Let’s Talk Rusty Iron

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From an ad in the Aug. 1, 1926, issue of Canada Lumberman.
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Logging tools manufactured by the Thomas Pink Company, Ltd., Pembroke, Ont. Note the two wooden-handled tools crossed in the center of the display. On the left is a cant hook, on the right, a peavey, and at the top, a pike pole. (Aug. 1, 1926, issue of Canada Lumberman magazine.)
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A great photo from the early 1920s of a steam-powered Frick sawmill owned by Harold Moomaw of Sugarcreek, Ohio. Just in front of the second man from the right can be seen the handle of a cant hook used to help roll uncut logs across ramps to the sawmill carriage, as well as to turn the logs on the carriage. On that carriage can be seen a squared log, or cant, about to be sawed into boards. (Catalog No. 72, published by the Frick Company of Waynesboro, Pa., circa 1923.)

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.

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