Lumbering in the 1920's


Black Cherry from the

Old Growth Photo Collection

Circa 1912




In grateful appreciation to:  Norfolk Historical Society

Michaela Allan Murphy, Photographer & Printmaker

Bob Grigg,

Colebrook Historian
















This exhibit consists of several framed, high-quality, black and white photos on display in the Gathering Room of the Museum.  It will remain through the winter of 2007-2008 and well into next year.  Come see it all for yourself.  It's well worth the trip!

We do not know the name of the photographer, and only one or two family names of the lumbermen, but the photographer took professional quality photos that captured the essence of the lumbering industry in a transitional period that embraced the span of years between the era of the waterwheel powered sawmill and the advent of the internal combustion engine. This was the era of steam whereby a cylindrical boiler was placed on wheels and transported to the lot where the trees were felled. The only requirement was a small supply of water to produce steam. 

   Included in this collection is a photo taken of the William Lawrence sawmill located on Mill Brook in southwest Colebrook. This sawmill is of the type used prior to the mobile steam driven mills where the logs were brought to the mill site.

   In the type of mill shown in these photos, a rack-feed method is employed. The log is mounted upon a long carriage that runs by rollers on a set of rails and the carriage is traveled along by rack and pinions, which give a positive feed regardless of the shape of the log. The carriage in these roller-feed machines is only represented by a couple of plain trolleys supporting the timber at the back and front.

   Circular saws have a wide kerf, or width of cut. The saws used in these mills probably had a kerf of inch or more; consequently a considerable amount of each log ended up as sawdust. This is acceptable because the logs generally are pine, hemlock, red oak or white ash, all common growth trees in our area. These circular saws are of a type known as ripping saws cutting with the grain, as opposed to the cross-cut saw employed by two men when felling trees. Ripping saw teeth are all shaped alike with one slope having a steeper angle than the other. Each tooth is alternately filed, so that a left side point is followed by a right side point and so on. A set is applied to these teeth so that the high side of the point aims outward, thus giving the kerf, necessary so that the saw does not bind while cutting.

   The basic methods of logging had not changed appreciably from colonial times until when these photos were taken, but the era was soon to end, as continuous-track tractors were introduced in these parts in the 1930s and 1940s, replacing horses. Also the Diesel engine came into common use around here after World War II, making the steam engine obsolete. The art of felling trees using a cross cut saw was also rapidly coming to an end. Gasoline-powered chain saws, ever so much more efficient than the old methods, were in use after the mid 1940s.

- Bob Grigg

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Click on Images below to Enlarge

Log Sled

Log Carriage

Saw Mill

Portable Steam Engine

Portable MIll

Stuck in the Mud


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