The forests around the Exploits River are now relatively quiet in the winter, except for the occasional sound of snowmobiles. Years ago the miles of trails and woods roads would have been echoing with the sounds of different engines, bigger and louder engines, and instead of a handful of snowmobilers out for recreation there would be hundreds of men and horses toiling to haul wood while conditions were suitable.
This was the annual winter haul-off one of the crucial stages in the seasonally dictated transportation of pulpwood and like the log drive loggers had to take advantage of when conditions were good, heavy snow or a thaw could hamper operations or a big melt would mean that wood would have to be left in the woods for another year. Despite the dependence on conditions being good winter actually improved transportation over land in much of Newfoundland. Boggy areas that were impassible for most of the year froze over, as did lakes and many rivers enabling people to travel over them with relative ease.
Horses and oxen were the key modes of log transportation in the very early years. Oxen had been commonly used by lumber operators in Newfoundland for many years and were prized for their strength in hauling the big saw logs. In this early period hauling was commonly done during cutting, with the full length logs skidded out by the horses or oxen. It is not known if the logs were skidded out to the lake or landing or to a centralized landing to be hauled by sled later in the winter. This is evident in a famous picture taken of some of the first AND Co pulpwood loggers in 1908-since immortalized on a mural in Church Road Park. It should also be noted that at this time most of the cutting was done very close to the lakes and rivers so the distance between the cutting site and the water was not far.
As time progressed and cutting patterns changed wood was piled in brows at the cutting site, usually along each individual cutters “road” about one hundred feet apart. When the ground froze over and the first snows hit the land hauling would start. Teams of men would load the wood onto sleds and teamsters would team the horses and sleds to a landing on a lake or river. At these sites men would off load the pulpwood where it would sit until spring. All of this was done manually usually with the aid of a pulp hook. Later on a lot of the wood would be pushed in to the water by bulldozers.
Despite the fact that Newfoundland was seen as a backward place compared to much of North America and loggers lived in very primitive conditions tractors have a surprisingly long history in our forests, having been introduced around the same time as they were in other parts of North America.
Tractors first appeared in the logging operations of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company in 1920, even before the present company known as Caterpillar existed. They were introduced at a few locations between 1920 and 1923. One location was at Kelly’s Pond in Millertown Division, where the machines were presumably used for the five plus kilometer haul to Victoria River. There were two types initially tried the Holt and the Linn. The Holt was just like the later Caterpillar-in fact Holt became Caterpillar after a merger with a rival company, Best, in 1923-a large tractor with two caterpillar tracks, basically a bulldozer without a blade in front.[i] The Linn was a different machine, they were reported to be immensely powerful and sported caterpillar tracks on the back like a half-track and wheels or skis in front. Two such machines were purchased by AND Co in the 1920’s and used in Millertown Division. One of the Linn machines was used extensively when the Buchans mine was being developed in 1927. Holts were used in both Millertown and Badger Division in the early 1920’s. This period was an experimental stage. The first mass introduction of tractors came in the period of 1935-36 when around twenty Caterpillar Model 22 gasoline powered tractors were brought in by the A.N.D Company. This batch of tractors was distributed amongst the logging divisions and each one of them was sold to individual contractors who were expected to pay the company back in instalments. The average cost was about $2500.00 per machine with a yearly payment of about $500.00 per contractor. The Caterpillar became the chosen type and because of their assortment of models of different sizes there was a type of caterpillar to use on roads of many sizes, the model 22 was a not a large machine but it could haul many times as much wood as a horse. But they did not fully displace horses.
Horses were still used for hauling on many of the smaller roads and hundreds were still used in to the early 1960’s. Oxen were also still used to a limited extent, mainly in Bishop’s Falls Division and in these cases by men from Point Leamington who owned them. Dogs were also used at various places, usually to get at hard to get at wood and even men hauled wood using hand slides. From around 1935 when the caterpillar 22’s came in a shuttle system developed that utilized all of the above mentioned forms of transport.
Wood would be hauled from the branch roads with a horse. Then it would be yarded near a main road where the sleds would be assembled into a train. This train would be hauled by a caterpillar tractor. In many cases the train (pulled by a smaller tractor) would be hauled to another assembly area where it would be assembled into a larger train pulled by a larger tractor. The larger tractors were owned in most cases by the company, and then the train would be hauled to the waterside landing where the wood was offloaded or dumped. During the peak of the hauling period in the heyday of pulpwood logging in the late 1940’s as many as 10,000 cords of wood were hauled in each division each week. To put this into rough perspective, this would constitute about 10,000 full size pick-up truck loads. Considering the season was limited and there were usually upwards of 70,000 cords of wood that needed to be hauled in each division the pace had to be kept up.
Tractors had the advantage of both being able to haul a large amount of wood and being able to extend the hauling season just a little bit further, they could haul a little bit into the spring before the ground became too swampy. Tractors also had the advantage of being able to be used for road construction and for portaging supplies for most of the rest of the year. The same tractors could also be used to bulldoze piles of wood into the water during the spring drive, though this was fairly destructive to the river banks, there are landings where this practice is still evident some 50 to 60 years after the fact.
Another method used in tractor hauling was the use of the arch hoister. The arch hoister was used on a limited basis in the late 1940’s. It consisted of a metal tracked arch incorporating a winch. The winch could used to hoisted cords of wood bundled by cables. This method had the advantage of being able to be used year round because of the off road capability of the arch. This method did no catch on because it required too much of an investment in machinery to be beneficial.
Even with tractors in widespread use hauling wood was a seasonal operation. This was until the 1950’s and 60’s when two factors revolutionized the hauling of pulpwood. One was a widespread road building program and the widespread use of trucking and the other was the introduction of the skidder.
Tractors made it easier to build roads and improvements in trucks made it possible to haul wood with them. Trucks were not new in the woods of Newfoundland; they had been used for portaging supplies as far back as the 1920’s. The off road capabilities of the older trucks like the Ford Model A was fairly limited and portaging was confined mostly to main roads like the Hall’s Bay Road and the Twin Lakes Road. During the 1940’s as vehicles improved AND embarked on a road building program in its divisions. The Sandy-Badger Motor Road was pushed all the way to Sandy Lake from the Exploits in the early 1940’s and the Rattling Brook Line was good enough for truck traffic by the middle of that decade. Trucks were still fairly light and they were limited to carrying supplies and men. Very little wood was hauled by truck until around 1948.
The Hayes truck was the granddaddy of the modern logging truck like you would have seen going into the Grand Falls mill a few years ago. It was basically a tractor trailer with enough power and big enough wheels to operate in adverse terrain. They were extensively used by Bowaters in the 1940’s. Unlike the AND Co which had the majority of its timber in the Exploits watershed, Bowaters had timber located all over the island. There were places on the west coast that required extensive hauling to get the wood into the Humber. A.N.D ended up in a similar position around 1948 when they started cutting around Mark’s Lake in Badger Division. Mark’s Lake, located closer to Robert’s Arm than Grand Falls, was not connected to the Exploits. To remedy this problem as road was built between Mark’s Lake and South Twin Lakes and some Hayes Trucks and a Caterpillar DW-10 truck were acquired to haul wood from one to the other. The operation in all appearances appeared to be a success, but river driving was still the cheaper option in most areas.[ii][iii]
Trucks were gradually phased in throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, but rough areas still required wood to be hauled by horses and smaller tractors. The truck was not the machine that drove the horses out of the woods, the skidder was.
In the early 1960’s there were still reportedly hundreds of horses being used in the lumber woods of Newfoundland, that would change in a few short years thanks to a big wheeled monster with a winch that could go just about anywhere-the skidder.
The skidder came to Newfoundland in the early 1960’s. Bowaters brought them in first, followed shortly after by A.N.D Co. a skidder was basically a tractor with four big balloon wheels and a winch on the back for hauling out trees. A logger felled a tree, limbed it and another man chocked it onto the skidders cable winch. A skidder could haul a fair number of whole trees. The trees were then hauled to the road side where they were cut to length and loaded onto pallets. The pallets were loaded onto trucks and dumped into the river or driven directly to the mill. This method was used for a number of years in the 1960’s and 70’s. The skidder replaced the horse because it could go anywhere a horse and sled could go, even places where a man couldn’t walk and they were not limited to operating in winter. One informant told me that the last year he could remember tractors and tractor sleds being used in Millertown was in 1967 only a few years after the introduction of the skidder.[iv]
Another machine worth mentioning was the Bombardier J-5. Basically a muskeg tractor designed for logging the J-5 was introduced in the late 1950’s. They had pretty good all terrain capability and were usually accompanied by a tracked sled with equally good capability. They could be used year round but they were most suited to winter hauling. There use by the paper companies only lasted into the 1960’s when most of them were phased out in favor of skidders. Despite this they were popular with small sawmill operators and a few of the machines can still be found in use today.
Gradually other hauling machines like timber jacks, forwarders and grapple skidders came into the woods, but the old cable skidder still remains part of some operations. All of these machines hauled pulpwood out the roads from which it was loaded onto trucks. Over the years the roads got better and the trucks got bigger. The winter haul off ceased to exist as did the spring log drive.
Abitibi, with help from the provincial government, embarked on a new program of road building in the 1990’s. This coincided with the cessation of all log driving activities. The Sandy Badger road was pushed over fifty kilometers south west of the Grand Falls mill and was completed as far as Noel Paul’s Brook by 1996. This road, as well as some in the Millertown area could at that point be described as a first class gravel highway. Wood cut 60 km up country would be hauled to the road, loaded onto trailers by a grapple loader and could at the mill within an hour. As cutting intensified in the around 2006-09 a load of wood was potentially arriving at the mill every 20-30 minutes day and night. Under this system trucking went on year round except in the most extreme conditions with graders and snowplows maintaining the roads.
The haul off had lost its seasonal nature by the 1970’s and by that point the image of a horse clopping down a snowy woods road was a memory. Scattered at various sites in the hundreds of square kilometers of timber there are reminders of the haul off. Here and there you can find: parts of sled-runners and skis and even parts of tractors-I myself have come across the better part of an old Caterpillar up in the woods. The tractors like many of the horses met similar fates-they were worked to death. It was not uncommon for the “Company” to have to shoot a number of horses at the end of the season; others were sold to the public.
Side Note: The Impact on the landscape.
The scars of wood hauling are evident all around the forests and waters in the Exploits Valley. Some of the landings along the river are still evident, flattened areas where wood was pushed into the river. One of the most interesting things a person will notice when looking at aerial photos of areas that were cut over is that you can tell when an area was cut in the 1935-1967 period. This is because the woods looks like it was gone over with a huge rake. Each individual chance road-the one hundred foot blocks cut by loggers-can be seen. The tractors would have flattened or torn up the ground do much that trees did not grow back on the roads. From the ground you would have no idea but from the air this phenomena is very clear. Older cut overs are not as evident because horses had less impact on the ground and newer cut overs are not as evident because skidders did not follow straight roads and most of the later cut overs were replanted in Silvaculture operations.
[i] And with the addition of a blade they were bulldozers.
[ii] The wood, once dumped in South Twin Lake was still driven to the mill by water.
[iii] The Western Star 1948
[iv] Curran, JP The process of mechanization in the forest industry of Newfoundland : an analysis of technological change and worker resistance to change MA Thesis MUN, 1971