What's in a Picture?
Nature and modern technology moved logs to mill in 1947.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Photograph courtesy of Special Collections, Raymond H. Fogler Library, University of Maine
Mainers know that the simplest solutions are usually the best ones. In 1898, when Garret Schenck began constructing his Great Northern Paper Company mill in Millinocket, he situated the mill near the confluence of Millinocket Stream and the West Branch of the Penobscot River, as the waterways provided both a ready and renewable source of power and an avenue for moving the logs that the mill turned into newspaper. On the day it opened in 1900 Great Northern’s mill was the largest paper mill in the world, every day churning out 240 tons of newsprint, 120 tons of sulfite pulp, and 240 tons of ground wood pulp. To feed the mill over the next nearly half-century, logs were simply hauled onto frozen rivers during the wintertime and left there until spring, when Mother Nature delivered them downstream (with a little coaxing from peavey-wielding log drivers, of course).
By the 1940s, however, railroads were an increasingly more efficient means of hauling pulpwood from Maine’s North Woods to mills like the one in Millinocket. To get the logs the last few miles from the Bangor & Aroostook’s (B&A) tracks at the outlet of North Twin Lake, Great Northern officials constructed the unique catapult shown here. Specially designed freight cars were anchored to twin lifts located directly below the car’s axles, then disengaged from their fellow cars and simply jacked up to a thirty-three-
degree angle. This dramatic photograph, taken on May 14, 1947, shows the force with which gravity would deliver each car’s nineteen cords of pulp into the water below. An earlier car’s load, just left of center, can be seen already making its way downstream. From here, the four-foot lengths of wood would be gathered by a boom and brought across Quakish and Ferguson lakes to the mill’s yard at Stone Dam. The lift shown here allowed a job that had previously taken two-and-a-half man hours to be completed in less than five minutes, and the B&A purchased several hundred such side-dumping cars to service the Millinocket mill.
Before long, however, both rivers and railroads were replaced by trucks, which could bring the wood right to the mill’s doorstep far cheaper and faster. The last log drive on a Maine river was held in 1976. But even as the number of paper mills in the Pine Tree State has dwindled from nearly three dozen to just thirteen today, the amount of paper produced here has increased to four million tons, second only to Wisconsin in total production. Adapting to changing industries has always taken Maine ingenuity, even to the point of tipping over a railroad car and dumping its contents into a river.
- By: Joshua F. Moore