Big Timber - History Con't

heavy rains, and a warm Chinook wind melting the snow pack, overflowed it’s bank on the west side, almost reaching the Methodist Church.

Late one evening, a man came running down the street shouting “Save the bridge…..Johnson’s logs have broken loose!” The city fire bell was rung to call all available people. Some with pike poles and some with lanterns lifted high, men guided the logs away from the bridge in an effort to keep them from jamming. June never forgot that dramatic night, “the shouting of the men, the roar of the water and the booming of the logs”.

The first large commercial lumber mill was built in 1907. It was named the Silverton Lumber Co. Located in the northern end of town between Second and Mill St., it sat on about 20 acres. Railroad tracks had been built up into the foothills of the Cascades in order to bring the logs down to the mill. It had a capacity to cut 120,000 board feet in a 10 hour shift.

It closed in 1926, having sold their railroad system and logging camps to the next big company, Silver Falls Timber Co. This mill was built in 1916, four years after filing incorporation papers. Part of the back-up money came from Oregon and part of it from eastern U.S. investors. SFTC was located just to the east of Mill St. across from Silverton Lumber Co. ‘Mill Town’ sprung up on the north side of Silverton. Little houses were built to accommodate the mill workers. There was a hotel in the area, and some old-timers remembered a store, too.

There were 35 miles of railroad tracks up into the Abiqua and Silver Creek basins . The mill itself covered 143 acres and had a twelve acre mill pond. In 1917 it had a capacity to cut 225,000 board feet per ten hour period.

The company maintained several logging camps up in the Basin. Some were for single men and some were for families. There was a cook shack in the camps employing cooks and servers. There were a total of 18 camps built from 1907 to the mid-1930’s. As the old growth was logged off, the railroad and camps were moved further and further up into the Abiqua Basin on the western side of the Cascade Mountains.

Everyone and everything was transported by railroad (including a herd of transplanted elk in the 1920’s.) People rode in the ‘rag car’ if they needed to get back into town. It was the ‘caboose’ of the logging train, so called because of the cloth curtains that could be rolled down to offer a bit of protection from the dust and weather.

Logging was extremely hard work and dangerous. Few safety standards were in place, there were no tin hats to wear to protect from ‘widow-makers’, the name given to falling branches. Loggers would cut their pants legs off above the ankle, which helped to keep their pants from getting caught in little branches and the tangle of undergrowth. You could always tell a logger by his pants. Loggers were a tough bunch; packing their 2-man cross-cut saws called misery whips, axes, wedges and springboards.

A springboard was used to stand on if the butt of a tree was too big for the saw. The loggers had to get up high enough so that their saw could move back and forth. Before sawing, they had to determine where they wanted the tree to fall. Then they would chop a wedge out of that side and start sawing on the opposite side, stopping every once in a while to oil the saw. When they had sawn half-way through, they used wedges to finally tip the tree over, yelling “Timber” as a warning to anyone in the path of the falling tree.

By the late 1930’s the timber owned by the big mills had been logged. Silver Falls Timber Co. kept their mill running by bringing logs down out of the Detroit Canyon, but by the time WW II was over, the logging was pretty much done and the mill was closed. In the early 1950’s, before the mill could be dismantled, it caught fire and burned to the ground.

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