Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Logging Camps.

I have always been very interested with historical logging camps and the hard working men and women who spent countless hours in the muck and snow. I really enjoy looking at the pictures of the grizzly looking folks who braved the elements for meager wages, and the hand built buildings that they all crammed in and called home. Looking at some of the bunk houses you could only imagine the smell when walking into a room filled with 30 men who have been sweating all day, socks and shirts hanging all around. It's really neat, that even today in Algonquin PP you can still stumble upon old remains of logging camps from the past, some still have some of the old pot belly stove and bunks. There they are, just sitting in the middle of the forest. While looking for some photos of these camps I found this great site, chalk full of photos and even a great description of life at an early 1900's logging camp by Eugene Bordeaux from 1969/1970.

"By the time he was fifteen or sixteen or even thirteen years old a boy quit school to look for work. Farm land in the community was scarce, and basically unprofitable, and the only other jobs in the community were in the mill or the logging woods. Besides it was easier and more realistic to make a living cutting and drawing logs than trying to scrape together enough poor land to support a farm. Therefore, most boys went into the logging camps and started to work along side their fathers and men even older.

Logging for the Reynolds meant staying in camp for six days at a time, coming home on Saturday night and going back on Sunday. This was a better arrangement than that offered in the better paying camps “up south” Tupper Lake, St Regis Falls——where a man could get home only once or twice during the whole winter. Four or five miles into the Adirondack foothills above the sawmill, the four Reynolds camps were six miles from many of the loggers homes; this was a long ride, even on the mildest winter days when the temperature might be twenty above zero.

Camp Number One was closest to the mill, and men reached it before they came to the logging road that burrowed through the deep woods. Camps Two and Four were on the eastern, side of that logging road, while Camp Three was furthest into the forest, very close to the Brooklyn Cooperage railroad spur. Each camp was a squat assemblage of six or seven log buildings that a crew of as many men could throw together in less than a summer. The camp might be used for only four years, and then abandoned to the harsh North Country weather. With logs so plentiful it was more expensive to salvage a camp lumber than to start a new camp from scratch. The woodsmen who built each camp chinked the round logs together with mortar made of plaster. The men resorted table into crude slab lumber and tarpaper for the peaks of the “dog house” or bunkhouse, but at camp 2 they built the whole office of lumber instead of logs. The camp office was the working and sleeping quarters for the time keeper (bookkeeper) and the camp boss or foreman.

About a hundred feet long and nearly twenty feet wide the doghouse was large enough to sleep twenty to forty men. The bare floors of both the first and second stories were of wide softwood planks. Lighting for the downstairs room was three or four kerosene lamps that sat on tables in the room. During the day, light came in through a pair of windows on each wall. A big Comet box stove setting in a sand box on the first floor heated the whole building and the stovepipe from it provided the only direct heat to the upstairs sleeping quarters. Firewood for this stove and the one in the kitchen was cut by a special cutting gang in the fall before the camp opened.

For some of the men and young boys who worked in the camps life in the bunkhouse was more comfortable and the food more plentiful than at home. But for the majority, however, the logging camps were a hard necessity imposed by that other necessity of earning enough money to keep themselves and their families clothed and fed.

Beds at camp all rested on the floor, and were simple rectangles of wood holding instead of mattresses some loose straw and a couple of woolen blankets. The men crawled into their beds at nine every night in the same fleece lined long underwear they sweated in during their fourteen hour days. Naturally, the Reynolds camps smelled strongly not only of dirty underclothes but of unwashed bodies and socks worn for a week at a time. The only bath a lumberjack took was one at home Saturday night. In the morning and before supper men rinsed off their faces and hands in occasionally lukewarm but more often cold water kept in pitchers near the dining the doghouse. For drying off, there were eight or ten towels that some of the men used also for handkerchiefs. There were no slop buckets under the beds, but while the men avoided the stink that would have come from more than twenty thunder mugs, they had to go outside on bitter nights to reach the outhouse. Bedbugs were not common in the doghouse, but the conditions there did support lice and fleas. Mice and rats dwelling in the horse barn were usually let alone, but rodents who invaded the cook shack were soon trapped. Overall, the Reynolds camps, although they got cleaner as the years passed, were neither cleaner nor dirtier than other camps in the area.

More important to the men than cleanliness of their dog room was its temperature. The windows could be open if the dog room was hot, but too much heat was not usually the problem. “They kicked like hell when it was cold”. The dog room was heated only indirectly from the pipe of the large cornet box stove resting in its sandbox on the first floor. This sand not only protected the plank floors from sparks but gave tobacco chewers a fine target to spit into.

The men brought few belongings with them when they came for a week’s stay in the camps. The articles that a man hauled along in his grip were not as necessary to him as the clothes he needed to work in the woods, most of which he carried on his back."


  1. Hello Chris, probably closest to the smell of 30 hard working man you can get if you enter a dry room on one of the alpine club huts. boots, socks and stuff is left there to dry overnight at sometimes 30 degrees C.
    great images and article! bye alex

  2. Brother, I could only Imagine!! Yikes!

  3. thought you might enjoy this dictated by my 100 year old grandmother who is now deceased. Moved to Corning, Arkansas in Cash Bottom
    In the late summer [year?] we moved to Corning, Arkansas in Cash Bottom. It was very low land. There were a lot of nice hickory trees. Burhl was the boss, and he kept the saws sharp and they would massacre the logs. There were ten men working for him. I cooked for them all and took care of my children. I worked hard, but I liked it! We didn't have many flies, but we a lots of yellow jackets. One day while the men were eating dinner, a yellow jacket got under my dress. We had a partition in the tent, so I away I went holding my skirt until I got to the other side. I got the little devil (excuse my language). They didn't like me, but I didn't like them either.
    I cooked white soup beans just about every day. I had to get a lot of work done, so I did the beans the day before. I would put my beans in water to soak overnight. I had a large water pitcher, smaller at the top. I put more beans in that I should have. They swelled up so much I had a hard time getting them out; how dumb! I dug them out with a fork, and we had beans anyway. I cooked cornbread every day and biscuits. Mostly, I cooked the biscuits every morning for breakfast. Breakfast was a job, but I always liked to cook.
    Because it was low county, I had a reoccurance of malaria, just like I had when I was a child. It was time to move out anyway, as they had cut down the timber. Additionally, it was October and getting really cool; much too cool to live in a tent.

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