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Long before the mechanized efficiency of heavy equipment, loggers would
make use of horse or cattle drawn grease-laden skidders to transport the
timber to a nearby river. Standing amidst the floating giants, men would
leap from log to log. They pushed, pulled, and relieved the river of jams
using tools like a spear-and-hook-tipped pole called a peavey. These were
the “log drivers” responsible for getting the wood to a downstream mill.
Originally referenced as loggers, the term “lumberjack” was born in
Canada. It typically refers to the old-school badasses that didn’t have the
luxuries of modern equipment. They traveled from camp to camp,
job to job in order to make a living. Some names for specific jobs in the
logging industry contained just as much character as the men that
occupied them. High climbers, river rats, catty-man, chasers, choker
setters, faller, bucker, and hook tenders were but a few of the jobs
available if you had the stones.
But put a bunch of hard working men in the same area, give them
a little Devil Juice, and you know you’re going to get something
dangerously fun. Many of the men would engage in competitions to see
who was the best in the camp; this is a tradition that can be seen to this
day at many modern county fairs or even on ESPN. Two-man saw
competitions, chainsaw speed cutting, axe throwing, log rolling, and
climbing are but a few challenges that have all experienced revivals in the
quest for cash and notoriety.
Maybe one of the most legendary lumberjacks in history was a Maine
native named Albert Lewis “Jigger” Johnson. In fact, remember those
craft-beer swilling phonies mentioned earlier in this article? They would
have been reduced to crumbling messes if they read the first paragraph
on Jigger’s Wikipedia page:
“Albert Lewis Johnson (1871 – 1935), better known as Jigger Johnson,
also Wildcat Johnson, Jigger Jones, or simply Th e Jigger, was a
legendary logging foreman, trapper, and fire warden for the U.S.
Forest Service who was known throughout the American East for
his many off-the-job exploits, such as catching bobcats alive
barehanded, and drunken brawls.”
This is our kind of guy. Hundreds of tales arose about Jigger’s exploits.
Some stories were based in fact considering he was one of the most
respected foremen on logging jobs in the East. However, there were
many more stories about his ferocious nature when wronged (or drunk).
While searching for some employees that left camp without permission,
Johnson stormed into a local pub. He then grabbed a peavey and started
swinging at any man that stood in his way. The pub’s massive Canadian
bouncer tried to stop Johnson, but was no match. Jigger tossed him
across the room, placed him on a hot stove, then after he had warmed
up, Johnson hit him with a kerosene lamp, setting him ablaze. Needless
to say, the rogue employees went back to the job.
Jigger Johnson was an iconic representative of the lumberjack culture
of the day: Work hard, treat people fairly, and stay until the job is done.
Today, logging is still a cornerstone of development in this country.
Clearing land will always be needed. However, jobs that once needed large
crews of men can now often be done with a handful of skilled people
running dozers, feller bunchers, and diesel powered hauling equipment.
Armed with huge chainsaws that would make video game heroes blush,
there is still a vibrant community of men (and of course some women)
with forearms like steel springs, weathered skin, and that thousand yard
stare known only by those that have live a long hard life.
It’s doubtful the world will see another set of men like the lumberjacks
of the 19th century; but this country wouldn’t exist without them. Here’s
to all the fallers, buckers, and river rats that helped to literally build this
country with their bare hands.