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Steam Donkey Engines

Logging Lessons

Tags: logging
Series: Logging Lessons

Last week, we learned about using horses to transport logs. This week, we’ll learn about one type of mechanical skidder, steam donkey engines!

Mechanical skidders are a type of heavy vehicle used for transporting materials through the process of skidding. In logging, they were used to ”drag material from the woods to a landing or roadside.”1

Standard Logging Engines [1]
Standard Logging Engines [1]
Logging Equipment
Logging Equipment

In early logging history, skidders were manually pulled by horses, mules, or oxen (as we discussed last week). However, steam-powered mechanical skidders were developed and became increasingly popular for their independence from livestock, particularly in the 1910s-1920s. The most popular in the logging world were steam donkey engines, which was invented in California but played a crucial role in logging in the Pacific Northwest.2

Steam donkey engines were used to transport logs from the forest to the railroad tracks (where they would then be loaded onto train cars and transported to the mill to be made into lumber) at the same time that horses were used. They both performed the same function - ”skidding” logs across the ground. “Each donkey cost about $7500 and were mostly Willamette Iron & Steel Works models. With the proper tail hold and deflection, logs could be skidded up to one mile. In 1908, an informal company announcement was that all logging would be done with donkeys and horse skidding would be stopped. Horses did prevail and continued their tireless task until replaced by the crawler tractor in the 1930′s. The donkey was able to skid all log diameters and lengths. It was also self-propelled and could traverse and operate on and over most ground conditions.”3

Donkey Engine
Donkey Engine


Photos courtesy of the Potlatch Historical Society Collection

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