For many years the local economy in this area was based on the timber industry (today it’s tourism and staffing the two nearby state prisons). While automation has eliminated the need for large numbers of men working in the forest, the timber industry is still important. To highlight that importance, each Wednesday the Forks Chamber of Commerce has a tour of a local mill and an active logging site led by a retired timber worker.
The tour is free but they do encourage donations to help with the van expenses. We signed up for the tour earlier in the week and were told to be at the Chamber of Commerce at 8:45 AM on Wednesday morning. We were on the small van by 9:00 along with four other people and our guide for the day.
Our guide, Harv, worked in the timber industry all his life and was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the industry. We could tell that he was very proud of his work as he patiently answered all questions posed by our group.
Our first stop was at a small mill just south of town where they made cedar shingles and shims. The mill is supplied by a local company who goes into an area that has been logged and cuts down the cedar stumps. They split the wood into blocks, load them into steel containers, and deliver them to the mill.
A conveyor belt takes the blocks up to the second floor of the mill where a worker stands at a saw all day cutting the wood into shingle size pieces.
Once cut, the shingles are thrown down a slide and a young worker on the first floor sorts and stacks them. The mill is a pretty low budget operation. There is no sign outside identifying it so we have no idea what it is called.
After visiting the mill we drove about 20 miles to the south, then about 10 miles east up into the mountains to an active cutting area. Our guide, Harv, knows everyone out here, and he was in contact with the site by CB radio. They said for us to pull off on a side road as a logging truck was just finishing loading and would be headed down the road in a few minutes.
We have noticed that in the center of an area that has been logged they always seem to leave a small copse of trees near the center. We often wondered why that happened. Harv told us that it is a “habitat area.” Apparently some species of birds can’t fly all the way across the cut area, so these trees act as a resting spot for them.
A call on the CB said we could now drive up to where they were moving freshly cut trees. We drove a quarter mile up the road, parked, and walked up into the work area. The piece of equipment that actually cut the tree down was too far up the hill for us to see. But we watched with fascination as the other two pieces of equipment moved the logs down the hill, trimmed each one and cut off most of the bark, and sorted them into piles.
Below is a Harvester-Processor that grabs the tree in its jaws, pulls it through the jaws to cut off limbs and bark, then cuts it to the correct length. All this happens quickly as the machine rotates and puts the log in the correct pile.
While a computer measures the log and stops where the cuts are to be made, the operator needs to be very dexterous and have the ability to make quick decisions as he moves the logs around. This was the most interesting machine to watch.
Sometimes the cut trees are on a hillside that is too steep for the equipment above. In that case a cable system is used to drag the logs up to a road where they can be processed. Below is a mobile tower yarder with a suspended skyline carriage.
Cables are run down the hillside from the yarder and attached to either another machine or strong trees. The skyline carriage is then run down the cables to a spot over the trees they need to haul to the top.
Choker cables are then extended down to where they are wrapped around logs by chokermen waiting on the ground.
The logs are then dragged up the hill where a Harvester-Processor prepares them for loading on to a waiting truck.
One of the many things that impressed us about the logging process was the lack of manpower. At the first site, where the hillside wasn’t very steep, three men were able to cut the trees, carry them down to the road, remove all limbs and bark, cut each in proper lengths, and load the trees on to a truck. Imagine the manpower needed to do all that a hundred years ago!
After returning to the Chamber of Commerce, we walked next door for a visit to the Forks Timber Museum. The museum does a good job in telling the history of the logging industry in the Olympic Peninsula.
We found the logging tour to be one of the highlights of our stay in the Forks area. It answered many of those “I wonder why they . . .” questions we have had while driving through logging areas.
Our stay here is quickly coming to an end but we still have two adventures to write about before we head south. More on that later . . .