Thursday, November 28, 2019

Grandfather Fuhrman The Lumberjack

Here's a fascinating photo. It's somewhere around a hundred years old, taken either just before World War I or just after. It's special to the family because my grandfather (Henry) Fuhrman is in it (tall man in the center of the group). He started out his adult life (fighting the Hun …) and as a lumberjack in the forests of northern Wisconsin.


1) The area he lived in in Shawano County, WI was heavily populated with German immigrants and - in Henry's case - their children. It is said that area so resembled their native land - Pommern - Pomerania - in northeast Germany that they moved there to feel right at home. German was the primary language spoken in many of the villages in the area.

2) In the 1900 census there were a whopping 268,384 people living in Wisconsin who had been born in Germany. 

3) I'd love to find out from a photography expert what kind of camera was used to take the photo. It's an odd shape - 280mm X 80mm (11" X 3.2").

4) The image captured is unique in that the two modes of transportation used to bring logs to the railhead for shipment to the various lumber mills on the Wolf River or Shawano or Green Bay or Oshkosh are depicted. Horse-drawn sleds and flatbed train cars. 

Cutting trees down was done almost year round in those days. But hauling/shipping was done only in the winter, because of the terrain. A lumber company would buy timberland, cut a trail to the area for draft animals, build a cabin for the loggers, and put them to work. They lived on site for months on end. 

Logs would be loaded on the sleds and hauled out by teams of draft horses or mules. When the roads became muddy they kept a water wagon on site and, at night, the wagon would go down the road pouring water in the tracks so that they'd freeze and be passable by morning. 

5) The photos you see of lumberjacks steering rafts of logs down the river to the mill didn't apply here. In the early days when pine was in abundance, they'd be hauled to the Wolf River and floated downstream to the pulp mills or finish mills. But by 1900 the pine forests were all cut and gone. Leaving hardwoods. And hardwoods absorb water. So they couldn't be floated. They had to be shipped by train. That's what's happening in the photo.

6) The train car in the background was owned by the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company (C&NW), much of which operates today as part of Union Pacific. The location where the photo was taken was on a spur of the C&NW line.

7) looking closely at the individuals in the photo, it is possible that two of the lumbermen are Indians. The Menominee reservation was close by with an abundance of available labor. 

8) Lumber was the leading industry in Wisconsin before WWI.

9) Two lumberjacks could fell 20,000 board feet of trees in one day with a cross-cut saw. Twenty thousand. With a manual hand-drawn saw.

10) The Number One economic driver in Wisconsin in 1920? Not lumber. It was number 2. 

Cows. Dairy. And cheese. I remember when I was a kid visiting uncles and aunts on huge dairy farms in the Shawano, Tigerton, Bowler, WI area.

11) Chances are real good that the company my grandfather worked for was eventually bought by - and is now part of - Weyerhaeuser.

12) Quiz: Who plants the most trees on the planet these days?

Greenpeace? No.
Earth First? No.
Leonardo DiCaprio? No.

Weyerhaeuser. The company now manages 12 million acres of forest.

13) Henry Fuhrman's father - Gustav Adolf Fuhrmann (he dropped the last N in the name during World War I) - and mother - Bertha Wetzel - were born in Germany. Their son - Henry - fought against the Germans in World War I. (!!) Their grandson - Harold Henry - our father - fought the Germans as well. In World War II. *

14) Pomerania was virtually eliminated in 1945. Most of it was handed over to Poland after WWII and the German populations therein were forced to leave. They became refugees.

15) When we were young we would travel over the Wolf River on occasion. It was a beautiful stream. But it was as polluted as any river has ever been. The paper mills were still in operation, dumping toxic chlorine compounds, sulfur, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. The mills are now closed down. Hopefully the river has regained its life.