Brownville man illustrates area history with students

Robert Hamlin of Brownville shared stories Wednesday with Brownville Elementary School pupils about his career as a log driver. Hamlin demonstrated the use of the  pick pole he is holding which was a tool used to keep the logs moving  in the right direction down the river. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY DIANA BOWLEY
Robert Hamlin of Brownville shared stories Wednesday with Brownville Elementary School pupils about his career as a log driver. Hamlin demonstrated the use of the pick pole he is holding which was a tool used to keep the logs moving in the right direction down the river. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY DIANA BOWLEY
Posted March 24, 2010, at 7:53 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:03 p.m.

BROWNVILLE, Maine — Resident William Sawtell has made it his quest to educate town children about local history.

For 28 years, Sawtell has either presented talks about the various aspects of the region and its workers or has invited area residents to speak to the children about their recollections.

“I wanted to share the history with the children,” Sawtell said Wednesday. The community has a rich history that includes log drives, the railroad and mining, he noted.

Speakers visit the third and fourth grades and fifth- and sixth-grade students work on projects based on the information they have learned about the region, according to Sawtell.

On Wednesday, resident Robert Hamlin entertained the children at Brownville Elementary School with tales of the 40 years he spent on log drives starting in the late 1940s for Dowlin Lumber. Armed with a pick pole and a handmade bark spud, Hamlin demonstrated how those tools aided the log drivers. The pick pole was used to spear a log to get it moving in the right direction on the river while the bark spud was used to remove the bark, he explained.

He said the trees were felled in the spring of the year when the bark was easily removed. After the bark and limbs were removed, the logs were left to dry during the summer months. The logs were cut up in early fall and hauled to the riverbanks. They were floated downstream during the spring months.

“The bad thing about the river drives in the Brownville area I was on was you had no control of the water,” Hamlin said. He said the water could get flat, which made it difficult to move the logs, or it could move too fast, which would spread the logs on the riverbanks. He recalled one drive in which the logs went under the ice along the shore. The only way to reach them, he said, was to get into the cold water.

Log drivers would walk the riverbank on each side, correcting the position of the logs, and two people in a boat would work the middle of the river, Hamlin recalled. Eventually, the logs reached the mills where they were separated according to species, he said.

Sawtell said he, as well as the children, finds it fascinating to listen to those who played a role in the region’s history.

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