The following set of pictures shown are from actual scenes along the Wisconsin River during the run of a fleet of lumber and a description of these rafts as they were built up is interesting. More so because the present generation has not no possibly ever will see anything like them.
Logs were cut in twelve, fourteen and sixteen feet in lengths. These were the
standard length of logs but special orders were complied with at the camps. The
raft was made by taking three planks and boring two inch auger holes about one
foot from each end and one in the middle. Into these holes, grub stakes were
inserted from underneath. These grubs, so called, were made from small trees of
about two inches in diameter and cut below the roots and trimmed to leave one
root branch at about right angles to the stem. Later in rafting, these grub
stakes were turned with a head to secure the pin from coming through the lumber
bottom plant when pressure was applied. After the grubs were fitted through the
planks, three other boards similar to the grub planks were set crosswise to the
bottom planks thus tying the form together making what later was called a crib.
Then the building of the crib began. The lumber to go into the raft was laid
cross wise and alternately until sixteen courses had been laid.
Binding planks parallel with the first planks underneath were fastened onto the grubs shown in the next illustration called "witching" or drawing tight the layers of lumber and fastening tight with a wedge run through the grub pin. This crib usually contained about four thousand feet of lumber. Six or seven of such cribs were fastened together tandem fashion, by coupling planks and this was called a "rapids piece", shown in the next illustration.
To make a firm setting for the head and tail block an eight inch square timber was fastened to the two end pieces. A head and tail block was put onto this square timber and fastened to the two end pieces. A head and tail block was put onto this square timber and very securely fastened. In the middle the head block was set an oar-pin to become a part of the steering oar. These oars were very large, the stems thirty feet long, one foot in diameter at one end and shaved down to about three inches at the other end. Into the large end of the stem was inserted the oar blade made of a blank set edge-wise, usually three inches thick and from sixteen to eighteen feet long. This made an oar fifty to forty-five feet in length. A hole having been bored in the stem the same size as the pin in the head block the oar was balanced on this pin. It required strength and skill to handle such a rigging. The man in front guided as he saw the current and the man at the tail also steered.
Two "rapids pieces" fastened together made a "Wisconsin Raft" and several such rafts comprised a "fleet of lumber", sometimes containing much as a million feet. To properly operate the "Wisconsin raft" it required at least ten bowsmen and ten tailsmen together with a pilot and steersman. When required all hands jumped into the water and with long heavy poles lifted the rafts off the sand bars. From Grand Rapids to St. Louis might require six weeks. On these rafts were built the cook's shanty and the "dog-houses" as sleeping cabins for the men. Number 4 shows these cabins and number 5 shows the cook's shanty.
When the rafts passed through towns where there was some population there were always a lot of young fellows waiting at the various eddies for a chance to run the rapids with the crew and when the water was not too dangerous this permission was granted, to the great delight of the boys.
The map is of the Wisconsin River with the particular rapids indicated by the names known in the "river" days.
Usually the ice went out of the river between the first and fifteenth of April and the log driving and running of the rafts began then or soon after though high water in June and September was better for running the river. The dangerous places on the river Big and Little Bull Falls, Stevens Point dam, Conant Rapids, Grand Rapids, Clinton's dam, Whitney Rapids, the Dells and Kilbourn dam. Mosinee - Little Bull - Rapids was the most dangerous on the river. Here, the channel narrowed to not more than thirty feet and the plunges "down a gulch" thirty feet deep, with a rock wall on either side. These rapids were a half mile long and one rebellious stream of water. All rafts were supplied with a "sucker line" which ran from one end of the raft to the other, for security of the raftsmen. Should a raft suddenly take a nose dive in the swift rapids it would take men overboard but for this line.
The dams were required to have log slides built in them at the natural course of the river. These slides were a part of the dam but the crest was at least two feet lower than the rest of the dam. The slides were provided with an apron built down stream and it was often a dangerous operation to guide a raft through these slides, for at the bottom it would duck under the water, and the men likely to be washed off but for the sucker-line. This apron often extended at the foot of the slide and was made of logs fastened at the slide with the lower end free to float. Grand Rapids was a rapids of importance to the drivers. There was about a mile of this water but with high water it did not take over five minutes to make the run.
Just below Grand Rapids was an eddy where the rafts tied up and the crew "gigged back" above the rapids to bring down another raft. This "gigging back" process was repeated after the raft had passed each swift rapid where only one piece could be brought down at a time. So the progress down the river until the crew reached Whitney Rapids was a succession of repeated miles.
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