A Student Inquires about Logging: Two letters from 1913

Oval Wood Dish Factory in Traverse City, logs being processed, undated. Image 3188 from Traverse Area District Library’s Local History Collection.

 

The two letters that follow come from the Arnell Engstrom collection of papers held in the archives of the Traverse Area District Library.  The first was written by Henry C. Hull, son of Winton C. Hull, the President of the Oval Wood Dish Company, a firm that had only recently moved to Tupper Lake, New York, from Traverse City.  He writes to Frederick H. Smith, a former associate of Oval Wood Dish, and now co-president of Hull and Smith, a corporation that specialized in logging and in land transactions related to logging.   Henry C. Hull’s letter and Smith’s reply illuminate not only the nature of logging at the time, but also the character of both men.


Olivet Michigan
April 14, 13

My Dear Mr Smith:-

I am taking a subject called Sociology at Olivet and we each have to write a Seminar upon a given subject and–strange as it may seem –have been given “The Lumberjack”–that is from a social standpoint.  I have considerable data and collateral upon the subject, but I need a few points upon the subject yet–that is, a few to compare and a few for a foundation.

I am going to ask you to drop me a few answers to my questions which I feel sure that you can give me without any inconvenience of time to yourself.

What is the average wage of a man in your logging camps?

Are about 1/3—1/2 or ¾ of them married?

Are the majority of them good clean men (that is are they square and not sneaks)?

Of course they are more or less rough, crude but have the majority of them about an eighth grade education?

Do you pay by cash or checks?

Could you say that they are a good type of citizen as a whole or are they illiterates?  Would you rather see them at the polls voting or a foreigner?

Can you hold them to a contract, by that I mean that if you want a man to come out to your camps, and he says he will, do you expect him or have another to take his place if he don’t show up on the day you expect him?

Do any of these men carry insurance to your knowledge?

About what are your foreman paid or the foreman of the ones to which you lease your cut

Now these questions you can answer briefly and I am sure that I can get a good idea of what I am in doubt of from these answers.  Understand I don’t want to inconvenience you but in doing this you will help me a great deal and I sure will appreciate it very much.

Hoping to hear from you at your convenience I am,

Very sincerely,

Henry C. Hull

Kindly excuse this type writing as I am only learning over again.  HCH


April 16, 1913

Henry C. Hull,
Olivet, Mich.

Dear Henry,-

I have your letter of the 14th and will try and answer your questions to the best of my knowledge.

The average wages of men in our logging camps are 30.00 per month.

About one-fourth of them are married.  The majority of them are good, clean men.

I do not think they have an 8th grade education.

We pay mostly in checks.

They are a good type of citizens and I would rather see them at the polls than foreigners, as I figure they would be more enlightened to the situation.

You cannot hold them to a contract, but if you can get them to promise that they will come, in most cases they will, and after going to camp, if the food does not sit them or the foreman is rather hard on them, they may not stay long.

The men have been very unsteady this last year or two, and go from one camp to another all through the country.

The most of these men in the woods carry more or less insurance.

The foreman’s wages range from 60.00 to 80.00 per month.

There is considerable difference in camp life as present from that of a few years ago.  The camps are built better, the food and beds are better, and in fact, everything has to be kept in pretty good shape in order to keep a crew of men now, where 8 or 10 years ago, almost anything went with them.

Frank H. Smtih, Buyer for Oval Wood Dish Company, undated. Image from the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

The older lumber jacks have most of them drifted away—some settled on farms.  It is a younger class of men who are at present what we call lumber jacks.  A great many of them are from farms and work in the woods in the winter and go back to the farms in the spring.  As a rule, they are pretty fair sort of men.  There are some tough ones as you would find in any lot of men you would get together.

I hope I have answered your questions to your satisfaction.  If you have any others, write me and I will try to answer them.

Yours truly,

Frederick Smith


Notes:

Thirty dollars a month was an extremely low wage for the time.   A male wage earner typically received about 600 dollars per year, that amount barely sufficient to pay bills.

As mentioned in the article, farmers would cut timber during the winter months when farm work was not as demanding.

In 1913 “foreigner” (immigrants) could vote in most states of the United States.  By 1928 voting was forbidden in all of them.

Men cutting wood for the Oval Wood Dish Company, 1900. Image 364 from the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

The Oval Wood Dish Company, with which Frederick Smith was associated, bought hardwood logs for use in making oval wood dishes for serving meat, butter, and the like, and for manufacturing other products such as clothespins and hardwood flooring.  The logging camps it maintained differed from earlier camps that were responsible for the cutting of the pines used in ordinary home construction.  As mentioned in the article, times had changed in logging camps with a new breed of loggers and somewhat improved working conditions.

–Notes by Richard Fidler, 2018

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