Sunday, October 16, 2016

In the Lumberjack's Camp

I found this photo buried in an old box in the dim reaches of a run-down antique store in Norfolk Virginia: think Sanford and Son, here, but not so brightly lit, and definitely more cavernous. Price: $1. This appears to be an albumen print, and I'm guessing it is from the late 1800s, based on several clues.

Here's the full artifact; note that the edges of the actual print are crookedly cut.
Below, I've enhanced the image somewhat, tweaking the contrast and tone-mapping a bit to bring out some of the detail hidden in the fadedness of the print.

The bits of snow on the ground and the lack of leaves suggest a winter-ish or maybe spring scene, but one not so cold as to require heavy coats.


I've cropped the individual men so that you can open these images at a higher resolution, just in case anyone might actually recognize one of these fellows.

Three of the men have full felling axes, which supports the idea of a late 19th century date, when felling axes were used predominantly, and before two-man crosscut felling saws came into popular use. The presence of a grinding stone supports the idea that these are lumberjacks, in that cross-cut felling axes would need frequent sharpening to be as efficient as possible, and because their purpose was to cut across the grain of the wood (as compared to a splitting axe), sharpness was much more critical to professional lumberjacks who would be swinging their axes all day long..

The fourth man is holding one end of a two-man bucking saw, used for cutting up downed timber; bucking saws had a much narrower blade than felling saws.

Behind him appears to be the camp cook holding a basin, and just inside the tent one can just make out a stove with a coffee pot on it. Most of the cooking, though, would likely have been done on the wood-burning stove at the far right of the photo. The tent's stove and stove pipebehind the cook, suggest a kind of permanency to this camp that wouldn't be seen in the camps of other mountain men who move from site to site more frequently.

Lumberjacks lived a fairly solitary and migratory life, and women were seldom to be found in lumber camps. The industry peaked in America in 1906, when there were a half-million lumberjacks working in the forests across the country.


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