Forestry’s journey from raft to harvester

HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY. Not so long ago, hundreds of thousands of Swedes worked with manual deforestation and life-threatening timber rafting. But after World War II, forestry machines and trucks began to replace hand tools, horses, and sailors.

“I was young once upon a time, a raft of color, all the girls were like wax in my arms.” When Gösta “Snoddas” Nordgren stood in Lennart Hyland’s radio studio and sang the song “Flottarkärlek”, he immediately broke through as one of the big stars of the 1950s. But by this time one could already foresee the end of the floating era.

The heyday began in the early 1800s, when the timber trade was released in the country, and forest-owning farmers could sell timber to whomever they wanted. When Britain on a large scale began to import Swedish timber in the 1860s, steam-powered sawmills sprang up like mushrooms from the earth around our coasts.

Deforestation took place during the winters, when the snow and frost facilitated timber transports. Base roads were constructed, which were plowed and watered so that the horse-drawn timber sleds would slide more easily, between the parcels and the drop-off points at the nearest floating water.

This was called running a parcel, and the assignment was usually outsourced to the horse owners who made the lowest bid. The horse owners in turn hired the lumberjacks, who usually worked on straight chords. Their earnings could thus vary greatly depending on performance and skill.

The ax was the main tool before the log saw and the timber tail broke through towards the end of the 19th century: coarse-toothed hand saws for one or two people. The one-man saws could be supplemented with the so-called saw companion: a coil spring that was attached to the saw’s handle, and at the other end had an iron hook that was pressed into the tree trunk. In doing so, it facilitated the work by helping to retract the saw blade.

Needed sailors

Later came the hacksaw, which had a saw blade strung between the ends of a steel hoop. It facilitated the work considerably, as its thin blades required significantly less force than timber tails and log saws, and therefore became very popular in Swedish forestry. Although the modern hacksaw was developed in the United States, it is still called “swed-saw” in English-speaking countries.

When the ice melt and spring flow came, it was time to float away the timber. The dominant method was so-called loose floating, where the logs were provided with the owner’s mark at one end and then allowed to float loose. At the coast, the logs were sorted and bundled in the separation, according to owner and assortment, and delivered to sawmills, pulp mills and timber traders.

For the transport, fleet men were needed, or in short, a floater, who with the help of boat hooks made sure that the timber got through without getting stuck. The rafts were usually small farmers or forest workers who were employed seasonally by floating associations, which in turn acted as contractors for the forest owners.

The profession had a high status and a romantic shimmer, which not least “Snodda’s” immortal percussion testifies to. But the work was hard and dangerous: the rafts worked up to 16 hours a day, and they had to run and jump over wet and slippery logs.

When so-called log breaks were built up, it could take several days to break them up with boat hooks and hand power, and really large breaks had to be blasted off with dynamite. Behind the timber breakers, the water pressure was built up, so that the logs could suddenly come loose with great force. Countless rafts drowned, were crushed to death, or killed in blasting accidents. In the Ångermanälven valley, for example, there was a saying that “the river takes one life per season”.

The raft also changed the landscape. New floating trails were drawn past the rapids in blasted or built timber gutters, where the watercourse upstream of the gutter was usually dammed. Then the water was released when it was time to send away a load of timber. In steep sections, holes were drilled in the bottom of the gutter to lower the water level and thereby reduce the speed of the timber. In flat areas, streams were led in to give an extra ride.

Many floating trails passed lakes before reaching the divisions off the coast. To tow the timber over the lakes, game rafts with hand-cranked winches and long lines were used from the beginning. A joined bundle of timber was attached to the raft, after which the line was rowed to an attachment point on the opposite shore or at a mooring. When the line was attached, the line was winched in so that the raft and timber were slowly pulled across the lake.

Gradually, the game rafts were replaced by steam-powered warp boats: a timber bundle was attached to a wire, after which the warp boat went away and anchored up or moored at a buoy. Then the timber was winched into the boat, and the procedure was repeated. In this way, timber stacks of up to 100,000 logs could be handled at a time.

The flotation era reached its peak in the 1930s, when there were about 2,800 km of flotation routes in Sweden. Almost 20 million cubic meters of timber were floated per year, and around 50,000 people worked in the floating every season. Deforestation employed several hundred thousand Swedes during the winters.

But at the end of the next decade, engine noise began to be heard in the forests. The first chainsaws were heavy and clumsy, many of them required two men to handle, and they had float carburetors, which meant that they could only be used in an upright position. Soon, however, the first Swedish one-man chainsaw, Be-Bo, was launched, which was manufactured by AB Bergborrmaskiner in Varberg. It increased productivity per lumberjack, from one tree every two hours, to about four trees per hour.

And the end of World War II caused the market to be flooded with cheap vehicles from military surplus stocks. The forest companies bought off-road vehicles, tracked vehicles, tracked tractors and even armored vehicles rather indiscriminately, which were mainly used to tow (warm) timber on prepared base roads.

In clean forest terrain, however, these vehicles had limited passability with large loads of timber, and the forest companies soon began to develop their own machine concepts. Truncated trucks and modified tractors were tested, and what worked was simply sent out into practical operation.

An early pioneer was Östbergs Fabrik AB (ÖSA) in Alfta, Hälsingland, which rebuilt an ignition engine equipped with an agricultural tractor. It was equipped with a belt over the rear wheel and an extra tension wheel, and supplemented with a crane-driven crane and a simple timber wagon, it was presented to the tractor manufacturer Bolinder-Munktell in Eskilstuna.

The change of technology was started in 1962

ÖSA and Bolinder-Munktell had soon signed a cooperation agreement, and in 1957 they were able to jointly present the fully-equipped forest tractor Bamse. With a chassis and diesel engine from Bolinder-Munktell, three wheels on each side, and so-called “Alfta tires” from ÖSA, Bamse was the first dedicated forest tractor. It was built in almost 800 copies.

But the big change in technology was started in 1962 in Filipstad, where a young innovator named Lars Bruun worked at the Värmlands Skogsarbetsstudier Association. He removed the front axle of a Volvo BM Boxer tractor, so that the tractor’s mechanically driven rear wheels became the front wheels. In an articulated “waist”, the tractor was coupled to a timber trailer, which when driving on one gear had hydraulic drive on the wheels, and the agricultural tires were replaced by construction tires for increased maneuverability.

This was the first frame-controlled, all-wheel-drive forwarder, and equipped with a hydraulic crane from Hiab in Hudiksvall, it could load ten tonnes. It was named Bruunett, after its creator’s last name, and the model number one, and became an immediate success. The brunette began series production with engine and power transmission from Ford, and soon gained followers. ÖSA, Rottne Industri, Volvo BM and soon also foreign manufacturers began to produce their own forwarders during the 60s and 70s.

The technology has of course been refined since then, with hydrostatic transmission, bogie operation, more efficient cranes, and so on. But Lars Bruun’s basic concept – frame steering and tractor front with removed front wheels – is still the dominant one in Swedish forestry today.

During the 1970s, fellers, processors and other machines were designed for felling, pruning and cutting trees, and by the end of the decade the first harvests were being built. This resulted in a machine that alone handled all the steps: the harvester fells, branches and measures the trunks, and cuts them into ready-made assortments for different areas of use such as sawing timber, pulp timber, and more. The forwarder then transports the timber to the depot, where it is loaded on timber trucks.

Because in parallel with the machines replacing horses, axes and saws, truck transports began to replace floating. Both cars and roads improved, while the timber dimensions decreased, which led to more timber falling during floating. The timber trucks simply became more profitable, and gradually the timber transport was moved from the watercourses to the roads.

In southern Sweden, flotation had basically ceased in the 1960s. On the Dalälven it continued until 1970, on the Ångermanälven until 1979, and on the Piteälven until 1982. Sweden’s last active fleet route was the Klarälven, where the last load of pulpwood to the Skoghallsverken outside Karlstad went in 1991.

Source: Nyteknik – Senaste nytt by

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