My Trip To The Forest History Center - Grand Rapids, MN
Two summers ago, my family and I visited the Forest History Center, one of the many stellar sites operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. I was fascinated by the lumber camp, the bunkhouse, the cookhouse, the wanigan (a floating cookhouse used in the spring when the lumberjacks floated their logs downriver to the sawmills) and more. I knew I wanted to set at least one story in the MN Northwoods, where Pine was King and legends like Paul Bunyan were born. (Contrary to what some folks in Wisconsin or Oregon or Northern California might say, Paul Bunyan was born and raised in MN. *wink*)
Our family has a lumber business. We don't cut down and saw up trees. We purchase finish lumber from sawmills and then wholesale it to cabinet and furniture makers. Because of this tie-in with the lumber industry, I was particularly fascinated to learn the history of tree-cutting in MN. I learned so much on this trip, and I'd like to share a few fun facts I gleaned.
Did you know that the bunkhouse had skylights and vents in the gable ends? Not to help with bringing more light into the room, but to let out the smell! Our tour guide pointed out that dozens of men shared the long room, bathing rarely and eating a diet that often included beans. Oh my!
One of the most important men in the camp was the saw sharpener. He had his own workshop, and he was referred to as The Dentist because he worked on teeth most of the night. His day started in the evening when the lumberjacks returned from the forest and handed over their saws. For about 12 hrs every night, he filed saw teeth.
A water wagon laid down two streams of water on the snowy road to make ice tracks so loads of logs could be pulled to the riverbanks and piled up more easily. Horses had special ice shoes to give them extra traction.
The camp foreman was called The Push because he was constantly pushing his men to fulfill the contracts by cutting more and more wood.
There was no talking at dinner. Eat and get out. And no spitting on the floor.
The lumberjacks had nicknames for everything. Their bag of personal possessions was called A Turkey. Lice was known as Walking Dandruff. Cutting logs on section 37 mean stealing logs of someone else's land. (There are 36 sections in a township, so cutting logs on the mythical section 37 meant swiping someone else's property.) Butter was called Axle Grease, and a Bean Burner was a bad cook.
There are so many amazing things I learned, I can't possibly include them all here. Some information made it into Christmas Service in A Log Cabin Christmas Collection, and I'm hoping to have the opportunity to write another story set in the Minnesota Northwoods sometime so I can revisit the Forest History Center and learn even more about MN lumbermen.
The Ann River Load; 31,480 board feet of pine logs hauled one mile by a four-horse hitch, Ann River Logging Company, February 1892
Picture loads were constructed by logging camps in informal contests to see which camp could load and haul the largest load. These loads were usually constructed annually in the late winter at the end of the logging season when the ice roads were at their slickest. Records were kept informally each year and were a source of pride for logging companies and lumberjacks alike. Called "picture loads" photographers were called to document the loads. Normal sleigh loads were about 5,000 board feet.
From the Minnesota Historical Society: Forest History Center in Grand Rapids MN http://www.mnhs.org/places/sites/fhc/loads1.html
Tomorrow's destination for the Log Cabin Christmas Collection Blog Hop is Debra Ullrick's Blog
Those who leave a comment are entered to win a copy of Log Cabin Christmas Collection autographed by all NINE authors. More information on the contest can be found at: http://janeswordsofencouragement.blogspot.com/p/current-contest-giveaways.html
Question for you: Do you typically have snow for Christmas where you live?
Also, don't forget that today is the first day of Casey Herringshaw's Blog Birthday Bash, and Ruthy Herne and I are tearing it up over there! Come join the party!