If you’re in the woods and hear that word shouted, watch out! A tree could be falling any second.

Lumberjacks yell “Timber!” to alert others in the area when they’re cutting down a tree. Timber is another word for a growing tree. After trees are cut down, they’re often split into planks called lumber.

The workers who cut down and transport trees are called lumberjacks. Today, lumberjacks use all sorts of modern tools, including chainsaws, to do their work.

Back in the days before the end of World War II, though, the work was a bit different. Lumberjacks would cut down entire forests using axes or large, two-person hand saws. It was difficult, dangerous work. It required lumberjacks to live in very basic living conditions far away from the nearest towns and cities.

Lumberjacks have been popularized by folklore legends, such as Paul Bunyan. These stories portray them as strong people who boldly faced danger and loved to live in the wild. Today, lumberjacks are mainly known as loggers.

For lumberjacks in the old days, cutting down the trees was only the first job. Once the trees were down, they had to transport them to sawmills for processing. Since they often worked in dense forests miles from the nearest road or railroad, this could be quite a problem.

Some terrain could be traveled by horses. In these cases, trees were loaded onto wagons and pulled by horses to the nearest saw mill or railroad. If the trees were in rough terrain, however, different solutions had to be invented.

One such solution was the log flume. In mountainous areas, lumberjacks would build special troughs. These led from the logging area down the side of the mountain to a saw mill at the bottom. Lumberjacks could fill the trough with water and float logs down to the saw mill. These contraptions were the inspiration for modern-day log flume rides at amusement parks.

In areas with nearby rivers, lumberjacks used the rivers as log flumes. This process was called river driving.

In the winter, lumberjacks would use chains to pull cut timber to a frozen river, where they would stack it. When spring came, the river would thaw and workers—called river drivers—would float the logs down the river.

The river drivers would balance on top of the floating logs. Their only tools were their spiked boots—called caulks—and long poles topped with metal spikes. Can you imagine how dangerous it was to be a river driver? River driving inspired the modern sport of logrolling.

Sometimes rivers would become so full of logs that they would pack together so tightly that nothing would move. This was known as a log jam. Log jams were common in areas with shallow water or bends in the river.

Log jams were very serious situations. They blocked traffic and were very dangerous to fix. River drivers would try to move logs by hand, but they often had to resort to blasting logs with dynamite to get them moving again.

Some believe the largest log jam in the world occurred in 1894 on the Mississippi River near Little Falls, Minnesota. This log jam was nearly seven miles long, a half-mile wide, and almost 60 feet thick. It took 150 lumberjacks, five horse teams, and a steam engine over six months to break it up!

The real experience of a log jam gave rise to a new word—logjam—that is often used to describe a blockage, deadlock, or impasse. For example, business negotiations might develop a logjam coming to an agreement that requires a special mediator to resolve it.

Have you ever met a lumberjack? They work hard to source the lumber needed all around the world. And, thanks to advancements in transportation, they have more efficient ways to move logs nowadays.

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1

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