Itasca hosts old-time logging demonstration
Itasca State Park and the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers (LIRPF) have an educational partnership.
Each year, the volunteers come to the park and either demonstrate old-time logging or they host an ice harvest demonstration, which they did last year.
On Saturday, the old-time logging demonstration was held outside of the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center. The logs that they took out were not cut down for the demonstration, but rather the result of the windstorm that hit the park on July 21, 2016 which caused severe damage to many trees throughout the park.
"We have the opportunity to see traditional methods that early homesteaders had used when coming to this area," Itasca's Lead Interpretive Naturalist Connie Cox said about the event.
According to Cox, logging crews back in the 1800s to 1900s consisted of teamsters, which were the men who drove the horses, a foreman and a camp cook. Men in these positions were among the higher paid crew members.
Cox told the crowd that gathered at the park on Saturday that camps paid a lot of money to have a good cook because members of the crew would seek other employment opportunities at camps for the potential of better meals.
Other members of the crew were sawyers and fellers who cut and hauled the timber and there were men lower on the totem pole in camp who had more unpleasant jobs, such as cleaning up after the horses. Some men on the crew may have been injured in a logging accident and it was then their task to stay in the barracks to keep the fire going.
Logging crews oftentimes had several teams of two men that would be required to cut at least 100 trees per day with just a two-man saw.
"That's an incredible rate of cutting timber," Cox said. "Ask our guys today after about an hour of cutting how tiring it is."
Cox compared the two-man saw to a wet noodle because it is so thin. The technique requires the men not push, but only to pull back and forth across the log.
During the demonstration, two-man teams used two-man saws to cut the fallen timber.
Dick Schauer from Park Rapids was on hand serving as the crew's teamster, with his horses Paula, Patty, Terminator and Skeeter.
The working horses are very well trained to respond to Schauer's commands.
The cut logs, some weighing as much as 1,200 pounds, were then pulled through the thick brush and snow up to the skidway by Schauer's horses, Paula and Patty.
Volunteers then used cant hooks to push the logs up the skidway where they were cross loaded by Schauer's other two horse team of Terminator and Skeeter onto the log sleigh, for a load of 10 logs.
According to Les Hemmerich, a member of the LIRPF, members of the crew were tasked with cutting grooves for the metal sled runners into the roads which they would then water.
"They never stopped the load of logs once they got going because they (the sled runners) actually get warm enough to melt the ice and if they stopped it would freeze," he said.
Two of the volunteers at Saturday's demonstration, Lenny and Earl Hemmerich's father, Roy, operated the sawmill which is still located at the north end of the park. The sawmill is now over 100 years old. In the early years of park management, Roy Hemmerich was contracted to take fallen timber to the sawmill.
"Back in the 1800s it was rather labor intensive to move logs. Oftentimes, the logs would be taken to local mills, sometimes in this area. The Red River Lumber Company would drive logs down the Mississippi River and they were taken to mills further away," Cox said. "Eventually they did put in railroad systems and that would go up to the Thief River Falls and Grand Forks area to larger mills where they could operate sawing thousands of board feet throughout the year. But oftentimes like with the Hemmerich Sawmill, it was just smaller family operations that would provide lumber within the community as well."
Les Hemmerich said the crews would typically cut and haul the logs during the winter to skid them out onto an icy river and then during the spring thaw that is how they transported them to the mill, and during the summer months the timber would be cut into lumber.
The logs used during the demonstration were taken to the Pioneer Farmers' showgrounds and will be run through the Hemmerich Sawmill to make lumber. Some of that lumber will be used throughout the park and some of the lumber will be used as siding on buildings being constructed at the showgrounds.
While onlookers were bundled up in their winter gear, the crew of volunteers had shed their coats and hats to keep from overheating due to their exertions cutting and loading the timber, proving the work was not easy.
"A lot of the guys would get up early and work late," Les said. "It was quite an industry, a big industry."