Remnants of the logging industry are scattered about Oregon like sawdust.
One place this is evident is at the Collier Logging Museum, which is less than two hours south of Bend, Ore., on Highway 97.
People have been cutting down trees for millennia—for fire, shelter, weapons, tools, money, environmental health. You name it. The evolution of tools to cut that timber and move it are on display at the Collier museum, which culls history from the late 1800s to present day.
The name of this state-owned site comes from brothers Alfred and Andrew Collier who gave Oregon 146 acres in 1945 to honor their parents. The state parlayed that into a 536-acre park, with the museum occupying the 146 acres the brothers intended for preservation.
The museum lost about 100 of its 10,000 artifacts in the 2020 Two-Four-Two Fire that burned through the park. Damage is still evident.
Free self-guided walking tours allow for one to set the pace of exploration. Relics from the 1860s to today fill the landscape. The trail is sectioned off with Horse and Oxen—1860-1900, Steam—1890-1920, and Internal Combustion (1920-today).
Some of the equipment is so rusted it looks like it belongs in a scrap heap, while most appears to be useable today.
While signage with explanations of what various apparatus were used for are plentiful, it was still at times hard to imagine how exactly these things worked. To see them fired up would be an incredible experience.
The innovation, creativity, know-how to understand how to develop these tools and then use them is amazing. To see a machine limb a tree and be able to stack the “poles” in piles is mesmerizing.
Fresh cut planks at the museum proved that some of the machines are still put to use at least for demonstration purposes.
At the museum an old blacksmith shop with tools from another era show the ingenuity of those tasked with creating and maintaining instruments for the industry. With how little use my chain saw gets these days, maybe I should donate it to the collection here.
Timber was once big business in Oregon.
“In the 1970s, timber employed over 80,000 Oregonians. This accounted for roughly 1 in 10 private sector jobs, 12 percent of Oregon’s gross domestic product, and 13 percent of private sector wages. By 2019, Oregon’s logging industry amounted to only 30,000 employees, closer to 1 in 50 private sector jobs,” according to the Secretary of State’s office.
A key advance was the railroad. As one sign says, “The railroad pushed into the Klamath forest in 1909 to haul the timber out where roads weren’t feasible. It allowed loggers to penetrate more deeply into forests and gave them access to many more trees than before. Logging operations could now move their mills far from the logging site.”
In the section starting in 1980, it says, “Engineering took the upper hand in the late 20th century logging. Both machinery and roads reflected the ingenuity and changing times. Powerful caterpillars, skidders, yarders, machines with grapple hooks, helicopter sky cranes, and balloons with ‘sky hooks’ enabled loggers to move trees from canyons and hillsides. New roads with bridges, rather than culverts, heavy gravel or paving and special grades to prevent erosion were part of lagging mandated by state forest practices laws.”
I recognize there are plenty of reasons not to like the logging industry—raping of the land being a big one. But I live in a wood house. I have a wood fence. I have burned wood for fuel. I work in the newspaper industry and want people to buy my books. I don’t see wood products not being part of my life in some aspect even if it’s not something I think about on a daily basis. That’s why I won’t condemn responsible logging.
I will advocate for better management of forests, while at the same time admiring the innovation that allows for growing, harvesting and milling of that wood.
According to OurWordInData website, “10,000 years ago 57 percent of the world’s habitable land was covered by forest. That’s 6 billion hectares. Today, only 4 billion hectares are left. The world has lost one-third of its forest—an area twice the size of the United States.”
The museum acknowledges the pains of decades of logging.
“Workers, sawmill owners, and corporate investors confronted bad news in the late 20th century. The mosaic forests—old-growth, regenerating trees, and brush fields from fires were nearly all cut. The flow of timer from national forest dropped dramatically because of part harvest rats, set asides of wilderness area, and impact of environmental legislation.”
At the same time, part of the blame for the decline in logging and lumber manufacturing, according the museum, is put on “protection for fish, birds, mammals, rare and endangered plants, and cultural resources.”
While this is true, the tone came across as an either/or scenario instead of embracing cooperation, understanding and compromise. That was unfortunate.
Information goes on to say, “Timber companies developed habitat protection plans and set aside protection zones along streams. Reforestation became essential for the company that wanted to have a future. Some saw the logger and mill worker as yet another obsolete profession.”
- Address: 46000 Highway 97 North, Chiloquin, Oregon
- Phone number: 541.783.2471
- Hours: 8am to 8pm June-September, and 8am to 4pm October-May