Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Traveling Tuesday: They Came, They Sawed, They Left

Traveling Tuesday: They Came, They Sawed, They Left

Pixabay/David Mark
Eighty-five years ago, known as the Long Island Express, one of the most destructive storms to strike Long Island, New York and New England caused approximately $306 million ($4.7 billion in 2017 dollars) in damage and property loss and killed 682 people. Starting out near the coast of Africa, it swelled to a Category 5, then hit land as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane (sources differ) rivaling such storms as Hugo, Harvey, Frederic, and Grace. Unfortunately for residents in the hurricane’s path, forecasters weren’t convinced the storm would amount to much more than rain and “heavy winds” so gave no warnings.

New England forests were decimated with more than 2.7 billion board feet falling which created an extreme fire hazard. In addition, without being salvaged the timber would rot and become worthless. Called upon to handle the destruction, the US Forest Service created the Northeastern Timber Salvage Administration. The Administration secured a loan from the Disaster Loan Corporation in the amount of $16,269,300.

Doing no logging itself, the NETSA paid owners after they delivered salvaged material. In an effort to prevent problems in the timber market, the Forest Service established log grades and prices, purchased and stored logs, sawed or contracted for sawing, and channeled the lumber into the market. Employees of the Civilian Conservations Corps and the Works Projects Administration took care of the hazard reduction work.

In the outskirts of Concord, New Hampshire, the Turkey Pond Sawmill was run by the Durant Family.
Robert Gabriel
Located near much of the forest damage, the sawmill became a storage site for the downed timber – almost twelve million board feet of white pine logs. By now, it was 1941, and labor was difficult to come by as a result of America’s entry into World War II. As a result, the Forest Service did the unthinkable: they opened a sawmill on the northern end of Turkey Pond and hired women to do the work.

And work they did. According to one Forest Service manager, “Snow, rain, or sub-zero weather never slowed them up.” NETSA director John Campbell reported in 1942, “The female mill at Turkey Pond is going along nicely. It’s most surprising and gratifying to see the way those gals take hold of the job. In addition to the jobs we anticipated women could handle, we have found them capable of rolling logs on the deck, running the edger and for ‘show purposes’ even running the head saw.”

The mill operated for two years with a starting wage of $4.00 a day (significant when a waitress made about $1.40 a day and retail clerks earned about $1.80). Also, significant is that the wage was the equivalent of men’s wages.

Pixabay/James DeMers

Florence Drouin Blake was 15 years old when she went to work at Turkey Pond. “For me, it was about being all grown up and working with a bunch of women that were older than I was. They were all good gals. They helped me, and I helped them.” Despite being one of the youngest girls in the group, she had experience. She’d been cutting wood since age thirteen when her father gave her an ax for Christmas.

On November 23, 1943, the last logs were sawed, five years after being delivered.

Think you could have done the work?


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