Forest for the Trees

You need to understand that my Great-Grampa Francis was a lumberjack at the turn of the last century. And my Great Aunt Elva was a cook at one of the lumber camps up in Michigan.


So it was with eager and familial interest that we turned into the parking lot at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum in Galeton, Pennsylvania. The museum is currently building itself a brand new visitor’s center, so we wandered into the trailer that was serving as the temporary visitor’s center to get our bearings and a map. We learned that we were a couple weeks too early to hit the Bark Peelers’ Convention, and we hadn’t made reservations for Lunch with the Loggers, so we contented ourselves with strolling about the grounds and getting up close and personal with the tools, machines, and trees that, quite literally, built America.


Some of these machines are behemoths. They stand quiet and still now, but I cannot imagine the ear-splitting decibel levels that were achieved when these things were cranked up and in full steam. Steam engine log trains, steam engine log loaders, and of course the long whining shriek of the buzz saws cutting up timber—what a racket! The noise needed to process all those millions of logs that had been hauled out of forests or floated down rivers to the mill had to have left many a lumberman deaf as a white pine post.


I tried to imagine the life of these men, the life of my own great-grandfather, out in the elements in every season of the year, doing a job that was unimaginably physical and terrifyingly dangerous. Logs. Logs can do frightening things. I tried to picture my little aunt working at one of the wood stoves in the mess hall, tending big kettles of soup, wrestling huge fry pans sizzling with fatback bacon, stacking fresh baked bread up like cord wood and brewing up vats of boiling coffee. These were strong people. Tough customers. I doubt I could have handled a single day in their boots, let alone the long hours and back-breaking work they put in.

I left the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum with renewed appreciation for my family’s participation in a unique part of American History. Sometimes, you really can see the forest for the trees.