Wednesday, December 12, 2012
The first known use of a truck in a logging operation in Washington occurred in 1913 near Covington but it was World War I that established log trucking in Washington. In 1917, fine quality Sitka spruce, unique to the forests of the Pacific Northwest, was urgently needed to manufacture airplanes for the war. However, the best spruce trees were dispersed here and there requiring selective harvest that was impractical for railroad logging. The army organized the Spruce Production Division, which assigned thousands of soldiers to build roads into the forests of western Washington. Hard-tired trucks were put to use to travel on plank roads and retrieve the cants of spruce that were felled, bucked and split by woods crews.
Following the Armistice in November 1918, the Spruce Production Division was disbanded but newly constructed roads, surplus trucks, and accessible timber stands remained and provided the beginning for what would become the rapid growth in the use of trucks for commercial log hauling. New interest in the use of aircraft combined with the ready availability of a spruce resource helped to establish the new Boeing Corporation as a mainstay of the economy of Washington and a purchaser of spruce logs for many years. After WWI, an expanding economy brought a steady increase in road construction and motor vehicle use. Small log producers were quick to recognize opportunity. The purchase and operation of trucks was much less costly than locomotives. Isolated patches of timber near new public roads could be purchased and hauled by truck at low cost. Salvage of shingle cedar and Douglas-fir peeler blocks became possible. Track-type tractors had been developed for use in WWI. This equipment soon too found popular logging application. The logging industry, long dominated by big companies with logging camps and railroad lines, began to change. With the tractor and the truck came the independent or “gyppo” logger and the contract “gyppo” trucker. These were small businesses many of which would become primary log suppliers for small sawmills.
There were several types of roads used in the early days of truck logging. In dry weather a cleared dirt path might suffice. But for year-round travel a more substantial road was needed. Three types of roads were most favored and all were made of wood. A “cross-plank” road was made of sawn timbers spiked to hewn log stringers. A “fore and aft” pole road was constructed of hemlock poles that were available in the woods. Trucks operating on pole roads were fitted with steel flange wheels. For greater permanence in applications where a large volume of logs was to be hauled, a “fore and aft” plank road could also be constructed. All used considerable amounts of wood with the fore and aft plank requiring the most; about 160,000 board feet per mile. In the early 1920s on good roads with favorable grades, logging trucks traveled at rate of speed of 10 to 12 miles per hour. The maximum haul distance was generally limited to 15 miles. A new log truck could be purchased for about $4000 and was expected to last four years.