Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest

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High-lead Logging on the Olympic Peninsula in the 1920s-30s

Italicized words are explained in the Glossary of Logging Terms.

The tip of the Olympic Peninsula offers a case study on the intersection between technology, market demands, and resource exploitation. Although early European and American visitors had noted its dense forests, filled with trees of enormous girth and height, the region’s lack of suitable harbors—ports located within a mile of the most marketable timber—limited the timber that could be profitably harvested and moved to market—especially when more accessible timberlands were available throughout the region.

It wasn’t until a railroad line from the mills at Port Angeles began to snake toward the small town of Forks in the first decades of the twentieth century that lumber became a significant economic activity on the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula. There the industry experienced a series of booms beginning with the First World War—when the area was logged for the spruce used in aircraft construction; in the 1920s as the demand for pulp-woods rose; and, then, sustained growth from the Second World War peaking in the 1970s when a convergence of market demand and liberal federal policies opened large tracts of public lands on the peninsula to logging. Also, advances in technology, particularly high-lead yarding, the chainsaw, and the growing use of trucks made it possible to profitably log areas that in earlier years would have been bypassed.

High-lead yarding was, perhaps, one of the biggest advancements in logging in the early part of the century. Prior to its introduction around 1910, the timber industry used groundlead yarding. That required dragging bucked logs—trees cut into manageable lengths (Figure 1)—through the forests to landings where the logs were stored until they could be transported to the mills (Figure 2). In the early years of logging on the coast of Washington, draft animals provided the muscles to move the logs to the landings. Teams of horses or, more often, oxen hauled the logs over skidroads to the landing (Figures 3 and 4). These landings were typically on a body of water where the logs could be floated and then towed to the mills in rafts. The constraints of this process typically limited logging to within about a mile of a usable waterway.

Figure 1: Man sawing felled tree at Goodyear Logging Company work camp in or near Clallam Bay (more info)

Figure 2: Crew with cold deck at loading site, camp 2, Polson Logging Company, near Hoquiam, n.d. (more info)

Figure 3: Hauling logs along skidroad with a team horses, Washington, ca. 1898. (more info)

Figure 4: Kerry Logging Company workers with oxen pulling logs, n.d. (more info)

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