Moving the steampot....

by Bill Moore....


....It’s been 31 years since we moved our last steam donkey down from the woods and left it to rest in peace midst the salal and salmonberry bushes near the beach. We had previously “beached” two other old steamers in other parts of the inlet and were em-barked on modernization in the form of diesel engined donkeys! All three sit today – quite stripped of their parts and dignity. One – the last one – still has its old boiler, a relic of rust, staring out of the thick west coast brush.
....I like to write about steam donkeys because I like to work on them when I was young. They hissed their stream as they brought in a “turn of logs.” Not the vulgar barking of a V-8 diesel chunk of iron that men require ear-


bucked by hand from large dry logs by the woodbucker. The woodsplitter wedged and chopped the wood into sizeable pieces and piled it up near the back end as you can note in the picture.
....At the rear of the sled was the water tank. Ours were square wooden ones made from Douglas fir 4 x 12 planks and well caulked. My father always made our tanks and I can remember the pains he took to construct a good leak-proof tank.
....Water, of course, had to be nearby or within pumping distance. As the boilers got older they required ever increasing amounts of water. If no water was available – say on the top of a mountain – you just didn’t log there.


These big puffers were heavy to move around through the felled and bucked. It took a very skilled hooktender to make any distance in a day. The machines had their three drums – the mainline, the haul-back and the straw-line. To move the donkey from place to place the mainline was attached to a stump up ahead and the machine pulled itself up to that stump. Not so easy, of course, because of the great weight and obstacles in the path. So, first of all, a path had to be cleared to the stump. This was called “chunking out,” and was done by the donkey’s cables. Most often, in order to move the brute, a strap and block (pulley) were attached to the stump and the mainline was returned through the

-muffs for.
....And the lovely white puffs of steam and smoke that went up only heightened a good summer day. As Archie says, “Those were the days!”
....You will note from the two pictures, the 55-foot spruce sled that the don-key frame is mounted on. This sled would be built by a specialist – a “sled-builder.” Along with a helper (sometimes) it took about four to six weeks to build a sled. The mortising of the spacers was a slow job, for remember, there were no power saws or electric drills until near the end of the steam donkey days. All drilling of holes was done by hand auger and all sawing by hand saw. A strenuous job requiring old fashioned skills.
....The “house” for the donkey, as you can see, was simply four wooden posts with a few boards on top and generally some flat tin for a roof. A folding wing was provided on either side for a bit more shelter.
....The crew of a wood burning steam pot comprised four men. The engineer was boss and he came to work an hour before everyone else to fire up the boiler for steam at eight a.m. The fireman tended the firebox during the day. A normal sized steam donkey would consume about 1,500 board feet of wood per shift. This wood was

YESTERDAY’S workhorse, the steam donkey, has long since been left to the ravages of time and rust. But, for many years, it kept the logging industry moving.

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British Columbia Lumberman, July, 1979

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block and fastened back at the side of the donkey to what was called a “lug.” Lugs were set in the sled on all sides and ends of the two sleigh runners for just this purpose. By fastening to the outside left front runner, the machine would veer a bit to the right, or vice versa. Ah, clever chaps those steam loggers!
....It was really a marvel to watch a good crew move a steam pot over some pretty tough and rugged ground. The one bad move was to get a stump or a log or rock high-centred under the donkey beneath the skids. There was no use looking to heaven to help – cause “He was gone, baby, on a trick like that!”
....Planning the move was important for, as stated, the old girl needed wood and water along the way. And if you were going up a steep hill, or down a steep one, the hooktender would have to show the woodbucker and woodsplitter his intended path so they could have some wood ready split and waiting as the machine came by.
....A typical move through the felled and bucked timber might be 1,000 to 2,000 feet. If the going was reasonable with no steep hills, a good hooktender and crew could move the distance in a day and a half or two days..
....Moving into the “setting” beneath the topped spar always required a bit of sizing up. First an area to sit the donkey in was “chunked out” of brush and wood. Then the machine was maneuvered into place to face the spar and securely “tied down” by means of spiked cables. This was done, of course, so the mainline and haulback would “lead” from the top of the spar’s blocks onto the donkey’s winch drums.
....Because of the importance of a good hot fire for the steam boiler, a cleared out flat woodyard was a necessity. No rigging crew could stand the wrath of a donkey crew if they were not given a good level place in which to saw and chop their wood.
....It was not always easy to get good dry logs for the woodyard, particularly in our north Vancouver Island country, as we did not have Douglas fir. Hemlock had to be used and it contained a great deal of sap wood. It took a know-ledgeable donkey crew to keep the wood piles sorted out – wet from dry – and the byword was “Keep the steam up.”
....The woodyard became pretty muddy in the wet weather and fly infested in the summer. Sparks and red hot cinders were a common thing down your back if the wind was right.
....What was remarkable was the attitude everyone took about the danger of sparks from the donkey starting fires in the hot weather. We were so used to fires starting and so used to watching for them, that by second nature we immediately ran with buckets of water and doused the flames. There was just no place for carelessness and it was part of the job to see that a spark did not get away. Attitude did it!
....And so, the steam pot would log her circle about the wooden spar tree and move on to the next location. Nobody was happy on the move. They wanted to have the move over with and be settled into another good logging area.
....The engineer stood at his throttle all day with a bit of a high-backed seat to


sit back on once in a while. On the move, the engineer and the hooktender were the only men allowed on the donkey. The engineer at his throttle and the hooktender out in front, steadied over the “head-block.” The hooker was captain of the ship and on his shoulders rested the move that day.
....So they sit – silently in the bush, a reminder of other logging days, when a crew of four men hustled about each one, feeding the wood to a hungry firebox that was never satisfied.
....What a great part the steam donkey played in this industry in the forest around us.

Keep out of the bight,
Bill Moore

British Columbia Lumberman, July, 1979  
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