That Winter on the Clam – Part Two

December 27, 2018

by Fern Berry

Old Tucker had an absolute mania for collecting scrap iron. He would hoard it and handle it as a miser might fondle his gold. Now Dick, George’s black gelding was vicious with his teeth and dealt a good nip to anyone on which he could get a hold. Tucker was very much afraid of him and always steered clear. The boys knew of this and hid Tucker’s collection of iron in Dick’s manger. Tucker would not go near until Art took the horse outside. Only then would Tucker make the move to retrieve his horde. He would find a new hiding place which the boys would eventually discover.

Winter deepened. The sawing and skidding went on. The logging road echoed with the “woo-wee” of the haulers as they approached a turning out place. Then the teams settled down to a steady pull and each team did its best, trip after trip. The pile of logs at the banking ground grew substantially each day.

Little Prince, George’s black and white shepherd pup never failed to make a trip with the boys. He accompanied either Art or George and sat high upon the load next to them. The boys sometimes gave the lines to the dog and got off to run along beside the skid to warm up.

No serious accidents happened that winter on the Clam. The most serious injury occurred when a binding pole broke lose on a load Art was driving. Flying free, it struck him in the face, split his nose and loosened several of his teeth. George hurried him off to the nearest doctor in Marion. He was back at work the next day, sporting stitches in his nose and two black eyes.

The rest of the winter passed without serious incident. The last of the cutting was finished. Soon wind and sun began to raise havoc with the roads. The Old Man was uneasy. It was time to get the last log out of the woods.

Two crews of loaders and haulers were kept at work, one going to work at 9pm and working until 4am. The second team going on at 5am and working until 5pm, or until the sun made the snow too soft for hauling without injury to the road.

There was one load left in the woods when the road began to break up. Once started it would go fast. The load was a big one which Art Emory would haul behind Fox and Gyp. The Old Man was proud of these colts, and although he was afraid the load was too heavy, he decided to let the young team pull it. The team hauled the load, straining heavily in the gritty snow. Little Gyp gained a limp which plagued her for the rest of her life. It also served to remind the Old Man of that winter on the Clam.

There was a general letting go of highly strung nerves once the logs were at the rollway. Work was finished until the ice let loose on the Clam. Some of the men were paid off and went home. Some went into town and got very, very drunk and some lazed about the shanties waiting on the thaw.

On the morning of March 20 the Old Man came into the men’s shanty and announced that spring had come. Warm rain had started in the night and the wind was in the south. The ice could be heard groaning and crunching on the river. By mid afternoon black water was visible and steadily rising.

Pickaroons, cant hooks and caulk shoes were pulled out and inspected. The great day was at hand. As soon as it was daylight in the swamp, operations at the rollway would begin.

The Old Man always picked son Frank to locate the key log; the one log which would set the thousands behind it free. Once he found it, Frank used his cant hook to loosen it and start things in motion. It took a mighty limber man for this job. He had to make a quick get away or be crushed to death beneath the logs.

Frank chose Perry Coyle, an agile young fellow, to help him break the rollway. With a deft twist they loosened the key log and then, in a breath taking instant, they were running, skipping and dodging over the moving logs to safety. Men began to talk again and the Old Man walked about, beaming. Another successful season. The rollway was broken without incident.

The men with long poles leapt onto the floating mass of logs and rode them as easily as if it were a skiff. Poking, pulling and ever stepping from log to log, they moved down the river. The men were good at what they did and took great care. They all knew that a wrong step would be their last.

At noon the men would stop and eat dinner, which was brought to a spot on the river bank for them. Then it was back onto the moving mass of logs. The late afternoon brought freezing temperatures and a stop for the night. The pant legs of the log riders were frozen stiff and crackled as they walked to the camp.

From left to right. Dick the horse, Art Emory and Daisy the horse. Old Tucker is at the center with his mules. On the far right, with the distinctive hat is Victor Gibbs. To his right are Milt and Lillie’s two youngest daughters, Crissy and Fern. George’s dog Little Prince, is also in the photo. 

From left to right. Dick the horse, Art Emory and Daisy the horse. Old Tucker is at the center with his mules. On the far right, with the distinctive hat is Victor Gibbs. To his right are Milt and Lillie’s two youngest daughters, Crissy and Fern. George’s dog Little Prince, is also in the photo.

A hot fire, a hearty supper and a bed was all that the men had time for. The Old Man’s wife, Lillie had a hot and hearty breakfast waiting for the men when they went out in the morning and again when they came in from the woods. For more than two weeks she and her daughter Anna scarcely slept or had time to change their dresses. Crews worked long and hard hours. Someone was always in need of a hot meal or a hot cup of coffee. This was the women’s share of clearing up Michigan. Their work is not always recognized and should be.

Day after day this work went on until the last log was safely floated down the Muskegon to the mill at Temple. When the job was done the camp was broken, the boys were paid and went off to summer work. Most promised to be on hand the next winter if there was lumbering to be done. Tools were packed and loaded into wagons; camp equipment was also loaded and with the Old Man’s wife and daughters seated high on one of the loads, they made their way to their farm home and their farming life.
Anna wore a ring on her finger, as good a ring as Art Emory could buy her with his winter’s earnings. Soon enough there would be a wedding at the Old Man’s farm and in the fall the school bell would beckon Fern and Crissy from the woods.

Later the Old Man was heard to say, “Them three boys ain’t much to look at, but they can’t be beat in the woods. There is Frank, the best cant hook man I ever see. Perry is a good teamster. Art is good for most anything since he got his nose broke by the binder.” He laughed and slapped his knee, pleased with another good season in the woods.

Prolog.

The Milt “the Old Man” Beebe and his wife Lillian were the parents of seven children, each working in the family camp in their turn. Milt and Lillie worked the woods and farm for most of their lives. Milt managed the Dunham Mill in Leota until it burned, before 1920. They returned to Marion. Milt died in 1936, Lillian in 1940.

Anna Beebe and Art Emory were married in April 1909. Together they were the parents of four children and later divorced. Anna died in 1959. Both are buried in Greenwood.

Frank Beebe married Maud Dunlop of Dighton in August of 1909. They were the parents of two boys, Rudolph and Ford. Frank was called to WWI shortly thereafter Maud died. His young boys were raised by their grandmothers. Frank disappeared from Michigan and his family, much to the dismay of his mother and young sisters. He died in Texas in 1963. Maud is buried next to her in-laws in Greenwood.

George Beebe married Edna Hood. They were the parents of three sons Maynard, Duane and Loren. Their farm remains part of the original Beebe farm property. Many of his descendants are Marion area residents to this day. George too lies in Greenwood.

Fern Beebe married school teacher Frank Berry. They were the parents of four children and I am the sole descendent who is still here. Fern and Frank, like the rest of their family, is buried in Greenwood.

Crystal Beebe wed William Bigford of Middle Branch. Their family numbered 10 children and several of their grandchildren call Marion home. Bill and Criss are buried near their adopted home near Portland.

We do not know a first name or final resting place for the superstitious, scrap iron loving Old Tucker.



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