Fascinating pictures show Maine woodsmen on a dangerous logging operation, 1943

maine logging old photographs

A woodsman wearing spiked shoes opens up an empty boom at the upper end of Mooselookmeguntic Lake so it can be filled with more logs from the Kennebago River.

These photos, taken by the Office of War Information photographer John Collier in 1943, show the Maine woodsmen of the Brown Company on a dangerous spring lumber drive.

The men were tasked with guiding thousands of heavy, slippery logs on the spring pulpwood drive down the Kennebago River and Mooselookmeguntic Lake toward paper mills for further processing.

Collier’s trip came after the 1942 film Wood for War, which stressed the importance of protecting national forests so the trees could be used in the war effort.

Wood was often used to replace domestic items as materials were diverted to the troops – such as metal cutlery, cotton clothes, and plastic chairs, all of which were made with wood substitutes.

The material was also used by the military directly, hangars, barracks, ships, trucks, planes, bridges, and crates for shipping supplies.

maine logging old photographsLogging in Maine began in the early 1600s when English explorers first cut trees on Monhegan Island. In 1634, the first sawmill powered by water was built in South Berwick.

By 1832, Bangor had become the largest shipping port for lumber in the world. At times, as many as 3,000 ships were anchored there and one could almost walk across ship decks to Brewer.

The early logging camp came into use in 1820. These camps consisted of a main camp built around a fire pit that supplied warmth and was also used as a cooking fire.

Many camps were inhabited by a crew of 12-14 men and a team of oxen. Camps were constructed out of large notched spruce logs, cemented together by a mixture of moss and mud.

maine logging old photographs

80-year-old “Old George” Hill, who drives the camp’s horse and wagon.

The whole camp was put together without nails and all the work was done with an ax and froe. Roofs were made of cedar and a small square hole was in the center for the smoke to escape. All men slept in the same bed under one long blanket and used their boots as pillows.

The men ate four meals a day, which consisted of flapjacks, pickled beef, boiled codfish, beans, sourdough biscuits, and strong tea.

Clothes were dried over the fire on a long “stink” pole, held up by two forked stakes. Wet socks and clothes drying by the fire gave off an indescribable fragrance; it was said that you could smell a logger half a mile away.

Needless to say, lumberjacks held the strength of the earth in their hands and were the heart and soul of the northern Maine woods.

maine logging old photographs

Woodsmen return to work after a lunch break.

maine logging old photographs

Woodsmen use pikes to keep logs moving smoothly toward the sluiceway.

maine logging old photographs

Woodsmen winching up the boom on Long Pond which guides the flow of logs downstream.

maine logging old photographs

Woodsmen in a “bateau” open up an empty boom.

maine logging old photographs

Woodsmen line up for one of their four meals a day.

maine logging old photographs

maine logging old photographs

maine logging old photographs

maine logging old photographs

A bulldozer clears a log jam in Dennison Bog Creek.

maine logging old photographs

maine logging old photographs

Pulpwood accumulated in the Kennebago River waiting to be sluiced through the power dam.

maine logging old photographs

Woodsmen use pikes to guide the logs.

maine logging old photographs

maine logging old photographs

A woodsman take a break from ‘driving’ logs downstream.

maine logging old photographs

maine logging old photographs

maine logging old photographs

maine logging old photographs

Woodsmen relax outside the bunkhouse.

maine logging old photographs

maine logging old photographs

A woodsman wearing spiked shoes opens up an empty boom at the upper end of Mooselookmeguntic Lake so it can be filled with more logs from the Kennebago River.

maine logging old photographs

An unnamed lumberjack sits down on a felled tree for lunch.

maine logging old photographs

The same lumberjack helps himself to a slice of butter to go with his lunch.

maine logging old photographs

Two lumberjacks take a break during the spring pulpwood drive on the Brown Company timber holdings in Maine.

maine logging old photographs

Two men relax against logs they have just cut in Maine.

maine logging old photographs

Woodsmen playing cards in the bunk-house after thirteen hours of driving logs – the usual working day of the drive season

maine logging old photographs

Spring pulpwood drive on the Brown Company timber holdings in Maine, 1943.

maine logging old photographs

Loggers take a break to read the newspaper.

(Photo credit: John Collier / Library of Congress).