Hello fellow Berlinites. I have written at lot of stories and given many talks about the loggers of this area, who made their living supporting our huge paper and sawmills of the past. Many of these men lived and raised their families here in Berlin, while they made their living in the woods or on the lakes and rivers of our rugged North Country.
We still have many here who work in the woods operating huge wood trucks today in order to supply the sawmills, bio masses and some paper companies that still exist today. What use to take thousands of men years ago, only takes a handful today to do the same job and the equipment they use now is unimaginable compared to the years of the past
Here are two stories of logging related to the past some time during the late 1940s. One is of the progress that was being made by loggers to modernize the way they work and the other is about the drive of logs to the mills in Berlin.
In the late 1940s, the Brown Company Woods Department was culminating a long series of tests about the various types of mechanical equipment adaptable to a modern pulpwood operation. This took place at an area called Stag Hollow camp in Jefferson, New Hampshire. They used an assortment of equipment and made this operation as mechanized as it could have been possible to achieve back then.
Power saws, both gasoline and electrical, portable slashers, sawmill (circular sawmill units set up in the woods), tractors and trailing two wheel sulkies with arches (for hauling logs to the slasher saws), high lead power skidders (for dragging tree length logs by cable from the woods to a logging road), bulldozers and trucks, were all use in producing 10,000 cords of mixed pulpwood.
After witnessing and being given the opportunity to try the electric and gasoline chainsaws, which were being demonstrated by the North East Pulpwood Research Center, many woodsmen were impressed.
They were impressed by the ease of operation and evident possibilities of the mechanical saw and the drastic change that could come about with these methods of production. Six yarding crews were engaged in cutting and four of these crews were introduced to power saws. All of the other equipment was introduced to include felling, limbing, skidding, hauling and sawing of the trees into four foot length.
So one could see that our modern Brown Company was gearing up to go with the changes that were starting to take place in wood productivity. Almost 70 years has passed since then and I can't imagine what the older woodsman thought of these new ways to harvest wood products. Today, chainsaws are almost obsolete. A machine called a forwarder is doing some of the work of skidders and a tree harvester takes the trees down instead of a chainsaw. Times have certainly changed.
In 1947, more than 6,000,000 logs were floated down the river into the city of Berlin and they were all counted. Before these logs came to this city, the 16 foot logs that created the original river drivers, were brought to our huge sawmill. Now, it was the pulpwood drives of which we wrote about before, that came charging down the Androscoggin River to our mills.
Not far above the Berlin Mills Bridge (Walking Bridge today 2016), on the river was situated an area called the Pine Island Boom. This was the site that the pulpwood sticks got handled before they moved down to the storage piles and the barker plants of the Brown Company.
There were two important jobs that took place in this spot that the people were not able to notice because the area was hidden from the highway by trees along the riverbank. In the center of the river was pier like arrangement that looked like the piers at a summer camp for youngsters. It was open at both ends and had a series of openings along each side. The logs that came down the river floated between two parallel lengths of logs and boards and beneath the crosswalks.
Men, armed with long pick poles, stood on the crosswalks and kept their eyes out for logs from which the bark was peeled by action of water and other logs. These so-called river peeled sticks were pulled out through one of the openings to float down one channel to the woodpile at the east end of the bridge. The boom piers that are still out on the river today were utilized for this purpose.
The other wood floated on through the “sorting gap”, as it was called, to the barker plant which was just north of the Onco plant. As the wood floated through the gap, it was counted log by log. Three men called “counters” were posted at the lower end of this area and were armed with little machines which added one each time they were punched. It was said that they very accurately counted the logs that floated through.
The reason for keeping count of the logs was to check on how many of them made it down river. Far up river, the pulpwood was cut and piled in readiness for the spring drive months before. In doing so, an account was made of sample cords of wood. From these samples, the Woods Department officials got an average of the number of sticks in each cord of wood.
Thus, knowing just about how much wood was put into the river and lakes along with knowing how much came into Berlin, they knew just how much they lost. The loss, they said was mostly due to sinkage. Any wood caught along the banks was always picked up by “rearing crews”.
The question of sinkage was then discussed. Was there any particular type of wood that seemed to sink quicker than others? James Laffin, chief scaler for the Brown Company said that no special category seemed to drop down quicker than others. All kinds were found sunk and it did not matter the type or whether they had many knots or none at all?
All the wood that was recovered after going underwater was trucked down to the mill. They could not dry it out then try to float it down again. It would not go far no matter how much they tried and it always sunk again.
There was an important storage area above Milan called the “Milan Sorting Gap”and it held back 30,000 cords of wood. The Milan area was considered a safe place during times of flood. The reason being was that the piers in this area were built so that there was little danger of pulpwood getting away because of high water.
It was because of this that the logs were stored there and then they were floated down river to the Mills as needed. They went from Potter Boom to Sanborn Boom and then to Pine Island. Potter and Sanborn booms were named because they were near the old homesteads of pioneer families by that name. It took from 9 to 18 hours for the logs to move from Milan to Berlin depending on the wind and stream conditions.
Turning back to the number of logs moving downriver, Mr. Laffin said that in 1947 there were about 90,000 cords. If you had about 70 sticks to a cord, it brought the total to 6,300,000 sticks that were sent to the mills from areas bordering the Androscoggin River, Umbagog Lake, the Richardson Lakes, Mooselookmeguntic Lake and the Kennabago waters of Western Maine. This was not counting the hundreds of cords brought in by truck and rail and dumped into the Androscoggin River just above the mills. Certainly, it took a lot of wood and manpower to operate our large paper company back then.