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On May 4, 2002 we took a day trip to the Southern Forest Heritage Museum
in Long Leaf, Louisiana
. The trip was sponsored and organized by the NMRA's Lone Star Region. It is located in an extremely densely forested part of western Louisiana. The area was completely clear-cut in the 1950s, but you wouldn't be able to tell that today!
Long Leaf, Louisiana used to have over a thousand small homes for employees of the saw mill and their families. Now, the saw mill is being preserved as best as possible by volunteers as part of the the Southern Forest Heritage Museum.
The museum is located deep in the forests of the south east. The museum describes how in the late 1800s timber production began slowly. It wasn't until the locomotives were able to get into this area that the production increased dramatically. Most days the Long Leaf mill was able to produce enough wood to create 200 homes per day! Needless to say, a substantial deforestation occurred after the 1930s. Many saw mills in Louisiana went out of business. In the 1950s re-forestation procedures were developed. When you look at aerial photos in the museum you can see a shocking difference between 1951 and the 1990s. The land was barren before, where today there are massive forests everywhere. By managing the amount of timber produced and re-growing new trees the timber industry can live on indefinitely. Unlike many crops, trees can always be re-grown in the same soil.
The saw mill at Long Leaf finally shut down in 1969. Today volunteers receive donations and work hard at trying to preserve the buildings and equipment at the museum, however most items are thoroughly rusted. They receive about 3,000 visitors a year. We were there as part of the NMRA, Division 8 field trip (about 40 people). The museum is located on and around mainline tracks that are used today, so if you can spend some time there, you might get a chance to do some railfanning.
The image below is a map scanned in from one of the brochures of the saw mill. I will refer to buildings names in the text below, so this map may help in putting the story together. The museum's web site has many photos of their key items.
The trip started at 4:00am for us because we had to be at the bus' location by 6:30am clear across Houston. The trip to Long Leaf Louisiana from south-east Houston took right at 4 hours to complete. The first photo is of the bus as we were disembarking at the museum. It is a bit hazy, because we stepped out of the air-conditioned bus into full-blown 100% humidity! Looking at the map above, we entered the property via the Long Leaf Road. We are parked next to the Post Office.
This is the entrance to the museum, known as the Commissary. It houses the gift shop, the museum, a small cafeteria, restrooms, and a room for watching a video about the history of the area. The Commissary used to be the town's grocery store, and it is still set up that way.
This vehicle, called a velocipede car, in the museum that was used to self-propel a person around the tracks.
The actual tour of the mill started with a short walk to the "speeder". You can see the speeder in the map as the orange car to the left of the Commissary building. The track you see behind the speeder is the mainline still in use today. The speeder is basically an automobile engine with two gears. It pulls a short car that can seat visitors. I got to sit in the cab, on top of the motor. The speeder took us all the way up to the Round House area (see the map).
Here is a view out of the window of the speeder, looking down the track along the mainline.
We made a couple of stops along the way. The fist was after about a minute of riding on the speeder arriving at the Planer Mill. In 2002 the museum had received approval for a $100,000 grant which will give them the ability to restore this building (see also the next two photos).
I believe this is the steam generator, but I may be wrong (I was too busy taking photographs to be able to pay close attention to the tour guide).
This was the blast furnace (outside area), I believe.
This is inside the blast furnace building, showing the steam-driven wheel.
We climbed back on board of the speeder. Through a switchback we climbed up the grade a bit to wind up near the Roundhouse. One person got to get off the speeder to throw a switch (turnout), and another got to pour some sand on the track so that the speeder could get enough grip to climb up the grade. In that short trip we got to experience a lot of what prototype railroading is about.
Near the Roundhouse is one of the three steam locomotives still on the property. The speeder dropped us off on the track to the left of the locomotive.
The tour guide is telling us about the steam locomotive. The number plates and other parts have been stolen off of the engine over the years. The engine was built in 1919. The tender was a coal tender and converted to oil about three years after it was built. Even today oil is still dripping from the engine.
This is a 1919 Clyde skidder. These ran on rails and were used to move the cut trees onto transporting equipment.
Next we moved to the Roundhouse. It is called a roundhouse even though it is not round. It would normally be called an engine house. It has only one track leading into the building. The other track has been cemented over.
The roundhouse has an inspection pit, as well as various work stations.
The roundhouse also has an example of a working (!) vertical steam engine.
This is the view from within the roundhouse to the machine shop.
The first thing that grabs your attention in the machine shop is another steam locomotive. This is the museum's best engine, which is why they keep it inside the building - to preserve it as best as possible.
In the lower left of the photo you will notice a blacksmith fire.
Here the blacksmith and his assistant are hammering on the head of what will become a bolt.
In this photo the assistant is hammering on a bolt head that is still glowing.
This (over-exposed) photo shows the blower that drives all the equipment in the machine shop. Hot steam comes in from the pipe in the ground, which hits a fan inside the housing. This drives the axle of the fan, which in turn is hooked up to the belt. This belt drives a vast collection of belts and pulleys in the attic area. These belts and pulleys drive the various equipment around the machine shop (see the few photos).
This photo shows an overall shot of about 75% of the machine shop. Down the middle you can see a belt dropping from the ceiling. The belt can be pushed from one pulley to another so that equipment can be turned off.
Here is a close-up shot of the pulley system of one machine. The tool is currently "on". The belt on the left goes down to the machine in front of me. Next to this belt (and slightly behind it) is a wooden board. This board reaches down to a normal person's gripping height. It acts as a lever to move the belt to its right from one pulley to the next. The board has a metal bar attached to it that pushes the belt from one pulley to the next. The pulley system in the ceiling is always running, but when the belt is moved to the right-most pulley shown in this photo, the axle, to which the machine's belt is attached, is free flowing.
This is a photo of a bolt cutter. You can see a rod stuck in the machine on the right. The machine is driven by two belts. One moves the cutter in the machine and slowly moves the rod into the machine, while the other belt drives the pump that lubricates the rod while it is being cut. It is a slow process but it allowed the machinist to make whatever size bolt they needed to maintain the equipment. One of the operators actually turned the machine on and he created a bolt. Very neat!
Just outside and behind the machine shop was a rare 1919 McGiffert log loader. The third steam locomotive on the property is to the right of the loader, but it is in such sad shape that I didn't bother to take a photo of it. Most of it was covered by trees and bushes.
This is a view of the Log Storage, Saw Mill, Boiler House, and Fuel House as seen from the Machine Shop. The log storage area used be a water pond. In the 1950s (I believe) it was filled in with dirt. This was about the time when logs started being transported by truck rather than train. The mud made it too difficult to move trucks around, so they subsequently filled it with concrete as it is today.
Standing in the log storage area and looking up to the Saw Mill building. The loading ramp was used to move logs from the water, initially, and then from the table on the right, up to the building. A chain with hooks ran continuously and pulled the logs up.
A look back to the Roundhouse and Machine Shop from the Log Storage area.
We are now in the Saw Mill, looking down the ramp, viewing the loading table, the Log Storage, the Machine Shop, and the Roundhouse.
The rest of the photos are going to be from inside the saw mill itself. This first photo shows a log and a hook attached to the ramp chain. The ramp itself was made out of left-over track rail and steam engine piping. The stairs we walked up on were made out of the same materials.
The logs were cut by this blade. The tour guide is standing on the inside part of the loading ramp. An operator would sit to the right of the blade and make decisions about how long to cut each log. The individuals who made decisions about cuts were the highest paid individuals in the mill. This operator was the 4th-highest paid individual.
This picture shows a set of chains hanging down from the ceiling above the loading ramp. These were located at preset distances from the blade. The operator could make decisions about how long to cut the logs based on which chain they hit. To the right of the chains is the roll-off ramp for the logs.
Right where the tour guide is standing is where the logs would land. They rested on a trolley that moved back and forth across the cutting blade that cut the logs into boards.
Here you see the bumper used to stop the trolley whenever it came back for more logs. The trolley was pulled by a steel rope that was powered by a steam engine.
This was the station where the boards were cut to a certain depth. The operator just to the left of this photo made the decision as to how thick to make the cuts. On the right hand side of the photo you can see a seat. This is where the individual who actually made the cut sat. In front of him is a dial that allows him to move the blade. The operator making the decisions (and not make the actual cuts) was the second-highest paid individual in the mill. The operator making the actual cut (but not making the decision) was the 5th-highest paid individual in the mill.
After all this pay-scale talk, you might be wondering who the highest paid individual was, right? Well, he sat on the balcony area above. No, he was not a supervisor. He was the man keeping the blades sharp. It took many years of experience to become good at this job. It is important because if a blade is not sharp or not cut at the right angle, it can damage the wood or not cut efficient boards out of the logs. Back in 1930 (a year after the Great Depression of 1929), this individual made an unheard-of $15.00 per week!
The significance of this photo is the opening in the building across the back. From vertical load-bearing stud to stud it is 50 feet. A big single board spans this distance. A single board of more than 50 feet long is unheard of today. This is where the boards would be dumped out of the building when the mill was first built. The mill had a board-length limit, therefore, of 50 feet.
As deforestation happened, board lengths shortened. This addition was built in 1956. It could "only" handle boards up to 20 feet. At the bottom of the ramp an operator made the final decision about the length of individual boards. He was the third-highest paid individual of the mill. He would very quickly size up the boards and, through his control panel, would pop up saw blades that ran under the table to cut boards to the longest length possible. He made decisions such as, for example, a 2.5-foot board that had knots in only the last 6 inches could be trimmed to two feet. This board, even though it was shorter, would generate more money for the mill because the two-foot board was a higher grade board than the 2.5-foot board with knots in it.
Once outside the saw mill, looking back you can see the Green Chain building. This is where green wood was allowed to dry. From this last photo (I ran out of digital "film"), the wood would be transported to the Dry Kiln and eventually stored in the Lumber Storage building. From there the wood be placed on train cars for transportation in the early years, or moved onto trucks in the later years. We very much enjoyed the trip. It was a long day (left the house at 4:00am and arrived home, after dinner, at 9:00pm), but it was worth it.