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

During Word War I the demand for spruce—used in aircraft frames—and the intervention of U.S. soldiers to quell labor unrest and accelerate spruce production led to the development of extensive, government-financed infrastructure improvements, including a 36-mile extension of the railroad line from Disque Junction, nineteen miles west of Port Angeles, to Lake Crescent and then to Lake Pleasant, eventually terminating at Tyee, about eight miles from Forks. The last spike on the track was driven home on November 30, 1918, nineteen days after the war ended. The railroad was sold to private investors in 1922 and, in 1925, incorporated within the Port Angeles and Western Railroad. Within a few years, the line was extended to Forks, serving the logging community until the railroad company abandoned it in 1954 due to lack of revenue and lawsuits stemming from the Great Forks Fire of 1951. By then trucks were carrying most of the logs to mills (Figures 11 and 12).


Figure 11: Diamond-T log truck hauling a large log on a plank road, probably on the Olympic Peninsula (more info)


Figure 12: Log truck passing over John Huelsdonk Bridge over the Hoh River, Jefferson County (more info)

At roughly the same time railroads were starting to make their mark on the Olympic Peninsula, the timber industry was undergoing a revolution in logging methods, shifting to high-lead, or “flying,” yarding. Combining the mechanical power generated by donkey engines—mostly run on steam—with a system of cables and blocks rigged overhead among the trees in a tract of timber, high-lead yarding transformed logging on the peninsula. It both sped up the pace with which an area could be logged, but also made it possible to harvest trees in areas—such as ravines—that had been inaccessible to more traditional, groundlead logging. From the First World War well into the post-World War II years, high-lead logging remained a dominant pattern of timber harvesting on the Olympic Peninsula.

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