Archive for February, 2009

The four new photo galleries added to our website today provide a unique look into various aspects of the lives of loggers outside of the forest work environment.  These new online galleries, containing nearly 150 historic photos, feature subjects such as Logging Camp Food, Logging Communities, Family Life, and Logger Rodeos.

The Logging Camp Food gallery provides images of logging camp dining halls, kitchens, cooks, food service staff, and meals served.  And not to peddle logger stereotypes, but yes, pancakes are prominently involved:


Big Paul Searls eating a logger's breakfast.

If this gallery leaves you hungry for more information, I would also suggest taking a look at “Old Boy, Did You Get Enough of Pie?: A Social History of Food in Logging Camps” by Joseph R. Conlin from the October 1979 issue of Journal Of Forest History, which provides a great historical look at the types of food found in 19th and 20th century logging camps.

Moving away from pancakes and pie, the Logging Community and Family Life galleries include images of the homes, schools, and towns connected with the logging industry.  The Logger Rodeos gallery features historic photos of logging contests and competitions.  Anyone who’s caught a late-night ESPN2 broadcast of the Great Outdoor Games will be familiar with the contests found in these images, such as log bucking, tree felling, and the always popular birling, or log rolling competition:


For more logger photos, also check out this previous blog post.   To browse the full subject listing of all previously posted photo galleries, visit this page.

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On this day in 1897, President Grover Cleveland signed an executive order creating the Washington Birthday Reserves.  He proclaimed 13 new or expanded forest reserves in the western United States, totaling some 21 million acres; it brought the total acreage in the forest reserve system (the predecessor to the National Forest System) to just under 40 million acres.  When Cleveland created the reserves, so named because the signing occurred on the birthday of the first U.S. president, he acted on the recommendation of the National Forest Commission.  Comprised of such leading conservationists as Gifford Pinchot, Charles S. Sargent, and Wolcott Gibbs, the commission had been formed in 1896 to advise the president and Congress on how to manage the federal forest reserves.

After spending several months out west examining existing reserves and potential new ones, and then spending many more months in rancorous debate over whether the forests should be placed under civilian or military control, in February 1897 the commission called for more land to be set aside before they even announced how to manage the forests.  Cleveland must have recognized that adding to the already-controversial forest reserves was not going to be popular in much of the west.

The Big Man himself, Grover Cleveland.  It was at the end of the second of his two non- consecutive terms in office that he created the Washington Birthday Forest Reserves.

The Big Man himself, Grover Cleveland. It was at the end of the second of his two non- consecutive terms in office that he created the Washington Birthday Forest Reserves. (Forest History Society Photo Collection)

Yet President Cleveland signed the papers.  It wasn’t the most courageous move on his part.  He signed it only days before leaving office and had nothing to lose politically.  He left the decision of who should manage the reserves for his successor to determine.  (It wasn’t settled until passage of the Forest Management [or Organic] Act in June 1897 — three months after Cleveland left office.)  On the other hand, it took vision and foresight to do it, to see the value in establishing those reserves.  Writing of Cleveland’s doubling of the national reserve, historian Geoffrey Blodgett said: “But for Theodore Roosevelt’s vastly more skillful flair for self-advertisement — Cleveland might be remembered as our presidential pioneer in imposing sanity on federal land use policy.”  And Richard E. Welch Jr. in his history of Cleveland’s presidencies declared that “Cleveland scored his most important success as a reformer” by signing the order.  It was, however, a curious move by a man who did not favor the expansion of federal government nor that of governmental paternalism.  The Washington Birthday Reserves were, in fact, the second time he had added to the reserves — he had added 5 million acres in 1893 before asking for guidance on how they should be managed.

What is not discussed in forest or political histories in any depth is why President Cleveland backed the commission’s work and was willing to create the reserves.  The decision should be looked at in the broader context of Cleveland’s lifelong interest in fishing and hunting.  A recent biographer simply characterizes the interest in those sports as a way to escape the pressures of the office.  It was more than that.  Cleveland so loved the outdoors that in 1906 he published Fishing and Shooting Sketches, in which he celebrated the virtues of both sports.  John Reiger, in his classic American Sportmen and the Origins of Conservation, barely mentions Cleveland but does acknowledge the president followed the sportsmen’s code while hunting and fishing, which included “possess[ing] an aesthetic appreciation of the whole environmental context of sport that included a commitment to its perpetuation.”  But we learn nothing of how Cleveland came to learn it and embrace it.  Reiger opens the door for Cleveland or conservation scholars and even offers a framework.  Scholars, are you listening?  Here’s an article or a master’s thesis waiting to be written.

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As part of our ongoing efforts in using new technologies to provide online access to materials in our library and archives, the Forest History Society is pleased to announce the launch of its own YouTube Channel.

youtube logo

YouTube, the leading online video community, allows organizations to  reach a huge audience of users through the creation of a centralized channel for posting videos and sharing content.  We will use the FHS YouTube Channel to share clips of historic films from our archives, such as footage of logging operations, river drives, forest fire suppression, and much more.  Other content will include classic Smokey Bear television PSAs, and selections from documentaries such as Up in Flames, Timber on the Move, and The Greatest Good.

Below you will find two selections from the FHS YouTube Channel.  The first, an excerpt from Timber on the Move, is archival footage from the late 1920s of cypress logging in a Louisiana swamp.

The second selection features Kukla and Ollie (from “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie,” a popular 1950s kids show) as they help to spread Smokey Bear’s message about how to prevent forest fires.

We encourage you to check out all of the video content at the FHS YouTube Channel, which can always be found at the following URL:


And for those with a YouTube login, please feel free to subscribe to the channel in order to receive updates, or just check back often as we will continually be adding new content.

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We’ve asked Stephen Pyne, an environmental historian who has written about fire around the world, to offer his thoughts on the bushfires in Australia. As of this publication date, an area roughly the size of Rhode Island had burned and the death toll neared 200.

Black Saturday: The Sequel

The fires are a horror, even by Australian standards, which is saying much.  But for those of us who have long admired Australia’s gritty resolve in the face of conflagrations and have regarded it as a firepower for the caliber of its fire sciences and its bushfire brigades, the recent spectacle arouses dismay and sadness as well.

This is not the first such eruption.  Australia has filled up the weekly calendar with Red Tuesdays, Ash Wednesdays, Black Thursdays, and so on.  The chronicle is having to appeal to holidays like Black Christmas and renumber its sequels.  Black Saturday II is a monster: the bad bushfire on steroids.  But it is not an alien visitation.  It is a recurring nightmare, at times worse, at times less savage, and Australians seem unable to do anything but fight and flee, and curse and console.


The reason for the fires is simple.  Australia is a fire continent: it is built to burn.  To this general combustibility its southeast adds a pattern of seasonal winds, associated with cold fronts that draft scorching, unstable air from the interior across whatever flame lies on the land.  At such times the region becomes a colossal fire flume that fans flames which for scale and savagery have no equal elsewhere on Earth.

But even heat waves do not kindle fires of themselves, and cyclonic winds do not drive fire in the same way they do storm surges.  Fire is not a physical substance: it is a reaction.  It feeds on the vegetation, and whatever climatic forces exist must be integrated into that combustible biomass.  Fire, that is, synthesizes its surroundings.  Understand its setting, and you understand fire.  Control that setting, and you control fire.



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Through one degree of separation, we can connect professional foresters with Hollywood glamour!  FHS holds the archival records and popular novels of the nexus: Tom Gill, a leader in international and American forestry and prolific author.

Thomas Harvey Gill (1891-1972) served as a forester with the U.S. Forest Service (1915-1925), the Charles Lathrop Pack Forestry Foundation (1926-1960), and the Food and Agriculture Organization. He was also a founder of the International Society of Tropical Foresters.

Tom Gill authored many popular and academic works. His fiction centered on stories of adventure involving cowboys, forest rangers, and frontier characters. His 12 books of fiction included Guardians of the Desert, Death Rides the Mesa, North to Danger, The Gay Bandit of the Border, Firebrand, and No Place for Women.

Reading praise of Gill lends an aura of excitement and intrigue to the work of foresters and ranchers:

Tom Gill lives what he writes and writes what he lives — stories of the deserts, jungles, mountains, and timberlands. Master of Forestry, war flyer, cattleman, trail blazer, and author, he has woven the glamour of his adventures into fiction of stirring action and color.

American Magazine vol. 114, no. 2 (August 1932)


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