Life in a Logging Camp

In  This Was Logging , author Ralph Andrews wrote, “No industry in the Pacific Northwest has been closer to the hearts of the people than lumbering. It concerns trees, which are growing things and for which people have a deep affection. It concerns great enterprise and activity in producing a basic commodity in which a large share of the people have had a part. It concerns the harvesting of a crop which has been vital to the growth of the nation and other nations and has returned untold dollar wealth to the Pacific Northwest”.

Currently, in the time of airplane manufacturing and tech giants of our region, as with the majority of the ‘big woods’ gone, it is hard to imagine how integral the logging industry was to the life of anyone once living in the Pacific Northwest. And with most of the ancient giants felled, it is equally hard to understand the cavalier attitudes that clear-cut much of our region, forever altering the ecosystems that had prevailed under their spreading branches.

Equally hard to imagine is that much of the old-growth forests that greeted the first European settlers were entirely felled and cleared by hand, using the sheer muscle power of man and his beasts of burden. It was dangerous work for all involved, with accidents and deaths a regular occurrence. ‘Side winders’ – limbs and snags falling from nowhere as the trees crashed to the ground- were a continual threat. A lost footing or momentarily caught pant leg at the wrong moment often resulted in serious injury or death. As steam and gasoline-powered equipment came into play at the turn of the 20th century, the pace of logging picked up considerably, though safety measures taken for granted today still did not exist.Living in a logging camp was a difficult business. Crowded into tight bunk quarters reeking of wet shoes and clothes drying over pot belly stoves, a hundred or so men had very little to do after a twelve-hour shift in the woods but sleep from physical exhaustion or play cards in a dimly lit room. The proprietor of any logging enterprise knew that if he were to keep a stable work force, it was the quality and plentitude of the food that would be necessary. The kitchen and mess hall became the measure of any good logging camp wishing to retain its employees. The dinner gong would set off a stampede of workers set to fill their bellies three times a day.

As you walk through the Renaissance Garden at Heronswood, attempt to hear the echoes of the voices of an era long gone, while witnessing the regrowth of our native Red Cedars on their journey in becoming, once again, giants of the Pacific Northwest.