Camp Food in a Logging Camp
Hank Simonson’s father was a faller all his life. Hank and his family lived in the woods at Irmulco and at GlenBlair and had first hand experience of logging camp food which he said was very good.
Today it is quite difficult to get specifics of how the workers in the woods were fed a hundred years ago. Hank recalled that the cooks were mainly Finnish (as was Hank) with many of the assistants being Chinese. The Chinese loved kids and Hank had very fond memories of being filled to the brim with peach pie and cream by the Chinese camp cooks and being scolded by his mother for not eating his “proper” food. Hank’s memory seemed to cloud up once he got to the “peach pie” bit!
The photo right (click to for larger image) shows a typical camp kitchen car that included a wood fired stove with a large oven for baking. Fresh baked pies are visible in the lower right hand corner, and beyond the pastry work surface is a large bread dough pan. The female in the picture was most likely the wife of one of the loggers in camp. Water was heated on the stove for washing the dirty dishes, pots and pans. Workers in this kitchen prepared breakfast, sack lunches, and the evening meal.
Logging camps had an outstanding reputation for serving wonderful meals from which no man ever left hungry. Lunch consisted of three full sandwiches, two of which contained meat and the other perhaps butter and jam. Included with the lunch was a piece of cake or fruit for dessert. These lunches were prepared before breakfast and ready for the men to take with them when they left the dining car.
Breakfast and supper was typical of what one can get to eat in old style diners. Ham, eggs and toast for breakfast. On Sunday, breakfast would be later than normal to let the men sleep in on their day off. This meal was more like a “brunch” as we know it today.
Meat, (particularly stews), potatoes and a vegetable with biscuits were supper and there was lots of it. The woodsmen worked 12 hour days and would burn 6,000 calories in a day in the field.
The picture left (click to for larger image) shows a typical mess car. The workers ate family style. In the isle stands the server who brought the bowls of food to the tables. If more was needed, he or she brought additional bowls. Lots of coffee was a necessity. All of the men needed to eat at the same time and as quickly as possible, so things could get a little hectic in the dining car.
The article "Oh Boy, Did you Get Enough of Pie - A Social History of Food in Logging Camps", by Joseph R. Conlin (click here to download a pdf copy)provides an in-depth look at how the loggers lived and how they ate. It is a long article and to whet your appetite consider the following quotes:
"For a society that feels compelled to run around in sweatsuits in order to shed a few pounds, it may be difficult to imagine a "lifestyle" in which vast fueling was essential to survival. But the old lumberjacks bolted three, four, and, on some river drives, five enormous meals per day. And they used them. One can leaf through as many stacks of old photographs as a proud archivist can trot out without seeing a potbelly. Indeed, a common superstition among loggers was that when they saw a fat man in the woods it was time to blow the whistle. There would be three accidents in quick succession."
""Powder Box Pete" could eat three T-bone steaks or seven pork chops. Anna M. Lind, a former cookhouse worker, saw "hungry fallers come into the dining room, sit down at their place at the table, and empty an entire platter of steak onto their plate." "A working logger such as Dad," Sam Churchill recalled from his boyhood in Clatsop County, Oregon, "could usually handle around nine thousand calories a day of hearty foods including ample servings of pie, cake, cookies, homemade breads and other delicacies."
According to the British physiologists, J.V.G.A. Durnin and R. Passmore, 'There is probably no harder physical work than lumbering in the forest, particularly in winter." Based on research among woodsmen in eight European countries and Japan, they calculate that chopping a tree at a moderate rate of 35 strokes per minute burns 10 calories per minute. (At 50 strokes per minute-contest speed-usage rises to an astounding 19.3 calories). Bucking burns 8.6 calories per minute (lending scientific corroboration to Anna Linds observation that the fallers and buckers were the biggest eaters); trimming, 8.4; and barking, 8.0. There are no data, unfortunately, on river driving, but "carrying logs" and "dragging logs" burn 12.I calories per minute! For reference purposes, this compares to 6.1 calories per minute drilling coal, 4.0 laying bricks, 2.0-2.9 at general housework, 2.3 working on an automobile assembly line, and 1.4 sitting at a desk writing an article on an electric typewriter"
"Out of this tricky requirement emerged the curious and universal loggers' custom of silence at meals or, more precisely, the rule against talking at meals. It was one of the laws"everyone lived by," Louie lanchard remembered, "even if they had never been passed by the state legislature...When you was eating, no talking was allowed, except to say 'Pass the meat' or 'Shoot the beans' when the things didn't come around fast enough. If we'd ever had any stylish visitors, they would of thought a logging camp crew the most polite people who ever broke bread together. Seeing all this politeness, they might of thought it was the Last Supper."
The Whistlepunk is the newsletter of the Timber Heritage Association. Their loco barn is at the foot of the hill on top of which is the Samoa Cookhouse, the last surviving lumber camp cookhouse in the West. The April 2008 issue of the Whistlepunk contains a very nice article (see right) on “The Lumber Company Cookhouse” which makes special mention of the Samoa Cookhouse. Click the page to zoom to read.
The Samoa Cookhouse is located in Samoa which is a little to the north of Eureka. It serves food that the loggers would have been served. Authentic. On the menu are grits. In the opinion of this historian they are truly ghastly and it is difficult to conceive how those poor loggers ate them with gusto (or so the waitress will tell you). If you want to eat like a logger this is THE place to go.
The Samoa Cookhouse walls are covered with pictures of logging “back then” which are a veritable treasure trove of information.
One of the photos on the walls of the Samoa Cookhouse