WASHINGTONVILLE - Through words, demonstrations and song, the logging era in Pennsylvania was brought to life at the PPL Montour Preserve on Sunday afternoon by Danville historian Van Wagner.
More than 75 people enjoyed the program in air-conditioned comfort in the preserve's auditorium, where Mr. Wagner'
program, "Tall Timber," recounted two centuries of logging in Pennsylvania.Mr. Wagner
, 28, a well-known singer-songwriter, was dressed in garb typical of the 19th century "wood hick" or logger, wearing heavy breeches, boots, a slouch hat and a thousand-miler shirt.The shirt got that name because its color and pattern didn't show dirt, making it good for 1,000 miles between launderings.Before the arrival of Europeans in central Pennsylvania, the native Americans would occasionally set forest fires, Mr. Wagner
said, to encourage new growth to feed the herds of deer, elk and woods bison on which they depended for meat.The earliest European settlers were interested primarily in the white pine because the lumber was durable, yet easy to work with hand tools.Other species such as oak and chestnut were also favored, but were much more difficult to work with hands tools.Mr. Wagner
showed a broad ax, the tool with which frontiersmen felled trees.The tool had an offset handle so that the user's knuckles wouldn't be skinned if he
missed a stroke while trimming a log, Mr. Wagner
said.White pine trees were also in demand for spar timber.This was used for masts and yards on sailing ships, and Mr. Wagner
asserted that the British Navy
lamented the loss of Pennsylvania trees after the Revolutionary War.Mr. Wagner
then spoke at length about the period from about 1810 to 1890, when huge trees were cut, skidded to streams and rivers and then lashed together into rafts to float downstream to Baltimore and other markets.Last summer, Mr. Wagner
and a number of others built a replica log raft and floated it several miles down the North Branch of the Susquehanna to Danville.He
described in some detail how the lumbermen assembled the logs into rafts, using only materials available in the woods to do so.He
demonstrated a hand drill, which was an essential tool, as well as a mallet and froe, which was used to split green oak splints to fasten the logs together.As knelt on the floor, a number of children in the audience scrambled to the front of the auditorium and sat on the floor to get a better view.He also showed a number of other tools, including the familiar crosscut saw, and he brought along a model of a log raft built by students at Pine Grove Area High School, where he is an environmental science teacher.Throughout his talk, Mr. Wagner, sprinkled bits of environmental advice and opinions.
"Whenever anyone gives me a hard time about having been a logger, I always tell them I really like toilet paper," he
said, as the room dissolved in laughter."That usually ends the conversation."Mr. Wagner
had been able to document log rafts coming down the Susquehanna in every month throughout the year, and in the 1830s, he
said, several thousands rafts passed Danville in the course of one five-day period.The last "commercial" log raft came down the river in 1918, he
talked about the Last Raft, which came down the river in 1938 to commemorate the logging era.That raft, unfortunately, struck a railroad bridge near Montgomery and a number of people on board were killed.A woman in the audience then remarked that she
had actually seen the Last Raft."My father took me down to see it at Muncy on the way home from Sunday school," she
recalled."It must have wrecked a just a few minutes later."As he
talk, Mr. Wagner
sang a song he
wrote about a man returning to central Pennsylvania from the Civil War to harvest logs and sail them downriver for sale. That song was a preview of the short concert he
presented following his
logging presentation.During the concert, his
songs again were intermixed with commentary about the need for balance in farming, logging and mining.