Horse-Logging with a Scoot
by Carl B. Russell, Russell Forestry Services, Bethel, VT
photos by Kyle Jones, Fat Rooster Farm, Royalton, VT
From time to time, someone will ask me what method I use for skidding logs. My answer is: “Whatever fits the situation”. To me it is not about skidding logs, it’s about working horses in the woods. To that end, I have spent fifteen years logging, and learning how to employ different types of equipment that augment the efficiency of working animals. I have two logging carts, a bobsled, a set of bob-wheels, a scoot, and I have twitched many logs with a single horse, as well as with a team of horses, or oxen.
I am drawn to the low cost, low technology, and low impact of old style logging sleds. The angle of draft for a sled is low to the ground, taking advantage of the animal’s ability to lift. Built mostly from wood, they are light and easy to rebuild. Bunks are lower, and easier to load manually than wheeled conveyances. Being designed to slide, sleds can be used during any weather condition. Also, by parking a sled and twitching logs to it, much of the woods work can be done with a single horse, minimizing impact.
During the winter of ‘00 – ‘01 we worked on a job that was uphill all the way to the landing. Some of the way was quite steep. Many of the white pine trees were large, and most had defects that would be bucked out in the woods. There were a lot of logs that would have to be twitched individually from the stump, but ground skidding them all the way to the landing would be time consuming and tiring for the horses. I decided that this was a great opportunity to use my logging scoot.
A scoot is a double bunked sled with long runners, carrying logs entirely off the ground. Traditionally, the runners are 12′ long, 12″ high, 3″ wide, with bunks spaced 7’6″ apart. These runners are not curved, but angle up in the front (fig. 1). Historically, wooden shoes were used which were easily cut to fit the straight angle, with the front piece overlapping the long section. The bunks are 4′ long inside the stake pockets (fig.2), and they are mounted to the runners on 1 1/4″ steel trunnel pins, which extend the full depth of the runner. When properly assembled, each runner can move independent of each other, pivoting on these pins. This feature is very important when loaded on rough terrain, allowing the sled to flex instead of breaking.
This style of sled can be used with, or without a pole. With long runners, a typically attached pole creates an obstacle. The animals must turn the load by pulling directly on the runners, as opposed to levering it around with the pole. When a pole is needed on snow, or steep slopes, it is mounted with one end in a ring below the front bunk, and “kept” in a larger ring within an adjustable chain between the points of each runner (fig. 2 & 3). This setup provides free pole movement, allowing the animals to step over to pull the load around, while also keeping the sled behind them on a slope. The evener is hitched to the center of a spread-chain that attaches to each runner at the front bunk (fig. 3).
A scoot can be loaded from either side. Rugged hardwood stakes are shaped to fit into the pockets on each bunk, and should be easy to remove. Logs can be loaded quickly with a peavey, and two hardwood poles (skids). Just the slightest incline beside the sled will give good advantage. The stakes on the off-side should be in place when loading (fig. 4). Long logs need to be positioned so that they are weighted toward the front. The size of the load will be determined by trail conditions, log size, and experience (fig. 5). When the load is complete, stakes are replaced and the load is wrapped with a single chain and binder, and secured to the front bunk (fig. 6).
Loading logs onto a scoot eliminates a lot of friction. Because the sled pulls easier, each trip can be quicker, with less stress on the animals. Easier hauling and simple loading combine to reduce the importance of moving large loads. We found that by just loading, and going, we could average six hitches daily, of 300-500 board feet (fig. 6). Drawing uphill on snow, the horses rarely showed any signs of overworking (fig. 7).
At the landing, logs are easily rolled off from the scoot. Because of the height of the bunks, logs can be rolled on top of those laid on the ground (fig. 2). By using skids, logs can be piled even higher. The horses get sufficient rest during the time it takes to load, and unload. Also, I have found that giving my horses repetitive breaks when drawing the load helps them to maintain their wind, confidence and energy.
During this operation we twitched logs to the sled with the horses, as well as with a small crawler. Bob Capobianco of Williamstown, VT., cooperated with me on this job. He brought his dozer for landing work, and snow removal, but his horses were needed at home, so we had an atypical mixed power operation. We moved several cords of 8′ pulp using the scoot. These sticks were loaded by hand from where they had been twitched to the side of the trail. A partially loaded scoot can be moved easily to load in another location. This process can also be used to load consecutive logs from trees that are felled where the scoot can be positioned alongside.
Logging is not easy work. That is one of the reasons why I love it. I am invigorated by physical enterprise, which is why I enjoy working with animals. I can relate to the elements that control their successful employment, and I thrive on the challenge of applying living power to the diverse situations I encounter in the woods. Logging with a scoot has proved to be a viable option. I look forward to more opportunities to use this simple, rugged, and effective piece of equipment.