Log driving

Even before the groundwood mill was constructed, logs were floated down the Verla rapids to the saw mills along the Kymi River. As the forest industry grew, pulpwood joined the saw logs floating through the rapids and the quantity of wood being driven increased dramatically. 

Verla’s log-driving exhibition

The log-driving exhibition at the Verla Mill Museum explores log driving on the Mäntyharju waterway as it pertains to Verla. Starting at the beginning of the 20th century, the Kymi Log Driving Association was responsible for log driving. A small local heritage group gathered in Verla in the spring of 2011 to reminisce about driving logs at Verla. Their recollections are bolstered by interview material collected by Mari Wiiskanta in the mid-1990s. Tarja Antikainen, then the director of the Verla Mill Museum, used these materials to create the exhibit in the Verla frame saw building in 2011. 

Log Driving to Verla and onward to the Kymi River mills

The location and direction of Finland’s waterways, which flow from north to south and from east to west, are ideal for log driving. It the spring, the melting snow provided enough water to drive the logs down smaller streams, and log driving on lakes and rivers could continue until the next snowfall. At the peak of log driving in the 1930s and 1940s, over 70% of the wood needed by industry was floated to the mills.

As early as the 1730s, wood was floated through the Verlakoski rapids to a sawmill in the village of Viiala in Sippola. Rapids were cleared at the Suolajärvi lake outlet in 1831–1834 and at the Vuohijärvi lake outlet in 1863 to improve log driving and increase arable land.

According to lore, two farmers from Kangasniemi and Leivonmäki were responsible for log driving in the early years of the mill. Starting in 1885, the mill organised the transport of wood itself, under the management of a chief forester. In 1888, 41,500 logs were driven to Verla; by 1894 the number had reached 92,000. By 1926, the mill had purchased 41 plots of forest land, mostly in the areas of Mäntyharju and Valkeala, to ensure the supply of raw material.

In 1892, the Mäntyharju Timber Rafting Corporation starting to handle log driving. It was established as a subsidiary of the Kymi Timber Rafting Corporation (after 1915, the Kymi Timber Rafting Association) to handle log driving down the Kymi River from Puulavesi Lake to the city of Kotka. The association’s area of operations included all the most important log-driving channels of the Kymi River waterway, and its membership consisted of all the log drivers using this waterway.

Stream driving was used to direct the logs to the log-driving channels. Stream driving was log driving on narrow waterways, where the logs needed to be guided from the shore. Along these waterways, water was sufficient for log driving generally only during spring flooding, and even then, the waters often needed to be dammed to produce enough flow. The company that owned the wood was responsible for felling the trees, peeling them and transporting them to the log-driving channel. Often, the same men who felled and peeled the trees in the winter would also drive the logs on the streams. Log driving on the main channels was generally the responsibility of the Log Driving Association.

From the head of the Siikakoski rapids to Pyhäjärvi Lake

The Mäntyharju channel followed the waters of Puulavesi Lake, from its outlet at the Suonsalmi strait to Pyhäjärvi Lake. The segment from the Siikakoski rapids past Verla and Lintukymi to Pyhäjärvi was known as District V of the channel. The channel was difficult to drive logs through, as there were several rapids and narrow straits along the route. Workers learned the channel by working for a year or two along a particular section.

During the autumn storms on Vuohijärvi Lake, the areas between the Voikoski rapids and the Siikakoski rapids were the most difficult part of the route. The logs would end up stuck in shallow bays. Calm weather was ideal for log driving, but there was often an easterly wind between the Voikoski rapids and Verla. The winds weren’t as bad on Suolajärvi Lake, however, and the booms there succeeded in restraining the logs. After the Siikakoski rapids, the Oravasalmi strait was a narrow and difficult spot, and in the middle of Suolajärvi Lake was a lone islet. The Viinakoukku cape, upstream of the narrow spot called Säynätnuora, was a spot where log rafts would get stuck. The Matalaniemi peninsula on the Jaala side was very rocky and challenging.

A tugboat pulled the rafts across Vuohijärvi Lake to the Siikakoski rapids, where there was a timber slide. The logs descended the rapids along the slide and were gathered into rafts again. The rafts were towed across Suolajärvi Lake to Säynätnuora, a narrow spot where the rafts again needed to be broken apart for the logs to pass through one by one. The Log Driving Association had a cabin at Säynätnuora and a man permanently stationed there to direct the logs through the narrow passage. A log jam at Säynätnuora could create significant disruption for other boat traffic.

The Mäntyharju channel’s District V consisted of the Siikakoski – Verla – Puolakankoski – Lintukymi – Pyhäjärvi route. The region’s headquarters were at Rauhalahti in Mustalahti Bay, between Verla and the Puolakankoski rapids, but there were also smaller stations in Verla and at the Siikakoski rapids. The regional chief’s office was in Rauhalahti, along with lodging for workers. Tools were repaired and boats were constructed in the workshops there. The site covered a total area of about three hectares. At Verla, there was a log-driving hut, a boat shed, a storage building and an oil storage building.

After the Puolakankoski rapids, the logs continued one by one to Lintukymi. On Pyhäjärvi Lake, the logs that had been transported via Verla joined the Kymi log-driving channel. In the 1930s, log sorting was still taking place in Lintukymi at the spot where the so-called Lammi ferry once operated. There, the logs that were headed for the Voikkaa and Kuusankoski mills were sorted into separate rafts.

Log-driving structures above and below the Verla rapids

In the 19th century and still in 1911, the log driving channel through the Verla rapids was the free central channel of the rapids. Individual logs were guided through booms over a stretch of slow-moving water to the Verla rapids, the main channel of which had been built specifically for timber rafts. The mill’s chute was on the Jaala side of the rapids, and on the Valkeala side was a crib dam built of rock and logs, which directed water and logs downstream. Later, a log flume was built on the site of the crib dam. By the beginning of the 20th century, a boom for directing logs consisting of floating logs attached to stone-filled timber cribs had been built above the rapids. The main channel could also be closed with a “timber lock controlled by differential pulley”.

From the mouth of the timber flume at the Verlakoski rapids, a 3–4-plank-wide floating gangplank ran along the shore. It reached as far as the outcrop where the rock paintings are, which was where the upper man worked. He used a boom to control the amount of wood that entered the flume. Similarly, the flume man at the mouth of the flume also controlled the flow of the wood.

Both the Valkeala and Jaala shores were boomed. Mustalahti Bay was generally boomed so that there would be no wood at the bottom of the bay. Booms kept the wood in the desired channel and the shores clear when there was enough current to carry the logs forward through the channel. Winch boats were rowed over the boom to pick up speed and help the flow of logs with pike poles. The booms remained stationary when they were fixed to bollards or timber cribs. There were multiple cribs in the waterways both above and below the rapids.

Log driving in Verla

After the wars, log-driving work was available to anyone who wanted it. Positions were available both with the log-driving associations and stream driving for the forestry companies. Kymi Log Driving Association workers were responsible for both the wood destined for Verla as well as the wood that floated past the mill. Many local men and young people were employed by the Log Driving Association. In the 1950s, about 20 men worked in the Verla area during the summer. The log drivers worked days, and in the 1940s a work day was 10 hours long. The men at Verla were responsible for the stretch between the Siikakoski rapids and Lintukymi (Pyhäjärvi). Another team of men were responsible for the stretch beginning at Pyhäjärvi Lake.

Timber rafts that stopped in Verla were directed first to Koululahti Bay, where smaller quantities of wood were floated to the horse mill that lifted the wood from the water. An independent team of men lifted the wood intended for Verla from the water, first by themselves and then, from the beginning of the 20th century, with the help of a horse mill. The so-called “hangmen” gathered a suitably sized bundle of groundwood and pulled it along skids to a cart. A horse boy drove the loads of wood from the lift to the warehouse area, and stackers transferred the logs to piles.

The amount of wood that passed through the rapids downstream was controlled by a boom. On a gangway beside the log-driving hut, a man stood in wait to direct the wood, and on the Jaala side another man with a winch opened and closed the boom depending on how much wood was descending the flume. At the mouth of the flume, the hatch man directed wood into the flume. Sometimes, when there was a lot of wood, there could be up to four men on the gangway. The upper man was given the signal to close the boom. At the end of the 1950s, Pertti Malin and Sulo Tanner were responsible for directing the wood over the rapids into the flume.

When the logs were floated individually, some wood sank and other logs escaped from the raft under the boom. The rear crew gathered stray wood from the shores of the channel. Sunken wood was collected by salvagers who were contracted by the log-driving company. There was plenty of waterlogged wood on the bed of the channel, especially in places where the rafts stood for longer times. In the winter, the wood was lifted through holes in the ice using long pike poles. In the summer, it was retrieved by hand from boats. It’s said that several of the houses in Verla were built of wood salvaged from the bottom of the channel. A certain man named Hokkanen supported himself by recovering sunken wood and selling it back to the company.

Vessels that operated in Verla

On the stretch between Verla and the Siikakoski rapids, the motor towboat Karittasalmi and a small steam-powered towboat named Suolajärvi operated. Suolajärvi retrieved rafts from both the Siikakoski rapids and the Jaala side of the channel, from Nuumasalmi and Oravasalmi to Säynätnuora. The boats were also used to transport the booms to the places they were needed, such as the sites where the wood was dropped into the water.

M/S Karittasalmi was built in Raahe in 1925. It had a 20-horsepower Wikström diesel engine, which was installed in 1948. It was 8 metres long and 2 metres wide at its broadest point. The vessel travelled the waterways above Verla and was captained in the 1950s by Tapani Ahvenisto. It was the only vessel that could pass through the log jam to the Siikakoski rapids if the channel was full of wood. In 1964, Karittasalmi was still being used as a back-up vessel in District V.

S/S Suolajärvi was built in Kotka in 1910. The boat was 13 metres long and 3 metres wide at its broadest point. In the 1950s, the vessel had a five-man crew: a captain, a stoker, a machine operator and two deckhands.

Both vessels were wintered in Verla on the Log Driving Association’s shore. Suolajärvi was winched onto land to winter under a shelter next to the log-driving hut. The vessels were serviced during the winter, and specialised work was handled by men brought in from the Log Driving Association’s Väinölä machine shop in Jyväskylä. Boats were serviced in Rauhalahti.

From 1919 to 1948, a steam-powered towing barge named Kamponen operated on the waters beneath Verla. From the end of the 1950s to 1964, a motor towboat named Leppä operated on Kamponen Lake. It was a type of boat that in Verla was called a “galosh”. The last vessel that brought wood from the Siikakoski rapids to the top of Verla was the motor towboat Oksa. It was built in the Väinölä machine shop. Oksa operated in Verla until the end of bundle-rafting.

In addition to ships, smaller boats were also used in log driving until the end of the 1960s. At first, winch boats operated by hand were used to move logs, but by the 1950s motorised boats were common. It was an important improvement, as winching was some of the hardest work in log driving.

The bundle-rafting period

The Kymi Group introduced bundle-rafting on the Mäntyharju channel in 1964. The channel’s rapids were dredged for bundle-rafting and where there had once been log flumes appeared bundle cranes or tracks, like in Verla. A chute for bundle-rafting was constructed at the Puolakankoski rapids.

Verla’s equipment was designed by engineers M. Makkonen and Leo Tihtonen and was constructed by the engineering department of the Finnish forestry authority. The bundle cart and its mechanism were designed and constructed by the Kone company.
The Parikankoski rapids had already been dredged in the mid-1950s for energy production, but bundle-rafting required the channel to be further deepened.

Verla’s bundle track was taken into use in 1964, the same year the old mill ended operation. The total length of the track was 370 metres. The capacity of the cart was two regular or three small bundles of logs. The carts’ useful load was 34,000 kilograms. The carts were powered by two 132 kW motors. They could move 22–30 bundles per hour. The system employed a machine operator and two or three bundle loaders. For more information on bundle-rafting, see Kymi Group magazine from 1964 (in Finnish).

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