Grandin: The Big Mill and Tall Timber (1991)

Grandin: The Big Mill and Tall Timber (1991)


Grandin: The Big Mill and Tall Timber (1991) (music) NARRATOR: Missouri 1870. This was the land of untold riches and unexploited resources. Virgin forests covered nearly two-thirds of the state. The most valuable timber stood in the rugged
pine forests of the Southeastern Ozarks. A century of colonial demand left little of
the forest in the eastern states, and those of the south still suffered from
the ravages of the Civil War. America was growing west, and Missouri’s timber was desperately needed to build new railroads, industries and cities in turn-of-the-century America. Tall, ancient trees stood in the Ozarks. Their open, grassy understories were often described as
prairies by the area’s early inhabitants. These forests played a vital role in the development of our country. This is the story of those forests. It begins at a small natural pond known
as Tolliver Pond in Carter County. A boomtown called Grandin arose there. It became the home of one of the world’s largest
sawmills run by the Missouri Lumber & Mining Company. (music) NARRATOR: The nation’s industrial cities were far, far away from
the backwoods roads of the Ozarks in the 1870s. Railroads hadn’t pushed deep into the region and
small streams couldn’t carry much traffic. The few wood products produced in this in this rugged country were
used by the scattered inhabitants for houses and barns. Only small amounts of lumber could be hauled out by wagon
over rutted forest trails that served as roads. A small group of Pennsylvania oilmen saw the profit that
awaited them in these sleeping pine forests. They eventually purchased more than 300,000 acres in Reynolds,
Butler, Carter, Ripley and Shannon Counties, paying on the average about one dollar an acre. The new general manager, John Barber White, persuaded the
Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad to construct a branch line from Willow Springs to the
small town of Lakewood, located near Tolliver Pond. The new location, renamed Grandin after the mill owners afforded room for the mill facilities, a business district and
a residential area in the nearby hills. White began purchasing the new mill’s heavy machinery, a steam
locomotive and six miles of iron rails. Beaver Dam Soft Pine became the trade name of Grandin’s lumber. Its strength, appearance and ability to take a fine finish quickly attracted major markets in Nebraska, Kansas and the Indian Territory. The big mill, as it was called by the
workers, began producing lumber in 1889. This giant band sawmill could handle logs 16 feet
long and over four feet in diameter. On the other side of Tolliver Pond was the little mill,
so named because of its saw’s slightly smaller size. Adding to the lumber output was a circular saw mill,
a shingle mill and a lathe mill. A planing mill, plus 14 drying kilns and
30 warehouses, completed the manufacturing complex. At their peak, the combined mills consumed 285,000
board feet of timber a day. That equaled 90 train carloads of logs, or an average
of 70 acres of forests cut daily. Most of the logs were carried to the
mill on the company’s railroad trams. When it was too expensive to extend the tracks to the cutting site,
wagons pulled by teams of horses or mules were used. Sometimes it was possible to use water to
move the logs to the mill. When the company cut forests near the Current River, the logs were floated downstream in big drives to a
point where the railroad crossed the river near Chicopee. There they were pulled from the river, loaded onto
railroad flat cars and hauled into Grandin. The whole tree-to-mill process began with the felling group. To show off the whole business, the logging company often staged photographs including many different operations in one picture. Notice the felling crew in the foreground, the downed tree in the background, and logs being skidded and loaded in the center. It took 14 horses or mules, 12 men and
four wagons to stage this single photograph. The felling group cut, or bucked, the downed trees
into logs 12 or 16 feet long. All pine trees greater than 12 inches in diameter were cut. The crew skidded logs to a handy loading place and then pulled them sideways across two poles and onto the wagons. They depended on the strength of oxen for a while, but soon found that horses and mules cost less and worked more quickly. Some logging camps used more than 200 horses
or mules at any one time. Depending on the terrain and the length of the haul, either two or four horses were needed to pull the
loaded wagon to the closest yarding site. The teams often hauled the heavy wagons up to eight miles. For greater distances, the company found it cheaper to build
a spur line from the main railroad. Once the wagons reached the rail siding, the logs were rolled
off and cross-hauled onto flatcars by mules or horses. A steam-powered log loader was introduced soon after 1900. The newfangled contraption didn’t appeal to some people, but eventually it replaced the animals during this loading part of the operation. After the flatcars were loaded, a steam locomotive pulled them to Grandin. Many of the logs had been cut more
than 50 miles from the mill. At Grandin, the cars were backed onto a sloped track, chains were released, and the logs tumbled freely into Tolliver Pond. This millpond played an important part in the company’s operation. It held a three- to four-day supply of logs for the mill. At the same time, pond water loosened some of
the debris still stuck to the logs. The water also made it easy to sort and float the logs
to a sluice that that carried them into the sawmill, completing the tree-to-mill process. (music) NARRATOR: Westward expansion and railroads boomed in the late 1800s. Though the loggers went after pine first, they soon turned to
hardwoods as the demand for railroad ties grew. Missouri’s forests supplied many ties for the new railroads crossing the Great Plains. Timberlands that would yield a high percent of pine lumber were purchased. Oaks and hickories were often mixed with the pine
trees, but were rarely cut into boards. Most were cut into railroad ties. The company used nearly 3,000 ties for each mile of its tramlines. In 1896, it entered into a partnership with
the Smally Tie and Timber Company at Chicopee to provide ties for their logging trams
and for sale to other railroads. It took a lot of work to create the
ties and get them to market. The process began upstream on the Current River and its many tributaries, where farmers were paid to hack ties at the
rate of 10 cents per tie. The tie drives began in the summer and autumn months
when the risk of flash floods was low. Ties were added at various points along the river. Some of the drives gathered as many as a half a million ties. For the most part, a drive averaged little
more than one mile per day. Shallow shoals frequently snagged timbers causing enormous jams, sometimes containing tens of thousands of ties. These jams were dangerous and time consuming to pick apart. Some of the larger drives took over three months to complete. A boom extending two-thirds of the way across
the river was constructed at Chicopee. This manmade wall, marking the end of the drive, caught the floating timbers while allowing the river water to flow through it. A steam-operated tie puller winched the timbers out of the
river at a rate of 5,000 per day. You had to be fast to work the tie puller
or face a huge backup behind the boom. And there was always the fear that pressure from a sudden rise
in the river, or a large number of ties, might break the boom, sending thousands of ties downstream. The ties were stacked at the side of
the tracks for loading into boxcars. When the cars became available, a traveling gang of
black workers began the backbreaking work. Each man balanced a waterlogged tie on his
shoulder before carrying it into the boxcar. Some of the ties weighed between three- and four-hundred pounds. River drives were an inconvenience to the people living near the Current River. Jams often blocked the river for days. A flooded property barred passage across fjords and endangered
people crossing on horseback or in wagons. A less controversial method of bringing ties downstream was tie rafting. Tie rafts, or snake rafts as they were called, were assembled in blocks. Each block contained 30 to 50 ties, lying side by side. It took only three to four days to
bring a raft down the river. Long cook boats and supply boats powered by
motors and paddlewheels followed the crew. When evening came, the raft was pulled close to
the bank and tied to trees. Big changes happened when the sawmills and railroads
came to the Ozarks in the 1880’s. Before that, life in the rugged hills was very tough and very basic. In 1880, the population of Carter County averaged a
little more than three persons per square mile. The big mills brought more people to the area
and prosperity to some of the natives. By 1900, Grandin’s population had increased to 3,000 people, of which 1,200 were employees of the company. Grandin was different from most frontier boomtowns. The Missouri Lumber & Mining Company owned and
controlled every aspect of the town. Married workers lived in company-owned houses. Skilled workers and managers rented painted homes with several rooms
for $5 to $10 a month in 1895. Common laborers lived in small, unpainted frame shacks that rented
for two to two-and-a-half dollars a month. Unmarried workers stayed in company-maintained boarding houses. The ladies’ boarding house, formerly named White Hall, was called
Deer Park by the men of Grandin. It was home for the young ladies employed in the offices, store and school. House rules dictated meals to be served punctually, and all lights
were to be out by 10 in the evenings. The company furnished lumber and land to build four different denominational churches. It was standard practice for the company to donate
$10 monthly to each of the institutions, provided they held services on four Sundays each month. From its beginning, the company provided a dispensary—a hospital of sorts— complete with a drugstore and operating room. Three physicians and a pharmacist tended the needs of the townspeople. Medical dues were $1.25 a month for married
men and 75¢ for single men. Lumbering at the turn of the century was
a dangerous occupation filled with accidents. However, malaria accounted for one-sixth of all ailments treated at the dispensary. The Grandin School was also built by the company and provided a grade school curriculum plus a three-year high school course. The town had its own post office, fire department and gymnasium. There was a Grandin Band and even a town
baseball team sponsored by the company. From the beginning, Grandin was a law and order community. Drinking, gambling, carousing, Sunday baseball and town picnics
were all strictly forbidden by the company. A violation by an employee could mean the
loss of their job and housing. PUBLIC SPEAKER: …question of labor, our God made… NARRATOR: Politicians and dignitaries enjoyed speaking to the news-hungry audience at Grandin. The town was quite modern, compared to most in the Ozarks. Electric lights lit all of the mills, plus the
company store, barbershop, hotel and hospital. None of the homes were electrified, though. At the company store, one could find all the
goods carried in a bigger city: shoes, clothes, hardware, sporting goods and food. A week’s
supply of groceries cost two dollars. Many of the workers lived at distant logging camps. Houses, barns and blacksmith shops were provided at some of the larger camps, but workers in the small camps lived in tents. Boards were placed around the tent bases to
keep out the open range hogs. Most of the camps had a small church. Each week, a converted logging car carried a small version
of the company store to the camps. Doctors made their rounds to the camps on a rail-mounted dispensary. After an area had been thoroughly logged, it was
time to move to a new spot. They simply loaded the camp houses onto flatcars
and carried them to uncut forests. Getting paid on time was a big concern of most of the workers. The Grandin workers were paid in cash once a month, while workers at neighboring mills were not as fortunate. They were paid with coupons and tokens that
were redeemable only at their company store. Guards accompanied the paymaster as he traveled by train to the camps. News that the payroll was on its way was telephoned ahead, and crowds of anxious workers usually gathered for the pay car. A typical felling crew earned $1.50 a day. Workdays averaged 10 hours and a workweek was six days. Each two-man crew was expected to cut 10,000
board feet of logs a day. If you cut less, you didn’t get paid. A top loader earned $2.50 a day. He’s the man on top of the carload of logs. His job was dangerous and very important. At any time, the load of logs could shift and crush him. If he caused the logs to be loaded improperly, the whole
load might roll off en route to the mill. Such an accident could derail the train, taking lives and
interrupting the flow of logs to the pond. A log scaler was a skilled laborer also earning $2.50 a day. He determined the amount of lumber, measured in board
feet, that was in each log. All woods workers were paid according to the volume measured by the scaler. Not everyone working at Grandin was a company employee. Many were contracted laborers. A contract teamster provided his own horses and equipment and then only earned a dollar-and-a-half to two-fifty for
every thousand board feet of logs hauled. Working conditions at the sawmills were different, but
equally as harsh as the loggers. Each morning at 4 a.m., the mill whistle blew for
five minutes to wake the mill workers. The work shift started at 6 a.m. and
ended 11 hours later each day. Unskilled mill workers earned $1.50 a day. Others, like machinists, saw filers and other skilled workers,
earned wages comparable to their talents. Wages were kept equal to the neighboring mills for
fear of losing the men to competitors. More than 200 men worked in the company’s railroad department. They constructed the hundreds of miles of
tramways through the rugged Ozark hills. Trams were never intended to be permanent. Their rough and bumpy tracks usually followed the ridges and flat valleys. (sound of explosion) NARRATOR: Tram beds were blasted and leveled through rough ground, with rocks and earth being moved by hand and animal power. The Ozark streams are known for their ability to flash flood. These unpredictable natural catastrophes inflicted frequent damage to the tram beds and trestles. Collisions with other trains were frequent. Since the millpond held only a four-day supply of
logs, wrecks had to be cleaned up quickly. Logs and equipment were not the only items moved by rail. Employees traveled from camp to camp on handcars called speeders. On special occasions, a company train would haul employees to Van Buren, where they would gather for picnics and social functions held at Big Springs. Missouri lumber production peaked in 1899. By 1906, when national production peaked, the Grandin Mill was winding down. Most of the pinelands adjacent to Grandin had been cut, and the main supply of logs came from far away Shannon County. Prior to closing down the operation, Tolliver Pond was drained, revealing nearly 2 million board feet of usable logs. On September the 25th, 1909, the Grandin Herald Newspaper eulogized
the final day of operation at the mill by printing that “the whistle of the Missouri Lumber &
Mining Company whistled for the final time.” The sawmilling operation was moved to West Eminence in 1909, leaving behind many unemployed workers to scratch out a
living from the poor, rocky soil. Cattle and other animals grazed the forest, compacting
the earth and eroding the trails. Decades of local fires laid bare the thin soil,
which then washed into nearby streams. The mills had cut most of the large pine trees, which
could have provided seeds to start new pine stands. That loss, combined with annual range burning, led to a
new dominance of oaks tree in the Ozarks. The Grandin era was an awakening period for Americans. Nationwide, they were beginning to see that resources, like the
forests, needed care if they were to continue. The days of vast stands of virgin timber were gone. The new science of forestry was underway. The U.S. Forest Service itself was formed in 1905. In 1907, Yale University sent its senior forestry class to Grandin to study logging and milling operation in the Ozark forests. Today, University of Missouri forestry students continue that tradition of firsthand field experience at a summer camp near Wappapello. In the 1930s the U.S. Forest Service, Missouri Department
of Conservation and the University of Missouri began to work together with Missourians to change old habits and
share new ideas about caring for our forests. Preventing unnecessary fires, fencing cattle out of woodlands, and cutting with a thought to future wood production,
all began to change Missouri’s forest. Cutting provides wood for all kinds of products, from lumber to fine furniture. Ten to 20-acre clear-cuts create important food and habitat
for ruffed grouse, deer and wild turkeys. (music) NARRATOR: Grandin shrank from a boomtown community of 3,000
to its present size of a few hundred persons. The lumber drying yards are now fields, revealing little of their past. The company headquarters building is the Masonic Lodge, and
White Hall is a private residence. The extensive network of tramlines, overgrown with large trees
and brush throughout much of the Ozarks, have been replaced by roads and highways. The sounds of the Big Mill are memories now, and Tolliver Pond is once again a quiet, secluded place. Only a few rusting and charred fragments of its past remain. Large, mature trees grow where the rails once rounded the pond. Healthy forests cover much of the Ozarks, and Missouri
is once again a land of riches. (music)

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