Logging As It Was, Way Back Then

Content Tools

112 Route 9, South Rhinebeck, New York 12572

Prior to 1900, the only means of hauling logs from the woods was by horse power. Rough back country restricted operations to trees located near water large enough to float logs to the mills. The lumbering operation required the cold winter months and iced roads for hauling of the log sleds. Because hundreds of horses were injured or killed each year by run-away sleds, the industry was anxious to find a way to utilize a mechanical means of hauling logs.

By the 1890s steam power was being considered as a replacement for the horse teams. But it wasn't until November 1900 that Alvin O. Lombard built and patented the first steam traction engine log hauler, that would eventually replace the horse.

Alvin O. Lombard of Watertown, Maine, was a self-taught millwright and gifted mechanic with a flair for innovative designs of practical machines. Though his first attempt, the Mary Ann, was plagued with problems, by 1906 the steam log hauler had been refined and Lombard was building what he called the Standard Machine, which sold for $5,500.

The early Lombard steam locomotives created a sensation in the lumber regions of New England. The Lombard could haul up to 300 tons of hard, as well as soft woods, because it eliminated the need to float logs to their destination. Haulers were capable of traveling over snow as well as the iced tracks that were required by the horse teams. The loads were hauled on the same type of sled the horse pulled, but in trains of four to 10 sleds.

These machines required four men to operate them: an engineer, fireman, pilot (steerman), and one to couple up sleds, assist in taking on fuel and looking after the train of sleds when on the road.

The earliest Lombards were steered by a team of horses harnessed to the front runners. The horse was soon replaced with steerman and a steering wheel on a bobsled at the front of the engine. This rather fragile looking bobsled was supposed to control the direction of the log hauler and train of sleds around the curves and between standing trees. No method was ever developed for braking the sleds on downhill routes, except for throwing hay in the tracks. The life of the steerman was very exciting and, upon occasion, short.

It took 62 horses to haul comparable loads that one Lombard was able to haul. Another advantage was the fact that the Lombard could work continuously, both night and day. Their top speed was five miles per hour, 20 miles per hour down hill.

Eighty-three Lombard steam tracklayers were manufactured by 1915, when gas powered equipment was introduced. The majority stayed in Maine and New Hampshire, with three going to Russia. Most Lombards were cut up for scrap; the few that were left have been found in the midst of a forest where the rusty hulks became hemmed in by a new generation of large trees.

In 1907 the Lombard Company had started to design a log hauler with an internal combustion engine, but it was not exclusively used until 1917. The last steam powered log hauler remained in service until 1918. A. O. Lombard died in 1937, but his company continued to provide parts and service until 1954.

Three Lombard-made traction machines will be in operation during the 'Back to the Past' celebration at Scribner's Mill in Harrison, Maine, August 2 & 3, 1997. The oldest will be Ted and Frank Crooker's 1914 wood powered steam log hauler, #74. This magnificent traction engine was originally used by the Great Northern Lumber Company, Presque Isle, and is unique because it is complete with all original parts. It took Harry C. Crooker 10 years to find a replacement transmission and a front boiler door and two days to get it running . It is tested to 225 lbs./square inch of pressure; however, it usually runs at 140 lbs.

The other two Lombards that will be operated during the Scribner's Mill Back to the Past are called auto tractors. Owned by Raymond and Paul Breton, one is a 1928 gas powered Lombard dump truck from the St. Francis area that was rescued from a scrap yard. The other is a 1934 gas powered Lombard log hauler, next to the last tractor made, found at Star bird Lumber in Strong, Maine. Both of these tractors have been meticulously restored.

Information: Scribner's Mill Preservation, PO Box 282, Harrison, Maine 04040 or 207-583-4289.

Source: Young and Budy Endless Tracks in the Woods 1989. Crestline Publishing Company. Interviews: Harry C. Crooker, Raymond and Paul Breton.