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As It Was: High wheel logging in Northern California

When timber was king in the early 1900s, the tremendous size and weight of the fallen trees required special transportation. One of the unique vehicles was a horse-drawn cart with wheels 9 to 11 feet high that were especially effective in the flat, dry inland forests of Northern California around Weed.

John Webb, owner of Redding Iron Works, modified a wagon that was unveiled at the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair. His slip-tongue High Wheel cart had wheels weighing between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds, and a system that allowed the wheels and axle to slide forward on the tongue, lowering the logs to brake going downhill. Some mills ordered 50 carts.

Logging companies found they could pull 1,000 board feet with the slip-tongue system. A high wheel crew consisted of the head loader, a springboard man, who stood on the spring and pulled the tongue up, the hook man, who chained the log, and a driver, who took the logs to the rail landing.

Industrialization changed logging a few years later with inventions like the Donkey steam engine that could reel in heavy logs with cables or chains. By 1915, logging companies used machines like the Clyde Overhead Skidder to phase out the high wheels. 

Sources: Shoup, Laurence H., The Siskiyou Pioneer in Folklore, Fact, and Fiction: Railroad Logging in NE Siskiyou County. Siskiyou County Historical Society, 1987; Platz, Lorraine. “The Backtracks of High Wheel Logging.” Timber West, September-October, 2003; www.forestnet.com/timberwest/archives/Sept_Oct_03.

— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.