Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oregon At Work: Oregon’s Timber Industry in the Early 1900s

Between 1900 and 1910 there was a vast increase in the amount of timber cut from Oregon's forests. This occurred mainly along the Columbia River Basin. Jobs in the forest were difficult and dangerous. Teams of oxen were used until the beginning of the twentieth century, when steam power entered the forest and steam donkeys helped pull logs up steep slopes. The man running the steam donkey was called a donkey puncher.

Loggers often worked in camps of two hundred men. A typical work schedule consisted of ten- to twelve-hour shifts six days a week. The work was not only tiring, but dangerous, with the ever-present potential for massive trees to fall and roll along the slopes.

The process of logging began with the fallers. Fallers used sharp axes to make wedge-shaped undercuts on the trunk of huge trees. They then sawed through the backside of the tree with manual saws, making sure the tree fell to the undercut side. Next, the loggers cut off the limbs and, when necessary, cut the log into shorter lengths. Finally, the loggers used giant sets of wheels pulled by a team of oxen - and later by horses - to lift one end of a log and drag it to a river or, when available, a railroad.

Railroads caused rapid growth in the number of mills in Oregon, as they increased the ease of harvesting in many previously unreachable forests. The new mills were large and, during the early 1900s, several of them claimed to be the world's largest.

Oregon At Work is a recently published book detailing the history of work in Oregon. The book was co-authored by state employment economist Art Ayre and Employment Department communications manager Tom Fuller. Find out more at

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