Dodson log scenes recall early days

By Murphy J. Barr
Journal Historian

Before 1900 only a few families lived in the area known as Reek's Deadening, later to become the present-day community of Dodson, Louisiana.

When the Arkansas Southern Railroad built a rail line from Arkansas south through the area to Winnfield, sawmills were established at intervals down the line. Dodson became a boom town when three sawmills were built, and the population grew to 2,500.

The Tremont Lumber Company, owned by the Joyce family of Chicago, built a sawmill at Dodson known as the Kelly. It was known as the largest sawmill in the United States at the time.

The area of North Central Louisiana was covered with the stately long leaf pines. They grew to great height, with few limbs except at the very top. There were no other timber stands anywhere like the long leaf pines. They made the best lumber to be found anywhere at the time. The Tremont Lumber Company sent in buyers to purchase timber from the owners, and they operated mainly in the parishes of Jackson, Winn, and Grant. Within a few years, the company owned a large part of the available land in Jackson and Winn parishes.

To transport the logs to the sawmill, Tremont Lumber Company established a railroad from a small mill in Lincoln parish, six miles east of Choudrant, where they owned a small sawmill. They named the place Tremont, and the railroad was given the name Tremont & Gulf. It ran south to Eros, Chatham, Sikes, Joyce, and ended at Winnfield.

From Dodson, they built tram roads which were not as well built as the main lines, running east from Dodson through the stands of timber, and connecting to the T&G at intervals along the track. The company set up logging camps out in the timber, where the employees lived while cutting and hauling the logs. The company moved the logs on tram cars over these lines.

The steam loader/skidder (photos below) traveled with the train of tram cars. Logs were cut and left on the ground to be dragged by long cables from the skidder, as far as 50 yards or so to be loaded onto the tram cars.

Logs not near enough to be pulled up by the skidder were loaded onto wagons pulled by mule and ox teams. In some cases, two teams of mules (four mules), or four yokes of oxen (eight animals) were hitched to each wagon, pulling loads of logs as far as several miles to stack the logs beside the tram tracks for loading by the steam loader. Logs were then taken to the mill for sawing into lumber.

Employees who lived in the log camps were the men who cut the logs. Two men working with a seven foot crosscut saw and axe and wedges made of wood, were called "flat heads." Other men who cleared roads for log wagons to travel with their loads were called "swampers."

Others kept account of logs hauled, and recorded the measured board feet in each log. The company operated a commissary store in the camp. The train engineer, conductors, and men who kept up and built the tram roads, and employees in the camps could ride the train out to the main tracks and travel to places away from the wooded areas.

There were no good roads in the area in that day. Railroads were the better way to travel and move goods. In the early days in Dodson, it was not uncommon for wagons and buggies to bog down in the middle of main street. Eventually, the sawmills cut out the timber and moved out. But they are back one hundred years later, and doing well.