By Ernest H. Knight
March is the end of winter, more or less, and the start of spring, more or less. At least when we know the weather has been bad, we can have hopes as to what might be forthcoming, anything that is better.
Before the days of skidders and tractors, the hauling of logs in and from the woods was performed by oxen and horses; before the days of the chain saw, all cutting was by axe and crescent saw; before the days of good roads and trucks, these logs were transported to the mills by water.
And along with all the ‘before the days of” mentioned, there must be recognition of the various environmental, water quality and conservation agencies that today determine policies and practices. For better or worse, free enterprise is no longer free.
At most local sites there was a sawmill, mainly designed for lumber for local properties. But much of the log harvest went further downstream to the bigger mills that supplied the markets of cities along the coast long since stripped of their forests.
All through the winter logs were hauled from the woods on sleds and unloaded in rows on the ice. When the ice melted, the logs floated and with wind, current and headworks ready to travel. Their route was down Great Rattlesnake, through Tenney River into Panther Pond on through Panther Run and sluiced through the dame on Mill Street into the Jordan River and into Jordan Bay on Sebago Lake.
Mills then had to be at natural falls or dam improvements where water wheels could provide the necessary power for the up-and-down and circular saws.
With melting snows providing flowage and helped by prevailing winds down the lake, the logs could reach Panther Pond without difficulty and cleanup crews of drivers could easily free those caught along the shores or in backwaters.
But in Panther where logs could go far astray because of its width and bays, they could use booms and headworks. The headworks was usually a raft about 10 or 20 feet square on which was mounted a capstan, around which men walked pushing on capstan bars to draw the boomed log floe to it.
The headworks would then be towed ahead in the desired direction and one or more anchors set, the boom pulled up to it and the process repeated as many times as necessary.
In Jordan Bay, the logs would again be boomed for their journey to the Presumpscot, except that in the latter 1800s, the capstan headworks was replaced by steam towboats for the longer and more difficult stretch. As late as into the 1910s, there were times until mid-summer on Jordan Bay from Sam’s Point (now Brown’s Point) to Deep Cove that was solid with logs waiting for transport and with drivers still bringing strays down from Panther.
There are still evidences of the log drives to be found. In the cattail-covered marshlands along Route 302 there are long lost boom logs with their short connecting chains where they were stored when not in use, waiting for the next drive which will never come.
Two steam headworks, named Dupont No. 1 and Dupont No. 2, used by the last operators of the powder mills at Gambo, were abandoned tied up at what is now Indian Point Trailer Park on the Jordan River and their sunken parts dredged up when the boat dock was improved and dumped in back of the campgrounds. All along the route, especially in the shallows of Panther Run and Tenney River, can be seen logs that became sinkers and were left behind. While appearing messy on the outside, the condition is only skin deep and internally, they are in perfect condition for salvage.
Logging practices had to change as the use of our waterways was taken over by summer vacationers for sporting uses, state laws enacted to protect water quality and trucks became available to transport logs directly to mills. Large gangs of woodchoppers and teams of horses and oxen have been replaced by a few men with mechanical equipment who can haul massive loads of logs.
Lost forever is the colorful log driver of years past with his calked boots, pikepole and peavey. <
This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.