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.
Set in the heart of the Lake District National Park, Tarn Hows Wood lies on the eastern flank of Yewdale. The valley is characterized by Yewdale Fell to the west, with Yewdale Beck flowing in headlong rush from its cascades in Tilberthwaite Gill, to its tumbling rapids in the lower reaches of the valley before flowing into Coniston Water. The flat valley bottom is a miniature agricultural patterned landscape consisting of small hedged fields, punctuated by small groups of trees.
Roads and productive forests make horse logging efficient and economical. Horse logging is not at all uncommon in Northern Idaho. The University of Idaho in Moscow is therefore a logical place to conduct a Horse Logging Short Course. The University of Idaho also has a 7,000-acre experimental forest dedicated to experimentation and trial of new and innovative approaches to forestry. It is managed as a working forest producing about 2 million board feet of timber each year. Harold Osborne is the manager of the experimental forest and organizer of a two-day horse logging short course held in Moscow on October 11-12, 1985.
Evan came to Les with many lessons already learned. His father, Ronald Ames, had taught him a great deal about working with horses and how to work in the woods. Sixteen-year-old Evan is smart, polite and enthusiastic, and hopes to become a large animal vet. He values highly the lessons that 80-year-old Les is teaching him about how the old masters of different trades performed their tasks: harnessing horses, building logging scoots, designing eveners and neck yokes. Horse logging, haying and dignifying the horse are other skills Evan is learning.
With his team of horses in hand, Spencer first started cutting firewood off Forest Service land and selling it to the public. In 1985, after four years of cutting firewood by horse logging, the Forest Service, seeing what he was capable of doing, put up a small timber sale in a campground. Today, the Forest Service and land owners see horse logging as a nice tool in managing the land.
The arch was built on a small trailer axle that I cut down to 3 feet wide and tacked back together. This was done so that I could keep the wheels parallel. I cut the middle out after construction was complete. I used heavy wall pipe from my scrounge pile for the various frame parts. It is topped off with an angle iron bar for added strength and to provide a mount for the winch and some slots for extra chains.
I’ve tried the D-ring harness but it doesn’t work for me. It’s nice because there’s no weight on the neck, but if a horse runs or even trots the end of the tongue whips violently in every direction. That should be mentioned in some of the articles about them. I know you say a work horse gets his work done at a walk. I don’t own any woods but have to travel quite a distance to get to some of the woods I cut in. It would take a long time to walk all the way. And going up hills I let them go at a full run. It’s much easier to get up the hill.
The woods are full of horses. A team of Suffolks pulls up to the landing with a load of logs, as a team of Percherons leaves with an empty scoot. Soft bells announce the arrival of a single Belgian, twitching out another log to be bucked into 8-foot lengths and forwarded to the pulp yard. In moments when the chainsaws fall silent, leaving only the sound of bells and hooves and the calls of the teamsters, this could be a forest scene from a hundred years ago.
The students learned to skid in an open field to gain confidence in handling the horses. No one had handled draft horses previously. To start with, when a horse turned his head, the students would jump back. The students learned to drive first, then skid a log in the open. Stakes were set up in different patterns for them to skid a log through. Then they were taken into the bush to learn skidding. One student said, “You don’t expect us to skid a log in there do you?” Ole asked him where he thought he would be skidding logs from. This student became one of the best skidders.
Horse logging is smart physics. The horses actually pull an “arch,” a rubber-tired sulky-like contraption that is rigged to actually lift the forward end of each log slightly off the ground. The teamsters, looking for all the world like Roman charioteers, stand high on the arch, leaning back against the seat for stability, bouncing through the forest. When the horses get it under way, the log rides on its rear end, front end raised, lessening the drag and damage to the ground.
Jason Rutledge has worked in the Appalachian mountains for over 40 years. From the beginning of his career in the woods, he was told he needed to embrace modern technology, rely on heavy machinery and exploit the forest for all its worth. But, fate had different plans for Jason. Through an almost magical coincidence, a rare horse breed came into his life, and he shunned the industrial trappings of his trade and embraced the proven methods of the last thousand years.
What of the squirrels, grouse, frogs, mice and fur bearing animals that call this home? They were betrayed by the ones who studied them, lived off them to either be trampled by the machines or try to find a new home as winter set in. Their food supply and homes are gone forever so may many of them be gone forever. What greed does to us!
The problem horseloggers face is reducing skidding friction yet maintaining enough friction for holdback on steep skids. The cart had to be as simple and maneuverable as the basic two wheel log arch which dangles logs on chokers. We wanted it to be light, low, with no tongue weight, no lift motor to maintain, no arch to jam up and throw the teamster in a turn, and a low center of draft.
The fact that electric or hybrid passenger cars, and even electric powered agricultural implements like GPS-guided precision seeders and planters, are promoted by the media and politics now, could tempt us to jump on this bandwagon and further develop other hybrid technologies for animal traction. However, taking into consideration the current discussions about the sustainability of battery production, their life cycle and recycling, as well as the environmental impact of electricity generation in general, we would partly give up some of the main arguments for the use of work horses, which are their 100% renewability on a local level, and their eco-friendliness, compared to any other source of motive power currently available in our high-tech world.
A couple of years back I spent a couple of days logging with Donnie Middaugh. Since the log job was closer to my house than his, we used my horses to skid the job. Roy and Libby was the team. This team had skidded more timber than most Timberjack 230’s will ever hook onto, but at this point in their lives, they hadn’t skidded logs in a couple of years. I was pulling the team at horse pulls and kept them hard with occasional farm work, but mostly pulling an exercise sled to keep in shape for the pulls.