Thursday, May 21, 2009

Knights of the Broadax

Museums in small towns have a special attraction to us.

The fact that a town will gather information about its history--people, businesses, and contributions to the general welfare--speaks volumes about its pride and commitment to the preservation of its past.
The Dubois (WY) Museum presented its history along with an educational component. It had an assortment of farm machines, such as this hay baler.

The Museum had moved several old buildings into a two-block area on the western part of town. While the Swan's Service Station was an interesting sight in and of itself, the fact that owner Swen Swenson had to "Americanize" his name was more noteworthy. Because of this, Swen became Swan Swanson in 1916.

In 1930, Swan's Service Station opened.

We never would have guessed that this screened building was a meat house designed to keep meat cool and safe from flies and other insects. The pyramid shape and screen sides provided natural cooling and ventilation.

Maxwell's Saddle Shop provided horse tack and supplies to the dude ranches and working ranches in the area. The large stock saddle in front (photo, left) is typical of the heavy duty roping saddles used in the thirties and forties.

The saddle in the back row in the photo is a flat hornless saddle, known as an English saddle. The more modern Eastern women or "dudines" who began coming out West as tourists shortly after the turn of the century used these saddles.

On the left in the second row is the McClellan saddle, used by military cavalry units.

The tools of the trade of the saddle shop are shown on this table.

I thought this pair of chaps was interesting. Known as "batwings," this pair was designed to protect the rider from the heavy willows and underbrush.

Many of the articles in this cabin belonged to Annetta “Nettie” Stringer, who came to Dubois in 1901. Nettie was described as “a cook of ability” by the editor of The Dubois Guide in 1928 after a meal at the Stringer Hotel where she was the cook.

The final cabin introduced us to "tie hacks," lumberjacks of the lodgepole pine who cut down trees and made railroad ties. (The photo below describes the steps in producing these ties.) More than lumberjacks, hacks felled the tree, then stood atop the log and with a razor-sharp twelve-inch-wide broadax cut off bark and wood on two sides of the log to the appearance of having been planed. The width was the precise size—without measuring.

The Hacks were mostly Swedes and Norwegians. In the early 1900s, a good Hack could cut 50 ties a day at the going rate of ten cents per tie. From the early 1900s into the 1940s, the Wyoming Tie and Timber Co. produced over ten million railroad ties for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.

In her book Knights of the Broadax, Joan Trego Pinkerton wrote about Martin Olson, the woods boss of over 30 years. He was described as “having a way of getting the best out of an ornery crew.”

He built flumes in places engineers said it couldn’t be done, including the longest, Warm Springs. It covered nine miles, in some places clinging to the sheer walls of the canyon.

Knights, indeed.

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