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River Log Drivers, Adirondacks, c. 1900

N.Y. Adirondacks. River Log Drivers, Tents and Kitchen Car
New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_1662
Document Description
River log drivers, tents and a kitchen car in the Adirondacks, circa 1900.
What sort of work did a log driver do?
How do you think the tools the log drivers are holding help them with their work?
Describe the clothing the men are wearing.  How is their clothing suited to their job?
How was log driving a dangerous job?
Historical Challenges
Peripheral industries sprouted around logging centers, such as tanning. How and why were tanning and logging connected? Locate Tannersville, New York, on a map. Research its local history in connection with the logging industry.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: One egg has approximately 80 calories, one pancake 120 calories, and one sausage 95 calories. If a lumberjack eats 10 eggs, 7 pancakes, and 9 pieces of sausage, how many calories did he eat?
Science: Research the environmental impact of deforestations and conservation efforts. Experiment with recycling paper in your classroom.
English Language Arts: Compare the tales of Tony Beaver (Appalachia) and Paul Bunyan (Northeast States). What similarities can be found? What do these say about the life of a lumberjack?
Luen, Nancy. Song for the Ancient Forest. Simon & Schuster Children's, February 1993. ISBN: 0689317190
Barron, T.A. The Ancient One. The Penguin Group, December 2003. ISBN: 0441010326
MacMillan, Dianne. Life in a Deciduous Forest. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, March 2003. ISBN: 0822546841
Kellogg, Steven. Paul Bunyan. William Morrow & Company, Inc., March 1985. ISBN: 0688058000
Locker, Thomas. Sky Tree. HarperCollins Publishers, August 2001. ISBN: 0064437507

About this Activity


Lesson Topic:


Historical Context
Since the early 1800s, logging has been a major industry in the Adirondack region of New York. As early as the 1850s, logging camps had been established in the inner regions of the Adirondack forests. The Adirondack’s forest is full of Northern hardwoods such as sugar maples, yellow birch and beech trees. These hardwoods were ideal for lumber production. By 1870, paper making from wood pulp was brought to the United States, making all of the trees in the region valuable, regardless of size or species. In addition to the hardwoods, softwoods such as hemlocks, poplar, balsam, and spruce could also be cut down.

Logging was a three-season business despite the Adirondack’s harsh weather and the inherent dangers of felling and transporting the large trees. Generally, in the spring and summer the loggers would begin to fell the trees, which would continue into the fall. Also in the summer, lumber camps, roads, and skidways were built.  A skidway is a framework on which logs are piled for storage until they are shipped.

In the fall, loggers would remove the bark from the cut trees and transport the logs to yards for export. Then, the production would be slowed to a crawl between the late fall and January. However, by late January enough snow would have fallen to haul the logs on sleds to banking grounds where they would be stored to await further transportation by sled or river driving.

From the banking ground the trees could be transported in one of two ways. The trees could be loaded onto a sled and hauled down the mountain on the roads cleared the previous spring and summer, or the logs could be pushed into the river and floated down the mountain, a method known as river driving. Both methods were dangerous and hard work.

The log sleds could carry thousands of pounds of logs downhill. The sled drivers would sit on top of the logs on the sled while a few men would help guide the horses. Although hauling the logs over the snow was considerably easier than hauling them overland, an even more efficient system, the use of sprinkler wagons, came into effect around 1890.  First, a sled carrying a light load of logs would go down the road in order to make tracks in the snow. Then, the sprinkler wagon would follow, sprinkling water through rear vents onto the tracks. The water would freeze in the sled tracks, making the trip easier for the heavier log sled to follow.
The men who worked on the sprinkler wagons went to work as early as 2:00 am! They worked by the light of kerosene torches or lanterns. The water tank on the wagon held approximately 40 barrels of water, enough water to ice only 1/3 of a mile at a time.

Essential Question
How does geography impact local economies?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of geography on the local economy.