Sandpoint and Surrounding Communities History
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History - Sandpoint Idaho Timber Industry

by Bob Gunter

Sandpoint, Idaho, has always been a timber town. The advancement in the timber industry is no less dramatic than the advances in railroading. The old steam mill has practically gone out of existence. Read the full story to follow this colorful history.

Sandpoint has always been a timber town. The advancement in the timber industry is no less dramatic than the advances in railroading. The old steam mill has practically gone out of existence. If you want to see a mill where the ratchet setter still rides the carriage and positions the log by watching the hand signals of the sawyer then Oregon is probably the closest place. The Hull-Oakes Lumber Company, located in Oregon, is one of the last steam-driven sawmills in the United States.

Sandpoint, Idaho, has always been a timber town. The advancement in the timber industry is no less dramatic than the advances in railroading. The old steam mill has practically gone out of existence. Read the full story to follow this colorful history.

 

Over the last thirty years, or so, a person would "cruise" the forest looking for the right trees to cut. A report would be made indicating the size, species, and when the trees would be ready to harvest. This is still in practice today but technology has added aerial photographs and even satellite images to enable the industry to confirm the findings, as well as, determine if there is disease present that would effect in the trees in the forest.

The procedure for getting logs to a mill has certainly changed over the years. At the turn of the century logs were drug or skidded to the mill. Most of the mills were located near water and the logs were collected in booms and then floated to the mill or to ponds nearby. As roads were built the logs were loaded onto wagons and transported to a mill. Later small steam engines were utilized that enabled a greater number of logs to be moved from forest to mill. When the trees in an area had been cut the sawmill would move to another place taking with it the "town."

Getting logs to a mill today has brought positive changes. Mills do not move from place to place and therefore the people working in them are able to have a more substantial society and current practices are much more sensitive to the environment.

The crosscut saw and the ax are still in use but a diesel-powered machine often does the harvesting of timber. It moves up to a tree, grasps it, and cuts it close to the ground. The operator then places the trunk, or stem, upright on the ground. This keeps the tree from falling and reduces the number of splits. Some of these machines can de-limb the tree and set it aside to be picked up. The cut trees are collected and picked up for shipment to the mill. Helicopters pick up some of the logs but the majority are moved by truck. The woods are later monitored for damage and, if necessary, trees are planted to prevent erosion.

Sawmills of today can process a much greater number of trees than could the old steam mills. Almost all the tree is used for some purpose. The bark is removed and a machine "hogs" it to uniform size. This is used for fuel or decorative bark for landscaping.

After debarking the log the stem is scanned to determine how it is to be cut. The top ten feet may produce 2x3's, the next section produces 2x4's, and so on for the entire trunk. The log is then cut, by sections, and brought into the mill. A section is scanned and cut to maximize the amount of lumber it will produce. Each piece is sent to other machines to scan and finish. The sawdust is collected and used for fuel or sold. The waste pieces, too small to make a board, are chipped and sold to paper mills.

The laser scanners and the software used in mills today are on the leading edge of technology. Log and board scanners gather information and then build an image of the log showing all the bumps and holes. The data is used to calculate how best to cut the log for maximum production.

Modern technology is used in the movement of logs and boards in a sawmill. There are machines used for sorting by size and grade and each of these machines has its own controller that monitors and adjusts its function. An operator may control the machine by a scanner/software or manually. The finished product is then shipped by truck, rail, or ship to worldwide destinations.

 

To see more great old photos of Sandpoint and the surrounding areas :: Click Here ::

 

All photographs have been used with permission of the Bonner County Museum.

 

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