looking around my house at many of the antique pieces of furniture I’ve acquired from my grandparents. They were both born in the early 1900s, and I wonder if someone like Stephen guided the logs down river that made my kitchen table or my pie safe. Did he have a wife or fiancé that worried about his safety that day? Did he make it home to have dinner with his loved ones? Did his sons join logging? Did their sons also become loggers? And they may have children as young as my own, idolizing the strength and bravery of their fathers and grandfathers, while not quite realizing the dangers of being a logger. At least until they decide to become loggers themselves.

POSTED BY:  Claire Cole

Rose O' the River by Kate Douglas Wiggin
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