Life in Logging Camps

Life in Logging Camps

Hunting Party at a Logging Camp, Reynolds Bros. Mill Reynoldston, NY


         The early Reynold’s logging camps were small, housing perhaps eight to ten men each.  Some of the loggers boarded with the Reynoldses, and not in the camps.  This changed after the Reynolds Bros. took over the mill operations after Orson Reynolds died in 1887.

         The peak years for the camps were the years of the Brooklyn Cooperage contract, c. 1908-1918.  Then as many as 30-40  men might live in each camp.  The camps were built of logs, with rough board floors and tarpaper roofs held down with saplings stripped of their boughs. Each camp had a “dog house” for sleeping and eating, a cook shack, office and small store, a small barn and a privy.  All were temporary structures, either torn down and moved to areas of new cutting, or abandoned and left to decay. 
          These log buildings and poor furnishings were home for the woodsmen during most of the five to sixths months that is winter in Reynoldston.   In camp both young boys and old men worked long days and raised hell in the evening. Although logging is certainly not a trade, lumbering demands knowledge of trees, equipment and even some principles of physics; an inexperienced lumberjack was always a danger to his fellow workers.

Eugene Bordeaux

Describing logging camps:
Mr. Bordeaux:  There would be the main shack, the main place where we slept, the men slept. And then off from that would be the cook camp and they had a blacksmith shop away from that.   A blacksmith shop.  And then away from that would be an office, where they kept stuff, ( a small store with some supplies the loggers could buy) your mittens, your time and there was a
book keeper in the office
Eugene Bordeaux oral history interviews 1969  tape 11 p.3

Thomas Campbell 

Storytelling – ” Of course it was all dam lies ” 
Brawls – “Of course over drinking…who was the best man”
Thomas Campbell oral history interviews 1970 tape 2 p.4

 Logging camps playing cards  “no, no I never played poker …lot’s of them did yes. (drinking in
the camps) sometimes.  Sometimes they had a fiddle there and they get up and dance, step dance you know…jig.  “The Old Irish Wash Woman”,  “Old Zeb Coon”, That was about the only step dancing.  Of course there was a clog dance. “Old Zeb Coon”  I think that was a clog dance. They would make their feet  stomp on the floor and keep time with the music. Then there used to what they called a sword dance.  They would take…I think it was four sticks and they would cross them like that and then they would go from one to the other like that and they would keep track of the 

Thomas Campbell oral history interviews  1970 tape 2 p.4

Haidee Rushlow

Once, Mrs. Fred Bombard was a cook in Number 3 camp.  The camp had the cook, the greaser , the helper (chore boy) then they had the outside boss.  I bet you it (held) at least fifty (workers) if not more.   The clerk, which my husband was. About twice a week or three times a week…a tote team would take one big load of stuff up to the camps…line of clothes and eats and everything.   They did not sell food up there (at camp).   They sold tobacco, candy, and clothes and stuff you would have to have.   I think the cook only got 84 dollars a month.

Haidee Magoon (Reynolds) Rushlow oral history interviews  1970 tape 1 p.2

 Two Descriptions of the same legendary fight in a logging camp: 

Thomas Campbell

“They had a brawl up here one time.   Dan Whitcomb and Johnny, my brother and I think Gene (Brodeaux) and I think Elon (Bordeaux) was in it too and Frank Bordeaux.   They had an awful brawl you know. The fellows  from right around here you know and the Swedes…that’s what started it… Polish people. They got to drinking there one Saturday I guess… they had a hell of a time.   All the Swedes quit anyway.  If we stayed up there,  they would not stay.  If we went away, well they’d stay.”

Thomas Campbell oral history interviews 1970 tape 2 p.4  

Eugene Bordeaux

Yep…We had a Russian fight up here.   A bunch of Russians and it was in a Reynolds’ camp.  Had a hell of a fight…Dan was in it and my borother was it.  Hell of a fight…sticks and shovels..” “One wanted the door open and one wanted the door shut…playing cards…three or four.  One  fellow got up and one fellow was cold and went to shut it.   Went to open it again and my brother hit him……and then”

Eugene Bordeaux oral history interviews   1969 tape 4 p. 3

Description of Life in logging camps based upon interviews with Eugene Bordeaux  1969/70

          By the time he was fifteen or sixteen or even thirteen years old a boy quit school to look for work. Farm land in the community was scarce, and basically unprofitable, and the only other jobs in the community were in the mill or the logging woods. Besides it was easier and more realistic to make a living cutting and drawing logs than trying to scrape together enough poor land to support a farm. Therefore, most boys went into the logging camps and started to work along side their fathers and men even older.                                                                                                        Logging for the Reynolds meant staying in camp for six days at a time, coming home on Saturday night and going back on Sunday. This was a better arrangement than that offered in the better paying camps “up south” Tupper Lake, St Regis Falls——where a man could get home only once or twice during the whole winter. Four or five miles into the Adirondack foothills above the
sawmill, the four Reynolds camps were six miles from many of the loggers homes; this was a long ride, even on the mildest winter days when the temperature might be twenty above zero. 
              Camp Number One was closest to the mill, and men reached it before they came to the
logging road that burrowed through the deep woods. Camps Two and Four were on the eastern, side of that logging road, while Camp Three was furthest into the forest, very close to the Brooklyn Cooperage railroad spur. Each camp was a squat assemblage of six or seven log buildings that a crew of as many men could throw together in less than a summer. The camp might be used for only four years, and then abandoned to the harsh North Country weather. With logs so plentiful it was more expensive to salvage a camp lumber than to start a new camp from scratch. The woodsmen who built each camp chinked the round logs together with mortar made of plaster. The men resorted
table into crude slab lumber and tarpaper for the peaks of the “dog house” or bunnkhouse, but at camp 2 they built the whole office of lumber instead of logs. The camp office was the working and sleeping quarters for the time keeper (bookkeeper) and the camp boss or foreman.                                                                                                                                                                           
          About a hundred feet long and nearly twenty feet wide the doghouse was large enough to sleep twenty to forty men. The bare floors of both the first and second stories were of wide softwood planks. Lighting for the downstairs room was three or four kerosene lamps that sat on tables in the room. During the day, light came in through a pair of windows on each wall. A big Comet box stove setting in a sand box on the first floor heated the whole building and thestovepipe from it provided the only direct heat to the upstairs sleeping quarters. Firewood for this stove and the one in the kitchen was cut by a special cutting gang in the fall before the camp opened.         For some of the men and young boys who worked in the camps life in the bunkhouse was more comfortable and the food more plentiful than at home. But for the majority, however, the logging camps were a hard necessity imposed by that other necessity of earning enough money to keep
themselves and their families clothed and fed.                                                                    
          Beds at camp all rested on the floor, and were simple rectangles of wood holding instead
of mattresses some loose straw and a couple of woolen blankets. The men crawled into their beds at nine every night in the same fleece lined long underwear they sweated in during their fourteen hour days. Naturally, the Reynolds camps smelled strongly not only of dirty underclothes but of unwashed bodies and socks worn for a week at a time. The only bath a lumberjack took was one at home Saturday night. In the morning and before supper men rinsed off their faces and hands in occasionally lukewarm but more often cold water kept in pitchers near the dining 
the doghouse. For drying off, there were eight or ten towels that some of the
men used also for handkerchiefs. There were no slop buckets under the beds, but while the men avoided the stink that would have come from more than twenty thunder mugs, they had to go outside on bitter nights to reach the outhouse. Bedbugs were not common in the doghouse, but the conditions there did support lice and fleas. Mice and rats dwelling in the horse barn were usually let alone, but rodents who invaded the cook shack were soon trapped. Overall, the Reynolds camps, although they got cleaner as the years passed, were neither cleaner nor
dirtier than other camps in the area.                                                                                 
           More important to the men than cleanliness of their dog room was its temperature. The windows could be open if the dog room was hot, but too much heat was not usually the problem. “They kicked like hell when it was cold”. The dog room was heated only indirectly from the pipe of the large cornet box stove resting in its sandbox on the first floor. This sand not only protected the plank floors from sparks but gave tobacco chewers a fine target to spit into.                                    The men brought few belongings with them when they came for a week’s stay in the camps. The articles that a man hauled along in his grip were not as necessary to him as the clothes he needed to work in the woods, most of which he carried on his back.

Eugene Bordeaux, oral history interviews Jan. 1969


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One response to “Life in Logging Camps”

  1. […] working the logging camps in Franklin County; Brooklyn Cooperage Company; Description of logging camps in the late 19th century and the relative hard and primitive conditions; Life in logging camps and […]

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