by Edna Powell
I would like to take you down memory lane and tell you what logging camps were like back in the years between 1900 and 1910, when the big lumber companies were logging off the big white pines here in Northern Minnesota, and the zing of the cross cut saws and the chuck, chuck of the axes could be heard a long ways on the clear, cold winter mornings when 30 below zero was the accepted thing and lumberjacks put in a 10 hour day for $30 or $35 and room and board - that was for 30 days, not an hour as it is today.
The lumberjack was a hardy specimen, rugged and rough but as a general thing he was honest and good hearted, but his own worst enemy.
He would work all winter, patch his clothes until they looked like Josephs coat, and "boil" up his underwear in a 50 pound lard can to get rid of the things that bit and itched. But when camp broke up, usually in March, he would head for town, get a hair cut and shave, a clean outfit of clothes, and a new pair of lumberjack boots, all dressed up he would walk down the streets, his new boots going squeak, squeak with every step until he reached his favorite saloon. There he would join his buddies in a spree- a few days of this and he'd be broke. Usually the saloon keeper would stake him to a few bucks until he could find a cedar cutting job, which was what they did in the summer. No one ever heard of lumberjacks stealing and robbing as is being done today.
Lets take a trip to the camp where the lumberjacks lived while they worked - will call on the cook first. The cook shack was usually a long building, one part kitchen, one part dining room. If you rapped on the door you would hear "Come in" in a loud voice and as you opened the door the odor of food would almost knock you over. It was good odors, those camp cooks really knew how to cook and bake. Lets look at the stove first. An immense thing of iron. Eight big heavy lids on top and an oven that held 16 big loaves of bread at a time. Above the stove was the "chicken roast" made of lathes and attached to the ceiling. This was to put the bread on while it raised. Attached to the stove on the fire box was a 50 gallon wooden barrel with some contraption hooked in the fire box with coils for heating the water, and it really boiled. The bull cook had the job of keeping the barrel full, which he did with two big buckets that he hung on a shoulder yoke, and he often had to carry it quite far, often from a river, but the river water in those days was clear and clean.
The kitchen also had a sink. A large affair made of boards with a drain board on one end and a flat surface on the other end. The sink drained through the wall through a square tube made of boards. No cesspool, so the dishwater and what have you could take care of itself.
The larger camps had a table for as many as two hundred men, but while they were at the table it was real quiet as a sign on the wall said "No talking while eating."
The food was good and heavy, something that stuck to their ribs. Breakfast was sour dough pancakes, oven fried potatoes and some kind of meat - salt pork or bacon, sometimes steak. There were big bowls of sauce, usually prunes, doughnuts and bread. Coffee was really a coffee substitute, mostly chicory and black and strong.
Now we'll visit the bunk house where the lumberjack lived. The beds were wooden bunks, shot gun style, with their feet to the wall and their heads towards the "living room". For bedding it was straw with a blanket spread over it, some more blankets to cover up with, and if they wanted a pillow they just wadded up an old coat or something. Those blankets were never washed. In the spring they were folded up and piled up, ready for next winter. I heard some of them say they were so lousy they almost had to tie them to the bunks.
These bunks were all in a row, just a board about 10 inches high to separate the bunks. At the foot of the lower bunk was the "deacon seat", a long bench for them to sit on. Their lights were kerosene lamps hung from the ceiling and on the walls in wall brackets. The sky light that was almost always open, and you can understand why when you think of those men coming in wet, hanging up their socks, (pinned together with pins they made from wire) on the long wire strung across the full width of the room. The odor of dirty sweaty bodies was helped along a little by the gas formed from the beans they ate twice a day. There was no place where they could take a bath, but there was a big tin wash basin, usually a pretty grimy looking utensil that they could wash in. They used the same soap as they used in the kitchen for the dishes. The towel was a large towel on a roller attached to the wall. They all used it and it was replaced when it got "soiled".
The comb was a company affair too. A comb with bone teeth and a heavy tin top strip to which a chain was fastened so no one could take it away. It was usually so gummy between the teeth that it must have been hard to comb with, but the lumberjack made out.
No gambling was allowed in the camps as that would have caused trouble. Booze found its way in when some new lumberjack would come in and bring a bottle, so there were occasional fights.
There was also a large log barn where the horses were kept. All work was done with horses those days. Logs were skidded, loaded and hauled to the river to be driven down in the spring. The log drive was an interesting event in the spring when the snow had melted and filled the rivers with water which was held back by dams and let go as needed to float the logs down stream to mills.
Another building on the camp ground was the office where the time keeper worked. There were shelves where clothes were stored and could be sold to the lumberjack when the ones he had on fell off. Also such life saving necessary items as smoking tobacco, cut plug and the good old standby - Copenhagen. Lumberjacks just couldn't work without it.
The little brown shack out by the barn I never looked into, but I could guess what it was for.
I guess that ends our walk down memory lane.