Low Tide

Yacht Designer Tad Roberts' Web Log

The Sleigh Builders

The Sleigh Builders
Walden Brothers Sawmill, Baronet Pass, Cracroft Island, BC. That was the address, it was 1964 and I was 9 years old. The sleigh builders were brothers, two tall skinny silent men, black beards, dark eyes, always in motion. They had a two man chain saw, huge thing, and monster slicks and impossibly long augers….specialized tools. They were craftsmen. I‘ve forgotten their names. It rained most days while they worked.

They came to build a new sleigh for one of the big yarders. Work proceeded on a float tied in the bay, I was supposed to be doing my correspondence (school), instead I drew schooners and watched the sleigh builders. The main components of the sleigh were logs, two big fir skids about 40’ long and perhaps 48” in diameter. These were levelled up parallel on the float, about 5’ apart, all with hand tools, peaveys and Gillcrest jacks. The tops were slabbed off level and flat almost the whole length. All the bark was removed and used engine oil applied as preservative. The butt ends of the skids were bevelled off so she would slide up over obstacles.

Then came the cross pieces, there were 3 main ones. One at the very front with the fairleads on it, and two on the back end with the round 1000 gallon fuel tank between them. These cross pieces were let into matching notches on the sleigh, so it locked together like a log house. Then they were bolted using long lengths of galvanized rod with treaded ends and huge washers and nuts. I think there were also two or three smaller cross members notched right down flush with the tops of the skids and this was where the yarder itself was mounted, again with bolts. There was just enough space up on the sleigh to walk all around the machine.

The entire machine had to be narrow so it could fit down a cat road, 7-8’ wide. It usually traveled by pulling itself with the haulback line run through the fairlead on the front. Sometimes the yarder would be towed up the road by a cat or a skidder.

Finally they built a big heavy roof frame of 6” by 6” timbers sheathed with corrugated iron roofing, and two folding roof wings which protected the machine and operator from the weather. This frame was a work of art in itself, like a timber frame building with various braces and knees. It had to be strong as the lines passed through it in a notch cut back over the drums. Sometimes slack in the main or haulback would whip the lines around and rip up the yarder roof.

I’ll guess the brothers spent a month on that job, and then they moved on. I wonder now how many more wooden sleighs they built. The Madill steel spar was just around the corner and would appear at Walden’s in a very few years.

Note: These logging stories are based on hazy memories and may not be very accurate at all.

Moving Yarder

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