Lumbering Stories

Forty or so years ago lumbermen dressed for work as you see them here. Wide-brim hats, leather boots and thermal underwear layered with heavy, woolen clothing for winter and outerwear of cotton for summer.

Protective clothing or gear was unheard of and unavailable. Accidents were commonplace and the rule. I recall an insensitive article on page 2 of a local newspaper which was entitled "local man felled by falling fir". I wonder how the widow or children felt when they saw this.

Today lumbermen go into the forest dressed in protective clothing from head-to-toe like members of a riot squad. Lightweight and superstrong metals and plastics make up the bulk of the gear and clothes. Chain saws weigh, at the most, 25 lbs full and are loaded with numerous safety features, even mufflers and shock absorbers. Helicopters serve as ambulances and First aide equipment is always present. Strict and enforced rules dictate how a tree is cut. Living conditions for crews demand proper toilets, hygiene, lodging with recreational halls and comfort, etc...

The  true stories below are meant to show a little bit of the dangers that were taken for granted in the growing-up experiences of a child according to the realistic thinking of the times. It was believed that small injuries were a blessing in that they taught caution which prevented greater injuries later. Like burning your finger on the stove might prevent you from roasting in a burning building.

Charles Nadeau, second from right, and his crew. More members of the Nadeau clan must be here but I can not ID them. Perhaps Claudine or Leonnie can help?

Typical bunkhouses of pre 1950--each holds 6 to 8 men--Isn't that right Jules?

Jules Frenette built bunkhouses such as these as a lumbering carpenter, I believe.

A much better than usual mess camp with fresh, running water just outside!

A typical lumber camp kitchen of the period late 1800 to mid 1900s

It was said that he could dance to the tune of  'Allouette' providing his pipe was filled with Edgeworth tobacco to keep the damn blackflies away!

Of course, I'm referring to the cookie. Hate to spoil the fancy but the bear was dead and propped up in this fashion. Bears were a frequent problem with the storage sheds, pantries, and pig sties. Pigs were often raised at the camps for meat. Perhaps Jules knows who the cook is?

1-05487 Pauline's collection


1-05622 Pauline's collection

At lumber camp

1-05624 Pauline's collection

1-05629 Pauline's collection

1-05628 Pauline's collection

1-05631 Pauline's collection

1-05630 Pauline's collection

1-05632 Pauline's collection

1-05634 Pauline's collection

1-05635 Pauline's collection

1-05613 Pauline's collection

1-05617 Pauline's collection

Stumped, Andy?

Andy, if you ever read this, I'm sure you will remember the incident. I think we are about the same age and were about 8 or 9 years old at the time.

Can't remember who the sled driver was or how Andy and I came to be employed picking Spruce cones from recently-felled tree-tops and branches. It was dirty, sticky work but we were having the time of our life--until the fall.

Some of you will recall those big pulp sleds. Jules used to repair them as a lumbering carpenter. (Thanks for showing me how they worked, Jules.) They were amazing in how they were built to accommodate rough ground and climb the stumps. You see, the frames rested on skids and were attached by vertical metal rods in such a way that when the horizontal frame hit a stump or rock it lifted and slid over it rather than getting caught. There were many other ingenious things about this sled, but that is too wayward for now.

Between clumps of Spruce, Andy and I would hitch rides on the horse-drawn pulp-sled as it went empty to retrieve another load for the yard. We would sit at the front on the crosspeice.

Somehow, Andy's foot got caught by a root on the ground. I was horrified as I saw Andy being pulled beneath the crosspeice under the frame with only 6 inches from ground to frame. For sure he would be pulverized and mashed. Unbelievably, he emerged at the other end of the sled bruised and shaken but alive and well! The sled had slid over him as it did the stumps!

Were you stumped Andy? I was so happy that I still had my good buddy to share life with that I even thanked god in my prayers that night.

Richard Nadeau

Watch that 75 lb Yellow Hornet!

Rodrigue: Here is a rather breezy story for Fernand's children and grandchildren.

The year was probably 1946--really not sure. It was Summer, Dad and Fernand were cutting timber together with a new development which promised to revolutionize timber harvesting--the chain saw. They had a big, yellow, 75-pound machine with a 3 or 4 foot blade. At the end of this blade was an attached handle through which the cutting chain passed separated from the man's fingers by a thin piece of metal. This Hornet was aptly named. I have never seen another one. The man with the heaviest burden held the Hornet. The man with the greatest danger held the end of the blade while the chain mowed down everything in it's path with ferocious fury. Too bad for the man at the end if the chain broke.

I was just a child of about seven and very curious about this monster. I had been carefully trained about the dangers of lumbering and frequently went in the woods with dad. I was always to keep a very healthy distance from any cutting operation. This day was very unusual due to the new machine and the circumstance requiring Dad and Fernand's utter concentration. They had cut one tree which became entangled with another. Now they had to fell the other causing both to fall simultaneously. This is always a tricky operation because there are many uncertainties which cause unpredictable results. I was totally oblivious of the dangers and was immersed in the curiosity for the Hornet.

The trees fell with loud cracks while twisting on their buts, shedding big branches in all directions. I was frozen in their path, watching the giants come down upon me. Suddenly, as I could feel the earth shake and anticipated the first crushing pain, I felt a heavy blow from the side and flew through the air a distance of 20 feet. As I picked myself up from the ground, I stared at the tangled and quivering mess before me and emerging from the center was Fernand--virtually unscathed! The trees had fallen on both sides of him. Deftly and instinctively, without giving any thought to his own safety, he had thrown me clear.

From that moment I never found uncle Fernand's big, bulging eyes frightening again.

Richard Nadeau

Dangling toe.

It is damp and cold, here in Stratton, today. I have much work to do but can't seem to make myself do it. It lifts my spirit to go to the Nadeaus community check for mail and  remember the old days?

Reminds me of when it was lunch time in the woods. The workers would get together for lunch, build a fire and heat some canned goods and lumberman's coffee while drying their woolen socks and clothing. Always there was chatter about times past. Most of these workers grew up together and were life-long friends of dad. Leon Lazure, Clairmont and Pete Rodrigue, Paul or Frank Roy, to name a few. All morning I looked forward to these lunch breaks and story telling.

I remember a few and will tell them to you when you take a break and tell me some of yours--here around the warm fire. For now, pull up a log, dust off the snow, lay down your socks to steam and sip your coffee--the beans will be ready shortly.

It only took a second, my right boot was warm where it had been cold before. Maybe it looked far worse than it was because the cut went from the right side, across the top, and down to the sole on the other side. Of course I couldn't feel anything, just the spreading warmth inside. "Dad," I shouted, "I cut myself!" Within a minute, he was cutting off my boot and..... Blood was pouring out. I started to feel faint. I took a deep breath and rubbed snow on my face. Tried to look away and think of other things. I had been limbing a felled tree with the axe. I can't remember how it happened--what careless act or happenstance resulted in the injury.

More coffee? Eat your hot beans on this birch-bark plate with this chip-fork I made.

The boot and red, unmatched woolen-sock was off. Dad was examining the cut. "Not bad", he said, "we'll put a bandage on it and you'll be able to get right back to work." I looked down and could see the big toe dangling by the skin--almost completely severed at the first joint. Blood was spurting out from a small artery. I could see the ends of the bones at the joint--they were white and shiny. Dad had cut off the lace from the boot and tied a noose around my toe above the cut. The bleeding went to a trickle. Next, he put the pieces of my toe together and while holding them in place put tobacco around the cut and wrapped my toe up with strips off the tail of his shirt after which he removed the noose. He then made a sleeve or splint of birch bark which he put over the toe and wrapped with more shirt bandage. He put a clean and dry, wool sock over the foot. He cut the top of the boot off to allow for extra room wiped out the blood as best he could and inserted my foot. He used the rest of the laces to retie the boot together with a new top-of-birch-bark! I gained a lot of respect for him that day. The bandage stayed on the toe for two weeks. It looked raunchy and smelled terrible when it came off and I thought my toe would come off with it but after cleaning it, it was mostly healed. It healed without doctors. I regained most of the function and all sensation. Dad said it was the tobacco and birch bark. When we get together, I'll show you my big toe.

OK, time to get back to work!

Richard Nadeau

Another story to put you to sleep.

I was about seven, I think.

At first the pain in my feet was sharp and it was difficult to walk but after a while the pain was replaced by numbness which crept up my legs and spread over my whole body..... I could tell that I was walking because I could see things moving around me. I grew tired and just wanted to curl up and sleep..... I woke up slowly barely able to open my eyes but could hear a distant voice asking my name. I wasn't able to make my tongue and mouth move to say anything--only drool. I only wanted to go back to sleep.....The second time I woke up to hear several distant voices, one was my mother's. I only wanted to go back to sleep.

I had gone with dad to the lumber camp that morning in sub-zero weather in January. He had some scaling to do but it was too cold for me to stay with him so he left me at the mess camp with the cookie. This cook hated dad and was a mean man who teased me mercilessly. I decided to leave the camp and wait for dad in the car. I didn't have to wait long before feeling jack frost nibbling at my toes, fingers, nose, and ears. I only wanted to go home. I knew the way--it wasn't far. I was only 6 or 7 miles south off route 27 and could walk home in just a few minutes. It only took a few minutes for dad to drive here.

I had curled up in a comfortable snow bank on the side of the road when the driver of the pulp truck spotted me. The first people he asked in town knew who I was and directed him to my home. According to the wisdom of the time I was placed in the shed to be re-warmed gradually. I never suffered any damage that I know of.

Strange what one remembers in a situation like this. I remember what I stated above but nothing else. I never knew the name of the man who brought me home. Perhaps one of my sisters can recall more.

Richard Nadeau


Dad was working with Clairmont in Green. I twitched the horse--hauling tree-length logs from dad's cutting area to the yard where Clairmont would cut them to pulp size for cording. It was hard and difficult work walking in this crystallized snow. The more you work snow, the more granular it becomes until it has the consistency of bird shot. This is great for hauling logs but extremely tiring to walk in. It was 1 p.m. and 3 more hours before dark and quitting time. I was tired and running on automatic pilot. Clairmont was waiting ahead of me and so occupied his time by felling trees around the yard.

I heard Clairmont yell but it was too late, before I could see what was happening I heard a loud crack in my head and felt a heavy weight pushing my head into my shoulders. I had been walking along-side the horse when the tree fell on top of us. If it had not been for the horse taking most of the impact, I would not have survived. As it was I suffered a mean but not serious gash on my skull. It was bloody but the injury was superficial.

A truck was loading and would be leaving for points west through Lewiston soon. I decided to hitch a ride to lewiston and get some stitches after cleaning up at home. My head, face and clothes were covered with blood. the driver dropped me off on my street and I walked to the house. Mom was in the cellar ironing the clothes. She heard someone come in and went upstairs to investigate. I had just entered the bathroom to clean up when she came in. She nearly died of fright!

Poor woman! I was cracked more ways than one for scaring my mother this way. I finished cleaning up and walked to the hospital, a mile away, where I received 14 stitches.

Richard Nadeau

Cracked even more!

Maybe I was 7 or 8, maybe even 10 or 11--really can't remember.

I remember the incident very well.

On our return from working in the woods, dad and I would walk the 1/2 mile to the lumber camp and car together. On this particular day dad thought that he would pull a practicle joke on me-his last. He went ahead and hid in the bushes. When I approached, he growled like an angry bear. I was scared out of my wits. I took the hatchet in hand and threw it with all my might in the bush from where the sound came.  I heard dad's scream as he ran out!

He never pulled a prank on me again.



I was twitching the horse--the one in the picture, above. Twitching is the act of leading the horse from log cutting to yard where the logs are cut to pulp and corded or stacked.

The chain was stuck on a log so dad came to help.

In Winter, there was no need to water the horses frequently because they ate the snow. This, though, gave them gas--lots of gas!

As dad struggled with the chain immediately behind the horse, he (the horse) let out some gas. But to throw injury over insult, there was liquid matter along with it. Poor dad was drenched for the day in liquid manure.

I have not laughed as much since he danced to the hornet jig.

It's no wonder that he laughed when a tree fell on me, impaling me with a branch in my back! Somehow I never forgave him for that.


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