The Eau Claire-based Phoenix company built the Phoenix Log Hauler to help the lumber industry bring logs out of the northern woods. However, only about 175 of the machines were ever built.
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Hauling Logs before the Phoenix
In the 19th century, loggers used the Wisconsin winter to their advantage. Snow and ice could be packed into trails making it possible to haul logs out by oxen- or horse-pulled sleighs. The earliest loggers used oxen more than horses because oxen were strong and dependable. But, horses were more agile and oxen were dependably slow. Some logs were so large that they needed more than one yoke of oxen to pull the load. Cut logs were hauled to the river banks to await the spring thaw. Loggers used the spring thaw and rushing rivers to move the logs downstream. Late in the century loggers used railroads to haul logs out of the woods.
Steam Log Haulers
A man in Maine using the idea of the “Shay” or a geared steam engine, to design and build a steam log hauler. About 1900, Alvin Lombard built a log hauler that operated on tracks like a caterpillar tractor does today. These were huge, heavy and strong. They were difficult to steer and early ones needed a team of horses to “lead” them or steer the huge machines.
Phoenix Log Hauler
In the 1880s, Eau Claire, Wisconsin boasted it was the largest saw milling center of the world. Though lumbering peaked in 1885, the city continued to mill lumber into the 20th century. It was only natural that the Phoenix Company, a manufacturer of logging equipment, move into the log hauler business. The company secured a patent from the Lombard Company and around 1900, built the Phoenix Log Hauler for use in the Upper Midwest woods
Horse teams of two or four horses could move one sled of logs at a time. The log haulers could move up to 25 sleds at once. That was about the same as a logging locomotive.
Short Life of a Log Hauler in the Wisconsin Woods
Only about 175 Phoenix Log Haulers were built. Patent rights were not easily controlled and competition soon sprung up. More important than competition, however, was that the new log hauler did not have very many trees left to haul out by the 1920s. The vast northern white pine forest had all but disappeared. Timing is everything in business.
The Remaining Few
There are a few of these machines still around. One is in Wabeno, Wisconisn and it has been made operational. There is also one in a Rhinelander, Wisconsin logging museum. A few years back one operational one was reported in Iowa at a steam power museum. The Paul Bunyan Logging Camp museum has a scale model of one on display.