|Pioneer Life in the Homes and Woods of the Queen Charlotte Islands|
|Our old iron steam donkeys are massive and impressive for sure
but even when they were brand spanking new, they were old hat. Cast iron steam power when you think about
it had been around for centuries, the wrinkles had all been worked out, and you as Bull o' The Woods in the
Charlottes could take your pick of a dozen small companies along the Pacific Coast to build you a new
donkey to order.
Those companies employed a super-carpenter called a pattern maker who made giant gears and levers and thingbobs out of wood. The patterns were packed into a sandbox, carefully lifted away and molten iron poured into the hole. Simple stuff. You've probably seen nicely painted wooden gears on display somewhere; they're still pretty common. Look closely at our steam donkeys and you'll find traces of the sand-casting process.
|Still, old hat or not, a steam donkey in its
day was the only way to go logging. You'd have to have people cutting firewood full time to feed its
appetite but there was no fuel supply problem. Steam is pretty quiet even when it's running and it
stops completely between hauls so the operator can hear sound signals from the whistle punk off in
The donkey has maximum torque when it's just starting to pull, so you the operator don't need the clutches and multiple gears you'd need with diesel power. No need to rev it up before you start to haul. Open a valve on the right piece of steam piping and away she goes.
The Willamette donkey was still at work here in 1949. Pete Duralia, who ran it and should know, said it was so strong that it could break its choker cables on a heavy load. All you had to do was get your helper to hold down the safety valve with a 2x4 to build up extra pressure!
|The people attaching logs to your
cables had better have their wits about them and listen to the whistles, however, because standing on
a log or beside the cable when it suddenly snaps tight is not a good place to be. The donkey could
pull itself from place to place on its log skids by hauling on its own boot-straps but somebody would
have to drag that cable out and attach it to a tree pretty frequently. A donkey is not something you
could drive home to dinner.
Our steam drill landed off a barge in 1911 near where it now sits. It set out for the Yakoun Valley to drill for coal and arrived over a year later -- 50 kms. You can drive that distance today, even on gravel, in about an hour.
Boilers take hours to work up a head of steam, so you'll want to keep the fires banked up overnight. Water supply has to be completely reliable, too. Steam expands 1,700 times from a volume of water -- if the water runs out the last couple of gallons flash into steam and the boiler 'expands' too, like a bomb.
So now that you can see some of a donkey's abilities and shortcomings, you'll be on the lookout for something better. Certainly there's no way you could log with a steam donkey in today's woods.
People used diesel donkeys for a time but a stationary diesel winch is still an awkward workmate, and now you have to pack fuel to wherever its working. Its noisy and it smells worse!
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