Changing Costs, Changing Methods
Prior to the early 1800s, logging meant using a two-man saw to fell a tree, more saws to cut the limbs from the fallen trunk, and a bull-team to drag the logs to a waterway, where they would be floated to market. This relatively slow process would change in response to new economic realities.
In his book The Last Wilderness, Murray Morgan (1980) describes how changing economics of that period led to changing methods of cutting down trees. As the cost of forest land--called standing timber, or "stumpage"--began to rise, and land taxes became a reality, logging operators set about protecting their profits by speeding up the logging process. Speeding up meant replacing men and animals with machines, a development called mechanization.
Mechanization of the logging industry began with the introduction of the steam-engine "donkey" in 1882 (Washington Iron Works TL-6 Trakloader, 1997). This led to a logging technique called "high-lead" logging. High-lead logging required a steam-engine donkey, steel cables, a single, tall, standing "spar" tree. Photo: Courtesy of British Columbia Archives, Province of British Columbia (www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca). Call #F-08713.
In the photograph below, taken in 1929, a "high climber" is preparing a spar tree. He is to the left of the remaining limbs on the tree. He has cut off all the branches up to that point. Next, he will "top" the tree and push the top away from him. What will be left is a spar tree. The spar tree will be rigged with a pass block and cables. A steam-engine donkey will pull on the cables and swing the logs through the air to a "yard," or assembly point.
High-lead logging sped the harvest and meant increased profits for the operators--but not for the men who did this dangerous work.1 As mechanization continued, and fewer loggers were needed in the forest, many were laid off. Morgan (1980) reports that tensions increased in the camps as the economic gap between the operators and workers widened and injuries on the job multiplied.
Photo: Special Collections Division, Univeristy of Washington Libraries. Negative # Pickett 4426a. Not to be copied or downloaded without permission.
Mechanization and Jobs in the Forest Industry
New Mills, but Fewer Jobs
Technology and Jobs
The sustainability of a community that relies mostly on forest resources is another issue. Click here for background on the topic, and then click on the highlighted word at the end of each page to move on.
1High-lead logging was hazardous. High climbers could slip and fall. "Conk rot" could weaken tree structure. Climbers had to thunk the trunk with the back of their axes as they climbed to test the tree's strength. The men on the ground were at risk from both the "bite of the line"--getting snapped by the guywires as they became taut--and the swinging logs as they were moved to the yard (High Climbing, 1997; Ye Olde Logging, 1997).
2A "feller-buncher" is a device that holds onto a tree while the tree is in the ground, cuts the tree at its base, and moves the cut tree and lays it down on an appropriate pile for loading onto a log truck. The machine is computer-controlled and can be operated by just one logger and eliminates at least 2 or 3 other on-site jobs. The machine does tend to compact soil where it operates.
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