'Old way' of logging back-breaking, dangerous

By Jack M. Willis
Journal Correspondent

One of my grandfathers built tram roads for the timber companies, and the other happened to hold down a position of "stock tender" with the Trout Creek Lumber Company and the Tall Timber Lumber Company. Part of his reward for taking general care of the animals, feeding and watering, plus doctoring them, patching harness and other rudimentary chores, his duties called for him to hold down two positions, that of laborer and veterinarian. Part of his compensation was the company furnishing him a prefab house hauled on a flatcar, off-loaded near a creek where they were going to build a rough barn-like structure where they would set up the livestock and equipment needed to harness teams out for a day's work.

The dwelling was a cheaply made light shell, featured a dirt floor, and hot as hell in summer, especially when the cook stove was fired up at least three times a day. But at least he and my grandmother had a roof over their heads, and didn't have to ride a work train round trip every day like the teamsters, bull punchers, flatheads, tie hackers and foremen did. And he got $2.10 per day besides.

His day began about 1:00 a.m. at night drawing water and distributing feed to some 75-100 oxen, mules and horses. The ones that had gotten "skint up" the day before had to be patched up if possible, so they could be used the next day. The company figured if an animal was lying up in the barn chewing its cud, it wasn't turning a profit, so if an animal ended up with a broken leg he had orders to destroy it. Some nights the stock tending family had fried beef for supper.

Sometimes the stock tender had to send for a company blacksmith to repair one of the Lindsay log wagons used to haul logs from low-lying areas. A new Lindsay wagon manufactured in Laurel, MS. cost $280 F.O.B. and required four pair of oxen to pull it fully loaded with its complement of logs.

Of the eight-oxen hitch required to pull the wagons, the pair nearest to the tongue of the wagon were called the "wheel" or tongue oxen. This pair of oxen is where the colloquial term "skint up like a tongue ox" came from, because if the wagon load of logs got to pushing them going down a grade they were the first ones to bear the brunt of the banging and knocking of the front wheels and chassis. The second pair forward was the point team; the third pair was the swing team and the left-hand of the front pair was called the lead or "cod oxen."

The "bullwhacker" or driver always walked on the left to the middle of the eight-team hitch where he could reach any one of the oxen with his 20 foot long braided leather whip with a four-foot long wooden handle. It had a popper about three feet long plaited out of grass string and you could hear one break the sound barrier on a cold , frosty morning for a mile or more. The brag that some bullwhackers could pop a fly off of one of their oxen's ears was no idle boast. There's no explanation why, but the name of the left hand lead ox on ANY team of oxen was always known as "Broad".

The average "flathead" also drew $2.10 a day, that is, if he and his crosscut saw partner made their quota of 10 logs a day felled and bucked. Well, you ask what is felling and bucking? For one thing, they used two entirely differently configured saws in the logging woods--both were six feet long, but one was swaybacked or bowed and known as a felling blade which was used to cut a tree down at it's base. The other saw, known as a bucking saw was straight backed and used to cut or "buck" the trees up into logs every 22 feet of length.

There were saw filers strolling through the woods all day long keeping the various saws tuned up for maximum efficiency, so as to get more production. The filers often made more money per day than the woods foremen, which didn't set too well, but both of their positions involved production, which was the name of the game.

There were young boys with cypress wooden pails and dippers running every where furnishing a cold drink of creek water to the laboring log cutters and buckers.

Other traffic consisted of the teamsters who had taken converted limbers from the Civil War that had been used to pull cannon and converted them by adding a double pair of tongs and using four horses, while riding the left front horse, to pull two logs per round to a rail siding where it would take about a dozen men and oxen or mules to load out a flat car and get it ready to be pulled to the mill by a Shay locomotive.

A salesman out of Birmingham had gotten hold of a McGiffert steam-powered loader that he wanted to sell to the Buchanan interests to speed up their log loading process, instead of tying up a dozen or so men, livestock and equipment. He brought it over and gave a big demonstration of the loader accenting its efficiency during the operation and asked Mr. Robert Buchanan how he liked the machines performance, and he replied, "Fine, just fine." So, encouraged by the answer he'd gotten he asked if he thought the company would be interested in purchasing it. And Buchanan said,

"Not at all. That thing can't trade at the commissary."

To Be Continued