Telling the story of 200 years  of White Mountain History
                               Logging Railroad Costs
          The Logging Railroad Through Mad River Notch

             The Logging Railroad Through the Mad River Notch

                                      By Rick Russack

A logging railroad through Mad River Notch? But there wasn't any you say? You're right of course. And there-in lies a story.  And the story includes insights as to the costs of building a logging railroad in the late 1920s.

In 1925 The International Paper Company wanted to sell about 22,000 acres of timberland in the Waterville area. Included was the Mad River Notch and the area around the Greeley Ponds. Much of it had not been logged and it was considered prime land. The potential customers for this property were the Federal Government, for inclusion in the White Mountain National Forest, and the Parker Young Company, operators of  a large mill complex in Lincoln. Lobbying strongly for the National Forest option was the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests, led by its President, Allen Hollis, and its Chief Forester, Philip Ayres. A major concern of the Forest Society, and like-minded groups, was that Parker Young had made it clear that the most economical method for them to get logs from the area to their Lincoln mills was to build a logging railroad through the Mad River Notch. This new railroad would connect with their existing East Branch and Lincoln Railroad, along the Hancock Brook. This thought brought up memories of the devastating forest fires of the previous years, which resulted from the logging methods and steam engines making their way through the logged areas. Most agreed: the logging railroad had to be stopped.


International Paper valued the land at slightly over $1,000,000 and Martin Brown, for Parker Young, was willing to pay the price. The Federal Government apparently was not. It had already acquired 462,000 acres for the WMNF, at an average cost of $6.83 per acre, most of which was cut-over land. The Waterville purchase would have cost about $44.00 per acre. Archibald Graustein, President of International Paper Company, was not opposed to considering the conservation interests and Hollis and Ayres arranged a meeting between Forest Service supervisors and Mr. Graustein in early 1925.


The Forest Service had been interested in adding this land to the National Forest for several years, and had inventoried the quantity and value of the standing timber.Evan Kelley, of the Forest Service, met with International Paper, and proposed that the Forest Service purchase the entire tract, and sell the timber to Parker Young with restrictions on how the logging was to be conducted. His proposal included adjusting the prices to be charged Parker Young based on the restrictions that were contemplated. Martin Brown was cool to the idea, knowing that the railroad was the least expensive way of transporting the logs. The alternative to the logging railroad was to drive the logs down the Mad River to Campton and then pay the B&M to haul the logs to Lincoln. This alternative was more expensive: more labor was required and the freight costs paid to the B&M had to be included.


           River Drive on the Mad River, Waterville, c.1930

Apparently, the conflicting desires could not be reconciled and on Oct. 3, 1925, International Paper confirmed that it had sold the land to Parker Young. The price was $1,000,000. Conservationist ‘s efforts then concentrated on persuading Martin Brown to forgo the logging railroad and the Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests went into high gear. They were hoping that Parker Young would sell the land to the Forest Service and then buy back the logging rights, and cut with certain restrictions. They mounted an extensive publicity campaign, with circulars and editorials in major newspapers including the New York Times. Martin Brown was willing to consider the proposal: selling the government the land would eliminate over $100,000 per year in taxes and interest, and if he could negotiate a favorable price for the lumber he wanted, he would be satisfied. Martin Brown offered to sell the land for what he had paid for it plus the taxes and interest to the date of the sale-a total of $1,150,000. The publicity campaign eventually resulted in hearings in Washington. A bill was introduced to provide the funds for this purchase. Brown agreed to hold off building his logging railroad while negotiations were ongoing. Things moved slowly and on April 14, 1927 Brown lost patience and wrote a letter to Philip Ayers indicating that he was getting ready to do what his business required-proceed to log the area in the most profitable way. Shortly thereafter, the whole deal came together, and Parker Young sold the entire tract to the United States government, having worked out  terms under which they  would cut and what they would pay for the logs. From the Forest Service point of view, this was good deal. Selling the lumber to Parker Young, over a period of several years would repay the purchase price, preserve the areas around the Mad River Notch and Greeley Ponds, and keep a logging railroad out of the Notch.  When logging operations were completed, the land would remain as part of the National Forest.


The agreement on logging practices was quite detailed. It specified that in certain parts of the tract no new roads could be built. It specified the size of trees that could be harvested. It required that the company clear all flammable material within 400 feet of the cutting mills it would use; it required that slabs and sawdust be stored separately and burned only when authorized by the Forest Officer. Spark arrestors were required between April 1 and December 1. And, most importantly, the agreement stated: "...no railroad shall be constructed and no steam machinery or steam log hauler shall be operated on any portion of the land conveyed to the United States."


The Forest Service, in preparing for the discussions with Martin Brown, conducted detailed appraisals of the land and timber. They, as well as environmentally concerned groups such as the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests, (if logging had to take place) were in favor of the company driving logs down the Mad River to Campton and then transporting the logs via B&M RR to Lincoln. Parker Young maintained that approach was far more costly to them than building the railroad through the notch, as they planned.


 The  Forest Service appraisal included detailed comparisons of  the costs of removing logs by river driving  or a logging railroad. They also included costs of using logging tractors.  That study provides rare insights into the economics of a large scale logging enterprise in the late 1920s. It also provides a comparison of the actual costs of moving logs via river drives as opposed to using tractors or a logging railroad. (If you’re curious about how the following figures might translate to 1900 dollars, in the days of J.E.Henry for example, you could estimate the 1900 costs to be slightly less than one half of the 1925 costs.. Websites that provide this type of comparison indicate that what cost $100 in 1925 would have cost about $45.00 in 1900.)


The Forest Service agreed with Martin Brown that building and operating a logging railroad was the least expensive way of moving logs to Lincoln. The proposed new railroad through the Mad River Notch would have been 14 ½ miles long and would have connected to the Hancock Branch of the East Branch and Lincoln. About 5 miles of that branch track would require repair work.  The Forest Service estimated that there were about 15 million board feet of hardwood lumber and about 178,000 cords of spruce, fir, and poplar. They estimated that it would take 14 years to remove these quantities, at an average cut of 10 million feet annually.  By agreeing that the railroad was the least expensive solution for removing the timber, the Forest Service had to agree to adjust the price that Parker Young would pay them, based on the higher operating costs of the way the Forest Service wanted the area cut.


The following estimated costs are taken from the Forest Service appraisal report, dated August 1927, in Woodstock Lumber Company files at the Forest Service Supervisor’s office in Campton.  The underlying assumptions are that it would take fourteen years to remove the timber, cutting about ten million feet annually.


 The expected logging season would run from mid-November through mid-March. Two 50-ton locomotives would be needed at a cost of $10,000 each. Seventy sets of log trucks would be needed at a cost of $70,000 and two cabooses at a cost of $2,400. The total for the rolling stock was expected to be $92,400.


The report includes labor costs. One five man crew would cut and move to a log landing either 4 ½ cords of pulp or 100,000 board feet of hardwood per day. The crew would consist of two choppers, one swamper and improvement man, one sled tender, one teamster and two horses. The daily cost for this crew would be $21.50, including $4.00 for the horses. An additional five-man crew would be required to load the cars, at a daily cost of $14.00.


The daily cost of running the railroad, with each train making two round trips per day was projected to be $174.00. The breakdown of these costs follows: Two enginemen at $7.00 each per day; two firemen at $4.00 each per day; four brakemen at $5.00 each per day; one trainmaster at $6.00; 10 tons of coal at $8.00 per ton; oil, waste and repair, $20.00; two car repair men at $4.50 each per day, and misc. supplies at $17.50 per day. In addition, three foremen would be needed at a cost of $150 each per month each; three scalers at a cost of $90.00 each per month; and one walking boss at $250.00 per month. A twelve man maintenance crew was projected to cost $3.25 per man and two foremen were to be paid $4.25 per day. These men were projected to work 200 days per year. Snow plowing was expected to add $1,000 for the season.


The report also contains detailed costs for building and repairing the railroad. These costs were broken down into the improvements needed for the Hancock Branch, the Cascade Branch, Mad River Notch to Depot Camp, and the spurs and sidings. As an example, the costs for the railroad from Mad River Notch to the Depot Camp would have been: $25,500 for grading; $1,950 for trestles and bridges; $24,000 for  track, $3,600 for laying the track and $6,000 for ballasting. In addition, ties would  cost $7,920 and would have to be replaced after 5 years, meaning they would have been replaced twice at the same projected cost.  Cost of logging camps was estimated at $6,600 and the teams of horses were expected to cost $19,800.  Replacement of the horses would be required in six years.  A profit of 15% was included in the calculations.


Since we’re discussing the costs of logging railroads, we won’t include the costs for other ways of handling the logs.  The Forest Service report has many more statistics. They list the relative stumpage values of different lumber. They estimate depreciation costs, taxes, insurance, gasoline, and more. They note that Parker Young might have been able to build the camps and railroads less expensively using second hand material. They discuss, in detail, the relative costs of removing the timber by river driving and tractor hauling, the costs of throwing logs into the Mad River, the costs of splash dams, the costs of piling logs, the costs of loading and unloading railcars, etc. etc.


In general terms, Forest Service files contain a great deal of very detailed information on each of the tracts of land that were bought for inclusion in the White Mountain National Forest.  Their appraisals include descriptions of the land under consideration: was it cut-over, was it burned, was there salable timber and how much would it cost to get it to market.  They also detail types of trees and negotiations with land owners about how much the government thought it should pay for a given tract of land.

      Click here for photos of Log Driving on the Mad River 

               Click here for our 1904 map of Waterville 

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