A Description of the Redwood Forests.—Lumbering Operations in the Redwood Forests in Detail.—The Advantages of Skilled Axemen in Lumbering Operations.—The Axeman's Efficiency in Time of War.—The Mill Machinery, of What Consisting.—Process of Preparing the Timber.—Immense - sized Trees. — Average Yield of Sawed Stuff per Acre. — The Forest Soil Described. — Depth of Root of the Redwood-tree, to What Due.—A Reasonable Explanation.—Great Age of the Redwood-tree.—Manner of Growth and General Appearance.—Experiences of the Log Camp.—Redwood Logging in California.
A friend of mine, while in California not long ago, made a visit to the Redwood forests on Russian River. His description of what he saw is so graphic and interesting that I give it a place in these chapters. He says: " The nearest mill was twenty miles distant. But such was the purity of the atmosphere that the timber could be seen distinctly, looming up in its gigantic height, twenty miles away on the mountains. After a sharp drive across the plains we descended to the river through a pocket canon, where forests of fir and laurel fine the hillsides. At this season the river is a stream of fifty feet in width, about knee-deep. The other bank is the margin of the red woods. A mile beyond we came to Murphy's mill, located in a valley in the heart of the timber. Though it has been running continuously all summer with a force of twenty-five men, and a capacity for sawing twenty-five thousand feet per day, they have not succeeded in clearing the trees away from dano-er-ous proximity to the buildings.
Having read newspaper and magazine articles and books of travel laudatory of everything here to a tiresome extent, I took the precaution to carry a tape-line, and propose to set down the sober results of measurement, and will leave the speculative and poetical departments entirely out.
The men live in little houses scattered along a trout-stream near the mill, the stumps of the trees being in many instances as large as the houses. The mill-building is forty by ninety feet, two stories high. The engine is sixty horse-power, having furnaces consuming less than half the sawdust and slabs produced—a car bears the surplus away to a pile always on fire. The gang of laborers is divided as follows: Sixteen men in the mill, eight in the woods, one cook, and four yokes of oxen. The wages for the eight Chinamen are twenty-six dollars per month; other common laborers, forty dollars. The engineers and sawyers receive from sixty to eighty dollars; and the axemen, who fell the trees, are paid eighty dollars per month—all being ' found.'
The axeman is the most important man on the premises, for the reason that if he is not expert in felling the timber great annoyance and destruction would follow. The timber is soft and straight-grained, and splits better than chestnut. His axe is light, with a narrow blade, and a helve forty-two inches long. All trees are cut from two sides only; there is no girdling or haggling. He chops both right and left handed, yet has to reach a long way when the trees are very large. In contriving to throw the trees away from the mill or away from other timber, no matter how they lean, brings out the skill of the woodman. But he does it every time. Not only that, but his employers will wager that his skill is so great he will drive a stake, set one hundred and fifty feet distant, with the falling tree; and showed me where he dropped a ten-foot redwood exactly between two stumps, either of which, if struck, would have shivered it; there was less than a foot to spare on either side. All will at once understand that the point is to at once work up the timber without loss or delay and to the best advantage. A mistake made in lodging one of these huge fellows against another would entail hundreds of dollars in the expense and trouble of clearing away the debris.
In the older settled states there are few men left who could take their fathers' places as 'corner-men' at a house-raising. Enough are left to bear witness to the wonderful efficiency of an axe when wielded by skilful hands. It requires more judgment to manage than does the handhng of his weapon by a swordsman. This was made plain during the war of the Rebellion by the great superiority of lumbermen and Western men over others when it came to slashing timber for rifle-pits and road-making.
The mill machinery consists of one sash-saw, cutting logs eight feet in diameter (larger ones have to be slabbed), a circular-saw, edge-saws, and a planer for dressing and finishing. There are two cross-cut saws in the woods, following the axemen. Each saw is run by one man.
When we arrived, the logging-gang were hitched to a log which they dragged along the ground, sled-fashion, to the mill. Before hauling it the bark was peeled off and the end of the log slightly rounded. Buckets of water poured along the track made it shppery. Then, resting a few times by the way, the oxen ' snaked' the log, five feet in diameter, to the ways at the mill; with a slight purchase and a pull by steam it was rolled on a car and began to travel to the saw. There it was cut by the sash-saw into three huge slabs, which were left clamped together, then rolled over to the circular-saw, which could now manage the pieces. Every twenty seconds a huge plank was shced off and sent to the 'edger;' thence, in narrower boards, to the ' planer,' and before the mud was dry, it had become dressed-flooring or rustic finish for building. There were thirteen logs in that tree, each sixteen feet long. Another tree measured two hundred and eighty-eight feet from the stump to the end of the last saw-log. It had cut fifty-six thousand feet of boards; the top was left at four feet diameter and near one hundred feet in length. Still another, which they were working into shingles, had already made three hundred thousand, and enough lay there in the log to make one hundred thousand more. It was perfectly free from knots and wind-shakes for two hundred feet. They count usually on having first-class lumber on the first one hundred and fifty feet. We measured two large trees, standing within fifty feet of each other, which were forty-one feet six inches and forty-one feet, respectively, in circumference at five feet from the ground. We afterwards saw still larger trees, but did not measure them, as some of them grew in clumps and were not fairly single stems. My opinion is that the average size may be set down as about eight feet across the stump. The product will run from two hundred thousand to five hundred thousand feet of sawed stuff per acre, as nearly as I could figure,-depending on the frequency of the groups and the size of them. There is no undergrowth, and the ground is deep, mellow black soil, capable of producing anything grown in California. After clearing there would be no trouble in ploughing close up to the stumps, as the roots lie far below. One tree having died, fire got into it and burned twenty feet below the surface, leaving a hole like a well where other portions of the trunk could be seen still growing upward. The explanation may be due to their great age, which has allowed for the accumulation of soil around them for hundreds and thousands of years—like the ruins of old cities buried under accumulations of centuries. Attempting to count the rings of annual growth, we found an indefinite and unsatisfactory undertaking. They were very close and blended together. There is no doubt that the largest trees were in existence before the Christian era—possibly as long ago as the building of Rome. The growth here is so dense there is very little foliage as compared with the size of the trunk, and the limbs do not often start nearer than one hundred and fifty feet from the ground. The tree-bole holds its diameter remarkably uniform in its upward growth, and will usually be two feet thick within fifteen feet of the top, where it seems to be broken off at the limit of the fog-line. There is no object at hand affording the spectator an adequate standard of comparison by which the eye may measure the vast height of these trees, which would far out-top the steeple of Trinity Church.
Away in the depth of these big woods we found a solitary cow, belonging to the mill. She was quietly ruminating, and seemed glad of companionship. That she was a civilized animal was shown by the polished brass tips on her horns. She was very gentle, and suffered us to pat her neck, while she stopped chewing her cud and put out her- nose, breathing big breaths fragrant of milk and grassy odors.
Returning, a couple of hours were spent wandering about the mill, where a dozen four-horse teams were loading lumber at the big piles. Afterwards a stroll of a few rods to see long-armed Davis, in his ' shirt-sleeves,' swinging in the slow, steady strokes with his long-handled axe, as he opened an eight-foot notch in the side of a three-hundred-footer. He stood on the ground at his work, but once in a while stopped to walk half way around the tree, or shut one eye and look up with the other, as though mentally engaged in taking its weight and in calculating to the fraction of an inch the deviation from its proper course that any probable force might exercise on its fall.
" Once ten rods away, bound for the settlements, the axeman and the mill were hid from view—buried completely by the trees."