The Wood Needed to Make Iron (and how it got there)

By Ed Sandene

A side effect for the economy in the iron mining regions was the need for all of the different types of wood products used underground. This created many jobs for loggers, their employees and small sawmill operators. During the early 1950’s I worked for a logger who specialized in serving the needs of the local mines. The truck that I drove was a Ford F7 with a 20 foot trailer and a cable hoist. This was a rather large piece of equipment in those days, but of course is dwarfed by today’s equipment. He also had a smaller “Bob Tail” truck which was a truck with no trailer, just a platform on the truck bed. This was used for smaller loads and also to haul equipment.

I hauled to the Palms, Geneva, Newport, Ramsey, and the Montreal mines. Wood products that were to be treated went to the Osmose plant in Bessemer. Wood for cribbing 1 went to a couple of small saw mill operators. Once the cribbing was sawed and squared off they were run through a saw contraption that made multiple cuts in one pass. They came out at the other end with notches cut into both ends. These were called 5 foot 4s because that was their length. Imagine a load 8 feet high and only a little over 5 feet wide, sitting on a 20 foot trailer. These were cut from Maple and in the winter when they were frozen they were also slippery.

On one occasion I was crossing the railroad tracks on Highway 51 in Hurley with a load of cribbing. Looking in the mirror my swamper saw a trailer wheel rolling loose alongside of the truck. Fortunately we were going slow so it was easy to stop. All of the studs holding the dual wheels had broken off and fortunately the other wheel stayed in place. So here we were in the middle of the right lane with the trailer axle sitting loose on a wheel. That was as close as I wanted to come to losing a load of cribbing. Then who comes along but a State Patrol officer, who insisted that I move the truck. I almost took him up on that but thought better of it. We did get the wheel lugs replaced and went on with our delivery.Osmose plant

The cribbing was used for a vertical ladder box or a dirt chute. These were called ladder raises and dirt raises. This picture shows a ladder raise, in many cases, the dirt raise was constructed right alongside of the ladder raise. These would lead from one mining sublevel to another and eventually to the main level.

Lagging was cedar that was cut to 6 foot lengths and split lengthwise into smaller pieces. This was used when the miners were drifting, which was the method used to go into the ore body. First the miners would drill into the face, charge the holes and blast the ore to create an opening. Then they would scrape the ore out and set up the 8 foot long timber posts and then an 8 foot cap was put on top of these. Then hardwood poles were laid on top of the timbers and the lagging was used to fill the space above the poles. This was put in tight enough so there was no room for a chunk to drop any distance and come through the lagging and poles.The lagging was loaded by hand with one person on the ground throwing it up and the other one piling it straight on the truck. This made a load 6 feet wide and 8 feet high so again it had to be loaded carefully. The loads were 7 cords and we usually finished a load in 45 minutes. By that time we had worked up a good sweat even in cold winter weather. One contract was at the Geneva mine and the weather was from 0 to 10 degrees or so and some days there was a wind. It was more than just a little uncomfortable on that hill with the wind and sweaty clothes, so we made record time unloading it.

I don’t recall exactly how many cords we brought there, I think it was 200 cords or so. The lagging piles were about 12 feet high and 100 feet long or maybe more.

The largest mining timbers we hauled were to the Palms mine.

The picture on the right shows the main haulage drift at the Palms mine. They must have had some bad ground there to need maple that was 18 to 24 inches in diameter.The other mines used smaller size timber, mostly maple, but we did haul some hemlock timber to Ogleby Norton in Montreal. Hauling mining timber was the best duty because the cable hoist was used to load them and they could just be rolled off. The loads were stable also and never shifted or moved because they weren’t that high and the bark had a grip.

I got to know many of the surface mine workers that worked in the timber yards. They framed the mining timbers to fit together as “sets” which are pictured above. These were ready made so the miners could put them together without doing the cutting and fitting. They also sent the other wood products down as needed.

Later while working in the mine, I got to handle these wood products while on the timber gang. This was often the first job given to new mine employees. No real skills were needed and it gave the new employees a chance to work in the mining areas with the miners. It also gave the shift bosses a chance to evaluate the new employee. Looking back at the woods work, then the mine, it is rewarding to be able to talk about being part of all of this.