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

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

looking back at the logging years

Manitowish Waters Area History: A Look Back, continued.

Every few days a gate in the dam was opened and a large batch of logs was sluiced through, followed by a dose of water large enough to assure that the logs would float freely downstream but not enough to wash the logs ashore along the river's wandering course. The sluicing lasted only a few weeks, but took place every spring for ten to fifteen years.

As the logs moved downstream, log driving crews shepherded them to prevent jams and to get stray logs back into the flow. The most colorful fixture of the log drive was the wanigan that accompanied the drive. It was the kitchen boat that was built on the flat below the dam: A scow with a house on top to enclose the kitchen, supply space and sleeping quarters for the cook. Each evening the log drivers would gather at the wanigan for a hearty supper and maybe a little singing before they separated to sleep in little tents or just under the stars. All the dams below the Rest Lake Dam had gates big enough to allow it to be sluice through, guided by its big oars.

The logs were boomed and sorted and fed into the huge sawmills of the Chippewa Falls or Eau Claire area, or some of them were sent on toward the Mississippi mills, and the wanigan was abandoned or dismantled.

Back at the dam here, when each drive was over, two and a half billion gallons of water had been penned up and then released; the lakes were down to their original pre-1887 levels; and raw, ugly scarred new margin of erosion and stumps marred fifty some miles of the shoreline.

Penning the water for the next drive began the next fall or winter; but after the very last drive around 1904 or 1905 there was consistent policy about water levels, and that often infuriated local residents -- some wanted water high, some wanted it down, and one person even sabotaged the dam. At stake were fishing, esthetics, convenient access to the water.

Things were finally settled when a reservoir company bought the dam in 1912 and the state began prescribing water levels. The summer level is set at 8 1/2 feet above the original level, and the winter level is five feet. [unsure if this information is still current]

The reservoir company replaced the wooden dam with the present masonry dam in the mid-1920's.

Left behind by the white pine loggers were all the other species of trees, many of which were also valuable for lumber. So the white pine lumbermen sold their "cutover" lands for another round of harvesting by different loggers.

Again the lakes figured in the harvest.

Two logging railroad spurs were pushed to the shores of the chain on Rest and Little Star lakes. Norway pine and other logs were put into the lakes of the chain and rafted by gas or steam tugs as quickly as possible to these two railroad landings and hoisted onto flatcars. These other species do not float as well as the white pine, so there was always a sense of urgency in rafting them, and rafting sometimes went on day and night. There was also a side track at Rice Creek Bridge where a self-propelled log loading crane could come and load logs rafted from the lakes of the chain or floated down from above Big or Round Lakes.

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