Pulpwood Size at Grand Falls-An Explanation

It is as pretty mundane issue to address but it is something that needs to be addressed nonetheless. The technical term for a piece of pulpwood is a bolt. Often in Newfoundland it is called a junk.

The size of wood that was sent to the Grand Falls mill over the years changes at different times and this dictated how it was cut, hauled, handled, and driven.

Logs in the holding boom at Grand Falls.
Wood going up the jackladder of the Grand Falls mill, 1919. Despite what I once saw reported by a saw manufacturer back then, this wood was clearly bucked up by a saw. Note the variation on lengths. Within a few years all wood coming to Grand Falls by river would be a standardized length.

In the very beginning of logging operations logs were cut to tree length. This stuff was a nightmare to drive and caused numerous and dangerous jams on the river. This practice only lasted from 1907-1911. In 1912 a maximum length of 16′ feet was standardized. (Nelson Williams, News-Log).  Another factor that has to be considered from this time period is the fact that the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company wasn’t the only entity driving wood on the Exploits River during this time period. A.E Reed at Bishop’s Falls, Newfoundland Pine and Pulp at Badger and Botwood, and the Central Forests Company out of Norris Arm all cut and drove wood on the Exploits watershed. The A.E Reed mill at Bishop’s Falls reportedly used 12-foot wood.

Slasher mill 1912 Hayward
A very early picture of the slash mill at the Grand Falls Pulp and Paper Mill. The slash mill cut all logs to a uniform length for feeding into the various types of grinders. Waste from the slash mill resulted in the “nugs”-small end pieces of wood, found floating in the river.

So for about 15 years there existed a system in which wood was cut to 8′, 13′ (or 12) and 16′ lengths, depending on the size of the stream they were being driven on. During this same time period there were changes in the methods in which the wood was cut. Initially almost all trees were cut down with axes, gradually more and more two man crosscut, Disston and Simmonds saws came into the woods, which made bucking the trees to length much less labor intensive. In the early 1920’s the first wooden framed bucksaws started to appear, they would be replaced by the more sturdy steel framed variety during the same decade.

jackladder 1912 2 Hayward
The longer pieces of wood being cut had to be sorted at the mill pond. The longer standard lengths no doubt helped when culling out pieces to go to the sawmill that was on site. (JCM Hayward)
grinder-feeding grinder.
The wood that was fed into the grinders of the Grand Falls mill was approximately 31-32 inches long.

With the coming of the bucksaw and the trend towards driving on smaller steams a standardized pulpwood bolt of 5’2″ was adopted by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. This is often described at 5-foot wood. This strange and non rounded unit measurement no doubt suited the slasher mill and wood handling system at Grand Falls, which operated on bolts of about 31-32 inches. In areas, such as Terra Nova, where wood was transported to Grand Falls by rail, the bolt size was 7.5.’ This change seems to have been in place by 1928 and may have been gradually introduced over the preceding years. What I wonder about the 5’2″ wood, which would be a total of 62″ in length, thus two 31″ bolts could be cut from each log.

Holt at badger 1938
Early tractor with a sled train of 5’2″ wood, circa 1938. (PANL)

Starting in 1948 another change was made, that being the switch to 4′ wood for all logging areas. This was due in part to a modernization of the wood handling system at Grand Falls, in which the slashing mill was eliminated. The first area to start cutting 4′ wood was Terra Nova, here the method in which the wood was loaded onto the trains also changed because of this. It went from a system of jackladder de-watering and manual loading to a system in which pulpwood was loaded onto slings by worker these slings would be bundled by a crane and loaded onto railcars. The change over to four foot wood appears from various sources to have taken a few years, but was completed by 1952.

slide 042
Bundles of pulpwood on railcars at Grand Falls. Bundled pulpwood generally came from points east of Grand Falls; Neyle’s Brook, Glenwood (yes, Glenwood), Gambo and Terra Nova. Bundling of wood in cables generally came about in conjunction with the switch to four foot wood. 
slide 041
Pontoon loading 4-foot pulpwood at Terra Nova.

The introduction of the chainsaw in the 1950’s did not bring with it a change in the size of wood and 4-foot remained the standard, although the production methods did change.

slide 026
As logging became increasingly mechanized in the 1960’s and 70’s 4-foot wood was still easier to handle and to drive. As is the case here, this wood was probably cut to tree length, brought to a slasher, which slashed it into 4-foot bolts and loaded into the dump of this truck. It may not have been handled by a person at all after it was cut. (Andy Barker)

8′ wood was once again experimented with in 1962. These first experiments were done in the cutting areas of New Bay Road. The larger sized logs were cut and piled, then loaded aboard trucks with a Caterpillar 977 H with a special grapple attachment called a Powell fork. The trucks then brought the logs to the river where they were unloaded and fed into a proprietary slasher mill that had been built solely to reduce the logs into 4′ lengths. Gradually, during the 1960’s more and more wood would be cut to this length, or in some cases trucked in three length to centrally located slashers.

Handling 8-foot wood, early 1960’s. Some of the first “new” 8-foot wood cut for the Grand Falls mill came from up on New Bay Road. A slasher mill was set up somewhere near the mill to cut it into 4-foot lengths. Later Tanguay slashers, like the one depicted below, would fill this role in both the woods and the mill yard. This particular operation was interesting in that the Cat 977 was used for hauling the wood directly from the landings to the trucks. (News-Log)


slide 046
8-Foot pulpwood on woods truck. As logging became more and more mechanized the trend gradually focused on cutting and transporting 8-foot pulpwood. (Andy Barker)

Although the 4-foot would remain the standard for the Grand Falls mill for a long time, the sizes in which logs came to the grand Falls mill would varied stating in the 1960’s. Most wood was still cut into 4-foot bolts, either by slashers or by buckers (in the era of skidder crews, loggers that cut up the skidded three lengths at roadside), before being loaded onto pallets and trucked to the mill or to water. In some skidder operations, the trees were cut to tree length, loaded on large trucks mechanically then brought to a slasher, either in the woods or at the mill in Grand Falls.

I don’t believe full standardization to 8-foot wood came about until sometime in the 1980’s or even 1990’s. I would welcome any information on this. All I can recall coming in on large trucks from logging operations from around  1997 and after was 8 foot wood.

To further confuse things I have recovered 3-foot wood from brooks and, I am not sure of the explanation; if it was wood from a dam, some sort of trial, or just really undersized wood.

A variety of different sized pulpwood in the banks of the Exploits River.
Pile of wood from a brook cleanup. This pile contained 3-foot wood. Because of it’s location, that wood most likely was part of a dam at one time.

Although some as far back as the 1960’s envisioned a pipeline for wood chips going from somewhere “up in the woods” to Grand Falls, this never came to fruition. Chipping of wood for storage purposed began around 1963. The chipping of wood prior to transport to the mill was done in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I know that two chippers were set up on, well you guessed it, “Chipper Road.” One chipper chipped spruce and fir for pulpwood, the other chipped everything else. This combination non-pulpable wood was used as hog fuel to be burned at the mill. I don’t believe chipping was found to be as economical as hauling 8 foot wood directly from the cutting areas.

“Last log” at the Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Centre. Donated by Carl Budgell. (Author Photo)

Anybody information about the elimination of four foot wood or the wood handling system at the mill in later years is more than welcome.

-Bryan Marsh

Making Paper Adelphian 1912




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