RAILROAD LOGGING IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
The Logging Railroads button at the left
will open a pull down menu
taking you to Bill Gove's
summaries, and photo albums, of
several logging railroads
The logging railroads in New Hampshire were first formed back in the 1870s as a means to harvest the vast stands of old-growth timber that were inaccessible to the logger. Timber was conventionally logged with horses or oxen, and understandably, there was a limit to the distance that an animal could be expected to pull a heavy load. The loggers used Rivers and large streams where available to float the logs to a mill location, but in most of the heavily timbered valleys of the White Mountains, the streams were not large enough for an effective log drive. Thus, it was that privately owned logging railroads played a key role in the removal of the virgin timber throughout the White Mountains and areas further north. The spread of the mainline railroads into the White Mountains made the logging railroads possible. Each intersected with a mainline, necessary for moving sawmill products to market and for bringing supplies into the remote logging camps and small villages.
The logger’s railroad was a temporary installation, often crude and lacking the construction of a foundation suitable for extended safe operation. But it didn’t matter that much; the loggers were often using old equipment, operated at a slow speed and seldom expected to operate their railroad more than 4 or 5 years. There were exceptions; some of the railroads were well built and many of today’s hiking trails use the old roadbeds. Locomotives on the logging pikes were often geared locomotives, the Shays and the Climaxes, engines capable of surmounting extreme grades of as much as 9 percent and operating on tight curves. Among the conventional rod locomotives used by the New Hampshire loggers, the Baldwin saddle tanks and the Portland-built engines were common. (Photos of these engines can be seen in the photo galleries accompanying the histories of the particular roads.) Logs were usually carried on two-truck disconnects or on a flat car.
Much of the old-growth timber harvested in the White Mountains in the 1800s and early 1900s was the profuse and resplendent red spruce as well as white pine. Hardwood logs were occasionally carried for specialty mills producing hardwood lumber or products such as flooring, bobbins, shoe-pegs and clothespins. Accidents on the logging railroads were frequent with deaths on occasions.
About nineteen logging railroads operated in the White Mountains and in the remote areas further north. The first one began in 1870, and many had faded away before the end of World War I. Only three, the Sawyer River, the East Branch and Lincoln, and the Beebe River railroads were in operation after 1920. Although there were nineteen railroads, not all were in operation at the same time. The peak year was 1895, when ten were in operation in different parts of the White Mountains. The history of White Mountain logging railroads is part of the lore of that fascinating era of timber kings, hardy loggers and tough logging.
Clicking on the links at the left will take you to the pages describing the various railroads. This is a work in process-more will be added.