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

How it Works

By the 1920s the basic technology of high-lead yarding had been worked out and refined. The operation centered on the use of one of more donkey enginess running a series of cables, called “lines” or “wires” by the loggers who worked with them, rigged through blocks attached to a spar-tree. The basic set-up, as illustrated in the Young Iron Works catalog, is shown in Figure 13. (Note that the scale in this image is distorted. At the logging site the lines and blocks could extend up to a mile or more from the spar-tree.)

Figure 13: Young Iron Works : Logging equipment, blocks, tools : Catalog No. 49 (more info)

One of the first tasks was to locate a suitable spar-tree. This tree was meant to act as the centerpost for the network of lines that would reach out into the brush to grab the logs and pull them in to be stacked, rather like straws, in a loose pile called the cold-deck. The spar tree had to be trimmed of its branches, “topped” (the top portion of the tree, beyond the highest portion of the rigging, was cut off), and then rigged with a series of supporting guy wires, an assortment of blocks, and working lines. The guy wires kept the spar-tree upright under heavy loads while the blocks carried the lines that would drag and lift the logs as well as haul the lines back to the worksite.

Although in the early years of high-lead yarding spar-trees were of modest heights—the highest might be seventy-feet tall, about the same height as a six or seven story building or, perhaps, between two and three times taller than a telephone pole—by the 1920s it was commonplace to see logging operations using spar trees that were 150 feet tall. In several places, spar-trees were even topped at over 200 feet. What allowed the use of such mammoth trees was the development of the high-rigger. This was a logger who used climbing spikes attached to his boots and a wire-cored rope looped around the tree to climb the tree. Prior to that, loggers had built ladders or used springboards to scale the tree. Now head-riggers could walk up the side of the tree, using a short-handled axe to trim branches they went (Figure 14). When they reached a point at which the diameter of the tree narrowed to between about three or four feet, they would use the axe to top the tree. As the topped section fell away, the head rigger would hold on tightly as the tree top, released of its load, swung in arcs (Figures 15 and 16). Some head-riggers used explosives, blowing the top of a tree off with dynamite detonated with a slow fuse that was intended to give the rigger time to get to the ground and get clear.

Figure 14: High rigging crew, Greenwood Logging Company, ca. 1930 (more info)

Figure 15: Rigger topping spar tree near railroad tracks, possibly vicinity of Index, Washington, n.d. (more info)

Figure 16: Rigger named W.E. Illman on top of topped spar tree, 1929 (more info)

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