Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Log Cabin Christmas Blog Hop

The bunkhouse at the Forest History Center

My Trip To The Forest History Center - Grand Rapids, MN

Two summers ago, my family and I visited the Forest History Center, one of the many stellar sites operated by the Minnesota Historical Society. I was fascinated by the lumber camp, the bunkhouse, the cookhouse, the wanigan (a floating cookhouse used in the spring when the lumberjacks floated their logs downriver to the sawmills) and more. I knew I wanted to set at least one story in the MN Northwoods, where Pine was King and legends like Paul Bunyan were born. (Contrary to what some folks in Wisconsin or Oregon or Northern California might say, Paul Bunyan was born and raised in MN.  *wink*)

Our family has a lumber business. We don't cut down and saw up trees. We purchase finish lumber from sawmills and then wholesale it to cabinet and furniture makers. Because of this tie-in with the lumber industry, I was particularly fascinated to learn the history of tree-cutting in MN. I learned so much on this trip, and I'd like to share a few fun facts I gleaned.

Did you know that the bunkhouse had skylights and vents in the gable ends? Not to help with bringing more light into the room, but to let out the smell! Our tour guide pointed out that dozens of men shared the long room, bathing rarely and eating a diet that often included beans. Oh my! 

One of the most important men in the camp was the saw sharpener. He had his own workshop, and he was referred to as The Dentist because he worked on teeth most of the night. His day started in the evening when the lumberjacks returned from the forest and handed over their saws. For about 12 hrs every night, he filed saw teeth.

A water wagon laid down two streams of water on the snowy road to make ice tracks so loads of logs could be pulled to the riverbanks and piled up more easily. Horses had special ice shoes to give them extra traction.

The camp foreman was called The Push because he was constantly pushing his men to fulfill the contracts by cutting more and more wood.

There was no talking at dinner. Eat and get out. And no spitting on the floor. 

The lumberjacks had nicknames for everything. Their bag of personal possessions was called A Turkey. Lice was known as Walking Dandruff. Cutting logs on section 37 mean stealing logs of someone else's land. (There are 36 sections in a township, so cutting logs on the mythical section 37 meant swiping someone else's property.) Butter was called Axle Grease, and a Bean Burner was a bad cook. 

There are so many amazing things I learned, I can't possibly include them all here. Some information made it into Christmas Service in A Log Cabin Christmas Collection, and I'm hoping to have the opportunity to write another story set in the Minnesota Northwoods sometime so I can revisit the Forest History Center and learn even more about MN lumbermen. 

The Ann River Load; 31,480 board feet of pine logs hauled one mile by a four-horse hitch, Ann River Logging Company, February 1892

Photo of Ann River Load, 1892.
Picture loads were constructed by logging camps in informal contests to see which camp could load and haul the largest load. These loads were usually constructed annually in the late winter at the end of the logging season when the ice roads were at their slickest. Records were kept informally each year and were a source of pride for logging companies and lumberjacks alike. Called "picture loads" photographers were called to document the loads. Normal sleigh loads were about 5,000 board feet.

From the Minnesota Historical Society: Forest History Center in Grand Rapids MN http://www.mnhs.org/places/sites/fhc/loads1.html

Tomorrow's destination for the Log Cabin Christmas Collection Blog Hop is Debra Ullrick's Blog

Those who leave a comment are entered to win a copy of Log Cabin Christmas Collection autographed by all NINE authors. More information on the contest can be found at: http://janeswordsofencouragement.blogspot.com/p/current-contest-giveaways.html

Question for you: Do you typically have snow for Christmas where you live?

Also, don't forget that today is the first day of Casey Herringshaw's Blog Birthday Bash, and Ruthy Herne and I are tearing it up over there! Come join the party!


  1. Kansas - snow some times on Christmas - usually not, just cold, but I love it when we get it!

  2. I enjoyed learning more about logging in MN, Erica. I think it's cool how the loggers gave everything special names.

    And what's this about Paul Bunyan not being from Northern California? There are those in my part of the country who would debate your assertion. LOL

  3. I live in the northwest, Washington state, and some parts of our state gets lots of snow. I can see the snow on Mt. Hood from my house but I live at just about sea level so we very rarely get snow. We get more ice than snow. I do love a snowy Christmas though.

  4. Don't you love the choice bits of trivia you discover during research? I'll be looking forward to seeing what you work in to your piece in Log Cabin Christmas!

  5. Like Gabby, I live in the NW but in Oregon near Mt. Hood. We too live at sea level so snow at Christmas is a rarity. Loved hearing about logging in MN! Looking forward to A Log Cabin Christmas.

  6. Iowa can have lots of snow or no snow at all Right now it is mid-November and it is still sunny and warm and a few wildflowers are still blooming in my yard. Snow? I'd rather not have it except for Christmas day. Thanks for the logging info. Can't wait to read your story.

  7. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I suspect many of the same logging tidbits of Minnesota would apply. Thanks for those, especially for giving me another image of a dentist! And usually, in Central Oregon, there is snow for Christmas. Or, we can drive 20 miles into the mountains and find it there. Thanks Erica!

  8. That's some interesting stuff - and I definitely like the no spitting on the floor rule.

    We get snow sometimes, usually before or right after, go figure. But most of the time there's at least snow on the ground, and it's chilly.

  9. Oh my yes. I leave just outside of Buffalo, NY and you know that we are famous for our snow. However, some years there is not even a flake for the holidays and the next year we could have several feet. It simply adds to the excitement.

  10. I too live in Oregon where it snows only occasionally. But we can get to snow in the mountains easily enough to enjoy it when we want to.

  11. Hi, Cindy, I grew up in Kansas, and a white Christmas was a special treat!

    Keli, Paul's from MN. :) His stomping around in his giant boots is how we got so many lakes.

    Gabby, as a native Kansas, I love to look at mountains, and Mt. Hood is so beautiful in pictures. I would love to see it sometime.

  12. Hi, Carole, my temptation is to throw in all the cool bits and overwhelm the reader. Hopefully I struck the right balance.

    Hi, Sherrey, I could stare at the ocean forever. I love to visit Lake Superior, our biggest body of water anywhere close. The scrape and shush of the water against the rocky shore is like a lullaby.

  13. Gilda, hasn't it been oddly warm in the upper midwest? We're running around in SE MN without coats on today. I have a feeling when winter hits, it's going to hit with a vengeance.

    Jane, I loved A Flickering Light. Winona is such a history-rich town. I love the county historical society museum there.

  14. Hi, Cindy, the sign we actually found at the museum said "No Spiting On The Floor' but we sorta got the gist of what they meant, though it cracked my kids up. :)

    Joan, that lake-effect snow! Congrats on the better year the Bills are having!

  15. Hi, Jules, as I said above, I like looking at the mountains, but oddly enough, the prairie born and raised girl in me gets a little claustrophobic when I get up into the mountains. It's like you can't see any horizons unless you're up on top!

  16. We had snow one Christmas when we lived in Washington state. My husband had duty on Christmas eve at the Shipyard, so the children and my father-in-law and I hauled a special dinner down to share with him. When we came home, packages were piled up so high before the front door it was almost invisible.

    The children, who knew better said, "Santa was here?"

    On closer look, the oldest one corrected the observation. "Nope, just the UPS man."

    A very fun Christmas made even more magical when it began to snow. :-)

    Oh, and my husband made it home before the children woke up the next morning.

  17. I am from Ohio and we always have a lot snow!!I love having a white Christmas. It makes everything seem jolly!

  18. My husband and I moved from Wisconsin to Missouri to be in the middle of our children when we retired two winters ago. The first Christmas they were coming it snowed on Christmas Eve. I was so excited to see the snowflakes after being told usually there was more winter ice than snow.

  19. Anonymous6:47 PM

    I loved reading about logging.Last Christmas we had snow here...would love to have it again this year.jackie_tessnair@yahoo.com

  20. Pam K.6:55 PM

    This was a very interesting post, Erica. The photo of the logs for the picture load looks is amazing. It looks quite dangerously stacked!

    I live in Kansas so we sometimes have snow for Christmas, sometimes not. Weather in Kansas is quite variable.
    I look forward to reading A Log Cabin Christmas and would sure love to win a copy!


  21. Orita Kirkman9:57 PM

    On the Mo. KS, line and most of the time snow for the holidays! Lots of time ice which I don't like.
    Great story and can't wait to read your book on MN. The State Historical Society is really a good

  22. Michelle U., the UPS man? I love it! :)

    Michelle, you're so right. Snow at Christmas is the best. I do get a little whiny about snow in March and April though...

    Lane, I lived in KC for several years, and I hated driving on the ice. Neat that you got snow for your first Christmas in your new home.

  23. Hi, Jackie, hopefully you can have a little snow to "Christmas" up the landscape this holiday season. :)

    Pam, I agree. One chain snaps, and POW, logs everywhere. At least they didn't try to haul these logs anywhere. They were for show only.

    Orita, MN has one of the best historical societies in the country. I realize this anew when I travel and visit other state historical societies. I used to live on the KS/MO border in Grandview/Belton. My husband was a radio station DJ. We lived in MO, but we traveled over to the KS side when it was time for my daughter to be born. :)

  24. Anonymous11:15 PM

    I loved the logging images!

    One special Christmas Eve it snowed in Salem, Or. We got out our snowmobils and took all our guests for rides!

    Marea Stone

  25. Living in Eastern Oregon, near the Columbia River, we typically don't have snow on Christmas. However, when we do, our home is bursting with excitement.

  26. Kayce Phillips3:35 PM

    Living just outside of Denver, CO., snow can be hit and miss. Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, I remember snow was never to far away! Lots of skiing and sledding on Christmas!

  27. Happy Valley, Oregon. It RARELY snows here on Christmas, but we can drive an hour to Mt. Hood and find snow year-round. Or we can drive 5 hours to our daughter's in Eastern Oregon where they have snow already!
    I am looking forward to reading "Christmas Service"...

  28. Oklahoma - yes we usually do have snow and sometimes ice storms too! Two years ago, it snowed so much it took as almost 8 hours to make a 3-hour drive to get to family for Christmas!

  29. I can't ever remember a white Christmas here in SC...snow is not that common for us and usually only lasts a day or two. It would be wonderful to have a white Christmas!!! margie at mijares dot net

  30. I love White Christmas's! In my home town in Idaho we occasionally have snow on the ground on Christmas day. We always have snow in the mountains - less than half an hour away.

  31. We don't usually have snow here in Oklahoma for Christmas, but every now and then we do. And when we do have a white Christmas, everyone gets VERY excited! We had a blizzard in 2010 for Christmas. It was pretty, but many people got stranded away from their families. Our family got stranded in different parts of the city, and that was pretty frustrating.