Timber rafting is a method of transporting felled tree trunks by tying them together to make rafts, which are then drifted or pulled downriver, or across a lake or other body of water. It is arguably, after log driving, the second cheapest means of transporting felled timber. Both methods may be referred to as timber floating.
Unlike log driving, which was a dangerous task of floating separate logs, floaters or raftsmen could enjoy relative comfort of navigation, with cabins built on rafts, steering by means of oars and possibility to make stops. On the other hand, rafting requires wider waterflows.
Timber rafts were also used as a means of transportation of people and goods, both raw materials (ore, fur, game) and man-made.
Theophrastus (Hist. Plant. 5.8.2) records how the Romans imported Corsican timber by way of a huge raft propelled by as many as fifty masts and sails.
This practice used to be common in many parts of the world, especially North America and on all main rivers of Germany. Timber rafting allowed for connecting large continental forests, as in south western Germany, via Main, Neckar, Danube and Rhine with the coastal cities and states, early modern forestry and remote trading were closely connected. Large pines in the black forest were called „Holländer“, as they were traded to the Netherlands. Large timber rafts on the Rhine were 200 to 400m in length, 40m wide and consisted of several thousand logs. The crew consisted of 400 to 500 men, including shelter, bakeries, ovens and livestock stables.Timber rafting infrastructure allowed for large interconnected networks all over continental Europe. The advent of the railroad, steam boat vessels and improvements in trucking and road networks gradually reduced the use of timber rafts. It is still of importance in Finland. In Spain, this method of transport was used in the Ebro, Tajo, Júcar, Turia and Segura rivers, mainly and to a lesser extent in the Guadalquivir. There is documentary evidence of these uses as early as the sixteenth century, and its use was extended until the middle of the 20th century.
Timber rafts could be of enormous proportions, sometimes up to 600 metres (2000 ft) long, 50 meters (165 ft) wide, and stacked 2 metres (6.5 ft) high. Such rafts would contain thousands of logs. For the comfort of the raftsmen - which could number up to 500 - logs were also used to build cabins and galleys. Control of the raft was done by oars and later on by tugboats.
Raft construction differs depending on the watercourse. Rocky and windy rivers saw rafts of simple, yet sometimes smart, construction. For example, the front parts of the logs were joined together by wooden bars, while the rear parts were loosely roped together. The resulting slack allowed for easy adaptation for narrow and windy waterbeds. Wide and quiet rivers, like the Mississippi River, allowed huge rafts to travel in caravans and even be chained into strings.
These type of constructed log rafts used for timber rafting over long distances by waterways to markets of large populations appeared on the Atlantic coast about 1883. They were there sometimes referred to as Joggins-Leary log ships because they were financed by businessman James T. Leary and originated at Joggins, Nova Scotia.They seem also to have been employed on the Rhine River as early as September 14, 1888. Their use on the Pacific coast was first contemplated by the capitalists James Mervyn Donahue of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad and John D. Spreckels of the San Diego and Arizona Railway when they formed the Pacific west coast Joggins Raft Company on September 21, 1889.
Rafting was a principal method of transporting timber in the southeastern United States but, except on the Mississippi River, rafts were necessarily smaller than those described above. On Georgia’s Altamaha River, for example, the maximum width was about forty feet (12 m), that being the widest that could pass between the pilings of railroad bridges. Maximum length was about 250 feet (76 m), that being the longest that could navigate The Narrows, several miles of the river that were not only very narrow but also very crooked. Each raft had two oars forty to fifty feet long, one in the bow, the other at the stern. The oars were for steering, not propelling, the raft. The minimum raft crew was two men, the pilot who usually manned the stern oar, and his bow hand. Rafts usually had a lean-to shack for shelter and a mound of dirt for a hearth to warm by and cook on. The timber rafts on the Altamaha delivered logs to the port of Brunswick, Georgia, where they were loaded onto timber schooners and transported to international markets like Liverpool, Rio de Janeiro, and Havana.Rivermen assigned colorful names to the various features and hazards along their route down the Atamaha. Among the many "riverman monikers" was Old Hell Bight , where the river marks the border between Long County to the north and Wayne County to the south, and is a particularly troublesome bend, with associated dangerous currents, where a pilot and crew might lose "their wages, their timber, and occasionally their lives"
Most rafts were sharp-chute, that is, V-bowed, rather than square-bowed. Raftsmen had learned that with a V-bow a raft was more likely to hold together and glance off if it drifted out of control and hit the river bank. As one old-time raftsman put it: “With a square bow you were compelled to hold the raft in or near the middle of the river: if it butted the hill it would come to pieces. The sharp-chute could be put together so it would not come apart. And it saved a lot of hard work. Raftsmen didn’t mind letting it go to the hill. They’d say: ‘Let’er shoot out.’”
Rafts were assembled in sections. Each section was made up of round or squared timbers, all of the same length except for the outside, or “boom logs,” which extended aft a few feet to enclose the following section. Thus the sections were coupled together. A fairly typical raft would be one of three, four or five sections, each section having timbers twenty to thirty feet in length.
Most rafts were made up of squared timbers, either hewn square by hand or sawn square by upcountry sawmills. Some timbers were carefully, smoothly hewn, and there was a demand for them, especially in England, after steam sawmilling became common. On the Altamaha, for many years during the rafting era, most rafts were made up of “scab” timber, that is, logs roughly squared by broad ax for tighter assembly and for gang sawmills which could cut flat-face timber only.
Although, on the Altamaha, there was rafting to some extent before the Civil War and after World War I, the Altamaha’s rafting era is generally considered to have been the years between those wars. During those years, Darien, a town at the mouth of the river with a population of perhaps a couple of thousand, was a major international timber port. Reports of exports from Darien were included in the New York Lumber Trade Journal along with reports of exports from such large ports as New Orleans, Mobile, Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, and Norfolk.
Logging is the process of cutting, processing, and moving trees to a location for transport. It may include skidding, on-site processing, and loading of trees or logs onto trucks or skeleton cars.
A raft is any flat structure for support or transportation over water. It is usually of basic design, characterized by the absence of a hull. Although there are cross-over types that blur this definition, rafts are usually kept afloat by using any combination of buoyant materials such as wood, sealed barrels, or inflated air chambers, and are typically not propelled by an engine.
The Altamaha River is a major river in the U.S. state of Georgia. It flows generally eastward for 137 miles (220 km) from its origin at the confluence of the Oconee River and Ocmulgee River towards the Atlantic Ocean, where it empties into the ocean near Brunswick, Georgia. No dams are directly on the Altamaha, though some are on the Oconee and the Ocmulgee. Including its tributaries, the Altamaha River's drainage basin is about 14,000 square miles (36,000 km2) in size, qualifying it among the larger river basins of the US Atlantic coast.
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In early periods of North American industrial development, an ark was a temporary boat used for river transport in eastern North America before slack-water canals and railroads made them obsolete. Because they could be built using relatively crude hand tools, Arks were built in American colonial and early republic times, primarily to carry cargo downriver on the spring freshets, and especially to carry milled lumber, charcoal and other forest products and bulk agricultural produce to a city or a port downriver; while logs were often tied into rafts, on long trips which could take weeks, the rafts would be accompanied by such arks as crew support quarters. Deep rivers allowed large log arks such as is described below instead of less controllable rafts. Since by 1800, most eastern towns and cities were short on heating fuels, even badly processed timber or planks could readily be sold at the destinations.
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The Finkbine-Guild Lumber Company was established to harvest and market the virgin longleaf pine stands of southern Mississippi during the early 20th century. The main sawmills were located in Wiggins and D'Lo, Mississippi. When the local timber supply dwindled, the company tried to utilize redwood trees from California, but that operation failed because of high transportation costs. Other attempts were made at promoting a more diversified use of the cutover timberlands; some ventures were successful while others were not.
A Benson raft was a huge seagoing log barge designed to transport large quantities of timber to Southern California from the Pacific Northwest and Canada. The rafts were used to transport industrial quantities of unprocessed timber at one time over hundreds of miles of waterway. The technique of building barges this way was efficient and saved transportation costs. John A. Fastaben was the key raft-building specialist that Simon Benson hired as a construction supervisor to assemble his unique log barge rafts. This innovation resulted in lower cost of finished lumber and contributed to the boom of the construction industry in the first part of the twentieth century for builders in Southern California. The building of these ended in 1941 when mysterious fires broke out in a short period of time and sabotage was suspected.
The Ottawa River timber trade, also known as the Ottawa Valley timber trade or Ottawa River lumber trade, was the nineteenth century production of wood products by Canada on areas of the Ottawa River destined for British and American markets. It was the major industry of the historical colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada and it created an entrepreneur known as a lumber baron. The trade in squared timber and later sawed lumber led to population growth and prosperity to communities in the Ottawa Valley, especially the city of Bytown. The product was chiefly red and white pine.The Ottawa River being conveniently located with access via the St. Lawrence River, was a valuable region due to its great pine forests surpassing any others nearby. The industry lasted until around 1900 as both markets and supplies decreased.
The Joggins Raft Company was a corporation formed in 1888 by railroad industrialist to build timber rafts. These rafts were intended to transport large quantities of timber by waterways to markets of large populations.
Media related to Timber floating at Wikimedia Commons