Logging Railways, Flumes and Trucks
In the southern Interior logging methods differed from those used on the British Columbia coast. The trees in the Interior generally were smaller and the logs could be handled easier than the huge logs of the coastal rainforests. The machinery used by the loggers for yarding, loading and transporting logs generally was smaller and of lighter-weight design than used in western British Columbia. Horses were also able to pull logs more efficiently than they could in the coastal forests. Small trucks were more competitive with the railways in the early years of the 1900s because they could carry the smaller timber. The colder winters also meant that logs could be pulled on sleighs in the Interior.
The logging railway provided the first reliable form of mechanization for hauling logs over long distances of more than a mile or two (2-3 km) in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These railroads were often the most efficient and sometimes the only practical way of moving large quantities of logs overland to mills for processing. The wide valleys of the East Kootenay were well suited for the use of railways for logging in the early 1900s. In 1908, there were six logging railways in the East Kootenay: East Kootenay Lumber Company at Jaffray; Eastern B.C. Lumber Company at Cedar Valley; Fernie Lumber Company at Fernie; King Lumber Company at Cranbrook; the North Star Lumber Company at Cranbrook and the Otis Staples Lumber Company at Cherry Creek (Wycliffe) near Kimberley. In total over 25 miles (40 km) of track were in operation. Most were small operations with just one locomotive and a small collection of flat cars or log buggies for hauling the timber. The railways had a capacity of about 350,000 board feet of lumber per day.
In the first three decades of the 1900s, logging railways were operated by a the following companies, and possibly some others, in the East Kootenay: Adolf Lumber Company at Baynes; J. G. Billings Logging at Fernie; Canadian Pacific's Tie and Timber Branch at several locations including Yahk and Canal Flats; East Kootenay Lumber Company at Jaffray; Eastern British Columbia Lumber Company at Cedar Valley; Elk Lumber Company at Fernie; Fernie Lumber Company at Fernie; King Lumber Company at Jim Smith Lake; North American Land & Lumber Company at Fernie; North Star Lumber Company at Jaffray; the Otis Staples Logging Company near Kimberley; Puerto Rico Lumber Company near Moyie Lake; Ross-Saskatoon Lumber Company at Waldo; and the Standard Lumber Company at Cranbrook and Fort Steele.(1)
Several of the logging railways were built as narrow gauge operations. These railways had a track gauge, the distance between the rails, of 3 feet (.91 m) or 3 feet, 6 inches (1.07 m). Most railways, including the Canadian Pacific, were built to standard gauge which is 4 feet, 8.5 inches (1.44 m). The logging railways used special types of locomotives which were built for the rough and steeply climbing tracks typical of logging lines. In the Kootenays, Shay and Heisler locomotives were the most common types of logging locomotives.
By the 1920s, trucks were increasingly useful for hauling logs and lumber, particularly over short distances. As roads and trucks improved, the ability of trucking to compete with the railways increased so that they could haul forest products over longer distances at rates that the railway often could not match. In hauling logs from the woods, it was much cheaper to build a narrow road for trucks than to construct a railway. Trucks could haul logs over much rougher terrain than could a logging railway. Within a few years, the last of the logging railways along the Crowsnest Route had been abandoned and trucks were used to haul logs to the mills. After logging railways were generally abandoned along the Crowsnest Route, some mills still retained locomotives for switching cars around the mills or for limited use in log hauling.
Another important factor in the demise of the logging railways was the removal of most of the good timber from the areas were railways could operate. Rapid logging and many fires removed the timber faster than regrowth could renew the forests and most of the large mills in the region closed by 1930.
In some situations, logs could be floated down rivers or lakes to mills or transported by flumes. The Kootenay River, in particular, was used for floating logs ("booming logs") to the mills. Booming logs on the rivers was a dangerous and often wasteful practice. Logs were usually cut in the winter and then floated to the mills in the spring. However, logs were often swept away and lost. Although not a concern to loggers or the public in the early 1900s, booming logs was also very damaging of fish spawning grounds and wildlife habitat.
Flumes were another important means of transporting logs to the mills along the Crowsnest Route. The high mountains surrounding the forested valleys provided ample water for the use of flumes. The flumes were essentially a narrow trough constructed of sawn lumber that funnelled the logs from the areas in which they were cut to the mills for processing. At points along the flumes, additional inlets were built so maintain the water level in the main flume. They were the equivalent of the modern day waterslide but for logs. Some of these were many miles long and were constructed on a gradual down grade so that logs could be floated down to the mills. Although quite effective for moving large volumes of logs, the flumes were expensive to construct and maintain. Once efficient trucks were available, flumes generally were not used.
(1) This list and other details in this section draw on material collected by Grant Will and a list prepared by D, R. Phillips, Logging Railways of the East Kootenay, 1897-1992, in the files of the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel at Cranbrook. See also: Turner, Robert D. 1990, Logging by Rail, The British Columbia Story. Sono Nis Press, Victoria, B.C.