"[History is] a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man." -Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

an interview with Paul Brenner

On January 20, 1992, Homer Sykes interviewed Paul Brenner at his home in Boulder Junction, WI. Paul discussed the logging industry in the area.

We talked about your personal history and working for the DNR. When did you first come up?

I came up in 1947 shortly after I got out of the Navy. I came from Milwaukee originally. I came up and started working for the what was then the Wisconsin Conservation Department at Trout Lake. Eventually it became the Department of Natural Resources. I worked from 1947 until 1974. The last ten years or so I was doing land surveying. Originally I just worked as laborer. Eventually I worked on the canoe routes. Then I got into timber sales, then into land surveying. But the last ten or fifteen years it was mostly land surveying with Fred Copp.

My interest in logging actually started when I was surveying, because I found a Yawkey Bissell log marking hammer hanging on a post one day and I brought it home. I really didn't do anything about it for five or ten years. I knew what it was but I didn't do anything about it. I just had it home. But eventually we found a logging camp on the other side of my lake, which was the Dells Lumber Company camp. And they had a hammer with a large "D" in it -- the outline of a large "D" with the year number in it. Over the course of maybe ten years we found a total of seven hammers over in this Dells camp with the years 1892, 93, 94, 95, and 96 were the year numbers. They don't have the 18 in them just the 92, 93, 94, 95, 96.

That finally perked my interest, and so then I eventually started digging in camps. I found a number of hammers but eventually a lot of people, knowing I was interested, gave me other hammers. I traded hammers and about 1980 or thereabouts I first started collecting the pictures of the logging stuff. That actually has been more fruitful because hammers are pretty hard to come by. In all the years that I've dug for hammers I probably haven't found more than twenty or twenty-five hammers altogether. I've got one hundred and fifty or so, but some of them were given to me and some were bought and some were traded and stuff like that. So the hammers are ideal to find but they're just a lot of work just to find one.

I have got into the pictures and in these talks that I give I pick out a series of pictures showing what typically happened at the camps. Now I don't have those right in order here at this talk but we can go through my one album and at least some of it will be accurate.

This first page here shows a series of four pictures of crews cutting down trees, one of which was the Brooks and Ross crew somewhere in the Boulder Junction area. Brooks and Ross was from Schofield and they own maybe thirty or forty sections of land starting just north of Boulder and going on up into upper Michigan. They had a minimum of fifteen or twenty camps in that area. This particular picture shows a fairly large tree, probably larger than average. Now who the men are I don't know but actually the trees in the Boulder area at least where the soil is fairly sandy are not the huge giant pine that people so often pick out as the example of what was here. Actually there was a lot more smaller trees than there were large ones. Now in some areas of the state, like in the Wausau area where the heavier soils were, then there were a lot of large trees. But even in the Presque Isle country where you get this heavier clay soil you find some fairly large pine. But on the most part the trees run from, oh, ten to twenty-four inches, which was not particularly large. The large trees are four to five and occasionally six feet on the stump.

This other picture here is a Patterson Lumber Company crew over toward Park Falls which again shows that the tree is fairly small. These two pictures I don't even know who or where they are is much more typical of the trees that were in our area. They run twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen inches in diameter. Now this one I don't know anything about. This looks like cedar on that particular one and I think it's a staged picture because this guy's got a tie on he surely not a lumberjack. Either somebody's visiting him or whatever, I don't know. Maybe he was the bookkeeper from the camp or who knows what. He's a young fella but he's a bookkeeper.

Now here's shows two pictures after the trees were cut down. It showed in this case fairly elderly men, when I mean elderly I mean thirty to fifty in that area. A large percent of the crews actually were just young adults from sixteen up to twenty-six or thirty years old. The one on the left here, the picture on the left here shows men well over their knees in snow and to figure that they had to work in that all day every day except Sunday for thirty bucks a month. Of course that was the times I mean we all even in our younger lives we know when we worked for a lot less than they do now. But they got thirty bucks a month and room and board and that was all.

So the trees were cut down and the original logging that went down the that was floated down the rivers was always sixteen foot logs. I have never found a log on the Rest Lake chain of the Manitowish River and south that wasn't a sixteen foot log. Now when you get into the smaller lakes where they occasionally stored the logs then you get into eight, ten, twelve and fourteen. But these logs went out by rail. But originally everything was sixteen foot.

This next series here shows men taking the limbs off of the trees after they were felled and probably before the guys actually sawed them up into lengths. This picture of the Patterson , both of these are Patterson Lumber Company pictures, shows the logs after they were limbed and sawed up and before they were actually skidded.

Now this next series shows the original logging up 'til about 1900. A lot of the skidding was done with oxen. That was partly because the horses hadn't been developed big enough and heavy enough to handle the big logs. They were plenty strong the oxen were but they just were not very fast. So as soon as horses were developed that were bigger and stronger most of the camps switched to horses very shortly. The Dells camp that is on the other side of my lake, I find both ox shoes and horse shoes in it. But in later camps all I find is horse shoes. So I would guess roughly 1900 was the dividing line although there surely were oxen used years later. But all the logging around Fosterville which was now Presque Isle and Winchester as far as I can tell all their logging was done by horses. The skidding part of it.

Occasionally in our country, where the country was good and flat, originally on the skidding they just skidded out one log at a time with one or two horses as a team but eventually they developed, I don't know where they were developed but these large wheels were developed. They were from about twelve feet high, these wheels. Somehow or other they'd get these logs in a bunch and then they'd put these empty wheels across them and by chaining them in a certain direction, I think it was by tipping the tongue over, they were able to lift the logs off the ground enough that they could skid them out. The advantage of course was that they could take more than one log. The disadvantage was that they didn't work very well in hilly or bad country. It worked ideal like around Crystal Lake and parts of Sayner and stuff where the land was fairly flat. Now we have pictures here both of Trout Lake. This one is at Crystal Lake, this is at Manitowish Waters so they were used in our area. For a long time we didn't know for sure if they were but we now have enough pictures to prove that they were.

The logs were skidded originally out to the sleigh roads and then as the railroads were brought in after, in the Boulder area at least, after 1903 to the railroad grades or sometimes the earliest loggings which is 1892 to roughly 1900 they were skidded right to the banks of the rivers and lakes of the Manitowish River and the lakes that were connected with it. There they were decked. Decking just means large piles of logs. Then later on in the case of railroads they were loaded on railroad cars or in the case of skidding along the main lakes they were decked along the edges and then when the ice went out they were rolled into the water. Occasionally as this one other picture shows they were decked right on the ice. Now I don't know how often they did that. But this is apparently the Tomahawk River and we can see thirty or forty decks of logs going across the entire river so they must have had a way of getting them out there and decking them up fairly high. This other picture here shows the logs decked along a railroad grade and then eventually , well we'll get into these pictures now. They had really several kinds of ways of loading the logs. First on sleighs and then later on to railroad cars. Occasionally they'd use just a team of horses which with a wrap around chain was able to drag the log up on to the sleigh or railroad car. Then eventually they built jin poles and stuff which would lift the logs up and either, I don't know if they swung them around but anyways maybe with just the position of the pole they were able to raise the logs up and then with the guy lines on, which you can see here, they were able to guide the logs to fit the sleigh or fit the railroad car or whatever they were loading.

By 1900 though or shortly thereafter, steam engines had been developed enough that they had steam hoists. We have three kinds of hoists that were used in this area at least. One was the Cody hoist which actually rode on the railroad tracks but the hoist itself was raised up by the means of probably six or eight timbers and so the wheels that ran on the railroad tracks, it was open underneath and so they were able to slide the empty railroad cars underneath this Cody hoist. The big problem with this hoist was that it was so tippy that I guess they were tipped over quite often. Not so much when they were loading or anything but when they were actually running out to wherever they wanted to go.

The kind of hoist that was used the most in our area at least up in Fosterville and at Winchester was the McGiffert loader which was built at Duluth. This ran under its' own power on the railroad tracks. When it got to wherever they wanted it to hoist logs they had a means of raising the railroad wheels up and on the four corners of this McGiffert loader were large steel beams which had a big flat part on the bottom. And as you raised the wheels up these beams went down for a short distance and then they rested on the ties of the railroad. Then they continued lifting up until they got the McGiffert hoist high enough to bring the empty railroad cars underneath. Here in this picture which is one of the better ones, you can see the VCL company which is Vilas County Lumber Company which was the company that worked out of what is now Presque Isle, originally it was Fosterville and then later on it was Winegar.

The other kind of hoist used down here is the Raymond steam hoist that was built down in by a man down in Marionette. And it sat right on the top of a flat car and would load an empty car behind it and then when they had that car loaded they'd winch this hoist back to the next car and then continue on hoisting, filling up the empty cars. It was also used around camps, logging mills and camps where it was sometimes built on skids and it was able to be dragged around by probably just a team or two of horses. Not under its own power. But it was very stable because it was on the ground or on a railroad car and I think it probably was cheaper than the McGiffert because it didn't have all this extra stuff on it. So around the big decking areas and along by mills and stuff it was often used in camps. This is the Camp Three of Brooks and Ross, Camp Three at Wolf Lake where the logs were brought in by on sleighs with Ten Ton Holt tractors. Then they were unloaded at Camp Three and then as they got railroad cars then this Raymond loader here would load them up on railroad cars.

To move all these sleighs of logs which were very fairly big they had to have the roads fairly level as level as they could get them . And once the snow started coming in the fall, they actually ran across them with rigs something like they use occasionally on ski hills which tramped the snow down and packed it down. And then after the snow was packed down they'd run another rig across it which actually cut ruts in it. I don't have a picture of that here. But then as soon as they got that, probably right behind it, they'd have another big water wagon that would run behind where the ruts were cut and they'd drip water into these ruts. And so in effect the sleigh loads were running on a small sheet of ice.

And again, their biggest problem was always at the hills. This wasn't so much going up hill but it was going down the opposite side the sleighs would sometimes get out of hand and occasionally they had major problems. Where they really had a lot of hills and stuff they occasionally would have a permanent steam engine that would pull the load of logs both up and let it down the opposite side of the hill where they couldn't avoid it. They actually ran across lakes and they'd run across swamps. They'd go out of their way to keep on level ground if they could. Over here on the camp on this lake the shortest distance to Rice Creek is probably less than a mile long but by following swamps the trail was actually almost two miles long before they could get to Rice Creek. But apparently it was better than going over the hills and dales.

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