Once upon a time, most young men who grew up in this area worked at least once for a sawmill, logger, farmer, rancher or in the mines. I did some time at the Potlatch Rutledge mill which is now the CdA Resort Gold Course (see previous entry for photos). I went to school with a number of guys who were 2nd and 3rd generation loggers. Fellow CHS Class of 73 twins, Bart and Mark Turnbull, were both killed logging. Anyone who's ever cut firewood in the forest can identify with the work, and peril, that goes into falling and removing timber.
Logging has been big business in North Idaho since the late 1800's. While modern equipment has improved safety and efficiency, olden times saw very dangerous and difficult work. Timber was often felled in the winter and logs run down flumes to a river where they would be floated toward sawmills. High waters of spring were when most of these log drives were run. But with a wild river ran and receding waters, lots of logs were hung up along the river.
To free these logs, river rats worked from the head of the drive, down river. Using boats to move workers, these hearty men stood in ice cold waters and worked peevees and pike poles (see photo) to roll logs back into the flow. Often jams were so tight they had to blast them with dynamite.
The men lived on Wanigans, 2-3 connected barges that had a kitchen/mess hall, sleeping quarters and equipment. The Wanigan was moved down river along with the drive, drives lasting anywhere from a week or two to a month or more.
Dad was contracted by Potlatch to make a 16mm film called From Forest to Home which started with felling and ended with lumber ready for construction. This was 1966 and Dad filmed what would be the last log drive in America, on the Clearwater River. By that time, flumes were out and trucks were used. The above photo is from that excursion and shows men trying break free a jam.
I was maybe 11 and got to go with Dad on this trip and I will always cherish the memories of this long gone operation. We got to tour and have lunch on the Wanigan (good cooks were highly valued and the fresh banana cream pie was the best I ever had).
Also filming during this drive was Walt Disney Studios for the movie Charlie the Lonesome Cougar that was released in 1967. It was the tale of a cougar raised by loggers and the misadventures of this combination. The filming was complete and while I didn't see any Hollywood activity, I did get to visit Charlie who was in a big cage on the back of the Wanigan. The movie was narrated by cowboy singer Rex Allen who did a number of similar films for Disney. Rex was a friend of my dad's and I remember him as a very warm and funny man. He'd always stop by when he was in the area and he always clowned around to my delight.
Anyways, I've been reading local history books and about the lives of loggers, and of the many lives lost. Looking back I am blessed to have had a father with whom I got to experience so many wonderful things. I ran across this photo recently and felt compelled to write this blog. If you find this interesting I urge you to read the books Hardships & Happy Times, Caulked Boots, Swiftwater People and North Fork of the CdA River by Bert Russell (buy at the Museum of North Idaho) and/or White Pine: King of Many Waters by Clarence Strong and Clyde Webb.