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Early Logging and Hauling of Timber
Hauling of Timber
During the Territorial and Early Statehood Periods, industry rather than agriculture provided the economic base for Santa Rosa County. The bedrock for this industry was the Longleaf yellow pine trees which grew over a hundred feet tall. To make his own fortune from timber, Joseph Forsyth purchased a tract of land on Pond Creek in the late 1820s.
Forsyth formed a partnership with Andrew and Ezekiel Simpson and built Arcadia Mill. Log flumes were built as far as 18 miles from the holding pond in order to get the felled timber to the mill.
(Above) Virgin stands of Longleaf yellow pine once dominated North-west Florida's forest. This picture is dated 1878.
(Above) Log flumes were trough-like water channels dug into the terrain to float felled timber to the mill.
The partners also built a mule-powered railroad that ran three miles from Arcadia to the Blackwater River. From here, the company was able to ship their lumber and goods to a growing market.
Forsyth and the Simpson brothers would go on to build new sawmill facilities at the confluence of Pond Creek and the Blackwater River. Capable of a much higher production rate, the new mill at Bagdad provided the opportunity for more jobs in logging and the hauling of timber.
Timbering was a dangerous job where crews worked to remove trees from the forest and transport them to the mill. Sawyers usually worked in pairs to cut down trees with axes and crosscut saws while Buckers removed the limbs and sectioned the logs.
(Above) This pair of Sawyers displays their ax and crosscut saw used in felling Longleaf pine.
A more prestigious position was Log Scaler, who measured (scaled) and graded newly cut trees for volume and quality of the wood. The Log Scaler also stamped the logs to identify ownership, either the producer or the mill.
(Above) Each team of Sawyers typically cut between eighty and one hundred trees in a day.
Crews that dragged the logs through the forest were referred to as Skidders. The felled logs were chained at one end to the underside of high-wheelers and pulled through the forest by oxen and mule teams to staging areas for transport. This process was called "skidding" as the other end of the log dragged, or skidded, along the ground as it was pulled.
(Above) Pictured is a team of 4 mules harnessed to a high-wheeler dragging or "skidding" a log.
(Left) Benjamin Magaha's team of 8 oxen was able to pull heavy loads long distances to staging areas or even to the mill.
Despite dangerous conditions, low wages, and long hours, many men made a career cutting timber. Draft animals used for farming were available and put to work in the forest. Teams of oxen were used for longer trips and heavier loads while mules were efficient in varying terrains. The conditions were hard on both animal and man, sometimes resulting in serious injury or loss of life.
(Below) Referred to as Skidders, these men are armed with whips to drive a team of 6 oxen harnessed to a high-wheeler.
(Above) This handsome pair of mules was capable of "skidding" a load equal to their combined weights.
(Right) In this staging area, pallets were loaded and pulled by a single mule along wooden rails. Planks of wood lay between the rails to avoid heavy rutting from their hoofs.
By the 1840s, production and efficiency improved when the steam engine was introduced to Northwest Florida. Not only did production increase at the Bagdad Lumber Mill, but the steam engine was soon to impact timbering as mechanical apparatuses and steam locomotives began operating within the forest.
Mules were ideal for use in the forest over horses as they had better judgement, were more agile, and were more tolerant of the heat. They could skid logs up or down slopes and navigate through the swamps and uplands with relative ease. A single mule could skid a log or pull a pallet on rails equal to its weight 20 - 25 miles per day, making it a valuable asset.
Mechanical skidders, nick-named "steam donkeys", were put to use. These were steam-powered winches that dragged or "skid" the felled trees to the railroad where they were later loaded onto rail cars.
(Left) Pictured is a steam-powered skidder on a rail track operated by a logging crew from the Bagdad Land and Lumber Company.
The steam-powered skidders were able to drag themselves through the forest to working stations. Later, the skidders traveled to staging areas and man camps in the forest by way of the railroad which was owned by the Bagdad Lumber Mill. Once in operation, they were capable of retrieving up to four logs at the same time depending on how they were rigged, which made them very hazardous to work around.
Loading crews were responsible for lifting and stacking the logs onto rail cars for transport to the mill. Before the steam-powered loader was introduced, this was accomplished using mules to pull the logs up and onto the rail cars.
(Right) A crew of Loaders work to hoist and position a log as it is pulled onto the rail car using a team of mules (in the left foreground).
The steam-powered loaders were also called "donkey engines" or "steam donkeys". This was in reference to the braying sound the machines made. A heavy boom was featured at one end of the frame with a block suspended from the peak through which the cable passed. Grasping the logs with tongs made quick work for the Loaders.
Logging efficiency in-creased enormously with the extension of the corporation's railroad line to the northern end of Santa Rosa County. By 1903, Bagdad's Lumber Mill was turning out 140,000 to 150,000 board feet a day.
(Right) Sitting atop a flatbed rail car, this steam-powered loader has begun unloading logs at the Bagdad Lumber Mill.
(Above) Steam-powered loaders were also called "donkey engines" or "steam donkeys" in reference to the braying sound the machines made.
Tram crews were responsible for the transport of logs from the woods to the mill. The crews were composed of about six men that worked the steam locomotives and the rail cars along the company's rail lines. The railroad extended approximately 45 miles from Bagdad to the end of the line, well above Munson.
(Right) Captioned, "HEISLER @ CAMP 9, STERNS AND CULVER LBR CO, BAGDAD, FLA," a steam-loader is at work loading logs at the rear of this train powered by the company's engine # 5.
Steel Gangs built the railroad according to the railroad engineer's survey. The route followed the Blackwater River, turning north at Juniper Creek. Each Steel Gang had up to a dozen men laying rails or repairing damage caused by wear or acts of nature.
(Left) Bagdad Land and Lumber Company Engine #3 remains stationary in the forest as the rail before it has broken away from its position.
By 1910, the corporation employed almost one thousand men. With over 200,000 acres of timber plus 40 miles of log flumes and a railroad, logging and hauling timber essentially provided for the Longleaf yellow pine to arrive at the mill for processing.
These assets, combined with the company's sawmills, drying kilns, planing mills, electric light plant, and a fleet of small boats made the Bagdad Lumber Mill one of the most profitable historic business concerns in the State of Florida.
(Above) This is one of the most striking historic pictures captioned, "LOG TRAIN ENGINE #4, STERNS AND CULVER LBR CO, BAGDAD, FLA." The trees to the left of the train are slashed and the bark removed for gathering turpentine.
The Bagdad Lumber Mill was known throughout the lumber world as always maintaining high commercial integrity, a status earned by its founders and held until the closing of the mill in 1939.
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