Logging in the Newfoundland interior can come with its own challenges. This was found out pretty early on by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. Although the central interior is permeated by lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, there are some timber areas where the distance between the stump and a suitable driving stream was considerable. This could be an issue in the days of horse hauling and driving long timber. The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company showed an early interest in mechanical yarding and hauling methods. Different experiments were tried, including a skidding device powered by a 5 horsepower gas engine, very little evidence remains of these early attempts to mechanize yarding, with the notable exception of the largest method.
Most sources point to 1920[i] as the year in which the Clyde Steam Skidder was purchased and employed for a yarding trail in Millertown Division. Steam skidders powered by donkey engines were common in other areas, particularly on the West Coast of North America where they were necessary for the handling of the incredibly large trees there. In Newfoundland, the Clyde Skidder is the only recorded example.
It was a 25 ton steam powered tracked machine that could propel itself much the same as a Caterpillar Tractor, though the speed which it could move was likely tortoise like. It consisted of a boiler and steam engine mounted on a track with two large steel arches from which yarding cables were suspended. They were built by the Clyde Ironworks of Duluth, Minnesota, so the machine had quite a journey to get to Newfoundland.
The machine was brought in and set up at Kellys Pond, between Victoria and Harpoon. I cannot find a detailed account of how they moved it. Some have suggested that it was barged down from Millertown to a landing closer to the site, probably Harbour Round* and hauled in from there, while others have suggested it was brought in directly from Millertown by land, crossing the river near Harpoon and brought down this way. One source claims that it was barged down the Exploits River, but in that case it would have had to have been barged down either Harpoon Brook or Victoria River to get to the place where it was set up. One very brief account closer to the time describes:
“The A.N.D Co lived and learned. They experimented with skidders, they portaged at tremendous cost huge anchors, winches and cables into the distant forest”[ii]
In any event the huge monstrosity of a machine was set up at Kelly’s Pond. Here it would yard 16 foot logs into a central area from which it would be piled to be hauled out about 5 kilometers to Number 5 steady on Victoria River.[iii] This would have been a long distance for hauling by horse. I am not sure if there was any overlap but Kelly’s Pond was one of the first places that tractors were used for hauling. It is possible that the skidder was used in a combined mechanical yarding and hauling operation at some point.
It isn’t known how long the skidder was used at Kellys Pond, nor is it known if it was moved to other locations. At least two pictures exist of when it was in operation. The skidding of the logs along the ground must have been fairly destructive. I was corresponding with former Price (Newfoundland) forester and Millertown native, Mac Squires about the skidder. He mentioned to me if I could get the 1946 aerial photos of the area you could see a distinctive cartwheel pattern radiating from where the skidder was set up. Having looked at the area in detail trying to place old tractor roads I said, “You don’t need the 1946 photos, the patterns are still there!” Almost 100 years later you can see the yarding trails where the logs were dragged.
Operations in the area went on into the 1920’s. Driving operations on Victoria would have been suspended around 1928 and for almost 30 years wood would not be towed on Red Indian Lake. It wasn’t worth it to move the skidder anywhere else. It filled a limited niche and at the same time tractors had been successfully introduced. During the same time period, the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company shifted over to cutting mostly 5 foot wood, which was much easier to handle and had the advantage that it could be driven on smaller streams. The Clyde Skidder was left in the woods where it was.
For around 70 years.
The trees grew around it, grew to maturity and by the early 1990’s Abitibi-Price was moving back into the area to harvest pulpwood. In a dense stand of pulpwood sat the old skidder, which was noted to be in “remarkably good condition.” At some point during this period company employees moved the skidder out closer to the road. Later it was decided they wanted to salvage this piece of logging history and it was loaded on a flatbed truck and moved out the Exploits Dam.
The skidder sat near the Exploits Dam for a number of years. Contrary to some accounts, Abitibi moved this piece of machinery to the dam with the possibility that it would be taken up to Millertown to be displayed by a local heritage group. Funding was needed for this and it possibly didn’t materialized. I can remember this being an issue that was in the local paper at the time. Some have said that the skidder was accidentally scrapped along with other things removed from the woods. Sadly, an enormous and interesting piece of logging history ended up cut up and sold for scrap in the late 1990’s.
As far as I know, this was the only machine of this type used in Newfoundland. Some evidence suggests that the forests may hold other large logging relics from different trials and experiments long lost to living memory, maybe to be found by a logger, hunter, trouter, adventurer or archaeologist.
*Somebody will probably dispute this as Harbour Round has some steep hills around it, but there was a portage road that went in from here to Victoria River.
[i] Barker, Andrew Logging History, Center for Newfoundland Studies
[ii] Western Star
[iii] Barker, Logging History