Editor’s Note: This is the second of two columns on the logging industry and its impact on Bangor a century ago as reported in the newspapers.
RIOT ON HANCOCK STREET (March 27, 1908)
FINNS, POLES AND HUNS: Some Tough Customers the Police Have to Handle Now; Good Citizens When Sober But Strong Drink Makes Them Real Fighting Berserkers (March 28, 1908)
THE LID IS LOST, Twenty-Nine Arrests for Intoxication in 36 Hours (March 30, 1908)
Such headlines in the Bangor Daily Commercial marked the return of the loggers to the Queen City, their pockets full of money, their raging thirsts not to be denied.
They were a mixed group, said the Bangor Daily News on March 30, consisting of “a few young men of Bangor and other river towns, a considerable number from the Maritime Provinces, and swarms of Poles, Finns, Swedes and other foreigners.” It had required about 6,000 men to harvest the Penobscot River log cut that year.
They arrived in Bangor day after day by the trainload “clad in strange garb and jingling in their pockets the rewards of a long winter of the hardest kind of work.” The train station was thronged with boardinghouse runners, drummers for clothing stores and “bummers” seeking to promote particular saloons.
Prostitutes and “smooth crooks” also were seeking the loggers’ hard-earned cash. Among the former were Mary and Louise Cote of Old Town. They were ordered to leave town after being convicted of maintaining a public nuisance. A short time later they were up to their old high jinks again in a new establishment on Harlow Street. This time Police Chief John Bowen personally escorted them to the trolley to Old Town, according to the Bangor Daily News on April 3.
The smooth crooks, also known as blacklegs, mixed with the woodsmen when they got off the trains and followed them to their cheap hotels and barrooms, scheming to fleece them. Two men from Lynn, Mass., slipped Edward Nelson’s wallet containing $60, out of his pocket while he was sitting in a drunken stupor in the office of the Globe Hotel. The former Duluth, Minn., resident recently had taken “several drinks of lightning.”
Bangor started receiving relief from the festivities in April when many of the loggers ran out of money and had to find jobs again. DRIVERS GOING IN, announced a headline April 17 in the Commercial. Crews Are Already Being Sent Up for the Log Drives — MEN ARE PLENTIFUL NOW — The Demand for Them Isn’t Very Heavy Yet — Wages About As Usual — $2 to $2.50 a Day.
These were men going to the most distant river drives where they would wait for the ice to break up in the streams in order to take advantage of the spring freshets. There was “wangan” (outfits and provisions) to be got in, booms to be built to hold the logs and other preparations.
WEST BRANCH DRIVE HAS STARTED DOWN, declared a Bangor Daily News headline on May 1. Events were happening quickly elsewhere as well. The Millinocket drive of the Great Northern Paper Co. was in or nearly so, but the East Branch drive hadn’t started yet.
The newspapers were keeping an eye on the local sawmills, the biggest employers in the area. The Eastern Manufacturing Co. had begun sawing a few days before, and it had enough logs left over from last year to continue work for a long time. Lowell & Engle had a large number of logs on hand and planned to start up next week. Sargent Lumber Co. and Sterns Lumber Co. were short on logs, but Sargent was expecting to get some when rafting began from the Penobscot Boom, which had a large supply left over from the previous year.
Bangor’s declining lumber trade was always a cause for some nostalgic musings. “Time was, and not an age ago either, when coasting vessels were at a premium at this time of year for lumber freights. Now it is desperately hard work to pick up a cargo,” the reporter reflected. He was referring to the time when they said you could step across Bangor’s harbor on the decks of sailing vessels. Things were looking good nevertheless. The Bangor Daily News announced on May 8 that Maine’s log crop could fill a train 400 miles long.
As spring turned to summer, water level became crucial. High water was needed to move the logs downriver, but not with so much force that it broke the booms. “[T]here never was a year that the logs came out of the streams any better than they have this season,” pronounced the Commercial on June 4.
By late July, however, the water level had dropped, and the logging epic had come full circle. While the Great Northern’s West Branch drive still hadn’t reached Shad Pond because of low water, men already were signing up to cut down trees in the woods next winter. A few crews already were being sent upriver to make preparations, the Commercial said on July 30. Those Bangor barrooms must have seemed faraway and long ago to the new crop of woodsmen as they swatted mosquitoes.
A few months later, the logging contractors were AFTER WOODSMEN in earnest, the Commercial announced in a headline on Nov. 9: Agencies in This City Busy Hunting Up Men for the Woods — SEVERAL CAMPS TO OPEN — Operations Will Commence Soon — Local Agencies Go to Boston For Men.
Teamsters and loaders were in demand more than choppers and swampers. Big cuts left in the woods last winter needed to be moved. Bangor’s 10 employment agencies were sending an average of 50 men into the woods a day.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 13 it was announced in the Commercial that the last logs for the season had passed from the Bangor Boom through Bangor’s harbor to the mills. Most of the big stock went to Eastern Manufacturing Co. in Brewer while several other mills divided up the rest. By Dec. 2, with ice coming, the last mill, Lowell and Engel, had shut down for the season, said the newspaper.
Two weeks later, the Commercial marked yet another season on Dec. 15 with this headline: WOODSMEN ENGAGED — Nearly 5,000 Already Sent from the Bangor Agencies. Thus one year ended and another began in an overlapping blur that seemed like it would go on forever.