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Chapter 5 - The Fast Rigs I've Seen

Not all of my life in the timber has been confined to the logging end of it as this article will show. I wrote this following article which was printed in the Lumbermans Magazine of Portland, Oregon in August of 1957.

The "Fast Rig" is a sawmill carriage. To be specific, this fast rig is most generally found in the pine timber country. The whole question of "fast" is relative, as nearly every sawmill town from the Lake States to Seattle, Washington has the "fastest rig" either real, or imagined.

These fast rigs are driven by a steam cylinder 12 to 14 inches in diameter, and some 40 to 50 feet long, which lays on the floor under the rig. It has a piston 6 to 8 inches in diameter which is fastened on to the rig. That is the well known "shotgun feed", and mister, those rigs (minus all the air and electric dogs, and power setworks that clutter up the modern rig)really used to get up and dangle!

In pine lumber production, as in fir, logs are dumped into the pond and brought up the bull chain into the mill for cutting into lumber.

At this point similarity between pine and fir ends as most of the cutting in pine is done on the rig in order to cut for grade. Standard length of pine lumber is 16 feet and thickness rarely over two inches, so the HAVE to be fast in order to get a cut. Other reasons for their high speed are that pine is softer, and smaller.

Classics among the fast ones from any place were the "Cannon Ball" in the sawmill of the International Lumber Company at International Falls, Minnesota; the "Blue Streak" in the Crookston Lumber Company mill at Bemidji, Minnesota, (A two block rig); and the "Kitchen Rig" (another two block rig) in the mill of the Cloquet Lumber Company at Cloquet, Minnesota. It was named Kitchen Rig because when it was added on to the main mill a kitchen type, or shanty rood was put over it.

Some western fast ones were the five rigs of the Shevlin-Hixon Company at Bend, Oregon (14 inch shotguns) and there was the rig in the Fandango mill of the Willow Ranch Lumber Company, Willow Ranch, California. That one was a 14 inch gun that was plenty lively. Then there was the Pony Rig in the mill of the Seattle Cedar Lumber Company, at Seattle, Washington, a 12 inch shotgun sawing cants from the headrig. No grass grew under it either! However, none of these western rigs were in the Cannonball class for speed.

Now let's go South for a look at the Long Leaf Pine. These was the famous old mill of the Great Southern Lumber Company at Bogalusa, Louisiana, at that time the biggest mill on earth with four bands (14 inch shotguns) five resaws, two gangs and a twin badLively!

The fastest cutting mill Ive ever seen was the mill of the J.J. White Lumber Company at Columbia, Mississippi. It was only an average speed rig but had more power than usual on the circular saw and could cut faster as a result, I might also mention here the mill of the Williams Yellow Pine Company, Wilco, Mississippi; Long Bell Lumber Company, Woodworth, Louisiana; and the Turner Pine Company, Uniform Alabama. All of these were fast rigs, but not in the class of the Cannon Ball.

Just in case someone may ask, "How do you know about these fast rigs?" I was employed as a dogger on them, as well as on many more, with the exception of the J.J. White mill at Columbia, Mississippi. Someone may also want to know WHY I went to the trouble to work on them. Thats a GOOD question, but I guess the answer was that I really wanted to know just WHICH one was the fastest and the only way to know was to work on them. It took several years starting in 1914 and working in seven states, plus a province in Canada to find out.

After working on all these rigs I came to the conclusion that the Cannon Ball was really the fastest rig ever built. The "Ball" had a special boiler in order to have hot, dry steam and was a light pole rig with a 12 inch rebored "gun" hand set works, and boss dogs. This rig got the pick of long, straight Norway pine for dimension. That is two weeks of my life I will never forget! Seattle cedar clocked their rig at 13,500 feet per minute. According to this the old Cannon Ball must have made 15,000 feet per minute, and they gain this speed from a dead stop and do it within one foot. Now try standing up on this and hand dogging the logs on the carriage!

Another reason for my extensive ravels was to find that Bunyanesque rig that was "So fast the dogger was tied on" There is simply no such animal, but I DID see several I wouldn't mind being tied OFF of. However the myth still persists.

At the time I was dogging on the "Ball" at International Falls Minnesota. I used to cross the river to Fort Frances, Ontario Canada where my older brother was a sawyer and would be a "guest dogger" for an hour or so. That rig would cant for a gang saw and put out 2,500 logs in a ten hour shift.

All of these statements can be verified, but I find it hard to convince western lumbermen of these facts, and as I am now a man of age 66 I grow weary of trying.