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Dave Petersen History Columnist

Old Lumberjacks recall days past in the Camps

In 1955 during the centennial celebrations and effort was made to find the oldest lumberjack still living in the county. This search netted some great stories of days long since past in Mason Counties History. I recently ran across a couple of these stories that were originally published from first hand accounts in 1955. Since the days of logging in Mason County have been over since about 1918 it's unlikely that there is anyone left who can tell us first hand what life was like in the camps. However I would be happy to hear from anyone who could relate a few stories of those times. Reprinted here are 2 of the stories as they were told in 1955 in editions of the Ludington Daily News.

"Abe Nelson's father was an old lumber woods blacksmith, and after Abe' s first job of skidding logs for Marshall Costello, with his father oxen, he worked with his father until the fall of 1897 when he went to the Stearns camp in Carr Settlement. His first job was to Jew ties. Then the foreman, William Roach, thinking to have some fun, gave him a broad ax and a handle and told him to hang it, and that it was a left-hand ax. Mr. Nelson replied that it was both, depending on how the handle was put on.

When Mr. Nelson got his high shoes and the two rows of calks, as they had to walk the tree to hew and score, he really was somebody. In camp he tried everything, sawing stove bolts, cutting four-foot wood, peeling tanbark, swamping cut logs, loading wheels and drays, driving skidding teams, dog teams and wheel teams, braking on the log train, and running the locomotive. In addition, he was sent to help out in the blacksmith shop when they needed help. In 1904, at 24 years of age, he took over the shop.

This gave him plenty of hard work, as the company was buying a lot of horses from across the lake, and many of them had never had a foot picked off the ground by anyone. Some were bad, and they were heavy. In 1907, the camp was moved from Fountain to Kalkaska, and Mr. Nelson says that he believes that in 1901,1909, and part of 1910 they had the biggest logging operation Michigan ever saw in one place, there was too much machinery and too many men to handle all in one place, so two mort sets of camps were built. Camp 2 had140 men and Camp 3 had 28 men and a rehaul skidder. The blacksmith in Camp 2 did the work for Camp 3.

Camp 1 had between 160 and 170 men, with a machine shop and a boilermaker and sometimes two smithies. Camp 2 and 3 logs went to Manistee, and Camp 1 logs all came to Ludington on the Pere Marquette railroad, so they were working for Mason county. In 1916, Mr. Nelson left the logging Industry, and came to Ludington to blacksmith for the railroad until 1951, when he retired Mr. Nelson lived at the east end of Ludington, and had a hobby shop with some original old logging equipment, and a great deal that he has made in miniatures.

Originally , the father of Richard J, Fitch was located in Kalkaska, where he logged Norway pines, and started the nine-hour day as an experiment. After coming to Mason County, this lumber pioneer family nettled in Summit and built a sawmill on the east branch of Kibbey creek. Richard quit school at 16 because he knew how to run the setter on the carriage, and could earn $1.75 an hour. Then father John set up a mill at old Lincoln in partnership with Charles Nickerson, with Richard's uncle, Michael, as head sawyer, and Richard as setter on the carriage. Charles Mears had sold out all his interests before this time, and Lincoln was no longer the county seat. The men walked hone front Lincoln every weekend.

Later on, Richard decked logs for Fish & Bevis at Walkerville, where his father had also set up the mill. The firm here made hardwood flooring exclusively, but failed. A year before he was married, Mr. Fitch spent several months working for Herman Wanderer, seven miles north and two miles east of Scottville, and walked back and forth to his hone in Riverton. Other lumbering jobs held by Mr. Fitch were log scaling and sealing the lumber after it was made into boards.

Birger Kolberg, who came to Victory at 19 from Sweden, worked in the Ward camp near Branch, and said that in those days even the women helped work in the camps Men did most of the cooking, but women served the food to the many men. They used to skid logs with oxen and hauled the logs out with the big wheels to the skidway to load on railroad cars. Once a man leaned over the tongue of the big wheel and the load over balanced and he went up and over with the tongue.

Mr. Kolberg worked as a setter on the carriage 'which was also known as dogging and sacked (measuring)' He worked at the Danaher, Stearns and Butters mills. The Stearns mills had family picnics, and gave tickets to the family to go to the area where the picnic was held. He worked for Steams until the men went out on a strike for a nine-hour-day, and after that the mill shut down. East Dowland, in Ludington, where Mr. Kolberg retired, had wooden sidewalks and paving of cedar posts. Holes were filled with sawdust from the pin-mills.

If you have any stories that you would like to share with our readers please don't hesitate to contact me at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com

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