The Seagoing Log Boom
By “Awake!” correspondent in Canada
TIMBER-R-R-R!” rings out through the woods. Seconds later, another mighty giant of the forest hits the ground with a rending crash. But, turn your eyes to the mountain slope where the giant fell. How will this tree ever reach the screaming saws of the lumber mill or the grinders of a paper mill?
Some logging operations are located where it is possible for huge trucks to transport logs directly from forest to processing plant. However, many parts of the rugged coast of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest of the United States are not suited to that type of operation. Hence, the fascinating spectacle of log booming.
It is along the rugged Coast Range of British Columbia’s mountains that the magnificent Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, cedar, hemlock, balsam and pine grow. One mountain after another stretches away into the distance, all clothed with forests so thick that, without a well-marked trail, a person could quickly lose himself in them.
The rocky shoreline in some places is exposed to the full sweep of the sea. At other places there are sheltered coves and long narrow fjords where tidewater mingles with rushing waters of small rivers and creeks. Logs are brought to these fjords and inlets. Here they meet up with a most practical method for transporting vast amounts of timber—the seagoing log boom!
Visiting a Logging Area
Recently some friends and I visited an area where logs are prepared for their sea voyage. We turned off the highway into a narrow trail just wide enough for one car as it heads down to the shore of the inlet. At a cabin in the woods, we stopped and met an elderly man. We learned he had been a logger for more than forty years. Now his legs can no longer stand up to the rigors of log booming.
“You know,” he told us, “a man is wet to the knees most of the time while booming logs, and the arms get wet as well. Today it is not as hard as it was when we used nothing but muscle power to push logs into line with a pike pole. Logs were bigger then, too. Just take a look at that stump over there! I cut that tree over fifty years ago, soon after coming from the East. For its first sixty feet it was straight as a line, with hardly a limb, and even above that we cut good logs from it; I felt like apologizing for cutting it down!”
Examination of the eight-foot-diameter stump revealed that it must have been a magnificent tree. Now, out of it another tree was growing, clutching the old stump with all the tenacity of an octopus.
We continued our journey down the old logging road and suddenly emerged from the subdued light of the forest. Before us was a sheltered inlet. Onshore, decks of logs were being arranged by a large four-wheeled vehicle that picks up logs similar to the way elephants do in the hardwood forests of the East. It slides two tusks of steel under the log, clamps a trunklike arm on top, and away it roars to the proper pile of logs faster than a man would care to run.
A nearby worker recognized us and called: “May I get a ride home with you?” We agreed. As the shift ended, our friend cleaned himself off a bit and removed his spiked boots. Fred has worked eighteen years on log booms. While looking out over the ‘booming grounds,’ as such an area is called, someone exclaimed: “Look! That farthest string of logs is moving!”
How It Is Done
“Yes, it is moving,” Fred agreed. “We finished that boom half an hour ago, so the tug is pulling it out to sea.”
“I don’t see any tug,” remarked our city friend.
“Look farther ahead,” Fred told him, “and you will.”
We verified this with our field glasses, observing two men moving around on the deck as the tug settled down for a long, heavy pull.
“Those rows of piling out there help to keep the booms in line as we form them. They also prevent the tide flow from moving the logs out of place and save us from doing our job all over again.
“Where the water is too deep or the bottom too rocky to drive in piling we build a different arrangement. Two rows of logs are chained side by side, all about the same size. The end joints on each side are placed halfway along the opposite log. The far end is anchored out over deep water, while the other end is secured to the shore. This gives us a walkway from which we can either build or disperse a log boom. It makes for safety, which is vital for working over deep water.
“The flat log boom has only one layer of logs. These are not fastened together, but they are kept in a long rectangle by special logs across the front, rear and down the sides. The rear log is always of large diameter to prevent logs from escaping underneath it.”
While discussing how logs are moved into place in the boom, Fred said: “In the old days men used long pike poles having a combined hook and spike at their business end, so logs could either be pushed or pulled as the job required. But it was easy to fall into the water doing that work, especially if a log suddenly began to roll over.”
Fred went on to tell about a sport that grew out of such experiences: “Some men became very adept at spinning a log and stopping it with their spiked boots. This logrolling became and still is quite popular in logging camps. The objective was to spin a log out from under an opponent as they balanced themselves face to face on the same log. Often it took a lot of legwork before one was proclaimed victor and the other received a dunking. I tried it when I was younger, but soon decided it was enough to fall in while on the job, without looking for trouble.
“Nowadays logs are moved into place by a little steel boat. It is well named ‘sidewinder’ or ‘log bronc.’ It works on a 360° swivel drive, enabling it to apply its power quickly in any direction. It pushes logs sideways or forward, or suddenly swings completely around to push another.”
Logs of Various Sizes and Crops
It was time to leave, so we all got into the car and as we did the driver asked: “How large were the logs we saw today, Fred?” It is plain that he took real interest in his work, as he answered:
“Several were five feet across, while others measured three or better, and a few, two. Trees are being cut smaller than years ago. In some areas, two-foot logs or even less are acceptable because it is necessary to cut second- and third-growth timber. The main idea is for logs to be straight, without too many knots. Otherwise, they usually end up at pulp and paper mills. Short cedar logs go to shingle mills, while longer ones are used to make good siding for homes. Fir, pine and hem lock are used mostly for making lumber.”
Following the road back to the highway, we noted that the story of harvesting the forest is plain to read: The first crop was the largest and finest; the second took the best of the next growth. Evidently, these were smaller trees, of lower standard and shorter lengths, but able to be used because of the versatility of the modern forest-products industry. There is a respite now before man takes from the forest a third crop.
Logging companies continue to push farther back into the mountains in search of prime first-growth trees. However, government regulations now require them to clean up the forest after a cutting operation and plant new trees for the benefit of a future generation.
Where Does the Boom Go?
On the highway we were able to get glimpses of the open sea. At one vantage point we paused to view a log boom again as it inched its way toward its destination.
Fred remarked: “I have worked at the grounds for which that boom is destined. It is a bit like a sales yard in principle. Each boom, being valuable property in transit, has to be marked by ownership identification and the approximate amount of timber it contains. A boom like that one comprises around 180,000 board feet. On arrival it is graded and the logs are sorted according to the way they will be used, whether lumber, plywood or pulp and paper. Buyers are on hand to make their purchases.
“Only certain kinds of wood are used for pulp and paper manufacturing. Hence, logs designated for such purposes are first sent to privately owned chipper mills. After reduction into chips they are loaded into great boxlike barges for transport to the pulp- and paper-fabricating plants, which are now planning to install their own chipping machinery. Other logs marked for their new owners are later boomed for towing to the locations of their industries.”
We asked one last question: “Are logs ever lost from the booms?”
“Yes,” Fred answered, “some are. However, with up-to-the-minute weather reports available these days, losses from rough seas are kept to a minimum. Yet if logs do escape, markings on them identify the owner, who oftentimes reclaims them. In other cases, individuals. using small powerboats and adhering to certain regulations, comb the coastline for stray logs and then sell them to the appropriate mill.”
In the car we heartily thanked Fred for his kindness and patience in answering our questions. After leaving him at his home we reflected on the numerous things we had learned on this outing. It made us think of how grateful man should be to the Great Creator of the mountains clothed with forests.