Logging and Sawmilling Information for the Western United States
November 2000 - Volume 25 Number 11
Old Time Logging, Forest Feasts
by Joni Sensel
In the dining halls of the more popular old-time logging camps, every day must have felt like Thanksgiving. Loggers consumed an estimated 9,000 calories a day, on average - at least three times what most of us eat today, even on feast days. Even with this hefty fueling, historic photos reveal nary a fat logger. That doesn't mean they didn't try. Camp records indicate that on average, a logger in the Northwest around the turn of the century might start the day before dawn with flapjacks, eggs, bacon, fried pork, hash, spuds, oatmeal, prunes, fruit, doughnuts, biscuits, or all of the above. Breakfast was washed down with plenty of strong coffee sometimes slurped not from a mug but a soup bowl.
One logger might account for almost a pound of ground coffee a week. Caffeine helped drive the loggers until midday, when work stopped for a meal. Sometimes, in less remote areas, the cook might deliver biscuits and stew. Other times, a dinner shed would be set up near a landing, where a cook or flunky would prepare meat, potatoes, and gravy. If nothing else, loggers hauled lunch buckets out into the timber with them. A retired Longview, Wash., logger recently recalled, "We always got three sandwiches: roast beef, ham, and egg salad. The first thing we did was toss that egg sandwich away over our shoulders." Carloads of chow, a large camp might go through 200 or more eggs in a day.
The daily consumption, per man included a half a loaf of bread, a pound of potatoes, a pound of other vegetables and fruit, plus cold cuts, salads, baked beans, stew, or soup. Then desert: pie, cake, cookies, pastries, or rice pudding. Baking supplies and produce were ordered in railcar loads. Alcohol was not officially on the menu, although some camps did include it in special treats - egg nog or Tom & Jerry drinks for Thanksgiving, or a potent punch for a camp dedication or other special celebration. The rest of the time, the men brought their own to ensure a supply of nightcaps after dessert.
King of the cookhouse. The real talent was cooking appetizing volumes on the old woodburning or oilburning stoves. Most cooks were men, although a few were women or husband/wife teams. The cook might be the highest paid, most highly sought employee in camp, and for good reason. Food, rather than wages, was universally acknowledged as "the most important aspect of camp life." To accomplish his or her job, the cook had two to six assistants who helped prepare, serve up and wash dishes. By World War I, most of these assistants were women and known affectionately as flunkies.
During the 1970s, Ted Durment, a Weyerhaeuser manager in Klamath Falls, Ore, recalled, "I remember one woman, who when I signed her up and wrote on her startslip that she was a flunky, got mad as all get out, and informed me she 'wasn't a flunky, she was a waitress!'" Fleet flunkies whatever their job title, most flunkies quickly learned to take care of themselves. "As in any line of work where men and women are thrown together, a certain amount of hanky panky went on," wrote exflunky Anna M. Lind in a 1975 article in the Journal of Forest History. "But not as much as one would think." One day, for example, a young woman named Pearl Dunn was peeling potatoes in the cookhouse when a logger entered the kitchen and gave a playful tug to her apron strings.
Without a glance, the husky gal who stood over six feet tall, tossed the potato in her hand over her shoulder and beaned him right between the eyes. The playful logger saw stars. When they weren't preparing food, the flunkies were kept running, carrying six or more large platters of food, balanced on both arms, serving 30 or 40 men each. Fallers and buckers were known to empty their tin plates the quickest. Talking at the table was discouraged at some camps, probably to streamline the calorie intake so the kitchen staff could get on with preparations for the next meal. Old hands could put away a big meal in under 8 minutes. Speed eating was also apparently a valuable skill in camps where a man with a more leisurely pace might not get his fill. Still, although the conditions under which they consumed it might not have been ideal, there's little argument that loggers' wilderness fare was at least as good as, and generally more plentiful than, that which most Americans enjoyed at home.
But then, not everyone was pulling a saw or clambered through wet brush 10 to 12 hours a day. Like laborers everywhere, loggers earned their oats - and since they all wore suspenders, there was no need to loosen any belts.
Sources: "Women in Early Logging Camps," Anna M. Lind, Journal of Forest History, July 1975. "The Wobbly Horrors," Robert E. Ficken, Labor History Volume 24, Summer 1983 Rough & Ready Loggers, A.S. Gintzler, John Muir Publications, Santa Fe, 1994 From Jamestown to Coffin Rock, Alden H. Jones, Weyerhaeuser, Tacoma, 1974 George S. Long, Timber Statesman, Charles E. Twining, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1994 Oral histories and research materials in the Weyerhaeuser Archives, Federal Way, Wash.
This page was last updated on Monday, November 10, 2003