Lumberjack: Wikis


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Lumberjacks in Oregon, c. 1910

A lumberjack is a worker in the logging industry who performs the initial harvesting and transport of trees for ultimate processing into forest products. The term usually refers to a bygone era (before 1945) when hand tools were used in harvesting trees principally from virgin forest. Because of its historical ties, the term lumberjack has become ingrained in popular culture through folklore, media, and spectator sports. The work was difficult, dangerous, intermittent, low-paying, and primitive in living conditions, but the men built a traditional culture that celebrated strength, masculinity, confrontation with danger, and resistance to modernization.



The term lumberjack is somewhat archaic, having been mostly replaced by logger. When lumberjack is used, it usually refers to a logger from an earlier time before the advent of chainsaws, feller-bunchers and other modern logging equipment. Other terms for the occupation include woodcutter, and the colloquial term woodhick (Pennsylvania, US). A logger employed in driving logs down a river was known locally in northern North America as a river pig, catty-man, river hog, or river rat. The term "lumberjill" has been known for a woman who does this work, for example in Britain during World War II.[1] In Australia the occupation is referred to as timber cutter [2] or timber getter[3][4].


A Maine logging camp in 1906
Lumberjacks near Bellingham, Washington in c. 1910
Felling axe

Lumberjacks worked in lumber camps and often lived a migratory life, following timber harvesting jobs as they opened[5]. They also had to take a long time to move the logs from place to place, because of low technology. Being a lumberjack was seasonal work. Lumberjacks were exclusively men. They usually lived in bunkhouses or tents. Common equipment included the axe and crosscut saw. Lumberjacks could be found wherever there were vast forests to be harvested and a demand for wood, most likely in Scandinavia, Canada, and northern parts of the United States. In the U.S., many lumberjacks were of Scandinavian ancestry, continuing the occupation of their parents and grandparents. American lumberjacks were first centered in northeastern states such as Maine and then followed the general westward migration on the continent to the Upper Midwest, and finally the Pacific Northwest. Stewart Holbrook documented the rise and eventual westward migration of the classic American lumberjack in his first book, Holy Old Mackinaw: A Natural History of the American Lumberjack, and often wrote colorfully about lumberjacks in his subsequent books, romanticizing them as hard-drinking, hard-working men. Logging camps were slowly phased out between World War II and the early 1960s as crews could by then be transported to remote logging sites in motor vehicles.[6]

The division of labor in lumber camps led to several specialized jobs on logging crews, such as whistle punk, chaser, and high climber.<reaf> Radford (1987)</ref> The whistle punk's job was to sound a whistle as a signal to the yarder operator controlling the movement of logs and act as a safety lookout, and a good whistle punk had to be alert and think fast as the safety of the others depended on him. The high climber (also known as a tree topper) used iron climbing hooks and rope to ascend a tall tree in the landing area of the logging site, where he would chop off limbs as he climbed, chop off the top of the tree, and finally attach pulleys and rigging to the tree so it could be used as a spar so logs could be skidded into the landing. High climbers and whistle punks were both phased out in the 1960s to early 1970s when portable steel towers replaced spar trees and radio equipment replaced steam whistles for communication. The chokersetters attached steel cables (or chokers) to downed logs so they could be dragged into the landing by the yarder. The chasers removed the chokers once the logs were at the landing. Chokersetters and chasers were often entry-level positions on logging crews, with more experienced loggers seeking to move up to more skill-intensive positions such as yarder operator and high climber, or supervisory positions such as hooktender. Despite the common perception that all loggers cut trees, the actual felling and bucking of trees were also specialized job positions done by fallers and buckers. Fallers and buckers were once two separate job titles but are now combined.[7]

During the era before modern diesel or gasoline powered equipment, what machinery existed was steam-powered, and animal- or steam-powered skidders could be used to haul harvested logs to nearby railroads for shipment to sawmills. Horse driven logging wheels was a means used for moving logs out of the woods. Another way for transporting logs to sawmills was to float them down a body of water or a specially-constructed log flume. Log rolling, the art of staying on top of a floating log while "rolling" the log by walking, was another skill much in demand among lumberjacks. Spiked boots known as "caulks" or "corks" were used for log rolling and often worn by lumberjacks as their regular footwear.

The term "skid row", which today means a poor city neighborhood frequented by homeless people, originated in a way in which harvested logs were once transported. Logs could be "skidded" down hills or along a corduroy road, and one such street in Seattle was named Skid Road. This street later became frequented by people down on their luck, and both the name and its meaning morphed into the modern term.

The tie hack

A specialty form of logging involving the felling of trees for the production of railroad ties was known as tie hacking. These lumberjacks, called tie hacks, used saws to fell trees and cut to length, and a broadax to flatten two or all four sides of the log to create railroad ties. Later, portable saw mills were used to cut and shape ties. Tie hacking was an important form of logging in Wyoming and northern Colorado and the remains of tie hacking camps can be found on National Forest land. The remains of flumes can be seen near Dubois, Wyoming and Old Roach, Colorado. In addition, a decaying splash dam exists near the Old Roach site as well. There tie hacks attempted to float logs down to the Laramie River for the annual spring tie drives, and the splash dam was used to collect winter snowmelt to increase the water flow for the tie drive.[citation needed]

Lumberjack culture

Tomczik (2008) has investigated the lifestyle of lumberjacks in 1840-1940, using records from Maine and Minnesota logging camps. In a period of industrial development and modernization in urban areas, logging remained a traditional business in which the workers exhibited pride in their craft, their physical strength and masculinity, and guarded their individualism. Their camps were a bastion of the traditional workplace as they defied modern rationalized management, and built a culture around masculinity. At the peak in 1906 there were 500,000 lumberjacks; they took special pride in their work. Logging camps were located in isolated areas that provided room and board as well as a workplace. With few females present other than the wives of cooks and foremen, lumberjacks lived an independent life style that emphasized manly virtues in doing dangerous tasks. Men earned praise for their skills in doing their work, for being competitive, and for being aggressive. When not at work, they played rough games, told tall tales, and won reputations for consuming large amounts of food. By 1940, the business was undergoing major changes, as access roads and automobiles ended residential logging camps, chain saws replaced crosscut saws, and managers installed modern industrial methods.[8]

The modern logger

Modern technology has changed the job of the modern logger considerably. Although the basic task of harvesting trees is still the same, the machinery and tasks are no longer the same. Many of the old job specialties on logging crews are now obsolete.

Chainsaws, harvesters, and feller bunchers are now used to cut or fell trees. The tree is turned into logs by removing the limbs (delimbing) and cutting it into logs of optimal length (bucking). The felled tree or logs are moved from the stump to the landing. Ground vehicles such as a skidder or forwarder can pull, carry, or shovel the logs. Cable systems "cars" can pull logs to the landing. Logs can also be flown to the landing by helicopter. Logs are commonly transported to the sawmill using trucks. Harvesting methods may include clearcutting or selective cutting. Concerns over the environmental impact have led to controversy about modern logging practices. In certain areas of forest loggers re-plant their crop for future generations.

A recent Wall Street Journal survey on the best jobs in the United States ended by listing being a logger as the "worst" 3D's job [1], citing "work instability, poor income and pure danger". A Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of America's most dangerous jobs put loggers at the top of the list for 2004.


Double cut competition at the Lexington Barbecue Festival
Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show

The modern lumberjack can be found in our competitive culture, originally started as a competition in the old lumber camps to see who the best lumberjack was. Today these competitions are used to acknowledge the rich history forestry and logging and keep traditions alive. This is reflected in the events at these competitions. With the most notable event being the Lumberjack World Championship, held in Hayward, Wisconsin. The competition began in 1960 and is now one of the largest spectator gathers of the sport bringing in over 12,000 on an annual basis.

Many colleges have woodsmen teams or forestry clubs, which compete regionally, nationally, and internationally. The Association of Southern Forestry Clubs, for example, sponsors an annual Forestry Conclave with 250 contestants in various events.

There are also lumberjack shows which tour the United States, demonstrating these old time lumber practices to the general public. Loggers' rodeos are also held in some towns which demonstrate these events to the public.[citation needed]

The Lumberjack World Championships have been held annually in Hayward, Wisconsin, since 1960.[9] Over twelve thousand visitors come to this small northern Wisconsin town each year in late July to watch men and women compete in 21 different events, including log rolling, chopping, timed hot (power) saw and bucksaw cutting, and pole climbing.[citation needed]

In popular culture

Statue of a stereotypical lumberjack in Portland, Oregon.

In popular culture, the stereotypical cliché of a lumberjack is a strong, burly, usually bearded man who lives to brave the natural environment. He is depicted wearing suspenders, a long-sleeved plaid flannel shirt, and heavy boots. He is often depicted as being very hungry and eating a large stack of flapjacks or pancakes. He works by cutting down trees with either an axe or with the help of another lumberjack, a crosscut saw, as opposed to the modern chainsaw.[10]

The most famous depiction of a lumberjack in folklore is Paul Bunyan. Several towns claim to have been the home of Paul Bunyan and have statues of Bunyan and his ox "Babe" in the town.[11]

Perhaps one of the most famous "authentic" folk heroes of the lumber trade was Joseph Montferrand, better known as Big Joe Mufferaw, a French-Canadian logger known for his physical prowess and desire to protect the French Canadian logger.[12]


The lives of loggers have been featured on the following American reality television series:


Lumberjacks rapidly developed their own distinctive musical culture of work songs. Many were based on traditional European folk tunes, with lyrics that reflected the lives, experiences and concerns of lumberjacks, with the themes of cutting, hauling, rolling and driving, as well as narrative songs that involved romance.[13]

In Monty Python, a popular skit is "The Lumberjack Song" known for its refrain "I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay / I sleep all night and I work all day".

Johnny Cash recorded a song about lumberjacks titled "Lumberjack", which appeared on the Ride This Train album.

"The Lumberjack" is a song by Jackyl.

Books and films

The 2003 book Blackwater Ben by William Durbin is about a boy who gets to live with his father as a cook in a lumberjack camp.

Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey's 1964 novel adapted for a 1971 movie, is about a family of lumberjacks in Oregon.

Maddox's book The Alphabet of Manliness lists the lumberjack as one of 26 examples of the pinnacle of manliness. Maddox goes on make such factual claims such as : Lumberjacks are raised by Cyclops, etc.

The 1954 movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a classic film musical about seven lumberjack brothers who, in the spirit of the Roman story of the The Rape of the Sabine Women, decide to kidnap brides for themselves from the neighboring town.

Canadian artist William Kurelek wrote and illustrated a book called Lumberjack (1974) [ISBN 0-88776-378-2] about his days working in a logging camp.

Professional wrestling

In professional wrestling, a lumberjack match is a contest between two or more wrestlers where the outside of the ring area is surrounded by other grapplers. These performers are supposed to forcibly return to inside the ring wrestlers that leave the mat.

See also



  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Rohe, 1986
  6. ^ Smith (1972)
  7. ^ Sorden and Vallier, 1986
  8. ^ Adam Tomczik, "'He-men Could Talk to He-men in He-man Language'": Lumberjack Work Culture in Maine and Minnesota, 1840–1940," Historian Winter 2008, Vol. 70 Issue 4, pp 697-715
  9. ^
  10. ^ R. Samuel and P. R. Thompson, The Myths we live by (London: Taylor & Francis, 1990), pp. 132-6.
  11. ^ R. M. Dorson, American folklore: with revised bibliographical notes (University of Chicago Press, 1961, 2nd edn., 1977), p. 216.
  12. ^ J. R. Colombo, Canadian literary landmarks (Dundurn Press, 1984), p. 158.
  13. ^ T. A. Mood, American Regional Folklore: A Sourcebook and Research Guide (ABC-CLIO, 2004), pp. 220-2.

Further reading

  • Chaney, Michael P. White Pine on the Saco River: An Oral History of River Driving in Southern Maine (University of Maine Press, 1993)
  • Griffiths, Bus. Now You're Logging, Harbour Publishing, 1978.
  • Holbrook, Stewart H. Holy Old Mackinaw: A Natural History of the American Lumberjack, 1938, popular
    • Holbrook, Stewart H. The American Lumberjack (Collier Books, 1962), popular account
  • Karamanski, Theodore J. Deep Woods Frontier: A History of Logging in Northern Michigan (1989)
  • Lee, David. Lumber Kings and Shantymen. Ottawa, Canada: 2006.
  • Lemonds, James. Deadfall: Generations of Logging in the Pacific Northwest. Missoula: Mountain Press, 2001.
  • Mackay, Donald. "The Canadian Logging Frontier," Journal of Forest History 1979 23(1): 4-17
  • Radforth, Ian. Bushworkers and Bosses: Logging in Northern Ontario, 1900–1980 (University of Toronto Press, 1987).
  • Robbins, William G. Lumberjacks and Legislators: Political Economy of the U.S. Lumber Industry, 1890-1941 (Texas A. & M. U. Press, 1982). 268 pp.
  • Roberge, Earl. Timber Country. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1973.
  • Rohe, Randall E. "The Evolution of the Great Lakes Logging Camp, 1830-1930," Journal of Forest History 1986 30(1): 17-28
  • Smith, David C. A History of Lumbering in Maine, 1861–1960 (University of Maine Press, 1972)
  • Sorden, L. G. and Vallier, Jacque. Lumberjack Lingo: A Dictionary of the Logging Era. (Ashland, Wis.: NorthWord, 1986). 288 pp.
  • Tomczik, Adam, "'He-men Could Talk to He-men in He-man Language'": Lumberjack Work Culture in Maine and Minnesota, 1840–1940," Historian Winter 2008, Vol. 70 Issue 4, pp 697-715

External links

Simple English

A lumberjack is a person who cuts down trees to be made into lumber. Lumberjacks used to cut with axes, but now lumberjacks use chainsaws.

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