Clyde Askew, teamster for the lumberjacks

Among the photos I got from my grandmother earlier this month were two images of Clyde Askew and his uncle Samuel Askew at work in the lumber industry. Both images were taken in the winter of 1921, and both images were taken in Cass Lake, Minnesota, a thriving logging town in northern central Minnesota. A century ago, logging in Minnesota—especially in the wintertime—was an undertaking that was strikingly different from logging in more temperate climes.

For one, the snow, ice, and freezing temperatures of winter weren’t seen as an impediment, but rather as extremely helpful. Sleds on ice roads could haul huge loads of timber. Heavy sleds were used, and 8- to 12-foot cross-wood bunks were mounted atop the sleds. Logs could then be piled high on the sleds—usually as high as 8 to 12 feet. These loads could easily weigh in at tens of tons, but on ice roads that were engineered to be level or slightly downhill, teams of horses could handle these impressive loads. These timber sleds were loaded by, and hauled by, teams of large horses, and that’s where Clyde came in.

As a teamster, Clyde was in charge of a team of horses. According to the inscription on the back of the photo, Clyde is the one “on the side of the second team.” The other man in the photo is identified as Samuel Clarence Askew, Clyde’s uncle. Of course, this would be a lot more helpful if I knew which team was the first team and which team was the second team….

That’s where the second photo comes in handy. Presumably each teamster had a close working relationship with his particular team of horses, and wouldn’t just work with whichever team he happened to be near. In fact, I would expect that most rural teamsters owned their own team of horses and had a special relationship with them.

In the next photo, Clyde is identified as the person sitting on the logs and driving the team of horses. Note the horse blankets (looking more like aprons or bibs, as the rear portions have been folded forward while they work) worn by the team he is driving, each emblazoned with a large letter ‘A’. Perhaps the “A” signified “Askew”? Clyde isn’t the only Askew in the photo, however—Samuel Askew is noted to be the man second from the left, and Wilfred Lawson Askew (referred to as “Uncle Wolford” in the inscription) is said to be the man standing on the load of logs. But Clyde Askew is the one driving the aproned team in the second photo, and so I will provisionally conclude that he is the man driving the blanketed team in the first photo.

The sled in this second photo is stopped beside a horse-operated “jammer”—sort of a crane for pulling the logs up onto the top of the load. A great first-hand account of logging in northern central Minnesota at the beginning of the 20th century can be found here, with an abundance of historical photos to illustrate the story.

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