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Logging at the Age of Twelve: 19th Century Reminiscences

Two loggers with an anchor tree and yarder hauling log, photographed by Arthur Prentiss, Angelus Studio photograph collection (PH037)

John Joseph Villair (1876-?) traveled with his family from Michigan to California in 1887 and at the very young age of twelve he began working in logging. He had this specific recollection about “greasing skids”:

I started to work in the woods greasing skids for Johnny Keehoe, nickname of Pike, at the age of twelve; Pike had five yoke of bulls skidding in some 25 m’ of redwood logs a day… My job was to build a fire under a large iron kettle in which tallow was melted for use as grease. I was so small the men cut a black powder can in half with a bail for my use in carrying the grease so the can would not drag on the skids as I walked along and greased them… I sued a burlap swab dipped into warm grease – swab like a paint brush fastened onto a stick some three feet long – the burlap was fringed to make the swab which would last about a week.”

Following his stint as a skid greaser, he held jobs for numerous logging outfits and lived in camps and small towns on the frontier.  Villairs’ reminiscences, transcribed by John Kuhns in Josephine County, are a fascinating trip through late 19th century logging practices peppered with talk of “getting rather high” and brawling with saloon keepers.  Villair also describes his family’s journey to California to meet up with his father, and his  later experiences as a horse team driver for California logging companies.  He goes into considerable detail describing logging tools and methods, as well as the characters he met in logging camps and communities.

For more, come down to Special Collections and University Archives and see the John Joseph Villair reminiscences (Collection #CB V711).

~Austin Munsell, Collections Coordinator

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