Friday, December 10, 2010

The Log Driver's Waltz

We are really enjoying internet speeds fast enough to watch music videos.  One of my very favourites is the 1979 NFB "Log Driver's Waltz" Vignette.  The animated film of this Canadian Folk Song is set to the music of Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

Log driving (and I have borrowed all this from Wikipedia) is a means of log transport which makes use of a river's current to move floating tree trunks downstream to sawmills. It was the main transportation method of the early logging industry in Europe and North America.  Bigger saw mills  were not portable, and were usually established in the lower reaches of a river, with the logs brought to them by floating downriver by log drivers.

To ensure that logs drifted freely along the river, men called "log drivers" were needed to guide the logs. This was an exceedingly dangerous occupation, with the drivers standing on the moving logs and running from one to another. When one caught on an obstacle and formed a logjam, someone had to free the offending log. This required some understanding of physics, strong muscles, and extreme agility. Many log drivers lost their lives by falling and being crushed by the logs.

On small tributaries logs could only be driven during the spring flood, when thousands of logs, cut during the winter months, were sent downriver. Each timber firm had its own mark which was placed on the logs. Obliterating or altering a timber mark was a crime. At the mill the logs were captured by a log boom, and the logs were sorted for ownership before being sawn into lumber.

Log driving became unnecessary with the advent of the railroad and good public roads for trucks.

Log Drivers in Sweden 1918

Tanya said they did the same in Russia.  Her father worked driving a skidder in the Taiga north of Krasnoyarsk when she was very young.  Logs would be sent down the Yennesey River from the mountains south of Khakasia.  On the big rivers they would be boomed into rafts.  On the Volga river which was much quieter than the Yennessey, Tanya said people would often camp on the rafts and fish from them.


  1. I love this song. I watch the video every so often. So good.

  2. Let me add that when a driver was killed the owner would stop work for 3 days and search for the body.
    Injury rate for loggers = 125% (source: labor and industries)

  3. I remember that video from a long time ago. It is such fun!

  4. Demeur, thanks for the added info. Are those just American customs and accident ratings or were they pretty much the norm in any logging camp around the world?

  5. Thanks for this information. I hope you don't mind. I used it for my English lesson. My students will love this background information and video.



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