Thursday, June 17, 2010

Log Jam

I come from a family of lumberjacks.

Edward Bagley and his ten sons (he also had two daughters) lived in New Brunswick, Canada in 1842, and ran a lumber business on the St Johns River. During the freezing winter months, they chopped trees and sawed logs.

The snow made it easier to slide loaded sleighs and pile the logs along the shoreline while they waited for the ice to melt.

When the ice was gone and the rivers were flowing, the logs were sent down flumes (wooden troughs with a stream of water flowing down them) and chutes (troughs that were greased) which were built on the mountainsides. Then they were dumped in the river to be taken to sawmills downstream.

Almost every year the logs would pile up and jam in a sharp bend of the river, forming dams so thick they stopped the flow of water and created floods. The Bagley men walked across the slick, rolling logs, prying them apart with tools called peevees. Recognized by their red wool flannel undershirts, the lumberjacks scurried from log to log over the cold water, even eating lunch while they worked to turn them in the right direction.

If a man fell in the water, but didn't lose his hat, it was not counted as a fall; a drowned man's peevee was considered jinxed so they just let it float away.

River driving was dangerous work and men who fell were often drowned or crushed between logs. Edward's son David was 25 when he "came by his death driving logs in the narrows on Gibson Mill Stream, May 4, 1865."

Edward and his family joined the Mormon church in 1844. Ten years later his son John (who was just 18) set off from New Brunswick on his own, joined a group of pioneers and crossed the plains to Utah. When he arrived, he continued working as a lumberjack in Big Cottonwood Canyon, near Brighton. This story is told in a local history:

"Many Draperville residents were among 3,000 Saints celebrating the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. It was at Silver Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
"On July 24th, 1857, the flag was unfurled from the summit of the highest peak. Prayer was offered and the singing and cannon roared. The juvenile rifle corps performed an excellent drill. Governor Brigham Young asked John Bagley to climb to the top of a tall pine tree and top it to mount a flag. So John climbed the tree, cut it off flat, and stood on his head on the top of the tree to show his courage and agility. In New Brunswick, where John Bagley was from, when a pine tree was cut down, the lumberjacks would top it for a log. Then if you were especially skilled, you would stand on your head on top of the topped tree. And, that is what John Bagley did."

Volume Two of History of Draper, Utah

My brain has a log jam. Over the past few months I've crammed it full of random information for my novel: the flora and fauna of Texas, how you load a Colt .44, western towns in 1872, roasting a venison steak, grasshopper bounties, prairie fires and soiled doves. Now I need it to flow down the flume and out of my fingertips, but it's all dammed up. Dammed, I say!

I'm digging deep into my roots to find the lumberjack genes. Maybe if I put on a red shirt I'll be able to get things unjammed and flowing in the right direction.

~Write about a log jam in your life. Now make a list of five ways to get things going in the right direction. Make plans to do the first one.


Cannwin said...


Have I ever mentioned that I have Bagleys in my family? Or maybe my Aunt is a Bagley. I'm not sure now... I just know that the name is one I recognize as being attached to my family in some way. I should ask my mom more about it.

Christie said...

If anyone can do it, you can, Oma. Hang in there!

polly said...

Just this week I've been reading about Edward and his boys. Love reading our history and thank you for putting it together for us. You put that one together, you'll put Ruby and her group together too!

Grandma Shelley said...

I gained respect for lumberjacks a few years ago. We have a summer cabin in the Pines. Bark Beetles had killed over 200 of our mature Pine Trees on our property. After getting estimates to have the trees taken down my husband and I took on the job as "do it your-selfer's" to save some cash!

With chain saws in hand we became quite skilled in notching the tree so that they could safely fall where we wanted them to. It was really quite fun to yell "Timber" and to hear the crash of the enormous Pines falling.

We only left one huge tree to the professionals since it was leaning very close to the cabin. Interestingly, we got our part of the job done with no injuries. The pros had the paramedics there within an hour when one of the side branches hit one of the workers when the tree fell. His injuries looked far worse than they were and thankfully he walked away with just a bandage.

We learned first hand that lumberjack work is both hard and dangerous! We went on a cruise with the money we saved as do-it-your-selfer lumberjacks!

Susy said...

I just know what challenge to hang my hat with...Thanks

Raejean said...

My time has been jammed up. I thought summer was supposed to be relaxing! I just have so many fun things I want to do with the kids, and so many projects to catch up on around the house; not to mention the stuff that's just for me. I need to slow down, and focus on one thing at a time instead of trying to do it all in one day. When I think of it that way, I'm not surprised that I got jammed up.

Susan Adcox said...

I recently listened to Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving, which is at least partially about logging. It's one of those books that gets in your head.