Brotherhood of the Broadaxe
Articles, Blog

Brotherhood of the Broadaxe

August 9, 2019

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Basically, they were young men when they left
the Scandinavian area, hoping to earn their
fortune in America. – [Voiceover] You
learn to get along with other people that
you had to work with, and you learn to work. – [Voiceover] The most difficult
part of that whole drive, was getting that 15 miles
to what we call the canyon. – [Voiceover] Just
think of the people, to see all them ties
stacked down to Riverton. There wasn’t any trucks
or anything then. How’d they get
there? (chuckling) – [Voiceover] It was
one of the better jobs, you know, an experience
of a lifetime. (majestic orchestral music) – Hello. I’m Joe Brandl. Around the turn of the century, when Americans were
still pushing west into the open spaces, a vast new network of railroads moved people and commerce
across the continent. To lay the tracks
and maintain them, you needed wooden ties
to support the rails. Millions of them. Wherever the railroads went, the builders sought
pine and cypress, and other big trees
in the nearby forest. The southern Appalachians,
the Mississippi Valley, and in the west, where
the rails inched across the treeless plains, they looked to Wyoming’s mountainous forest. They looked to the rivers
to bring the hewn timbers down on huge
springtime tie drives. Beginning in 1868,
they brought ties from Sherman Mountain,
down the Laramie River, and then further west, down
the Medicine Bow River. Before long, tie camps were
springing up across the state. Encampment, Saratoga. To the west, below
Evanston, and as far north as Sheridan. But the biggest production would
come from the high country, of the Absaroka and
Wind River Mountains. It was here, between
in 1914 and 1946, that tie hacks produced
over 10 million ties. The railroads were binding
the young nation together, and the work was being
done by newcomers. And the job fell to the
Wyoming Tie and Timber Company. – [Voiceover] Mike
Olson, who was the superintendent
of the company, he came from Norway,
where he had his start in a lumber, or
timber, operation. He obviously had to have been one of the smartest
men in the world, as far as I can tell, to have thought
up and figured out how to get those ties
out of the woods. – [Brandl] Olson and his men
faced two important tasks, transforming the green
timber into railroad ties, and then, getting those
ties out of the wilderness and downstream to the railroad. For the first part of that job, the company built
its headquarters high in the Wind
River Mountains. Then they brought
in skilled woodsman from the old country. Men who could live
in rugged conditions, work through the harsh winter, and hand hew ties
with a broadax. Modern machinery
has replaced the men who cut the trees in those days. But 100 years ago,
swinging a broadax was both a skill and an art. Often, they worked
from daylight to dark. They were paid by the piece. The more ties you made,
the more wages you earned. It was just that simple. How hard was the work? Let’s watch Ken Miller. This looks like it
would be a good tree. We can several good
ties out of this one. (ax chopping) (lively fiddle music) (ax chopping) (metallic sawing) Timber! (ax chopping) Next thing we have to do is
score the log on both sides. I’ll be hitting the top
with the first swing, underneath with
the second swing, so when I come with the broadax, I can use that
exactly perpendicular to make as smooth a
surface as possible. So, on the top. On the bottom. Move forward four to six inches, top, bottom. (ax chopping) As you move toward
the base of the tree, you have to go deeper, so when you’re done,
the tie is still a little over
seven inches thick. Now, if you did it all
the time in one shape, you could go one side
and come back the other, without having to stop and breathe. On a broadax, one
side is completely, is completely flat. There’s no angles,
no arcs, no anything. It’s completely flat. That’s the side that
goes to the tree, to make the shape of it
as smooth as possible. The other side, you can
see, it’s wedged out, and as it goes in
behind all these little chips that
are hanging on there, where it was scored, then, it just pops those off. Sometimes it just takes
off a little bit at a time. Sometimes it goes quite a ways. Now, this is where you
have to be careful, where your toe sticks out. Like if the toe’s
stuck out here, and you have five,
six, seven pounds come against it with some force, off goes the end of your
shoes and your toes. That’s where three-toe
Ol’ E came in. (lively fiddle music) (ax chopping) (wood splitting) The next step after both
sides are, pretty much, smoothed out, is
to peel the bark off the top and the bottom. We’ll start with the top, and this is a tool
called a spud, which is just an extra
large wood chisel, is what it is. With this being a green tree, the bark peels off. If you get right under the
bark it peels off real easy. (wood snapping) (tool scraping) The next step will be
to measure off the ties to eight foot lengths,
and then cut ’em with this one-man saw. (lively fiddle music) (wood sawing) The next step is to
roll the tie over, so we can peel the other side. Once you’ve cut the
eight foot lengths, it’s not so hard to do that. The tool I’m using here
is called a cant hook. (tool scraping) – The tie hacks usually
worked all winter. Shoveling snow. Shovel out around the trees to get ’em sawed down. We really had to work
hard for the wages. – [Voiceover] I would guess 150 ax men around, not counting the teamsters. I helped Andy Kruzik. He was a teamster but he didn’t have any haulin’, so he went to choppin’. And by gosh, that guy, he never stopped. He just was felling, and limbing,
and scoring them trees. I worked behind him,
peeling, sawing, and I think we got 48, 48 ties, with me helping. Which was a hell of a good day. – If it was myself,
if I got eight ties, or ten ties, I was
doing pretty good, cause I was fairly young
then, and learning. But most of ’em, they cut between 20
and 30 ties a day. Anywhere from 21 cents for the smallest tie, which is a nine inch top, to 30 or 31 cents a piece, if I remember right. – But I think some of ’em made eight, ten dollars a day, maybe. Which, hell, that was
pretty good money, by gosh, in them days. ‘Cause when I started workin’, I was workin’ for a dollar a day on a ranch for a
number of years. Alfred Olson, he was a tie inspector, well, he graded all the ties. He went round from
strip to strip. And they knew, he knew
who’s strip that was. He counted them ties
out to that fella that had that strip. Turned that into Trigo. They marked whatever
ties he had for that, usually every month. So, when a guy wanted to go to town, have some money,
he went to Trigo, and got whatever he wanted. Fifteen, 20, or 50
dollars or what. The teamsters were
usually company men. The teamsters had
two or three teams of these 1200, 1400,
1600 pound horses. That’s the way
they moved the ties down to the landing, where
they was going to drive them. Which up there, Big
Warren, was all the way up from the head of the flume, way up there toward
South Fork there, them ties were lined. You can see pictures of ’em. – The story of the
Wyoming tie hack is an important part
of our Wyoming history, and because of Wyoming’s
public television’s commitment to local programming,
you’re able to watch and enjoy this program. So, I hope you’ll take a moment, and call in your
pledge of support to Wyoming public television. Help us continue the tradition of great local programming. – [Brandl] Many of the tie
hacks had come from Europe, and come to stay, along
with their families, who joined them in
the high country. – [Voiceover] It was at
a time of immigration into the United States. – [Stork] Many of them
had come to this country, leaving their wife
or a child overseas, and they were all trying
to save enough money to send for their families. My dad had come when
I was just a baby. He came to an aunt
in North Dakota, and he was thinking life
would be much easier in this country,
because the Depression had started in Norway. But when he came here, the depression went full force also. So, it took him 10
years to save money to bring us over here. So, as far as meeting my dad, he was a stranger. – [Voiceover] I remember
Ingabourg telling me that when she and
her mother arrived, they couldn’t
understand their father. He had learned to speak
English, in the meantime, and it was sort of a mixture
of English and Norwegian, and he didn’t speak
the whole language as much as they remembered. – [Stork] We came
by boat to New York. We entered the
Statue of Liberty. We had name tags on our coats, saying who we were and
where we were going. They put us on a train
to go to Chicago, where we were met by my dad, and then, we came to
Riverton by train, and we drove up to the tie camp. Dad had made arrangements
for me to board out during the week,
to go to school, because they were living
in the logging camp. So, I boarded with
them, with some people, and went to school. I did not know a
word of English, so it was quite an experience. When I’d come home, my
mother would want to know what words did you learn
in English this week. She was very
interested in learning how to speak and understand
the English language. – [Clayton] Those
years on the mountain, we were snowed in. We would have had to ski
off, or be sledded off. Once in a while, they
could keep the roads open with a bulldozer. – [Stork] They usually
kept a car or two at the bottom of the hill, in case there was an emergency, if someone had to
go to the hospital in Riverton or Lander. – [Clayton] But you had to
ski to school in the winter, cause we lived
down by the river, and you had to go up this hill, and you’d have to ski because the snow was
too deep to walk. Then you had all these books,
so you couldn’t use poles, you had to pack them books,
you didn’t have backpacks and all that in those days. – For a woman, it
was plain hard work. One of the stories
I tell in my book, from Shirley Daniels, of raising a baby
out in the woods. She was in one of
the outlying camps. And the baby waking up in
the middle of the night, and she’d have to get up, and chip the ice
to get enough water to heat the formula
for the baby. You know? That’s pretty rough. Those were hard days. There’s no doubt about that. – [Brandl] With
so many tie hacks and their families
living in such isolation, there had to be
a support system. – [Turner] At one
time, they had used the big cookhouse
in headquarters, when the men lived
in the bunkhouse, when they were first
cutting near there. But then, as the years went on, they moved the cutting, the cutting was
all farther away, it was too far away for the men to live in headquarters. So there’d be outlying
camps all around, and there was always a
cookhouse in each of the camps. And the men could
bunk by themselves if they wanted to, and cook, but most of them preferred
to eat in the cookhouse. – [Clayton] You know,
you made your own fun. You didn’t have a car,
or anything like that. You were a hundred
miles from Riverton. We didn’t go to
doctors or anything. You just got well or died. You didn’t have radio,
or television, or
any of that stuff, you didn’t know what was
going on in the world. That was nice. – But we played games
in the schoolyard, and in the wintertime,
you skied to school. We called it going to school. Now they call it
cross-country skiing. At recess, we outside
and skied on the hill. At noon, we went home and
had lunch and skied back. Then recess again,
and then after school it was take our
stuff home, ski home, and then go out and ski. – You didn’t have a car to drive whenever you wanted
to go two miles, or a mile, so it was nice. One thing, you learned to work. You had to work
for what you got. You had to saw the wood by hand, and cut it, and pack it in, and all that sort of stuff. And everybody was poor. There wasn’t anybody that
had more than the other, so you didn’t have
to worry about keeping up with the
Joneses or anything. It was nice to live up there, and
everybody was friendly. Anybody in need, everybody
pitched in and helped. It was just
altogether different. Then they had this store,
it had quarters, you know. They had this, they called it an icehouse, and they had ice in
there that kept the meat, and they had those big
rings of sausages and stuff. They had sawdust on the floor. That guy, the old butcher, or the man that was
running the store, I know when we were kids,
he’d take us in there, and he’d slice a piece
of that good salami, and give you a piece of that, and cheeses and things. That’s the way they had it, and then people could
come and buy in the store. And, you know, the bananas
came on a big rack, and you didn’t have a
lot of fruit or anything. You got oranges or
apples once in awhile, that was a big treat. – And when the holidays
came, they were appreciated. All the hard work,
all the hard weather, all the distance between
Wyoming and the old country, gave way to joyous
celebrations and traditions, still remembered fondly. – [Turner] They did a lot of
dancing in the old cookhouse. So, that was the gathering place for all of the parties
and the dances. They’d come of out of the woods, out of their camps to come down for the big Christmas parties. – At the end of the dinner, they would push the
tables and the benches back by the wall, and
the Matson brothers both played accordions. They played for
everybody to dance. They danced till the wee
hours of the morning, and it was daylight by the
time we went back home. And I thought, this is different than any Christmas
I have ever spent. But we had a wonderful time. – One of the things
I remember the most about the school
Christmas party, almost always the
kids gave a play for the community
or, what, 20 people, whatever we had,
at the cookhouse. Then the Wyoming Tie
and Timber company gave every employee’s kid a wonderful box. And I remember this huge, big, huge box, full of presents. Lydia Olson and, I probably assume,
Louise Van Meter did it too, shopped for
gifts for each of the kids, individual gifts for each
of the kids, ahead of time. And that was our wonderful
Christmas present every year. – [Brandl] Spring arrived, but
the job was only half done. The next phase involved
an extraordinary journey. – Well, the way it worked, the full year-round tie hacks were working up there
all winter long. They would both hew them
with their broadaxes, and then they, later on,
put up portable sawmills where they went up into
the woods above Dunior, and up Warm Springs Creek, and prepared all these
ties and stacked them right along the edge
of the tributaries to the Big Wind River. Mainly little Warm
Springs and Dunior. Then, when it came
time for the drive, that’s when they
beefed up their crew. Hired maybe 40, 45, 50 men more, went in there, and that’s
when the drive started. – There were no
roads, no trucks, and no rails in
the high country. So the ties were assembled
in the high valley in the Wind River Range,
and pushed into a stream. They were funneled by flumes
down the steepest part of the canyon, and then,
to the Big Wind River. Which took them to the
treatment plant in Riverton. There were really two drives. – [Goodman] The first one was up on Warm
Springs Canyon Creek. That’s where all the ties
were brought to one location. There were flumes,
and smaller flumes, during the high water, and that whole
Warm Springs Valley was literally filled with ties. So, the first day,
you had to work on the front of that
great big pile of ties that went up the river
probably three or four miles, and start pulling the
ties out of that big jam, and into the river. It was usually just the hard
work of pulling the ties off of that big pile,
into that little creek, Warm Springs Creek, and
sending down the flume. That was day after day for about almost three weeks, it took for that drive. – [Seipt] We lined ’em
up to enter the flume so that they were spaced, and not riding up
on one another, so they’d fly out of the flume. Fifty cents an hour,
nine hours a day, seven days a week, as good a food
that could be had. As long as you’re young
and stupid, it was great. – Setting up camp first, up on the upper Warm Springs Creek, that was cold there. Nights especially. So, we had tepees we set up, on poles so they could
raise them with poles, and usually had a
couple of stakes outside to hang your boots
on upside-down, so they would dry at
night, and so forth, and put our socks in. So, we camped along the
River all the way down. – [Seipt] You furnished
your own boots. The boots were dry boots. Heavy thick soles,
heavy thick uppers, came about half way up
the calf of your leg. They were lace boots. Most of them had,
what do you call ’em, hobnails, or corks, or whatever. They were stuck in the
bottom of the sole, and they stuck out a
quarter of an inch, as a gripper, like chains. – One river drive, I
didn’t have a tepee, so I just rolled a bedroll
right on the ground. I didn’t care too much
about how rough it was, because after working
nine hours on the river, we were tired, and I
slept through the night without waking up regardless
of any rocks or anything else. That was our camping
and sleeping situation. – [Seipt] A typical
day started early. Started with taking
down your tepee and poles, and rolling it up, taking it over to where
they’d load down the trucks to move to the next camp. Breakfast, and then exactly at 8 o’clock, Alfred Olson would holler, “Oh”, and everybody got in the
trucks and went to work. If the campsite was
available at noon, we came in at noon for lunch. Sometimes it was remote, and lunch was
brought down by boat. – I always wanted to
be on a tie drive, but I thought I was a
little bit too little. I only weighed about 120 pounds, but I was determined to try. So, I drove all the
way from Riverton, up to Martin Olson’s cabin, and when I drove
up to the cabin, he came out on the
porch and said, “Who do you want?” It kind of scared me. I thought he go gruff. Anyway, he looked me
up and down, and said, “Well, you’re awful little, but you’re young enough, maybe you’ll do, go and sign up. So, I was happy that I finally
got onto the tie drive, after many years of
looking forward to it. The year was 1937. – The year I was on, in 1942, was the early years
of World War II, and there were three kinds
of people on the tie drive. There was a
contingent of Indians, that had been on the drive
before, and some first timers. Then there was a group
of Scandinavians, the tie hacks themselves,
who really knew how to work the ties
and handle them. Then, to fill out the crew, McLaughlin, Martin,
and Alfred Olson hired a bunch of us. I was a recent high
school graduate, and there were a few
college kids there, they probably hired
on about 20 of us schoolboys, so to speak,
to beef up the crew. The arrivin’ up there, we, uh floated down 350,000 ties, which was medium size tie drive, and I remember, first
thing, we’d get up there just about dark, and the first
thing they told me to do, was to go out back
of this little cabin, and they had pike poles,
as they were called. – They showed us a pile
of spruce saplings, with the bark on, and they were
only eight to ten feet long. They had a pike, which
consisted of a point and a hook, like
this, hand-forged, and three rings. So, you took the
pikes and those rings, and you made your own pike pole. – As you can see, this hook here is so
you could push the ties, and this hook here, is such that you could hook them
and pull them toward you. – Don’t go away. We’ll have more of
the tie hack story in just a few minutes. But right now, I hope
you’ll take a moment to call in your support to
Wyoming public television, so that more local
programming can be produced, for Wyoming audiences. – [Brandl] The
journey that began in the Warm Springs Valley, continued through
a steep canyon. To do that, a flume
was constructed that was as tall and twisting as a Coney Island
roller coaster. It was a key link in the system, that brought the ties
off the mountain. – Of course, they
had the big flume along the side of Warm
Springs Creek there, and that was one of
the engineering marvels of the state. – The flume was a V-shaped, made of boards, waterway. Olson and Van Meter supervised the
building of the flume, from the head of the
flume near the bridge, through the big Warm Springs
Canyon natural bridge, down to and into the river, at the Nobarison place. – The flume was several
years old by 1942, and the planks had
shrunk as they dried out. So, there was a crack
in two or three places about an inch or
half-inch thick. So, they had some of us
try to seal those cracks by shoveling dirt in the flume, and they were hoping the
mud would seal it off. My job, at the upper
end of the flume, was to hook the ties as
they started to pile up into the flume,
with my pike pole, and run along the catwalk, encouraging them to
go on down the creek. Then they dumped out into
the pool in Warm Springs, and then went on
down into the river. It was quite a feat. – I think it was unique. Where it was necessary, it hung from the
walls of the canyon. Where it could be
it was on trestles. The curves were such that the ties didn’t build up momentum, and
fly out, and it worked. The flume went through
the natural bridge. It was kind of hairy, because there wasn’t
room to stand upright. Nor was there room
for a catwalk, so when you went
through the flume, you kind of monkey walked, a hand and foot on one side, and a hand and
foot on the other, for a distance to where
there was room enough again. About two miles up from
the river end of it, was a flume camp, with three or four guys in it, who monitored the
ties coming down. They kept track, if
there was a space, obviously there was
some problem upstream, and they notified the head end, so they stopped feeding ties in. The biggest problem, and that wasn’t really
a difficult problem, once in a while, a
light tie would ride up on the tie ahead of it, and then when it went
around the corner, the momentum would throw
it out of the flume. But, that was 100 or 200
ties in a drive. It wasn’t a big problem. But there was a crew monitoring the flow of ties. – Now it was time
for the most dramatic part of the process. Hundreds of thousands of ties, over 600,000 in 1925, all poised to take a wild
ride down the Wind River. The water churned,
the ties rolled, and the men guided them down, poking, pulling, and dancing. 100, 200 men, and a big
piece of the forest, floating down the stream. It was a nine mile
journey by flume. It ended where the Warm
Springs joins the Wind River. About nine miles
upstream from Dubois. It was July now. Quite a change of season
from the cold winter days, when the men were out in
the woods, cutting trees. As the ties came into the river
from the Warm Springs flume, another batch from the
Absaroka Mountains, floated down Dunior
Creek from the east. Stacked along the
bank of the river were more ties, cut
a lower elevations. – [Voiceover] It may have
went on down as a tributary of the Big Wind, and
all merging together to come down the stream. – Second phase
after all the ties were dumped in by the
flume into the Wind River, about nine miles above Dubois, then we started the
main river drive, and most of the
ties, at that time, were hung up on the sides, on the banks, or on
the rocks, or trees. And our job was to keep
standing in the water, pulling them back
into the river, day after day. That was the upper part of
the river was easier to go, but after you got
down below Dubois, in the canyon, it
was very difficult to get through that canyon. – The most dramatic thing, which I’m sure you encountered
in some of the movies, was when you get a jam, and the ties will start
backing up for miles. And have tens of thousands
of ties all piled up and not moving. – They had a special crew of
people who were agile and knew how to handle it, who broke up the jams. Generally, the jams
occurred in Fish Canyon. There’s some boulders
in there, it’s narrow, and it’s fast water, that they had a crew
of four, five guys that were the jam pullers
that kept that open. You just simply, as a matter of keeping the ties moving downstream, you either worked
in the back eddies, pulled them back
into the main stream, or if they were piled up, you pulled them in, herding ties downstream. – [Brandl] They
worked a nine hour day on the ice cold snow melt river, wrestling with heavy
ties that got heavier, as they soaked up the water. Amazingly, in 30
years of tie drives, no one was killed, but
boy, they did get hungry. – The food is the thing
that stayed in my mind as being the best thing. That was a three-times-a-day
experience. And that kept us going,
and I think I remember that probably more than
any other thing. The cook was Adolph Solomon, and he was noted to be,
probably the best outdoor cook in maybe the whole world,
as far as I’m concerned. In the morning, breakfast
consisted of pancakes. The pancakes were mixed
up in a big washtub, they took, 15 dozen eggs were put in first, and there were
other ingredients, flour and so forth, and they’re
always light and fluffy, put on a big grill over
the fire, open fire, and we had some of
the best pancakes. Then, they always had
a whole Dutch oven full of bacon, fried just right, another Dutch oven full
of sausages, link sausage. Then there were a
couple of Dutch ovens full of scrambled eggs. And anything else
that went with it, the syrup and everything
that went with it, so we had the fabulous
breakfast everyday. Never failed, all the way down. The breakfasts were
especially good. They gave us a good start,
and we needed a good start, because it was from
6 and 7 o’clock until noon before
we’d eat again. When we were down
at the red rocks, where the camp was
visible to tourists, some people would stop in to see what’s all that about? Adolph always fed them. When your tie drivers
were through eating, there was plenty
of food left over, and you can eat all you want. – Team from Riverton was
going up the 35 miles to Diversion Dam,
and sort of welcoming the tie hacks coming
down the creek. That was another popular place to go see the ties
coming down the river, cause they were all jammed up behind Diversion Dam. It also was a nice
place to set up the iron kettles, and you got a free meal
off Wyoming Tie and Timber. – It was never a smooth
ride down the river. There were twists and
turns, rocks and boulders. The tie hacks made it
through Fish Canyon, a natural obstacle. Then they encounter
Diversion Dam. Erected in 1921 to divert water from the Wind River, into
the irrigation system. This, of course, reduced
the amount of flow into the river, which
exposed rocks, sandbars, cottonwood snags. This slowed down the tie drive. – Most of the water
from Diversion Dam is being diverted down
the winding canal. So, at tie drive time, the water going over the dam might be only an
inch or two deep over the dam, and, or course,
the ties would come down, and they wouldn’t clear the dam. So they had a whole string of us stationed at the
dam with pike poles, big long poles like I was
telling you about here. You would just lift the
front end of the tie enough to start it over the dam, and then it would go
ahead over the dam, and go on down the river. But the Diversion Dam was
a full-blown obstacle, and all 350,000, a few of
them might have gone over, but they all had to be
lifted an inch or two to clear the dam, so they
could go on downriver. – Getting them over
the Diversion Dam was quite a problem. The ties were backed up
in that basin for miles. And I thought, “How in
the world they ever get that over that dam.” I found out that basin
pretty well filled with silt. So, we were about
ankle deep in silt, and the water was about
up to our armpits. And we’re able to walk
along in that silt, and push these ties ahead of us and gradually push
’em over the dam, feeling along with
our feet and so forth. And I guess that’s the thing
that I remember the most, because it probably was one of
the most challenging things. After we got down
below Diversion Dam, where the river spread out, we had to carry ties as
much as two or three blocks away from the river. One day, we spent all
day, nearly 100 men, all day carrying one big pile
of ties on our shoulders, back to the river again. – You worked in crews where two guys loaded, and about three other
crews of two carried. The loaders would
lift the ties up and put ’em on your shoulder, and you walked
lock-stepped to the river and dumped ’em in, and
came back for another load. That was hard work. It was difficult work. – The closest call I had was coming within a
breath of drowning. A big tree had fallen down
across the river, was right out into the stream, and as the ties came down, there had been a
whirlpool created by this tree out into the river, and there was a
whole bunch of ties, 100 or so were stuck out there. I decided I would ride
out into this whirlpool, and pull these ties out
into the main stream, and get ’em on down the river. Well, I got out there and in the milling around there I fell out my little
homemade tie boat, and I was hangin’
onto a tie out there, and getting more and more tired. One of the fellows on the drive, Victor Montoya, saw my plight, and I could still remember him wading out into the water, and it was deep there
in that whirlpool, he was just about
up to his chin, and he stuck out his pike pole, which I got a hold of and pulled me over to the shore. Otherwise, I might have been
a casualty of the drive. – As it dropped down
from the mountains to the high plain, the Wind
River slowed and meandered. Soon the railroad
bridge was in sight. The tie hacks had been
weeks on the river, travelling over 100 miles. Now came some of the
hardest work of all, getting the ties
out of the river, and stacking them
at the tie plant. Billy McLaughlin
was in charge of the tie yards. He’d built an ingenious
boom of logs on cables that was angled into the river, and the ties would go
cross-ways cross those. And the ties jammed some three or
four miles up the river. But the ties were funneled
down two channels, side-by-side, so the two
different conveyor belts, two levels, would
pick up these ties, and take ’em up
on conveyor belts. – It would take ’em up
one behind the other, and then as they
got up to the height of the conveyor going down to where the tie yards were, they’d turn, and they
had a guy helping them make that turn there. But the ties were
stacked 14 ties high, and as they came along,
wherever you were working, they had a little deal
that kicked them off, so they would jump off
this conveyor belt, and then your job was to stack three piles, one, two, three, away
from the conveyor belt. – The two of us
would have to pile 360 ties in one hour. That meant a tie had to be
handled every 10 seconds. Then you had to be out of the
way and get them straight. – One day when I was
totally exhausted, pretty late in the afternoon, after I’d worked all day, I was hitting a tie
just at the moment Gene Law put his boot out there. So, I pinned him to the tie, but luck was with me. The pickaroon tooth
went right between his big toe and his next toe. He didn’t even bleed. A lucky miss on my part there. – From there, they dried and they were loaded
onto dinky cars, pulled by a little dinky engine, and put into a huge retort and treated with creosote to
make them last longer. – The rest of the crew, well,
they headed into Riverton. To celebrate, and spend
their hard-earned money. – Of course, the end of
tie drive in Riverton, was a time of great
celebration for the tie hacks. They looked forward to the
end of their year cycle. A big celebration. The saloons and the
entertainment houses were ready for them of course, and sometimes they
would come to the end of their week of time there, all their money gone, happy
cause they had a great time, and go back and start
the cycle over again. – Riverton had a
house of ill-repute, which was a very
popular stopping place for the tie hacks. We’d been there all winter long, and now we’re coming
down the river. Some of the ladies, and the
mothers of the community thought that was a
pretty nice thing because these wild tie hacks
wouldn’t be out there pursuing their daughters,
or their sisters, or their aunts, or
whatever it was. I’m sure that the Little
Yellow House, as it was called, did quite a booming business after the tie hacks came to town after months in the woods
and weeks on the river. – The local office is
where the Elks Club is now. There was free beer, and that night there was a dance up above the office. Went up and down the
street honking their horns, the trucks they hauled us in. When they were broke,
they put ’em on the wagon and took ’em back
up to the woods, and they prepared for
another trip to Riverton. – The men were
part of the family, and so, whatever was needed, the company took care of. It was particularly
noticable in the waning years of the Wyoming Tie
and Timber company, because by then we had
a lot of old timers, old time tie hacks, who couldn’t
do much out in the woods. But there was one camp we
called the old man’s camp, and that’s where the ones
who would really be retired could live for as long
as they wanted to. And if they wanted to go
out and chop down a tie, they could do that, chop down a tree and make a tie. But they didn’t have to. They weren’t expected to. – [Brandl]
Mechanization replaced many of the woodsman’s skills. The winters in 1940
were much more severe. It got harder to find men willing to live and work so
much of the year in the woods. In 1947, less than
100,000 ties were cut, and they were
loaded onto trucks, not floated down the river. For one generation,
the broadax sang and carved with precision, and then it was over. (pensive orchestral music)


  • Reply Generic Youtuber November 23, 2018 at 6:02 am

    No deaths, wow, thats impressive

  • Reply Ryan Cooper November 23, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    3toed Oly! My 3x great grandfather immigrated in the mid 1850s from Vik, song OG Norway to South Dakota. Oly Eide was his name and logging has been in our family for a few generations now. I grew up in Oregon.

  • Reply MARVIN THE BOON November 25, 2018 at 12:23 am

    when i was away in service my dad signed me up for the post office test. I was a postman till i retired ten years ago. that was a blessing. these guys are killing themselves.

  • Reply jds hempfarm November 25, 2018 at 6:20 am

    Isn't it just awesome to hear how productive a man can be without the irs?

  • Reply Ballocky Bill November 25, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    Why do I think of Viking ships when I see how they work these trees ??

  • Reply Daven Watts November 25, 2018 at 10:33 pm


  • Reply starmanskye November 26, 2018 at 7:33 pm

    Fascinating, very well-done slice-of-life history of the great western RR tie-industry and its frontier resource-mining culture economy in the middle-to-late-stage of the booming industrial revolution. In 30 years, the western mountain states probably produced upwards of 15 million RR ties, a large part of making the US railroad industry and America's manufacturing prosperity.

    Next to the incredible engineering feat of the high-canyon flumes, what stands out is that in 30 years no one was killed on one of these massive tie drives. Too, its really something, that skilled broadaxe tie-makers could earn 3 or 4 times what a ranch-hand, cowboy, truck-driver, farmer, carpenter/construction-worker, clerk, accountant, cook or tradesman of the day did. Maybe even more than a lawyer, statesman pol or Doctor.

    This docu is a real fine tribute to the hard-working decent men and women of that era, when striking a fine-line balance between idealism and pragmatic realism wasn't such a big deal, as it was still considered a natural part of the working-class can-do heritage, in the time-honored tradition of the expansive-and-generous American spirit.

  • Reply traderjoes November 26, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    If the world ever changes and we get thrown back to 1800's technology and lost all of our infrastructure due to some terrible cataclysm, and have to re-invent society and restore to world to early 20th century efficiency and needed men to do this type of work again, we all know that the youth of today would not be cut out for it. Sure, there would be some that could, farm kids and the like, but the vast bulk would be worthless and crying about the trees and the effects of the ties on the river and whatnot. They would be trying to sabotage it, probably. Driving nails into trees and stuff.

  • Reply chuck miller November 28, 2018 at 5:16 am

    This is what real "white privilege" looks like.

  • Reply GrumblingGrognard November 28, 2018 at 5:33 am

    One thing for sure; none of these guys had a membership to their local gym. 🙂

  • Reply Roger Balcer November 28, 2018 at 6:54 am

    My grandfather worked in the Michigan logging camps in the 1920's after he got out of the horse cavalry ! His parents immigrated from Sweden in the 1890's ! Those were the days of real men ! He also worked in the CCC camps ! Great video !

  • Reply MakerInMotion November 28, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    My toes wouldn't last very long.

  • Reply MrGoatflakes December 1, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    Great video, but that music at the start is dreary af 😛

  • Reply edward pudwill December 4, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    Those were some hardy men!

  • Reply Roy Carter December 6, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    Great programme. Wonder what those hills look like now?

  • Reply Beeps & Eat's Finding food & treasure December 13, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Too bad machines are doing the work now, I'll bet if you had a choice between a welfare check and cutting timber or any other hard labor. Or taking any job to get by on the country would be far better off. Remember when there was WPA.? You worked for a check. What happened to earning a paycheck? Welfare happened.
    Weak, Entitled, Lazy, Fools, Against, Rebuilding, Economics.

  • Reply thedwightguy December 14, 2018 at 7:35 am

    you could split ties on first growth better when it was minus forty below in the land of ice and snow, according to my grandfather. He split lots of ties for the railroad as it was built west.

  • Reply T West December 17, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    Amazing video!, we take so much for granted today totally ignorant of those who went before and made a life of ease possible for all of us!

  • Reply Rick Bedard December 18, 2018 at 8:26 pm

    can you imagine our lazy useless teens today doing that work ,

  • Reply Patricia Slocum December 20, 2018 at 12:58 am

    I love this. I miss my Wyoming. I used to live in Riverton, some, among several other Wyoming towns.

  • Reply John Applewhite December 20, 2018 at 8:55 pm

    How many ties would it take to buy that equisite red coat with the antler buttons that the host was wearing??

  • Reply Prepperjon December 27, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    A very moving and important film. Try getting anyone to work and live like that now adays. It’s important that we as a people don’t forget those who came before us and what they did that makes modern life possible. Something as simple as a wooden railroad tie made expansion into the west possible. I’ve listened to stories of people who grew up in Oregon between 1880 and 1960 and you would have thought it was the 1700’s. People who had never seen a jet plane as recently as 2005. They were good people every last one of them not like the spoiled brats of today. Try getting a kid to mow a lawn for a little pocket money. Ha! They think they’re worth $20 an hour! So I pay Jose to do it because he has a good work ethic and a family to support.

  • Reply Sam Rotolo February 6, 2019 at 10:23 am

    The Gal that said it was nice, it was nice.  Love it.

  • Reply 307 Wyoming 4E February 20, 2019 at 10:37 pm

    We have old tie flumes in our mountains the Big Horn mountains I know of a couple places where they did this. One above Sheridan also. These people had to be hard workers. Love this history of Wyoming

  • Reply 307 Wyoming 4E February 20, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    Does anyone know what cordtirye is? I have seen it up in the mountains loggers used it to cross muddy areas

  • Reply Tim Birch April 1, 2019 at 7:32 am

    "When America (that's a continent, not a country) was pushing west into the open spaces (you mean committing genocide on the people who lived their and occupying their lands)…"   switches off

  • Reply rick m April 10, 2019 at 7:13 am

    An amazing story. Thank you to all involved.

  • Reply Lee Phillip April 16, 2019 at 2:59 am

    But, the millennials DESERVE $15.00 an hour!

  • Reply Fab Funty April 25, 2019 at 6:12 am

    Awesome piece of history 👍🏼

    Ax chopping, metallic sawing and lively fiddle music. The subtitles never fail to crack me up 😂😂

  • Reply magicponyrides April 25, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    I love PBS.

  • Reply Ricopolico April 26, 2019 at 11:34 am

    Aerobics are a joke compared to what these hard as nails men did daily.

  • Reply Willard Brown April 30, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    i'm tired just watching……..whew……..

  • Reply J.C. Kohle May 1, 2019 at 10:01 am

    Very good historic account of an industry that boomed and broke. sure they still needed ties and they have been supplied one way or another since this method was surpassed. But its the lifestyle cutters and as outlined working in this team style manpower industry its so great to hear of the details about.

  • Reply pia suoja May 2, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    white priviligde, clearly !!!!

  • Reply mikegan73 May 2, 2019 at 8:19 pm

    That's some size of an axe. What strong hard working people they were, and the hardships they had to endure, bless'em all.

  • Reply Daniel Ginther May 4, 2019 at 3:14 am

    Further west the pant hook is known as a peevy

  • Reply Daniel Ginther May 4, 2019 at 3:52 am

    Excellent history lesson.

  • Reply Edna Thackeray May 4, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    These are the wonderful people who built the country. They will never be forgotten!

  • Reply Lmr6973 May 5, 2019 at 9:31 pm

    People coming into the country now don't even try to learn the language. Look and the difference between these migrants and the ones we have now.

  • Reply John Grytbakk May 6, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    Very different kind of immigrants compared to much of what is flooding America today.

  • Reply Jack Wise May 6, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    Very interesting, but I highly doubt anyone floated ties down the Medicine Bow River. It's not even a river, it's a small creek. I grew up 50 feet away from the Medicine Bow River and it could be waded almost at any point from ankle deep to hip deep.

  • Reply Jakov Levaj May 9, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    America was built by genocide

  • Reply Kevin Morrison May 11, 2019 at 4:52 pm

    Sad how spoiled people have become and there are far too many that dont have a clue what real work is and complain about how tough they have it when they dont know what tough is!

  • Reply stepping lightly May 12, 2019 at 12:30 am

    It seems to me that generations of men are produced, to perform certain remarkable tasks and achievements, to benefit succeeding generations, who in their time, couldn't perform the same endeavor.

  • Reply David Grady May 12, 2019 at 4:14 am

    The lady who keeps naming all the extreme hardships of this.time for common people followed by…"it was nice,"… Some may grow weary of these generations lording it over us how much better, but harder it was then, but I am just glad that some truly appreciate how much better they had it in spite of, or possibly because of the fairly straightforward nature of the hardships they faced

  • Reply That'sWhat'sUpCuz May 12, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Anyone else notice the fella telling the story changes his clothes every time it goes from the story to him trying to say something slick? What's going on there, soy milk maybe ?

  • Reply daveat191 May 14, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    So much hard work, it's quite amazing anyone would want the job. The work was hard enough without the isolation, weather and cold water conditions. The one guy said it- young and dumb. So the old men got to live out their years in a camp in the woods, wow, what a deal. Excellent production of the little known facts but I wouldn't brag about how wouderful it was.

  • Reply mandosandradios May 15, 2019 at 3:43 am

    What is the name of the old-time-string band song playing in the background?

  • Reply Greg Lovedahl May 17, 2019 at 1:35 am

    I've stacked railroad ties in a mill in Morton Washington right out of high school in 1984, l weighed about 140 pounds, after a few months of doing that l looked like a miniature Mr universe lol.

  • Reply ingebrecht May 19, 2019 at 12:19 am

    My great grandfather and great grandmother came from Norway. 1886. They got some farmland and were fruitful and multiplied. She had 19 children. No cable

  • Reply Ari Lehtiniemi May 21, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    Logging camps ("savotta") in the winter and homestead farming in the summer was how most Finns earned their meager livelyhood up to the 50's. First came the civil war 1918 and then Soviet Union attacked in The Winter War 1939 and right after that in 1941 came The Continuation War. These wars were part of WW2, obviously. Then these same veterans had to support their family, rebuild much of Finland and pay the war settlements for Soviet Union, which required Finland to build up the industry. Some territory was lost as well. So, there were men who were veterans of ALL three wars. Last of them died somewhere at the dawn of the new century, I think. What some people had to go through during the 20th century is unbelievable.

  • Reply Hargrove 001 May 22, 2019 at 2:35 am

    I wonder how often these guys would get thier foot when they scored it

  • Reply namasteuaz May 23, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    Socialist Society Sheeple Asleep At The Wheel today have no clue what real hard work; survival is about. Greatest Generations, hard working Legal Immigrants making America Great Nation it was. Unlike freeloaders, Illegals Invading USA in mass today causing destruction from within, for a lifetime of freebies, entitlement programs supported by Billions of US Citizen taxpayers Dollars a year. God Bless these Wonderful WY People who came to build USA. MAGA

  • Reply Kayinfso Here May 24, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    Fascinating!  And we think we have a hard lifestyle now….

  • Reply Stephen Carter May 24, 2019 at 5:42 pm

    Loggers in the 1800s Okefenokee swamp slept in trees 90 ft. up to stay away from snakes and wild animals also to keep other workers from murdering them for their gambling money. J.L.Y.

  • Reply Paul Day May 25, 2019 at 12:15 am

    very interesting. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply William Gable May 27, 2019 at 6:33 am

    What a fascinating story. Wish schools would teach more of this kind of American history.

  • Reply kodi android May 27, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    real me ,nothing like the snowflakes of today

  • Reply mkitstp00 June 5, 2019 at 11:54 pm

    gona go to my local home depot and look for a broadax!

  • Reply Matt Kustom Kostumes June 6, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    Wow! What a lifestyle! I find it VERY hard to believe nobody got killed in 30 years. I bet some people got badly hurt, though.

  • Reply DEADSETDEMON June 9, 2019 at 9:19 am


  • Reply james f o'hare June 10, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Thanks for the video it was great much enjoyed.

  • Reply blob assimilate June 11, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    oh! just when I thought vast virgin forests just vanished ,..and had no effects on anything….

  • Reply clive oconnell June 11, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    Great seeing these privileged white folk not go blaming the world. The hard working honest non union people not complaining but proud of their accomplishments.

  • Reply John Heigis June 12, 2019 at 2:14 pm

    I remember my grandfather talking with his brother about doing this, when they were young, in Wyoming, with "Sweeds!"

  • Reply SHANE GUNTER June 13, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Oh heck NO. I would seriously hurt myself something bad like. Those men were certainly in good shape, even these men in this video telling their life story about working way back then are even still in better shape than most of men in their 20's, 30's, and 40's. Much respect for these fellows..

  • Reply curtis wheeler June 13, 2019 at 10:16 am

    what a country get people from norway,the biggest tree wacking sob's in the world where they don't even have natural forest's anymore.

  • Reply cobainzlady June 13, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    super interesting! thanks wyoming pbs, you are better than some of the pbs stations. love the stories by the old guys! THIS is real America.

  • Reply Doug Stamper June 13, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    Ma was born in SW Virginia in 1925, and grew up on a small farm w/11 brothers and sisters, and she told me she would get an apple and an orange at Christmas and was thrilled.

  • Reply cobainzlady June 13, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    If you can hack these railroad ties with a saw and axe, you can surely make good logs for a log cabin, similarly. Like big Lincoln logs.

  • Reply kodi android June 14, 2019 at 12:19 am

    real men

  • Reply Mountain Man3 June 14, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    people don't want to work anymore.

  • Reply Phil Giglio June 15, 2019 at 1:22 am Love that red coat. This program is why I love PBS; locally produced content that may well have national interest.

  • Reply Willaim R. Kirkland June 15, 2019 at 3:22 am

    You  really had to be a real man to do that work.  No girly men here or 'why, anyone should be allowed to do that job, let us females in also'.  Thanks.

  • Reply Ruben Barbo June 15, 2019 at 5:29 am

    Badass Men. Bless their memory and spirt.

  • Reply Ramphastos June 15, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    Great video

  • Reply Good Citizen June 15, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    This is fake nobody could work that hard. Lol

  • Reply dale carpenter June 15, 2019 at 9:57 pm


  • Reply dale carpenter June 15, 2019 at 10:27 pm


  • Reply Mrlrobertson June 16, 2019 at 11:17 am

    This was worth watching. Thank You.

  • Reply PPS S. June 16, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    They exterminated old growth forests with just an axe, it took a few decades to deforest entire continent. Most states do not have a freaking acre of old growth forest. Thanks a lot.

  • Reply Ed McCaffrey June 17, 2019 at 4:36 am

    Great to see this historical story. Grew up in the high country Colorado Rockies. Learned the art of living yearound at high elevations. Broadaxe working on new fallen pine trees make a real man out of you by the second week. Problem is most fellers dont last passed the first 6 day work week. A new fallen pine tree is full of pine sap, called a "sappy" tree. Hard to chop, and heavy as as all hell to lift or carry. Amazing life if you got what it takes, they stopped making these kinds of men about a generation back.

  • Reply Mark Eugene Lee June 17, 2019 at 10:04 am

    Human history, activity,greed endeavor, ambition!,,,totally useless, unhealthy,destructive,

  • Reply Michael DeSilvio June 18, 2019 at 2:48 am

    These loggers destroyed the land and never replanted any saplings.

  • Reply MLStarship June 18, 2019 at 4:10 am

    I grew up in Riverton Wyoming… Ingabourg Stork is Oscar Aspli's daughter.. Oscar later built my family home on Park Avenue in Riverton.. I grew up hunting those mountains… I knew Roy Peck.. I did not know he and Gene Lau worked the River.. I dated Gene's daughter.. I have been to the Black Bridge.. I remember the Olsens… Now.. Meth ..

  • Reply Ron Bennett June 18, 2019 at 10:40 am

    What I don't understand is why they were hand hewn. We've had sawmills in this country since 1690.
    Couldn't they use donkey engines with some sort of portable mill setup ? Say a PTO or generator
    from a locomotive ?

  • Reply David Ahtes June 18, 2019 at 10:48 am

    I didn't see a bulging belly in this whole video! I've done hard, physical work all my life…but it wasn't THIS hard.These guys were in superb physical shape.I wonder how many calories they needed daily to sustain that level of physicality….at least they ate well!!

  • Reply Snap-off June 18, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Lets all now go out to the woods and. . . .CODE! Right?

  • Reply s7rugg1es June 19, 2019 at 3:43 am

    My grandmother, a WAVES, was a Norwegian too that came to Montana. My parents met and fell in love at Yellowstone.

  • Reply Daryl Holly June 22, 2019 at 12:26 am

    There weren't no formula fer babys then .du

  • Reply Daryl Holly June 22, 2019 at 12:27 am

    Up hill both ways

  • Reply Daryl Holly June 22, 2019 at 12:28 am

    Very well narrated.

  • Reply Douglas Thompson June 24, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    An amazing story….true men and American heroes.

  • Reply Terry Gandy June 29, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    Excellent history

  • Reply Josh July 4, 2019 at 10:38 am

    I'd love to ride that log flume

  • Reply greatgreen goblin bear July 4, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    When America was still America if I had a time machine this is when I would go

  • Reply Melanie O'Hara July 9, 2019 at 2:00 am

    I was born and raised around tye hacks, sawyers, and skidders from Sweden, Norway, and Czechoslavakia in the Snowy Range Mountains west of Laramie, just after World War II. How great to see this video—brings back so many memories.🙋🏼‍♀️🏔🌠

  • Reply Jess Arellanes July 9, 2019 at 6:27 pm


  • Reply John Allen July 15, 2019 at 10:39 pm

    I moved around a lot and worked many jobs. Almost took a job as a choker one time but it didn't pan out. I live near the Oregon border in California and we still see logging trucks once in a while but nothing like they used to see. We had a 21 mile long flume that floated the logs to town from the mountains. It was about 70 feet high and made out of logs like a train trestle. It eventually burned down. Men used to ride logs the whole way in.

  • Reply sarcasmo57 August 1, 2019 at 9:46 am

    This guy's costumes though.

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