Monday, December 14, 2015

Big Wheels/High Wheels

Big Wheels/High Wheels

From Roots of Motive Power Website and the Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop:

From the Wood & Sheldon Rainbow Mill, McCloud? 1910

            Prior to the 1870's, logging was performed by the grueling process of dragging logs from the woods with bull teams. In 1875, Silas Overpak of Manistee, Michigan, introduced a wheeled device from which logs could be suspended, making the work of bulls or horses greatly easier in moving logs to mills or landings. Overpak's Michigan Big Wheels won an award at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and logging was changed forever.
            The Michigan Big Wheels was produced with wooden wheels in heights of 9, 9-1/2 and 10 feet, and sold for $250 plus $50 shipping by rail. It was copied by as many as 25 other manufacturers, and while popular for level or modestly sloped terrain, it didn't work well on the steep forests of the west since it had no brakes.
            John Webb, Sr., of Redding Iron Works in Redding, California, took Overpak's design and came up with a means for using the logs themselves as a brake. Webb applied a slip tongue instead of the standard fixed tongue, which was a vast improvement. The slip tongue moved back and used a cam mechanism that raised the logs 10 to 12 inches off the ground when the wheels were moving uphill or on level ground, but moved forward when descending slopes, thus lowering the logs which acted as a brake.

            Thus was born the Redding High Wheels, with wooden wheels up to 12 feet in diameter, weighing in at 3600 pounds, and selling for $350. (The wheels built in the east were called Big Wheels, while those produced in the west were referred to as High Wheels.) The wheel track was 7-1/2 feet, and the tongue length was 30 feet.
            The Redding High Wheels typically used two teams of horses on hills and with large logs, but could get by with two horses on level ground or when pulling small logs. Because of Webb's braking system, the Redding wheels could work on slopes up to 20 percent, whereas the Overpak patent was limited to slopes on only 10 percent.
            Redding Iron Works added a cast iron hub in 1915 which could be unbolted to permit the easy replacement of broken spokes. In the late 1800's, Daniel Best created the steam traction engine, which in subsequent years would often be used in place of horses to pull the Redding High Wheels. The C. L Best Gas Traction Company built the first track-layer in 1913, and merged with the Holt Tractor Company in 1925 creating Caterpillar, Inc.
            All this activity changed the way the high wheels were used, but the end came into view in 1927 when the Red River Lumber Company of Westwood, California, experimented with an all-metal logging arch constructed of railroad rail and utilizing Athey track-laying wheels. Although the Redding High Wheels was produced until 1932, by 1930 almost all logging shows were using the new steel logging arches.

Logging arch in the Siskiyou County Outdoor Museum   Spotted the small blue logging arch in Montague, CA Dec. 2015, so they are still in use
Additonal historic photos:

Logging operation near Alhomah in 1908
Caption on photo back: "Considerably less clumsy than the Best Steam Traction engine was the reliable Perry Log Cart.  Shortly after the McCloud Lumber Company took over from Friday George, the horses and wheels returned to various sections of the woods on the southern slopes of Mt. Shasta.

1914 or 1915, possibly in McCloud


 For more information about Big Wheels/High Wheels, check the links below:

From the Michigan State University website:

From the Black Diamond, Washington website: