Following log drives downriver into history

By Roberta McKern
For The New Era

Thanks to late East Linn Museum volunteer Ted Fitzwater, we can float down the South Santiam River on a log drive.

Inspired by the cover of “Sweet Home in Linn County, New Life, New Land,” a museum-produced book compiled by Martha Steinbacher and other volunteers in 2002, Ted investigated his family members’ associations with an early-20th-century log drive down the river. The cover depicts seven men standing on logs, six with their peaveys. The foremost fellow leans at a 45-degree angle off the end of a log over the water. His hidden peavey, we conclude, holds him up.

The picture held unexpected meaning for Ted. From his great-aunt Ellen he’d received a photograph of his great-grandfather, Charlie Hobson; his son, Pat; an unidentified boy; and a team of horses. As he would write, Ted assumed the photograph had something to do with horse logging in the early 1900s.

But from a second relative, Ron (Jock) Hobson, came a family album with pictures of a log drive. Pat is clearly identifiable in two, as can be seen from Ted’s article.

Ted’s aim, as stated at the museum, was to identify the seven men on the cover. More than 100 years had passed since that log drive, so he didn’t have much luck. However, we could point him to Roy Elliott’s “Profiles of Progress” (1971), one of the museum’s best histories of Sweet Home.

Elliott spoke of working a log drive running 16 miles down the South Santiam to Lebanon and the Scroggins Lumber Mill. He offered salient facts to keep in mind about these drives. Most took place in the fall or spring because there had to be enough water in the river to float the logs, but not too much. Dangerous high water hindered the peavey-wielding men’s ability to ride and control the logs, and too little water left logs stranded on sand and gravel bars, creating greater cost or total loss in retrieval attempts.

Professional river men often followed the drives, bringing along their “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick” talents and a love for showing off with one-upmanship. They earned higher pay, $3 to $4 with board for a 12-hour day, seven days a week. A drive could last between two weeks and two months, and men were expected to stay at the job for that time.

River log drives naturally came with danger, and boats often accompanied them in case someone fell into the water. But that did not guarantee a successful rescue. Roy Elliott admitted that two men were lost on a drive. Ted recalled his grandmother Sylvie saying that she knew a man who tried to ride a log over the Waterloo Falls and drowned.

Although Ted had little luck identifying the seven men with their peaveys, the photographs he included of Charlie and Pat Hobson and others can tell us a considerable amount about the appearance of the drive. The river men’s standard loggers-wear is striking: the “stagged” pants above the ankles, the caulked boots and a preponderance of dark shirts with a squared-off placket in front featuring big, white pearl buttons.

Loggers of the time favored mail-order shirts made of navy blue wool. Charlie and Pat Hobson both wear them in the picture Ellen Hobson gave Ted. Hats provide individuality, and Pat Hobson’s peaked hat with a dark band helps identify him in two of Ted’s photographs.

We can learn a lot from these pictures. Many of us haven’t really thought of the role horses played in a log drive. But we can see the team out in the river, along with a man up to his hips in water, as obstructed logs are being freed. Horses also helped break up log jams.

One photograph features a “Lorelei,” or a lady in a boater hat, looking at rapids in the foreground while men and at least one horse work where logs seem to have stalled upstream.

A picture of a man “riding the logs” over the rapids shows him coming down the middle chute with logs on either side. Ted identified him as Ivan Murphy.

The group photos featuring Pat Hobson allow us to see the drives at dinner and at camp. Roy Elliott wrote of the wanigan and a floating cook shack where drivers ate nourishing meals of plain but plentiful food. The shacks were anchored in the middle of the river, and men were expected to ride to them on smaller logs, propelling themselves using their peaveys as oars. Professionals could show off while doing this by standing on one foot with the other hovering above the water. However, in Ted’s picture, lunch is served on dry land. It looks like a picnic. At the far left, Pat Hobson holds a cup.

The drivers’ camp is also on dry land. Two men hold oars – one each – and Pat Hobson sits cross-legged in front of them. The oars remind us that boats traveled sometimes to rescue men fallen overboard from a misstep on a log.

Although none of these photographs came from the same source, Ted felt they likely depicted the same drive. The logs are “barked” – that is, the bark’s been removed to prevent logs from snagging more easily when pulled down a skid road on land or in the water.

Because some shots are labeled with white descriptions, we might think a photographer saw the log drive as a money-making proposition. The lady on the rocks suggests how entertaining one could be. Full of action and thrills, it was something to remember.

The South Santiam River makes its own impression in the photographs. Seeing the flow of its current and rapids helps us realize how fortunate we are now to have other means of moving logs. Of course, river drives generally involved the harvesting of timber near a suitable water course like the South Santiam and the Calapooia. Then people living near them could hear the thunk of logs hitting each other and striking against the cut bank.

Ted included a photo of a man and boy in a buggy with a team of horses because he thought the latter resembled the one in overalls seen with Charlie and Pat Hobson. He speculated that the man might be connected with the log drive, perhaps as an overseer. The boy may also be in the camp scene squatting in the background, holding a dog.

At any rate, what Ted assembled gives us a better idea of a river drive than we may have received from written descriptions. We need the usual diary of the event, usually lacking, which would fill in logistics with information on the drive’s point of origin, how far upstream from Sweet Home, for example, plus descriptions of splash dams to keep the water high enough to float logs, and accounts of determining the stretch’s general river conditions. Also, how did the log drive end? Was there a boom across the river to keep logs from traveling on?

There were times Ted thought he might not be the best of the museum’s volunteers, but he was great: intelligent, resourceful and active, just like the men who rode logs down the river. Even if he didn’t learn the identities of the men traveling down the South Santiam like his great-grandfather, Charlie Hobson and son, Pat, he left the museum quite a legacy.

We are now collecting for the museum yard sale, scheduled for Saturday, July 9, during the Sportsman’s Holiday. Donated, saleable items may be dropped off between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

We don’t have the personnel to handle furniture or electronics. In fact, volunteers are really needed at the museum, and we really appreciate the help we can get.