Birling Down White Water

By Amanda Ross on June 11, 2009

Prior to the expansion of railroads and later use of trucks, the logging industry relied on river currents to move large amounts of cut timber to sawmills. In October, we highlighted six photo galleries related to various aspects of river log drives. Since this posting, searches for “log drives,” “log drivers,” “moving logs on rivers,” and “logger photos” have frequently led readers to Peeling Back the Bark and the FHS Photo Collection.

To further satisfy reader interests, I would like to share our top-viewed YouTube video, an excerpt from Timber on the Move: A History of Log Moving Technology, a documentary film from the Forest History Society. This clip illuminates the river driving process as only action footage can. This segment also includes informative narration describing the effect of the log drives, such as flooding of farmland adjacent to the river banks.


As I mentioned in a previous comment, the original “Driving the River” post sent me on a quest to find log driving folk songs and videos. I was rewarded with a charming little film that incorporates clips of actual log drives, whimsical animation, and an infectious melody: Canada Vignettes: Log Driver’s Waltz, 1979.* This film has been suggested to us several times and is well-worth mentioning once more.

“For he goes birling down a-down the white water
That’s where the log driver learns to step lightly
It’s birling down, a-down white water
A log driver’s waltz pleases girls completely.”

So goes the chorus of “The Log Driver’s Waltz,” a Canadian folk song penned by Wade Hemsworth. Through the song, Hemsworth emphasized the agility and strength required of log drivers, who had to walk or run on logs as they floated down the river.

May the log driver’s waltz please you completely!