Steam Engines Made Hauling
Wood Much Easier and Opened Up Most of the Longleaf Forest to Logging
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Steam engines made logging
much easier. Loggers built railroad tracks along ridges and logged
on both sides of them. Trains replaced rafts as the best way to
move heavy logs to the sawmill.
The exhaustion of the white-pine forests in New England by the
end of the nineteenth century saw northern investors and land speculators
purchasing large areas in the south covered with vast acreage of
longleaf pine. With this investment came advances in technology
to step-up production and increase efficiency of logging. Before
the use of steam power, it was not cost effective for a company
using mules and oxen to log much more then a mile or two from streams
and rivers. This meant millions of acres of backcountry longleaf
forests were untouched prior the twentieth century. Steam power,
however, opened up the entire longleaf pine forest landscape to
logging. Few areas were spared from logging.
By 1907, the 5 ½ million acres of old-growth longleaf pine
forests were being cut per year.
Timber companies built spur lines
along ridges across the south and logged the slopes on either side.
These lines were also called tram lines
(named after the train) or dummy lines
(because they weren't considered a "real" rail line connecting
one community to another). Because these rail lines were often haphazardly
laid onto the ground, the wheels of the flatcars had several inches
of left/right and up/down "play" in them. Still it was
not uncommon for trains to "jump" the tracks.
Early steam locomotives burned wood (usually pine). The stack on
these wood-burning locomotives was designed to bulge at the top.
This bulge was engineered to act as a spark arrester and lessen
the threat of wildfire. Sparks coming off of train wheels, however,
were responsible for starting many fires in the woods.
Some companies used steam skidders
powered by "donkey engines"
to haul logs to the trackside, where they were loaded on rail cars.
Although efficient, these machines were very destructive to the
regeneration of the forest as logs were carelessly skidded over
young longleaf pine seedlings. Trains could move large amounts of
bulk goods, including wood,
efficiently and they soon overtook water transport as a shipping
The milling of wood was also
powered by steam. Prior to the use of steam, most mills were powered
by water and were limited in where they could be located. Such mills
were not efficient and did not produce much sawn wood. With steam,
mills were often built close to railheads and became the focal points
for mill towns. At first, most mills were constructed of wood. However,
fire was a constant threat and many a mill was burnt to the ground.
Over time, mills switched to using metal in their construction.
When all the timber that could be reached from a spur was cut,
the trains backed out, pulling the rails up behind them. Old rail
beds or tram ways are common across the southern landscape today.
Steam locomotives that were not sold to other logging companies
or to commuter railroads were usually scrapped for metal. Today
only a handful of these steam workhorses of the lumber industry
Key Words and Concepts (click
on for glossary definition): bulk