Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

October 1, 1992, Page 28

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Good Old Days 

By Dee Zimmerman 

*The photos for this article were extremely faded making any restoration difficult.  If you have a better quality copy of any of them, please consider sharing a scan with us!

The primeval white pine… grew so thick, that no underbrush sprouted and you couldn’t see the sky above… some were more than a hundred feet tall… those less than three feet in diameter at the base, weren’t cut… the time when huge quantities of timber resources were wasted.


Such timber is what lured the first white-men through Wisconsin.   The pine growths began in Maine and New Brunswick, going west across Canada and northern New York to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, ending in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.


When King William III heard of the large North American pines, in the 1600s, he envisioned dominating the seas with the largest ships.  The Baltic fir, had been used until they discovered the New England pine, which was one-fourth the weight.  Not only was the pine lighter, but taller, thicker and one large pine fit the need for the main mast.  Two fir trees had to be spliced together to form a main mast, with sails, for a large ship which often weighed up to eighteen tons.  The larger, lighter pines meant larger masts to hold the larger sails, thus being mounted on larger ships that would move faster over the oceans.


The colonists of New England felled trees to be cut into boards at a rude saw mill for their building needs.  The Royal Navy, when hearing that, feared the Colonists would destroy and waste the large pines, which made lovely ship masts.  The king and ministers decreed an order that any pine or oak measuring more than two feet at the butt and located within three miles of a stream, belonged to the Crown.  That meant any Colonist caught cutting down such trees would be arrested and put in jail.  When that word spread through the settlers and loggers, they were determined to steal those trees out of spite.


That 1600s lumbering in New England was the beginning of the Westward move.  The first loggers came into Wisconsin during the 1800s in quest for the big white pine.  Only pine measuring over three feet in diameter at the base, were cut.  The second wave of lumbermen cut what was left.  Crude lumbering camps were set up in the early Fall of the year, probably to be abandoned in a year or two as their cutting progressed.  It was more convenient to be closer to the work site, so they moved in and built a new camp.


Logs were cut and used to build a bunk house, a cooking/dining house, a building for the oxen or horses, a storage building and a store for the lumberjacks needs, such as tobacco, gloves, etc…


The inside of a bunk house looked similar to an old horse barn with two deck bunks, or four bunks per stall along two sides of the building.  Barrel stoves were placed down the middle of the area.  An elderly man, who could no longer keep up with the lumberjacking, was hired to keep wood in the shed and have the fires going for heat.  He also kept the bunk house in order.  In early times, fresh cut pine boughs were used for mattresses.


In the bunk house, the cook was respected as he governed the order and food.  There was no talking while eating, and only ten minutes allowed for dining.  Each man was assigned where to sit at the dining table and that was the permanent seating arrangement for him.  As settlers moved in the areas and started farming, they provided the camps with livestock for food supply making the menus better than the salted meats diet.  Morning and evening meals were eaten in the bunk house.  Some lumber camps tilled ground for garden vegetables to be grown and used in camp cooking, and also raised grain and hay for the horses.  Lunches were made up to take along, to be eaten in the woods for the noon meal.


The sawyers’ day began at four in the morning, ending when it was too dark to see amongst the trees.  The loaders and teamsters started the day at three a.m. lasting until ten or eleven o’clock in the evening.  There was a set quota of loads to be hauled from the work site to the riverbank each day.  The distance could have been from six to eight miles (in snowing or cold weather), but the same number of loads were expected no matter what the circumstances.


First, oxen were used to pull the sleds.   In later years, horses came on the scene.  One elderly logger grumbled that oxen were much easier to care for, as they were content to eat marsh hay and rutabagas.  The horses were fussier they had to be fed timothy and oats.  The trails leading to the river were iced on the sled tracks.  Water was poured over the tracks allowed to freeze, enabling the sleds to slide easier.  The camp’s blacksmith would forge steel corks, which screwed into the shoes of the horses, one on each heel and two on the toe of the shoe, so that they could keep their footing on the iced tracks.


In the spring, when the creeks and rivers rose from snow thawing, the logs were rolled off into the high water.  The water carried the logs downstream to saw mills.  Each logger had a stamping hammer (similar to a post maul) with his initials or identification mark.  The hammer, when applied with a swift swing, would leave the identification mark at the end of each log.  As the logs came into the saw mill, a record was kept on the count being credited to the owners, by the I. D. mark.  Clark County streams carried logs down to the Black River.


Some men would drive the logs down the river, being called the driving crew.  Their job was to keep the logs moving, try to keep them out of the shoals and backwaters.  The jam crew, close to the head of the drive, (was) to keep leading logs from piling up and to break up jams.  Sacking crew was men following behind to get logs hung up on banks or in sloughs, back in the stream.  The rear crew had to be willing to stay wet as they spent most of their time in the water as “clean-up” of stray logs.


The work of a lumberjack was hard, physically.  But as one said, they didn’t get sick with colds, etc.  So, the fresh air and isolation of work seemed to keep them healthy.  They earned wages which were from $100.00 to $125.00 for a winter’s season’s work in the late 1800’s.  Later, the pay went up to a dollar a day.


As time went on, small saw mills started appearing along the various streams through out the wooded areas.  More lumber was being used locally in building dwellings for the new settlers’ farmsteads.  They could cut timber from their land, take it to a nearby saw mill and have lumber for their own needs.  Some mills were portable, being moved to the wood lot near the lumber source.  There were many such mills through out the county, most were near the creeks, such as Cawley Creek.


Neillsville, at one time had a furniture factory which used local timber.  There were wagon wheel-spoke factories, barrel stave mills and other wood product businesses which existed because of the availability of timber in the county.


Fellows’ who were deer hunting in the Willard-Butler area, some years ago, mentioned seeing the large width, rotting white pine stumps, still visible from the late 1800s cutting.




The Martin Garbisch “portable” sawmill.  This mill shown here at the William Joyce Sr. farm (approximately 1936), just north of the Forman School house, in the Town of Weston.  A portable mill was a mill that was transported to area farms, where the farmer and sometimes his neighbors, could have their logs sawn.  The lumber that was sawn in this photo was eventually used to build a barn.  Some other sawmills that operated in this area were Len Boon’s, Eddie Heintz’s, and Finder’s Sawmill.  Pictured here (L-R) are Eddie Heintz, Walter Joyce, Jake Heintz (with a cant-hook in hand), Martin Garbisch.


The carriage onto which the log was placed is shown here on the left.  The carriage rolled on small wheels back ‘n forth on the platform, with the aid of belt driven power.  Part of the chain that operated the carriage is shown here in the foreground.  A gauge was set to determine the thickness of the board.  Until the log was “squared up,” the outside boards were run through an “edger” to remove the outside bark and to square-up the board.  Shown in the background is a pile of edgings.  Edging served many purposes such as kindling in starting fires, or placed between the boards as they were stacked in piles for drying.  (L-R) William Joyce, Jr., Bob Elmhorst and Martin Garbisch


Part of a “rollway” is shown in the front of this photo.  A rollway consisted of logs that were placed upon other logs at right angels to form a “track” onto which the log to be sawn could be rolled up on the carriage of the “saw mill.”  The logs were either hauled on wagons or on sleds (horse drawn) to the rollway, where at this point they were unloaded.  This ash log has just been rolled onto the carriage with the use of cant-hooks and human strength.  On the left side above the log, is the device that was used to secure the log down onto the carriage (dog ‘em down).  There were three of these on the carriage, of which a pointed hook was levered down into the log to hold the log in place.  Pictured in this photo are (L-R) Martin Garbisch, Eddie Heintz, William Joyce Jr., Wilbur Joyce, Jake Heintz, Walter Joyce and Louie Haas.


William Joyce, Jr., (left) and William Joyce Sr., (right), are shown here standing next to a log that is partially sawn.  In the front of this photo is shown the rollway, depicting how the logs would lay at right angles to form the track to the carriage.  The “rollway” logs could be quite large in size, as the “sawmill” could be some distance off of the ground. 


Photos courtesy of Bill Joyce (Information provided by Bill Joyce and for additional data read “Daylight In The Swamp by Robert W. Wells.)



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