Did You Know explores the history of Sequim, the Dungeness Valley and Clallam County. It is written by Thomas E. Montgomery of John L. Scott-Sequim Real Estate in collaboration with Melissa A. Coughlin.
Did you know about the early timber industry on the Olympic Peninsula?
When the first settlers came to the Olympic Peninsula, they found the land crowded with cedar, Douglas-fir and other coniferous species. Most of the land was forested and bare spots occurred only at the spits and along the beaches, where the Native Americans camped.
Logging first occurred to replenish damaged ship parts and repair masts, then to supply building materials for new settlers' log homes.
Settlement of the Olympic Peninsula coincided with the gold rush of northern California. Timber was needed to build boom towns for California miners and to shore up mining excavations.
Because there were very few good harbors near northern California woods, resourceful shipmasters found worthwhile business in traveling to the Olympic Peninsula for timber. Hewn logs that could be bought for 8 cents a foot at Dungeness could be sold in San Francisco for $1 a foot.
The single- or double-bitted ax was the first method used to cut timber. Later, cross-cut saws were used. Men harvesting trees would cut into the tree 5 to 12 feet off the ground, insert a board to stand on and then fell the upper part of the tree.
Because trees were so plentiful, loggers would take just the best parts of the trees and leave the rest. If you hike Department of Natural Resources property today, you can see these cutout portions on remaining stumps - where the boards were placed to hold the men cutting the tree.
Cedar prices have made it profitable to locate these stumps, cut them close to the ground and haul them away by helicopter.
Greased with tallow
After the trees were cut, oxen hauled them over skid roads to the Dungeness River to float in the harbor. Later these would be loaded on ships.
Skid roads were 6- or 8-foot logs that were positioned 4 feet from each other. The skids were greased with melted tallow, and the logs were driven down these roads by a team of oxen.
A team of oxen, which consisted of up to five "yokes" (pairs of working oxen), could handle 5,000 feet of logs at a trip. The first yoke of a team ideally consisted of two very intelligent oxen, which obeyed the voice commands of the man driving them. Oxen in the middle yoke(s) only had to respond to commands to pull.
Oxen actually would be shod for this type of work, an unusual practice that required placing an ox in a sling and lifting it above the ground. The shoes - one for each side of each hoof - were attached as the ox hung above ground.
Later, horses were used and, still later steam donkeys (also called donkey engines, which created the steam that powered winches), aided in taking timber from the forests to the water.
Reach Tom Montgomery at 460-3796 or thomasm@
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