[a log stripped of its bark and lubricated with animal fat collides with the Klamath River after descending through the Pokegama Chute at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. Is that dust or smoke we see in its wake? Image circa 1900, by Maud Baldwin]
The western United States’ historic logging boom was perhaps only limited by the challenges entailed in transporting massive, half millennium year-old felled trees from where they grew to processing mills and population centers. In combination with the spread of railroads, an assorted complex of overland and over-river transport infrastructure was grafted into some of the west’s most remote territories for just this purpose. These logistical works seem as though they were as improvisational and dynamic as the turn of the century lifestyles being played out upon them.
The Pokegama Chute, built at the edge of the Pokegama Plateau near the California – Oregon border, is a particularly fascinating example. As described in a 2006 report by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management:
“The famed log chute near Klamath Hot Springs, California, dropped 835 feet in elevation for a distance of 2,650 feet from the Pokegama Plateau to the Klamath River. To achieve maximum efficiency and to diminish the prospect of logs jamming in the chute, the crews at the top used axes to remove the bark from the logs. Once the logs reached the river, crews of men, sometimes referred to as “River Pigs,” took over booming operations to move the timber downstream to the dam and holding booms at Klamathon. The crews confronted low water, logjams, rocks, and all sorts of obstacles that made the log drives to the sawmill an arduous adventure… This log chute, documented in photographs, was one of the most dramatic of its kind on the Pacific Slope.“
Apparently, the crew at the top of the chute would smear tallow (rendered animal fat) onto the logs as a lubricant prior to sending them through the trestled and wood-lined chute. As a heavy, former tree trunk descended through this macro particle accelerator, it quickly reached hi speeds. Frictional contact with its conscripted brethren would also heat it up. In moments of peculiar extractive alchemy, the boards of the chute would sometimes catch on fire just as the entropy laden log torpedoed into the Klamath River.
From what I gather, the Pokemon Chute was in steady operation for a decade. It was superseded by a rail spur to the Pokegama Plateau. Over a century later the straight cut of the chute is still etched in the hillside (below), like a geologic anomaly, or if we didn’t know otherwise, something we might attribute to some other culture, as the landscape has since gone back to being remote and unheard of.