Around The Turn Of The Twentieth Century.
Cut Timber On The Green River At Rockport.
Stat by jrd on 12/1/09.
A "Log Raft" on the Green River At Rockport-Circa 1900.
Photo Furnished by Hilma Stewart.
What a thrill it must have been, in the very early years of 1900, to witness a "Log Raft" being formed, and/or to see one on the Green River, either getting ready to leave, or in passing and heading to Evansville! One can only dream and to think of such an event. In the above picture, it appears that this "Raft Crew" is in the final stages of the raft building process and the journey downriver will soon begin. It is possible that this raft had been assembled upriver and was already on the river trip. I wonder how many kids have ventured onto the raft and been told to get back to the bank as the area was just too dangerous for playing. Probably most of the young boys in Rockport attempted to explore the raft and I would surmise, most of them got their feet wet. I will probably tell you more than I know in the next few paragraphs, and help would be appreciated for any more information on this subject or of other pictures.
Logging, or the harvesting of timber and taking it to market is hard and dangerous work. In modern times, large logging equipment does most of the hard work, but even now, a logging operation is mostly outside, either too hot or too cold, dangerous and in general, labor intensive work. Large chain saws are used to fell the timber and smaller saws and axes are used to trim the fallen tree and cut it into manageable lengths. These large and heavy logs are then moved to a loading area where they are loaded on a truck and then taken to the market. "Skidders" and other funny sounding names of motorized, mechanical equipment are used in the process of "Logging".
When the above picture was taken, there were no large motorized pieces of equipment to be used. To fell a large tree, two men used a "Cross Cut" saw and it was hard work. The saws were seven feet or so long with large cutting teeth and a handle on each side. It was a "Two Man" operation. The cutting side of the saw was placed horizontal to the tree and each man would position himself at the handle end and opposite from each other. It was then like a "Tug-Of-War". One man would pull the saw toward himself while the other man relaxed on his handle end. Then as the saw was pulled to one end the other man would pull it back toward him. Back and forth until the tree was mostly cut. The tree would have previously been "Notched", hopefully to control the direction of the tree fall, but wedges were used in the cut side of the tree to help in controlling that direction, as well as to prevent pinching of the saw. At times, and especially on large trees, a third man was used to keep the wedges driven into the cut side of the tree. If one was experienced and somewhat lucky the tree would fall correctly and the two "Sawers" would live to cut another tree. Then, it was on to another tree and then another.
Once the trees were on the ground, they were cut in to manageable lengths and trimmed of branches. Mules and horses and, in earlier times, ox teams were used to remove the trees from the woods and transport them to a staging area. Sometimes, this staging area was a sawmill where the logs were cut into the needed pieces of lumber. In the case of the "River Rafts", the logs were moved to a staging area on the river bank. When time would come for the formation of the raft or rafts, the trees were pulled or shoved into the river and lashed together to form a large raft.
Imagine, if you will, a mass of large logs lashed together to form a raft and just sitting there waiting to be set free so that the journey down river could begin. This would be a dream for most kids growing up in Rockport. The "Dream" was still hard work and the downriver trip to Evansville, or other "Off-Loading" areas could take a month or so. I wish that I could have taken such a trip in my younger days. To just witness a "Raft Of Logs" leaving on that downriver journey would have been a thrill.
The loggers would start the initial process of cutting the trees in early spring and would continue until a late summer. By early Autumn, the trees would have been cut, formed into logs, placed in the river, and lashed together to form one large raft. This new raft was secured to the bank and extended almost to the other bank. Only enough room would be left for boat traffic to pass. Something else needed to be added before the journey began. This "River Raft Crew" would be living on this log raft for several weeks and would need to rest and eat. Notice in the above "Rockport Picture", about the center and a little to the right, is a small shelter. The black section is the entry to the shelter. This shelter provided a living area for the duration of the trip. The pictured shelter was a little above the norm, as most shelters were just tents or lean-tos. The picture below is a good example of what most "Rafters" experienced.
Now, it is late Autumn and time to go. With a crew of men on board, all of the logs secured to each other, food and other needed supplies stored in the shelter, long "Push Poles", a change or two of clothes and a desire for a safe and profitable trip, the raft is launched. The trip will be tiring, probably wet and cold, but it should be an experience that the crew could relate to their grandchildren. I wish that I could have heard some of the tales about such an adventure. For the next few weeks, this crew will keep the lashings secured to be sure the raft does not break up, and with the help of those "Push Poles" will keep the raft off the bank. The slow river current will ease them on downriver and eventually to their destination. Rest stops at dark will depend on several factors and if need be, they can travel into the night, but a need to eat and relax will overcome the desire to make a fast trip and they will tie off for the night at certain points. It would be my guess that some of the hunters would try to harvest some game for the stew pot and the fisherman will try to catch a few fish. It does sound like an enjoyable trip to me.
Once the destination is reached, the raft is secured near the unloading dock and a buyer(s) will offer the crew foreman a fair price for the logs. The living quarters and any other items that are too bulky to carry back, on the returned trip, are either sold or thrown into the river. Now, it is back home and most of the time, that return trip is by foot. At home, and with a day or two of rest, each crewman will then do their thing until it is time to start another trip. Odd jobs, even trapping, and other endeavors will keep each of the "River Rats" busy until it is time to find another stand of trees to cut and to take them on down the river. A little like Huckleberry Finn, maybe.
Thanks for looking.
; ~ )