Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Loading Logs and Logging Horse Welfare

Part IV of Granddad’s Memoirs found him dealing with pesky bunkhouse lice by boiling clothes, then hanging them in freezing temperatures. Part V moves him closer to the dawn of the 20th Century.

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From Mathias Hemmingsen’s Memoirs1

The winter of 1898 I was hired to load logs. Four loads a day was the quota for two men and as a rule two loads were put on before daylight, and two after dark by torch light. During the day we were kept busy clearing the snow off the roll ways and decked logs to have everything in readiness for fast loading when the teams did arrive. The hauling distance there was 7 miles, and the law said two trips to the landing for each team – or else. Very few horses stood that pace for more than two weeks. When unfit for the road they were put in hospital for a rest and replaced with fresh ones. One reason for the long hours of work during the sleigh haul was the uncertain weather conditions. I have seen mild weather come in February and take all the snow off to leave millions of logs piled up in the bush during the summer to be ravished by worms and forest fires. In such cases sawmills would find themselves short of logs for the six months run, necessitating the laying off of hundreds of men. And as horses were the only draft power for getting logs out of the bush every effort possible was put into effect to keep body and soul together by both employer and employee in the industry. The truth is that in many instances the logging horses were put to severe tests and, at times, cruelly abused, by the teamsters, although such cases were generally discovered by the foreman on his tour of inspection through the barns without fail after supper. Anyone found guilty of misusing a horse was fired on first count. Many a teamster actually loved his team, and in some cases his charges were fussed over so much on Sunday, that the foreman hand to kindly intimate that loss of sleep was injurious to the horse’s health. On the average the camp horses were very well cared for, and were turned out to pasture all summer.

Descendant NOTE

...clearing snow off the roll ways … again these Memoirs were found in unedited draft; roadways may have been meant, but then, logs do roll.

Matt turned 22 in the summer of 1898. He would have been happy to load logs for he had told us previously that it allowed an extra two to three dollars per month. More important to him, mastering its expertise was likely to result in more opportunity and promotion.



In previous posts, Matt noted the loader was held in some esteem in the logging process and garnered a higher wage. Here we saw the job up closer. It is hard to imagine the dangerous heavy work described, carried out with horse power, in the snow and under torch light.  

It was no surprise to find our kind, soft spoken grandfather reminiscing on the horses.  They got the Sabbath off, when they were mostly fussed over. But there are mean people in every walk of life and Matt does not leave an entirely rosy picture. In a later passage concerned with the transition away from horses, Matt talks of a superior concerned with the cost of oats and hay – which must have been high for the logging horse, to match the enormous calorie intake absolutely required for the logger’s work. In fact, the horse and his upkeep in the logging condition, was a whole other aspect of the operation.   

THIS ENDS PART V. Part VI will commence with Matt’s volunteer effort for the Spanish American War and the river drive of spring.

Left: Hemmingsen Logging at Cowichan Lake B.C., ca. 1912. Matt emigrated from Norway in 1887, was logging in the Wisconsin woods at twelve and migrated to Vancouver Island in 1906. Our woods pioneer retired in 1946 after significant innovation. CLICK for our broader genealogy and Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen (1867-1976).

COPYRIGHT: Posts authored by Doublegenealogytheadoptionwitness are copyright © 2018-2019. All rights reserved.

Notes and Sources

1 The descendant notes are provided because Matt’s material comes from an unedited, undated, unsigned draft that he apparently dictated to his daughter Margaret Henrietta circa 1956. The 25 -page effort was captioned as below, on page 1. It was provided by Matt’s grandson Matt Hemmingsen, via grandfather Matt’s son Robert Mathias Hemmingsen. It is protected here, published at copyright © 2018-2019. All rights reserved.

12 thoughts on “Matt Hemmingsen (1876-1967) Memoirs: Loading Logs and Logging Horse Welfare

  1. Was high school history teacher 33 years. In second half of my career I used the text book a little less and incorporated primary source personal stories for the students to read and discuss. One conclusion is that throughout the ages people were very different than us due to time and place but in so many ways people are the same as well. Civil War letters home and accounts of difficulties during Great Depression were of special interest to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s fascinating to read how your grandfather described the relationship between the loggers and their horses – and how it ranged from abusing horses (a fireable offense) to teamsters who spent their Sundays’ fussing over their horses.


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