Logging Days in Sawyer County

from the book, "White Pines & White Tails" 
by Leighton D. Morris, Co. Superintendent of Schools, 1957


 The logging industry continued to expand in the Chippewa Valley although no villages or sawmills were established.  Logs were cut and skidded to the river banks to await the opening of the rivers in the spring.  As soon as the ice cleared from the streams, and while the water was still height, the logs were rolled into the water and floated downstream to the mills at Chippewa Falls.

 Rivermen, who were called "River Pigs", rode the log rafts downstream and guided their journey to the sawmills.  If log jams developed at rapids or shallow water, they broke up the jams with pike poles and peavies.

 Bateaus were used in all log drives.  These were river boats which were sometimes called river dug-outs.  A special pine log was selected and skilled men constructed the dug-out canoe by chopping and shaving the log into shape with axes and knives.  The ends were shaped alike.  The interior was long and narrow, large enough to seat sixteen men.  To be efficient in swift current and rapids, the bateau had to be correctly proportioned.  The best proportions were thirty feet in length and thirty inches in width.  The capacity load of the bateau was about twelve hundred pounds of cargo and two crowmen, the sternman and the bowman.

 The bateaus were used to transport the men to the log rafts and return them to the wanigan in the evening.  They were also used during the drive to transport workers from shore to the logs and from the log rafts back to shore.  The bateaus always followed close behind the logs that were being floated to the sawmills.  The bateaus were also used to transport supplies from supply centers to the camps.

 The wanigan was a flat boat or raft on which was constructed a small shelter or "shanty".  This structure housed the cooking equipment, stoves, commissary, and dining tables.  The rivermen ate two meals on the wanigan, breakfast and supper.  The noon lunch was carried in an oil cloth sack by each worker.  The oil cloth kept the food from becoming wet in case of rain or an accident.

 Life in the logging camp was quite montonous.  The woodsmens' work day began at sunrise and ended at sunset.  He worked in all kinds of weather.  Storms and cold were not deterrent to the logging operations.  He protected himself from the bitter winter cold by wearing heavy woolen shirts, mackinaws, and socks.  Instead of wearing leather shoes, he wore rubber "stags".  On his hands, he wore leather "choppers" with heavy woolen liners.  They protected their faces by allowing their beards to grow.

 Many of the woodsmen remained in the camp throughout the winter unless they were married and had families.  It was necessary to remain in camp because there were no roads and no nearby villages in those days.  Occasionally a peddler would visit the camp for the purpose of selling clothing, footwear, tobacco, and medicines.  Sometimes a tailor would visit the camps and take orders and measurements for suits for the men.  When camp broke in the spring, the men would call for their suits at the tailor's place of business.

 The itinerant visitors were the only source of news for the lonely woodsmen.  Usually they spent part of the evenings talking with the workers about happenings in the outside world.  Entertainers sometimes visited those isolated settlements and entertained the woodsmen with musical acts, usually violin and vocal.  Other entertainers were storytellers, comedians, and dancers.

 A few of the logging operators realized that something had to be done to relieve the woodsmen of loneliness.  Some of them induced ministers to visit the camps and conduct religious services.  At other times the officers, superintendents, and their wives and families would visit the camps and eat a meal with the lumberjacks. When the "bosses" wives visited camps, the lumberjack especially prepared himself for the occasion by wearing his best clothes.  This "dressing-up" process meant that he would bathe, wear clean clothes, and shave his beard if it were late in the season and further severe weather would not be predicted.

 The meals served in the logging camps were very adequate.  A good assortment of food was served at each meal.  As better varieties of food became available in later years, the menu at the camps likewise improved.  Quality of food and living accommodations became a factor of competition among the camp operators in recruiting labor in the later period of the logging industry.

 A typical menu at a logging camp in the 1920's was as follows:

  Fruit (usually stewed prunes or apricots)
  Cereal (usually oatmeal)
Pancakes with butter and syrup (the syrup was dark Karo or sugar syrup of maple flavor)
Fried potatoes
Baked beans
Meat -- bacon, ham or fried side pork
Dessert -- doughnuts or cookies

Meat - roast beef, roast pork, or baked ham
Vegetable (usually corn, peas or carrots)
Baked beans
Stewed prunes
Bread and butter
Dessert - assorted pies or pudding
Coffee or tea

Meat (usually cold cuts - baked ham [or boiled] or sausage)
Fried potatoes
Baked beans
Stewed prunes or apricots
Bread and butter
Dessert - cake, doughnuts or cookies

 The cook shanty was always a most interesting place to visit.  Cleanliness was carefully guarded by the cooks.  The chief cook always had assistants to help with the ordinary tasks in the cook shanty.  They were called "Cookees".  The "Bull Cook" was the man who constantly tended the stoves and water supply.  He maintained a good-sized wood pile and kept the water containers full.  Every cook shanty always had hot water on hand.  A large barrel was placed alongside the huge cook stove.  Pipes led to the fire-pot of the stove and were connected to a water front which was located alongside the fire box.  This equipment made it possible to maintain a plentiful supply of hot water at all times.

 Watching the cooks prepare a meal was most interesting.  The average camp had to prepare huge quantities of food for each meal.  Perhaps a bushel of potatoes were cooked at one time in a huge shiny steel kettle.  Vegetables were cooked in the same manner.  At least fifty pounds of meat were cooked at one time in long covered roasting pans.  Pies were baked in the huge ovens, a dozen or two at one time.  Doughnuts and cookies were baked by the hundreds.

 The dining room was also a very interesting place.  Several long tables were usually arranged lengthwise in the room.  A row of benches on each side of the table furnished seats for the crew.  Tin plates were placed neatly upside down on the table with a tin cup inverted on the plate.  The side-dishes were small tin bowls.  While the meal was being eaten, no one talked except to ask for a kind of food he could not reach.  The only sound one could hear in the dining room was the clatter of knives and forks against tin plates.  While the meal was being served, cookees patrolled the diner and refilled serving dishes as soon as they were emptied.  Refills were frequent because these hardy and hungry outdoors men had tremendous appetites.


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