Trucks, Tractors, and Swindle Sticks

By Eben Lehman on December 2, 2009

Three new photo galleries added to our website today contain more than 250 historic photos illustrating aspects of logging over the past century.  The first gallery, Logging–Scaling, documents the work of scalers in the woods.  A scaler was the person who measured and marked the quality of timber, and estimated the number of board feet in a log.   Scalers used an instrument known as a “scale rule” to measure and place monetary value on the logs.

Scaler measuring large log.

Scaling large log to measure volume of cut timber, July 1944.

With money at stake, scalers were sometimes the object of criticism.  As scaling standards, practices, and instruments evolved, disputes over inconsistencies became commonplace.  Many logging crews believed that the scaler automatically favored the millowners, and referred to his scale rule as a “cheat stick,” “thief stick,” “swindle stick,” or “robber’s cane.”  For an excellent history of the work of the scaler, see “The Scaler: Forgotten Man in Maine’s Lumbering Tradition” by William S. Warner, from the October 1982 issue of the Journal of Forest History.

Two other new photo galleries document the transport of logs, one featuring images of trucks, and the other with images of tractors and wagons.  The Logging–Hauling–Trucks gallery includes more than 100 images of trucks transporting large and small logs through various parts of the country.

Caravan of trucks carrying Douglas fir logs through North Bend, Washington.

A caravan of trucks carrying mammoth Douglas fir logs pass through North Bend, Washington.

The Logging–Hauling–Tractors and Wagons gallery shows the evolution of tractors, wagons, and trailers used to haul logs in the woods.  Included are a few images of the earliest Caterpillar tractors built by the Holt Manufacturing Company in Stockton, California.  A history of the crawler tractor, looking at the development of the Lombard log hauler and the Caterpillar tractor, can be found in the following clip from the FHS YouTube Channel:


For more information on early log hauling equipment, see the William H. Carson Collection in the FHS Archives.  For further reading related to the tractors gallery, also take a look at “From Bulls to Bulldozers: A Memoir on the Development of Machines in the Western Woods from Letters of Ted P. Flynn,” from the Fall 1963 issue of Forest History.

Caterpillar Tractor hauling logs near Columbia, South Carolina, June 1929

Caterpillar tractor hauling logs near Columbia, South Carolina, June 1929.

Visit all three of these new photo galleries:

And for additional topics, see our previously posted subject galleries, or search the FHS Image Database.