Monthly Archives: January 2015

Then and Now

Then and Now: The Forest at Tryon Creek

By Bruce Rottink, Volunteer Nature Guide and Retired Research Forester


Prior to the creation of Tryon Creek State Natural Area (SNA) around 1970, no group had as much impact on the forest as the loggers. The forest we see today at Tryon Creek State Natural Area (SNA) is much different from what the first loggers found, which they referred to as the “old growth” forest.

What was Tryon Creek like back then?

In contrast to today’s tranquil forest, in the era of the loggers, Tryon Creek was bustling with industrial activity. Starting in 1874 the forest was logged to produce charcoal to fuel the nearby iron furnace, parts of which are still visible in George Rogers Park. According to historical accounts, the loggers focused on cutting the 6-foot diameter Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziiesii) because Douglas-fir made the best charcoal. One of the most important modes of transportation in the park at that time was the charcoal wagons pictured below.


“Charcoal Wagons” hauling fuel to the iron furnace in Oswego  –photo courtesy of Lake Oswego Public Library

After the iron furnace closed for good about 1894, logging activity subsided. The second big logging push was from 1912 to 1915 when the Boones Ferry Wood and Tie Company logged in the park. Since much of the Douglas-fir had been taken for charcoal, the focus shifted to the western redcedar (Thuja plicata) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). The cedar was used for railroad ties, and the hemlocks were cut for poles.

Some lesser levels of logging around Tryon Creek continued until about 1961.

Are there any remnants of the logging era?

The most obvious remnants of logging are the large stumps scattered throughout the forest. One example is this stump on the Big Fir Trail. From ground level to the top where it was cut off it measures 10’ 4” high. The blackened notch (more about that later) you see in the side of the stump in the center of the picture is 7’ 6” above the ground. A stump just downstream from Obie’s bridge beats it with a height of 11’ 11” from ground to top, but it’s not as photogenic!

Old stump on Big Fir trail

Old stump on Big Fir trail


Why are many of the stumps so tall? One answer is “resin.”

There are several answers to the question as to why the stumps are so tall. The loggers discovered that oftentimes, the butt of the tree was a place that contained abnormally high quantities of resin. And the resin is sticky! As the loggers cut the tree, the resin would build up on the saw blade, and make it really hard to pull the saw through the wood. For small amounts of resin, the loggers had a solution – kerosene. Kerosene is a liquid somewhat similar to gasoline. To the loggers, its virtue was that it dissolved the resin on the saw blade, and made the sawyer’s job a lot easier. Referred to as “saw oil”, each sawyer kept some nearby in a saw oil bottle, an example of which is seen below.


Saw Oil Bottle stuck in the side of a Douglas-fir

Every saw oil bottle I’ve ever seen looks homemade. No two are alike. The glass part of the bottle pictured here was manufactured in England in the early 1900s. It was used by a logger in the Tillamook area in the 1930s. There is a notch in the side of the cork, so a sawyer could sprinkle the kerosene on the saw blade. An old logger told me that a good sawyer could saw and sprinkle at the same time. Wow!

Sometimes steep hills called for tall stumps!

Yet another reason some stumps are so tall is because they are growing on a slope, like the stump on the Big Fir Trail in the photo below. I’ve added a red line at the ground level on both the uphill and downhill sides of the stump. The yellow pole to the left is my measuring stick, and the white object on the right is my clipboard which is sitting on the ground. The cutting technology of the day, a two-man crosscut saw, required someone to be on each side of the tree. On the downhill side, this stump is 10’ 7” tall, and the uphill side is 6’ 6” tall.


Old growth stump on a slope

Old growth stump on a slope

What is “butt swell,” and how did it lead to tall stumps?

Yet another reason some of the stumps are so tall is because of what is in delicately referred to as “butt swell.” Butt swell is the tendency of trees, especially larger ones, to be bigger around near the ground-line than they were further up the trunk. This is dramatically illustrated by the old western redcedar stump on the West Horse Loop Trail pictured below. At the height the loggers made the cut, the current diameter is 5’ 2”, although some of the wood has doubtless weathered away since it was cut. The vertical red lines mark the width of the tree at the level where the loggers actually cut it off.


Butt swell on old western redcedar stump

If the loggers had cut the tree off at the level of the horizontal blue line, closer to the ground, the cross-sectional area of the stump would have been 2.9 times greater than the cross-sectional area of the cut they actually made. This means the loggers would have had to do almost 3 times as much work to make the lower cut. (Homework: Print this picture, measure and calculate yourself. Remember: Area = 3.1416 x radius2.) Also, given the technology used in sawing lumber, all the wood outside of the red lines would have been wasted anyway. The obvious way to handle this need to cut the trees high above the ground was to hire really, really tall loggers!


Really Tall Loggers? C’mon, get real!

Okay, so the really tall logger thing didn’t work out; instead they simultaneously invented two things – the springboard and the springboard notch. The springboard was primarily just a wood plank, and the springboard notch was how you fastened the springboard in place. Putting the springboard in the notch created a small sturdy platform you could stand on whilst cutting the tree.

First, the springboard. It had a steel plate on one end with a sharp upward pointing cleat that could bite into the tree to hold the board in place. The underside of the “toe” of the board was tapered to ease the insertion of the springboard. Pictured below is a vintage springboard that has been restored with a new plank made of old growth Douglas-fir.



Details of the springboard’s “toe”

Details of the springboard’s “toe”










Springboards in Action

Here you’ll find what I like to call a “double-decker” springboard. This image is provided by the Oregon Historical Society, Photo # 6017.


Double-decker springboard

Below, is a side view of a springboard notch. The essential features of the notch are a horizontal bottom to support the springboard, and a steeply angled top to allow for insertion of the springboard. The loss of the bark and weathering of the outer part of the tree makes the notch look shallower than it originally was.


Side view of springboard notch on Middle Creek Trail

Side view of springboard notch on Middle Creek Trail

Today’s much smaller trees have less butt swell and resin. The advent of the chainsaw made the actual sawing LOTS easier, while ensuring that you only needed a sawyer on one side of the tree. All of these factors led to the demise of the springboard.


Man-made logging relics too!

During logging’s hay-day at Tryon Creek, a saw mill was established in the Tryon Creek canyon in the vicinity of present day Beaver Bridge. To bring the logs to the mill, a steam donkey was located near the creek. A steam donkey, like the example in the photo below, was a vertically oriented steam engine that powered spools of cable to drag the logs out of the woods. The steam donkey below was mounted on the two large logs which functioned as skids so the donkey’s cables could be fastened to trees, and the donkey could pull itself through the woods. When it was pulling in logs, the donkey would be cabled to large trees to stabilize it.


Steam donkey used in old-time logging operations –photo courtesy of Camp 18 Restaurant, Elsie, OR

As you might imagine, when pulling multi-ton logs through a forest, across stumps, and through brush, every now and then a cable would snap. A remnant of the cable used during Tryon Creek’s logging days can be seen as you stand on Obie’s Bridge and look upstream. On the right side of the creek you can see (depending on the water level and amount of debris) part of a steel cable that was used to pull logs out of the woods.


Cable from the old logging days.

Cable from the old logging days.


Tryon Creek’s Forest – Take 2!

Thankfully, the forest ecosystem is resilient, and following the loggers, the vibrant young forest that we see today regrew at Tryon Creek SNA.








Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! From Tryon Creek’s First Flower of 2015

By Bruce Rottink, Volunteer Nature Guide and Retired Research Forester


On December 31, 2014, I saw Tryon Creek State Natural Area’s last flower of 2014, and it will undoubtedly be the first flower of 2015. Care to guess what it is? If you guessed Pacific trillium (Trillium ovatum), too bad! When it comes to early season flowering, trillium is a slacker compared to our champ! Actually the prize goes to a non-native species, European hazel (Corylus avellana). Widely grown in this area of Oregon for the hazelnuts (aka “filberts”) that you find in the grocery store, it’s no surprise that it sneaked into our forest.

The European hazel has separate male and female flowers. The hazel is a plant that relies on the wind to carry the pollen from the male to the female flower. Scientists call this type of plant “anemophilous”, a name derived from Greek meaning “wind loving.” Pictured directly below are the male catkins. The one of the left is immature and therefore completely closed, while the one of the right is starting to mature and open. As of this date, almost all of the catkins are unopened. When a catkin is completely “ripe” it will release pollen into the air. The male catkins have been visible all fall, and are approximately 1 to 1-1/2 inches long.


Immature catkins of European Hazel


“starting to mature” catkins of European Hazel






(photos taken at Tryon Creek SNA on 12/31/2014)


Pictured below are the female flowers of the European hazel. I was only able to find 2 of these on the bush I examined. They are extremely tiny flowers, typically about 1/8 of an inch long. Were they not bright red, they would be very difficult to see. Below are the face-on and side view photos of a female hazel flower.


Side view of European hazel female flower


Face-on view of European hazel female flower

(Photos taken on December 31, 2014 at Tryon Creek SNA.)

And in case you think this is pretty inhospitable weather for most flowers, you’re right. The same day I found the flowers, I also found these ice crystals growing out of the ground on the trail at Tryon Creek SNA. They are about 1 to 1-1/4 inches tall.


Ice crystals growing out of the ground at Tryon Creek, December 31, 2014

I checked out one of our native beaked hazels (Corylus cornuta var. californica), and found that all of the male catkins were still tightly closed, and I couldn’t find any female flowers that had made their appearance yet.


Keep a sharp eye out for the next species that flowers at Tryon Creek SNA. (Hint: It’s still not going to be the trilliums!) Enjoy our forest, and all the surprises it has to offer.


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