ANNUAL LOG DRIVE ON THE RIVER.
How Over 36,000,000 Feet of Lumber
Are Floated Down the Connecticut
From the Headwaters--Mr. Van
The one great event of interest to the dwellers along the banks of the Connecticut
between Holyoke and Turners Falls at the present time and to hundreds of automobilists
and excursionists is the annual log drive of the Connecticut Valley Lumber company,
which this year amounts to 36,000,000 feet and which is now nearing the end
of its tedious journey at the mills at Mount Tom, having passed the dam at Turners
Falls-- the last chief hindrance in the far journey from the waters of the upper
Connecticut. The main part of the drive is now reaching its destination and
the mills at Mount Tom which have been closed, waiting for a new supply, have
started up again.
The Connecticut river presented a fine spectacle as it carried along off its
broad bosom, swollen with the recent rain, the millions of logs, which have
lain stranded up the river. Under the Hadley bridge the logs were rushing fast,
directed in their course by boatmen, who were keeping them from jamming against
the bridge piers. These comparatively few river drivers are being augmented
in number by a small army of rivermen who will stay at Mount Tom just long enough
to safely deliver their logs and then return to the woods of the North to begin
again the work of cutting the lumber in preparation for another drive in the
As the spectator looks at these logs, now finishing their long sail, his mind
reverts naturally to the many changes which the wood has undergone since it
left the primeval forest. Doubtless the process of logging in the woods and
the drive in the river is familiar to most of our readers. First come the skirmishers
of the army of invasion that is to conguer the pinery, who put up the shanties
and open a tote road. Then the main log road with its branches is built. Next
the skidways are made, on which the logs are to be stacked. Then the tree is
attacked and the trunk measured off and sawn into logs 12, 14, or 16 feet in
length. Then come the swamping and the skidding and the piling of the logs to
await the spring. Now comes the drive, with life on the crib for the riverman
it may be, and the handling of the logs as they float down the river and the
use of the slide and the averting of the jam with its many dangers.
Though the process of converting a forest into lumber and its transportation
by water, thus saving every house-builder a sizable amount of money, is interesting,
no drive in the east is more interesting than the one on the Connecticut, for
with it has been associated the name of George Van Dyke, the lumber king of
New England, know to every Springfield lumber merchant and builder.
Ever since the early spring Mr. Van Dyke had been superintending the big drive
of logs from the source of the Connecticut river until his tragic death in the
automobile accident at Turners Falls, Sunday, Aug. 8, while superintending the
forcing of the logs over the dam at that place. For 50 years Mr. Van Dyke had
been breaking log jams on this river and here he amassed a fortune aggregating
millions, doing work which he said was his only fun in the world. He spent his
life wrestling with difficulties on the Connecticut river and seemingly doing
impossible things. He was a man utterly devoid of fear.
Only last year in the course of one day down in his section, where the Connecticut
river runs between tamed banks, Mr. Van Dyke was seen to drive an automobile
over logs and sent his horse and buggy down at almost perpendicular bank, over
well grown willow bushes. But these were nothing at all to a man who for 50
years had been breaking up log jams right in the midst of the danger. In places
worse than he would sent the hardy woodsmen that follow the log down the Connecticut,
the use of which river had been the source of Mr. Van Dyke's great fortune.
Mr. Van Dyke was absolutely without fear. He knew better than most human beings
how to take care of himself by thinking and acting quickly in times of danger.
The present Connecticut Valley Lumber company so closely connected with the
trade here and of which Mr. Van Dyke was president, was the successor of three
older large companies and its origin dates at the year 1876. Some New York men
owned much the largest tract of timber lands around the sources of this river
and being ready to begin bringing their lumber to market in 1876 they bought
and improved an old saw mill at Dutch Point, Hartford, and cut and drove a lot
of timber to that place. But the distance from the woods to Hartford and the
dams at Holyoke and Windsor Locks, besides the trouble made by logs with so
many inhabitants in Holyoke, Springfield and Hartford, as the logs floated without
protection for many weeks past these places, soon convinced these men that Holyoke,
was the lowest place on the river to which logs could be profitably driven.
In 1879 this company bought the Mount Tom mill and all the business interest,
connected with it from the McIndoes Lumber company. They also leased the Holyoke
mill from the Holyoke Lumber company. In 1879 this company bought the Mount
Tom mill and all the business interests connected with it. They also leased
the Holyoke mill from the Holyoke Lumber company. In 1884, they united all their
timber lands and mill interests with those owned by George Van Dyke, who had
built and carried on the mil at McIndoes Falls after the old mill owned by the
McIndoes Lumber company was burned in December, 1875.
Now the getting out of sixty million feet of timber, which required about 600,000
trees to be cut and hauled to the river, was an undertaking such as few can
comprehend yet Mr. Van Dyke was always equal to the task. He always maintained
that the first necessity for logging was a road good enough for sleds to run
on and he was very particular that his roads did not get thawed. He personally
superintended the building of shelters for his choppers and teams and made neat
log houses, each built with low sides and steep roof, with a platform along
each side on which his men slept in blankets. At first he heated his camphouse
by leaving an open space along the ridge-pole for smoke to escape, keeping a
fire on the ground nearly the whole length of the building in the middle, then
having a door at the end and drawing in logs the full length for fuel. The sleepers
would lie on the platforms each side with their feet towards this fire. An additional
room was made for the cook.
From 25 to 40 men lived in each of these camp, all through the woods wherever
he was cutting timber and here would be gathered the choppers, teamsters and
sometimes a scaler or the man who measured the timber. Although it was impossible
to make very long days in the northern woods, everybody worked as early and
as late as they could see and none harder than Mr. Van Dyke.
In those early days the logs were piled upon sleds and hauled to the river
or lake only by horses and if there was room they were put on the ice so that
a thaw would leave them afloat ready to be started on the drive. The longest
roads on which spruce timber was hauled on to the Connecticut river was not
much more than five miles. Now that timber within that distance from the river
has become more scarce the railroad and cars are used wherever the land is reasonably
flat. Mr. Van Dyke's camps possessed this advantage in that unlike the camps
in Maine they were near enough to the settlements, so that teams could go every
day from the camps to places where provisions could be obtained.
In the early days, as now, the cutting of timber was kept up as long as snow
held on the roads, which was quite late in those northern latitudes. When the
river opened and there was a good height of water the logs were taken in hand
by the drivers. With about 20 batteaux to take the men anywhere that the logs
lodged and plenty of hands to start the masses, beginning with those down stream
to make way for those behind the men would hurry along the drive.
A gang of cooks would go along shore and get meals ready wherever the drivers
were at the hungry hour and the men needed good food and plenty of it, for they
lead a strenuous life. They worked often in the water from daylight to dark,
seven days a week, from 125 to 150 days until they brought the last logs to
the mills. They ate four times a day and at night would lie down in their clothes
under shelter tents with fires to dry their feet and clothing. Their labor has
not been as severe as it was along in the early 70's. however, for the reason
that Mr. Van Dyke and his family spent a handsome fortune within the years from
1885 to 1890 in clearing the river from obstructions so that the current would
not pile timber into such jams in so many, dangerous places as formerly.
There was another danger which was obviated. The low meadows all along the
river over which a sudden freshet would drift logs and then as suddenly falling
would leave them often half a mile from the channel were formerly the most dreaded
of any places. Just above these meadows there always are narrow places where
booms can be hung across the river to hold drives. Mr. Van Dyke, at great expense,
built booms at six such points and if the river rose so fast as to lift the
logs over the banks men were stationed at these booms to close them and hold
the logs until the water fell.
In former years the breaking of jams on starting of piles of logs was risky
and often fatal work. Men went in batteaux below the jam, found some logs which
might be cut to let the mass start and chopped enough to free the movement of
the whole. As the body generally started gradually, the shoppers had warning
and time to jump into the batteaux and be rowed ashore or down stream in safety.
But sometimes the jam moved suddenly and every year one or more men would fail
to get off the logs and would be drowned. But Mr. Van Dyke introduced a new
and safer method by which the men would find the log which barred the passage
of the others then bore a hole in it with a long auger, put a charge of dynamite
in and with a long fuse from the shore, blow up the logs which held the mass.
Often it would be necessary to throw the dynamite loosely into the water, let
it be sucked under the pile, and exploded so as to lift the whole jam over the
shoals or other obstructions. [Springfield Homestead.