This is the first of two columns about the annual cycle of events in the logging industry and its impact on Bangor a century ago as described in the city’s two daily newspapers.
“THE LUMBER CUT”
“About 400,000,000 Feet Will Be Cut in Eastern Maine”
“MOST ON PENOBSCOT”
“Labor Is Plentiful Now and Wages Are Averaging From $26 to $30 a Month”
This multitiered headline on Nov. 15, 1907, inaugurated the Bangor Daily Commercial’s coverage of the logging industry’s annual cycle of events that year. Even though the lumber trade was less important to the city’s economy than it once had been, thanks to the rise of the railroads and the pulp and paper mills, the newspapers faithfully chronicled activities beginning when men and horses tramped into the woods in the fall until the last logs were hauled through the harbor to local sawmills about a year later. In reality, this epic had no beginning or end. Most Bangoreans were as familiar with its rhythms as they were with the changing of the seasons.
That same day that the Bangor Daily Commercial estimated the lumber cut, its competitor, the Bangor Daily News, explained why labor was so plentiful. The Panic of 1907 was the cause. The city was flooded with men looking for work. The lumbermen’s lodging houses on Exchange Street were full.
“Never saw anything like it,” said Matthew J. Cowhig, one of the city’s labor recruiters. “We have given cards to a lot of railroad workers who have been laid off from the big lines on account of the panic, and they are glad enough to tie up in a lumber camp for the winter.”
Weather was important. “CONDITIONS POOR,” announced the Commercial on Dec. 20. “Not Enough Cold Weather or Snow to Suit Lumbermen.” Frozen ground and deep snow (but not too deep) would be needed soon after the trees were cut and the logs yarded deep in the woods ready to be hauled away by horse-drawn sleds or by the new mechanical Lombard log haulers.
“On the long roads from the yards to the landings on the banks of the streams and lakes into which the logs are rolled for their trip down the river, snow is absolutely necessary to the successful completion of the winter’s work,” the reporter wrote. “Without snow enough so that good sized loads can be taken or in the event of the early breaking up of the roads, it is almost certain that many logs will be left on the yards and the operator sustain considerable loss.”
“CONDITIONS BETTER,” proclaimed the newspaper on Jan. 30, 1908. “Snow Enough in Lumber Woods for Practical Purposes.” The snow was 8 inches to 20 inches deep. The loggers would be able to get their cut out to the landings where they would wait for the spring freshets to bring them down to the mills. On Feb. 7, the cutting was practically completed, said the Commercial, and by the end of the month, as more snow fell, conditions were judged to be nearly perfect.
Social conditions in the woods were also of concern. “WHISKEY EXPRESS CURSE TO LOGGERS,” said a headline in the Bangor Daily News on Feb. 4. “Carnival of Drunkenness Closes Camps.” Usually the loggers waited to get drunk in Bangor when they came out of the woods in the spring, but not this year.
Loggers were pooling their resources, buying cases of whiskey and having them shipped to the nearest railroad station. Great Northern Paper Co. reportedly had closed a camp at Northeast Carry because the whole crew, numbering 30 men, had gone on “a prolonged debauch.” Men had been dismissed for drunkenness at a camp near Madison and an intoxicated man had frozen to death near Wood Lake.
Another concern was the quality of the loggers, the majority of whom no longer were Maine natives. “‘Boston Men’ Are Not Regarded as Good Woodsmen,” read a headline in the Commercial on March 5. These “gentlemen from Boston” were described as drunks or invalids or both. Other sources during these years noted that a growing number of loggers were immigrants. Many had little knowledge of woods work and were in poor physical shape.
The Bangor Daily News, however, scoffed at this bleak assessment. In an editorial on March 25, the newspaper insisted that “there are more skilled woodsmen living in and working in the Maine woods today than at any other time in the history of the state.” All one had to do was pay them enough. “Sane operators do not hire ‘cheap men’ because these are the most expensive men … in the woods.”
By March 14, the Commercial was predicting prospects for a successful river drive. “Already the signs in front of the employment agencies along Exchange Street are calling for cant-dog men, and crews are being gathered together to start for the more distant driving streams,” the newspaper reported. “… The lumbermen claim the rest of March to get their cut to the landings and according to the present outlook all the logs cut during the winter will be safely landed on the shores of the nearest driving water before the roads break up.”
A massive exchange of labor was under way. Many loggers were beginning to arrive back in the Queen City, their employment over for a while. Saloonkeepers were making sure their shelves were well stocked, and the Bangor police were getting ready for the festivities. Some men had waited in Bangor and other towns for the driving season when they could make more money as river drivers, a job that required more skill and was more dangerous than cutting trees and working in the lumber camps.
Next week: The loggers celebrated in Bangor until the river drives began. Wayne E. Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org