by N. Ray Maxie
Snaking Logs in East Texas
logs" is hard work, for both man and animal. In the early days of
clearing "new ground" and harvesting timber in the Ark-La-Tex area,
the term "snaking logs" described the job of pulling pre-cut logs
out of huge forested areas using mule-power. Large timber logs were
pulled from the thick pine forest of East Texas with a mule team known
as a "two-some". The two-mule team was most generally used because
of room restrictions for maneuvering in the forest. Sometimes there
wasn't an abundance of room to "snake" the logs out working between
the other trees. A good two-mule team could supply plenty of horsepower
for pulling the logs.
Team drivers were known as "mule skinners". In some jobs where more
horsepower was needed and the room available to operate them, drivers
could assemble a "four-some" or a "six-up". We have all seen those
large teams pulling stagecoaches in western movies. Why they needed
four to six animals pulling a relatively light stagecoach on wheels
behooves me. Maybe for the speed to carry mail and passengers much
faster. You may remember the large teams of twenty (20), yes twenty
mules Borax used in TV commercials for many years. And also the annual
Calgary Stampede in Canada? All that horsepower really does make for
a good show.
Our logging team pulled all logs to a staging area in preparation
for being loaded onto a log wagon, or a truck, or perhaps a rail car.
The staging area was a large cleared place in the woods with enough
room for the loading operation.
After the sawyers (saw men) had felled the trees, trimmed off all
the limbs and cut each tree into proper lengths, the next move was
then up to the "mule skinner". Hooking his team onto each separate
log, one at a time, the logs were pulled out of the woods to the place
of loading. Sometimes it was a fairly long distance to the loading
area and it might take the mule-team more time to make the round trip,
returning to snake out another log.
At the loading area, two long chains were laid out flat on the ground
with one end attached to the hauling vehicle. The team pulled each
log across the chains and stopped. The loose ends of the chains were
then thrown back across the log and over the vehicle. The team was
then taken around to the opposite side of the hauling vehicle and
attached to the loose chain ends. They then pulled until the logs
rolled up two ramp poles and upon the vehicle. The team would then
round trip back to the sawyer area to snake out another log. After
a full load was assembled, the load was then secured to the hauling
vehicle for transporting to the lumber mill.
This is how it was done before the invention of mechanical power.
A good mule team was of great value to the working man. Even the first
tractors were slow to be accepted in the woods. Some machines were
very expensive, cumbersome and undependable, not to mention expensive
to maintain. The transition to tractors was real slow because many
logging operators still preferred to use the "mule skinners". Mules
were low cost, real versatile and very low maintenance.
My dad told me he once worked for a Job Superintendent that always
demanded the mules be well cared for, and rightly so. But not so for
the men! "Boys, y'all feed and water them mules and let'em rest some
every couple of hours. It cost a lot of money to have to go and buy
another mule. But we can always go and hire another man, real fast,
if we need'em." He knew in times with so many men out of work, laborers
were readily available everywhere.
I have always had a special liking for mules. They are creatures of
habit. They are smart, alert and sensitive. Mules have a reputation
known as "stubborn", but that is only the act of caution on their
part. If they are unsure or curious about something, they will stop
and be cautious, until they are satisfied it's OK to continue. A mule
likes a routine in his daily life. He likes to be sure of his surroundings
and I really don't mind that. He is a "people" animal. He likes to
be talked to often and is happy trying to please his master. I presently
own a Molly mule named "Dixie". She is not a stout Missouri plow mule,
but a saddle mule. Her mother is a Tennessee Walker and I expect Dixie
to soon be a "gaited" mule when I start riding her. "Gaited" means
a real smooth riding pace. My dad described it as being like sitting
in a rocking chair. She is now twenty-two months old and real easy
to train. She is already saddle trained and children ride her, but
only with close adult supervision. Dixie doesn't have any bad habits,
like biting or kicking. She is dark brown and should mature at about
fifteen and one half hands. She, like most other mules, is strong,
agile and sure-footed. I expect her to mature at about 30 to 36 months.
Snaking logs and "mule skinning" are two jobs that I am happy to say
I never had to do and never really wanted to do. Although I have worked
long hours as a sawyer and a "straw boss". My dad, my ancestors and
other relatives did plenty of those laborious "man killer" jobs. For
many years they were settling homesteads, cutting timber and cultivating
crops in Northeast Texas and all the way back to Virginia in the late
N. Ray Maxie
May 14, 2005