Gearing Up-The Esoterica of the Beachcombers’ Trade

Good gear goes a long way to facilitate making a living as a log salvor, as it does most endeavors. What I have retained of mine, in commemorization as it were, you see artfully arranged above, near the front door to my house.

At the upper left is the spare ten-inch-diameter impeller from the Hamilton 1031 jet that drove the Stranger, spinning as it did at twenty-six hundred to thirty-two hundred revolutions per minute,  through a straight-drive transmission from a Chevy 454 cubic inch gas engine rated at something like 330 horse power.  It could push her at above thirty knots. More importantly it developed enough torque that I could ‘dead-pull’ a boomstick sixty-feet long with a 24” top off most beaches. By ‘dead pull’ I mean I didn’t have to take a run at it, as did the jets in use by other log salvors that used two or three much smaller impellers mounted sequentially in line.

The critical advantage a jet boat has is its ability to operate in very shallow water and to run over floating objects such as logs .  It can do this because what propels it is a jet of water pushed out the back of the boat by a large pump mounted entirely inside the boat . Water comes into the pump through a grate in the bottom of the boat that allows a lot of water in while deflecting most debris large enough to plug the pump back and away into the boat’s wake.  If you picture a jetboat out of the water,  you would see nothing below the line of the the keel; no skeg, no outboard ‘leg’, no shaft, no propeller, no tiller, nothing that can break off if you run up on a beach or over a log or a deadhead or a rock for that matter.  You might end up high and dry on a rock, but if the tide rises to float you off or you get pulled off you should be able to get under way again as if you’d never been grounded. The steering and reversing mechanism of the jet is in the water at the back of the boat, but all above the level of the keel and protected by a welded-on, minimal cage made of aluminum pipe.   The impeller (which impels the water through the pump) is just a much larger, tougher, corrosion-proof version of the one inside the pump in a backyard goldfish pond. You’ll see the original schematic of the Stranger, with the layout of the engine and the jet, and a drawing of the jet itself, when I get around to composing a page about the  boats I’ve owned and operated over the years.

The impeller in the picture at the top of this page is partly resting on my old stamp-hammer, bearing log salvage license number, 2224. It was used to imprint those numbers on every log I salvaged.It’s handle lies across the 22” diameter propeller that was driven by another ‘454’ through a v-drive with a two-and-a-half-to-one ‘reduction’ that propelled the Stray.

The transmission in your car or truck offers you a choice of ‘reductions.’ In low gear the engine turns over several times in order to turn your wheels once, providing lots of power to keep them turning in,  deep mud or snow or up a steep hill.  When you are on the highway and don’t need a lot of power to keep rolling along, high gear allows each turn of the engine to turn the wheels more often.  The difference between the ‘low-geared’ Stray and the ‘high-geared’ Stranger made the former the better tow boat and the latter faster.  In practice the two boats towed  twenty-to-thirty logs equally well, but beyond that the Stray became progressively more effective.

The head of the stamp-hammer rests atop a ‘dog-line’. I had several hundred of these at any one time.  From the end of this one, directly below the impeller hangs a rafting dog (or just plain ‘dog’).  It is designed to be driven into a log deep enough for  the wood  to swell back over the shoulder, with just the ring protruding. You can see that the ring on the dog is linked with a ‘cold-shut’ to the end of the half-inch thick poly ‘line’ you see coiled, wrapped and nesting in the top of that piece of driftwood.  It’s purpose is to take the friction that would quickly wear through any rope connected directly to a dog securing a rolling, twisting, rising and falling log. The end of the line that you can’t see has an eye about six inches long spliced into it. Some salvors liked dog lines four meters long, some preferred six.  The longer the lines the wider the tier of logs you could pull, the narrower the tier….the faster it would tow.

'Harrier' towing logs on 'dog-lines' at Greeen Bay on Nelson Island



Over eighteen years of log salvaging, swinging an axe with a four-pound head at the end of a 24”-long handle with one arm, I drove dogs into many thousands of logs in calm weather and rough. Those axes were of a little softer steel than most to reduce the chance of the extra-thick back on them splitting due to delivering repeated blows on the steel dogs. Being adapted to our use, however, didn’t prevent a good many, wet with rain or salt water or wielded by tired hands, from flying overboard over the years. I’d keep four on board, in brackets welded beneath the port and starboard gunnels.

A lot of us, myself included, swinging the axe like a golf club, would use it to hook the dogs back out of the logs once they were scaled, bundled and/or boomed. The dogs, the better ones, could take the blow to the side of the eye and flex rather than bend or break. Well- struck they would almost spring from the wood. I’d grind the edge off the blade to reduce the damage to the dogs and shape a little bit of protrusion into the outer tip of it so that it would hook their eyes a little. You could still drive an axe-head like that into the side of a log to bring it close enough to set the tip of the dog into it ready to be driven.

The axe in the picture is a pale, light-headed, domestic imitation of the real thing, which is all I need these days around my place.

The fifteen-foot-long yarding chain below it is of specially forged steel that allowed it to be light and yet immensely strong. It had, on occasion, to be carried a hundred-and-fifty feet from chest-deep water to where a log might lie on a beach or behind fair-sized boulders. It had to be long enough to pass a couple of times around a log needing to be spun free of a jammed location. One end of it was attached with a shackle to three-hundred feed of inch-and-a-quarter poly line. The other was coupled to a short, thick hook built to be immune to straightening between a boat driven at perhaps fifteen knots by 300 horsepower and a log inclined to remain right where it was.

Running across and down on top of that you see the business end of a pike-pole.

To put one or two section log tows together I’d use standard boom-chains, their links of three-quarter-inch steel when new, thinned over time by rust and wear. They were about seven feet long, weighing on the order of thirty-five kg., with a ring on one end and a thick toggle swiveling at the end of the other. I’d stand on the tail-end of a boomstick just back of the four-inch-diameter hole bored through it, hold the ring high with my left hand, swivel the toggle to poke it into the hole, and let it go. Its weight would draw the full length of the chain through the hole. You’d reach under the boomstick with a six-foot long pike-pole, hook low down on the chain hanging in the water, pull it up and attach to it a toggle hook on the end of a line run through the hole on the boomstick you wanted to connect to. The toggle hook would hold the toggle in line with the run of the chain. You’d drop the toggle-end, thus secured, into the water and pull it up and through the hole, take off the toggle-hook and then turn the toggle and settle it back down over the hole, running across the grain. And on and on until you’d put together a string of boom sticks of the required length.

One section log boom with boomstick on top, 'stiff-leg' and old 'sticks' in foreground. Properly put together in a boom the toggles (opposite the rings) would be turned across the grain of the log and a cedar plug driven into the holes beside them


Disconnecting boomsticks was far simpler. Lift, turn and drop a toggle through its hole then jump to the adjoining ‘stick’ from which the chain now hangs with its toggle-end submerged. Grab the ring with one hand and pull up enough chain to leave about a foot of it still in the water below the boomstick, toggle hanging crosswise. Use your other hand to reach down into the water with the pike-pole, feel for the toggle, turn the spur underneath one end of it and jerk up hard (but not too hard) while quickly (but not too quickly) pulling up the last of the chain. That, done right, will line the toggle up just as the last link enters the bottom of the hole, allowing it to pass through cleanly. Nifty, eh?

I’d keep one short pike-pole standing in a short, slotted piece of pipe welded in a convenient spot and a ten-footer laying secured along the roof of the Stray and the gunnel of the Stranger. They’d be used to pull logs in close enough to drive a dog into them, for sorting and for hand-stowing logs or bundles into booms.

Occasionally in the aftermath of a log spill I would invent some special piece of gear that would have allowed me to have more effectively dealt with it. I seldom used any of it. Spills were always different, their progression impossible to anticipate. The need to get to them speedily precluded carrying anything on the boat that could not be adapted to use at the point of need. And that was pretty well what I’ve described, leaving out the boats themselves, which more than warrant their own page.







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