Logging in the Bessemer Area

By Ed Sandene

When iron mining started in 1884 and the City of Bessemer was platted, the area began a rapid growth. Lumber was needed for homes, businesses and in the mines. There were large white pines in the uncut forests which produced a lot of the lumberFour Horse TeamSouth Bessemer Logging Campfor building. One can only imagine what it was like for two lumberjacks with a crosscut saw, cutting down the huge pine. This was done in the winter when the frozen sleigh tracks made for easier hauling. This meant wading through deep snow and putting in long hours in cold weather. Logging camps were set up in the forests for the workers. This is where they lived and worked all winter until the spring breakup.

They were provided all of the necessities of life, such as a cook shanty where they ate and a bunk room where they slept. This was a more social setup than the “shackers” in a previous story had. In the latter case they seemed to want the solitary life that they led.

As a side note, I was fortunate to have visited some of these camps. A friend of my mother, was a cook at the Steiger lumber camp on Maple creek road. We visited there and had Sunday dinner in the same building as the lumberjacks ate in. Another one was the Andrew Jarvi camp in the Porcupine Mountains. More on this later as I venture into thePorcupine mountains. There were other camps in the area as that was the way the larger logging companies operated. In the early days that was the only way the lumberjacks could be at the worksite early in the morning. Very few people had cars so travel to the work site was impossible

The logs were loaded with a piece of equipment called a jammer. In the early days a team of horses was used to provide the power. Later the jammer was mounted on an older truck chassis which was no longer used to haul logs. A motor was installed on the rear of the truck and a boom was attached which provided the height needed to lift and load the logs.

The picture shows a jammer which used a team of horses to hoist the logs. Later the loaders went right on the truck which hauled the logs and other wood products. The first ones were cable hoists which were used on the smaller items such as pulp and mining timber. The next improvement was the Prentice loader which was a hydraulic lift system. This would evolve to a point where it could handle logs.

There were several large sawmills in the area, such as the Underwood mill in Bessemer, the Roddis mill, and the Mosinee mill on South Davis road. In Ironwood there was Ahonen’s and in Wakefield it was Connor’s, These 2 operated into the modern era. Another mill in Bessemer was the Steiger Lumber Company mill which was the last one to close down. Now there are a couple of new ones in the area that cut specialized types of lumber, not the usual building type of lumber such as 2×4’s etc.

I spent one winter hauling logs from the Porcupine Mountains to Ahonen’s in Ironwood. We went North at Tula and drove 18 miles on logging roads to get to the job site. We had to go into the Porkies to a spot North of the Lily Pond. When we got into the area a bulldozer would be waiting to push us up a hill. Then at the loading site we were again pulled backward to the jammer. A block was put in front of a rear wheel and we got loaded. A gas engine jammer was used and the driver would be the top loader. He had to pick a log to be hoisted to a spot on the load where it would fit. Care had to be used so a heavy log wouldn’t tilt the load to one side. After the wrappers were put on, the block was pulled out and off we went. We started out going downhill and we still had the other big one coming. The worst part was the curve at the bottom of the big one. Before we got that far we had a lot of single lane, winding, logging road to maneuver along. Does “Ice Road Truckers” come to mind?

Finally the road leveled off and there was a logging camp here where the woods workers stayed. It was a coffee stop for us, as the cook always had homemade cake which she brought with the coffee. After the coffee stop, it was back in the truck and then came the big hill with the curve at the bottom. Once that was behind us it was another 15 miles of single lane roads with “turn offs”, which were wider spots where the returning empty trucks would pull into to let us pass. One time, an oncoming truck didn’t pull over and I ended up just clipping the side of his road side trailer bunks. Unfortunately this pulled his trailer off, so I stopped to talk to him. He was upset because this same thing had happened to him a few days before. Of course I had to remind him what the turn offs were for.

Connor’s also had a job in the area so their trucks were using the same logging road. Between all the trucks we would meet on the narrow roads, the hills and long hours, it was a nerve wracking job. We made 2 trips each day to the mill in Ironwood. Then there was another duty which I didn’t enjoy. First was taking off the wrappers which could let loose a log from the top of the load. Then the man who helped unload at the mill would help me to knock loose the locks holding the stakes. This was done with the back side of a cant hook and we only had one shot. As soon as they were released the logs would roll off. If they both didn’t release at the same time it created a little problem. He would get his fork lift and keep the logs from rolling off so the 2nd stake could be released.

Most of the wood today is used for paper making but there is some cutting of saw logs, mostly hardwood. Some of these go to the veneer mill in Mellen and others to local wood products manufacturing facilities. A large user of the Quaking Aspen or “Popple” as it is called here is the Bessemer Plywood Corporation. Instead of sawing the logs, they use a lathe type machine that turns the log against a blade. This process cuts sheets of wood which are glued and pressed together to form the sheets of plywood. They then are put in a drying kiln which completes the process. The hardwood is used mainly for lumber in the manufacturing of furniture in other areas.

Writing this story about logging has brought back memories of the pine stumps on the farm. These were on the land we used as pasture, so they were left there, whereas the stumps which were on the cultivated land were blasted to remove them. The stumps which were left were 4 to 5 feet in diameter, like tabletops. They were scattered, that is, there wasn’t a solid forest of the large white pine, at least in that area. We used to play on them as kids, it was just a part of our lives.