Let's Talk Rusty Iron

Of Cant Hooks and Peaveys

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How a blacksmith changed the logging industry

Given that logging was often winter work for farmers, and since someone once asked me the difference between a "cant hook" and a "peavey," this seems like an appropriate time to explore that question.

First, some official definitions from my dictionaries:

Cant: The word has many meanings, but one is: "A square-edged timber, or a squared log." Another: "To give a sudden turn or new direction."

Cant dog: "A peavey."

Cant hook: "A wooden lever having a movable iron hook near the end, and often a lipped iron ring round the tip. It is used for turning logs."

Peavey: "(After Joseph Peavey, the inventor.) Lumbering: A stout lever having a hinged metal hook and armed with a strong and sharp spike."

The origin of the cant hook seems to be lost in the fog of history, but more is known about the peavey, which was named after its inventor, Joseph Peavey. The correct spelling of the word is "peavey," although the tool's name has been spelled in different ways. In its March 16, 1878 issue, The Lumberman's Gazette called it a "pevy," while a 1907 story spelled it "pivie." In a story in Scribner's Magazine in June 1893, the author refers to a " … banking-ground (that) swarms with men armed with pevies (which are cant hooks furnished with strong spikes in the end)."

Lumbering has been big business in Maine since the time of the earliest colonists. Many British men-o-war, and later, hundreds of American ships, carried masts fashioned from the tall, straight fir trees that filled Maine's forests. The trees were felled and the branches stripped with axes. The resulting logs were dragged to the banks of rivers such as the Penobscot or the Kennebec. These famous rivers served as "highways" for floating logs to sawmills and shipyards downstream, with the Penobscot at one time called "the river of logs." The intrepid men who rode those huge, bucking and rolling masses of logs were known as "river drivers," and their task was to keep the logs moving and prevent them from jamming.

Being a river driver was hard work. Although it was undoubtedly exciting work, river drivers required strength, agility and luck to stay alive. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the tool the river drivers used was called a "swing dog" or "swing dingle." The swing dog was a pole with a loose ring, to which was attached a hook (or "dog"). The dog could move up, down or sideways, but couldn't be relied upon to always get a good grip on a log.

Joseph Peavey was born in 1799, and became a blacksmith in Upper Stillwater, in the heart of the booming logging industry along the Penobscot River north of Bangor. One day in 1858, a log drive became hung up on the river. From an overhead bridge, Joseph Peavey watched the men with their inefficient swing dingles trying to free the jam. Seeing the unsteadiness of the prys, the idea came to him that he could make a better tool.

Peavey returned to his blacksmith shop and directed his son to make a rigid clasp to encircle the cant dog handle with the hook on one side. It moved up and down, but not sideways. A toe ring was added to the bottom of the handle, and finally, a sharpened pick was driven into that end of the handle. The tool was turned over to a river driver named William Hale, who pronounced it a great success.

One anecdote about how important the peavey was to river drivers is recounted in Stewart Holbrook's book, Holy Old Mackinaw. Holbrook writes: "It was accounted a mild disgrace to lose one's peavey on the drive, and old-time river bosses deducted its cost from a man's wages. Thus, when a driver tumbled into a stream, his cynical fellows would shout, 'Never mind the man, but be careful of the peaveys - they cost three dollars.'"

Sometime after Hale's successful test of the new cant dog, the story goes, Joseph Peavey made a drawing of his tool and set out on foot for Bangor and the post office, meaning to send for a patent on the device. On the way, he stopped in to see a friend who was also a blacksmith. Apparently, Joseph took an occasional sip of Medford rum, and his host just happened to have a jug of the fiery liquid. After a couple glasses of rum, Joseph displayed the plans he was sending to the patent office. His friend generously poured another round of rum and when Joseph awoke the next day, the drawing and patent application were on their way to Washington under the name of his friend, Mansfield. (Note: I can find no patent for this original cant dog under anyone's name. - S.M.)

Loggers liked the peavey and, in spite of the early patent mix-up, Joseph and his sons Daniel and Hiram improved the original design and produced them until demand overwhelmed their small smithy. They moved to larger quarters, first in nearby Orono, and then later, three miles upstream to Old Town, where the manufacture of peaveys continued until Joseph died in 1873. Joseph's grandsons, C.A. Peavey and James H. Peavey, then opened a shop in Bangor, where many types of logging tools were made.

The Peavey Manufacturing Company managed to hang on through economic depressions, world wars and several fires, and is still alive and well in Eddington, Maine, making peaveys and other tools. The Peavey Manufacturing Company is located at: P.O. Box 129, Eddington, Maine, 04428. Phone: (207) 843-7861, or toll-free: (888) 244-0955; e-mail: order@peaveymfg.com, or reach them online at: http://www.peaveymfg.com

So, to answer the original question, the main difference between a cant hook and a peavey is the iron or steel spike at the business end of the peavey. It appears that peaveys and cant hooks were often used for the same jobs, such as rolling and turning logs, and dislodging them when stuck. I think the terms "peavey" and "cant hook" have become interchangeable over the years.

Anyway, now you know as much as I do about peaveys and cant hooks.

- Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by e-mail: letstalkrustyiron@yahoo.com

Correction: A caption on page 8 of the December 2004 issue of Farm Collector mistakenly identified a tractor at the Nebraska test facility as a Monarch. It is in fact a Cletrac 40. The photo and caption came from our archives, not from Sam Moore. Our apologies to Sam, who always strives for detailed accuracy in his column.