Driving the River

By Eben Lehman on October 24, 2008

Six brand new photo galleries featuring more than 160 historic photos documenting various aspects of river log drives were added to our website today.  River drives were a standard way of moving large amounts of cut timber to sawmills during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, prior to the expansion and adoption of railroads and trucks for log transport.  Images of the men known as “river pigs” who worked on these drives, laboring to keep the rivers clear and the logs moving down the middle of the channel, are found in the Drivers gallery.

Other galleries contain images of Log Driver Equipment, Logs in the River, Splash Dams, and Wanigans.  (Wanigans were the floating cookhouses and supply rafts that moved downriver with the log drivers, keeping them fed and supplied with any needed items.)  Also included is a gallery of Log Jam photos, showing one of the many hazards of working a log drive.  While attempting to break large jams in the river, drivers risked falling, being crushed by logs, and drowning.

A large portion of the photos in these new galleries are of the Potlatch Corp. log drives which took place on a 90-mile stretch of the Clearwater River in northern Idaho.  The Clearwater River drives began in the late 1920s and ran nearly every spring until the final run in 1971, the last large-scale whitewater log drive in the U.S.  For more detailed information on the famed Clearwater River log drive, including a map of the route, see “Clearwater River Log Drives: A Photo Essay” from the Fall 2000 issue of Forest History Today.

Visit the new Log Drivers, Driver Equipment, Logs in River, Splash Dams, Wanigans, and Log Jams photo galleries, and for other topics, check out our previously posted subject galleries here.