The Nichols Chisholm Logging Camp and Headquarters

THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION WAS COMPILED BY NUMEROUS LLL RESIDENTS WITH THE HELP OF SOME REGIONAL HISTORICAL SOCIETIES IN PREPARATION FOR THE DEDICATION OF THE HISTORIC MONUMENT THE LAKE ASSOCIATION ERECTED AT THE HEADQUARTER’S CHIMNEY ON CHIMNEY ROAD. BECKY BERGERSON THEN ASSEMBLED THE INFORMATION INTO A READABLE FORM.

HEADQUARTERS CAMP

In 1904 the Nichols Chisholm Lumber Company, a Shevlin partnership, gained control of the Commonwealth Lumber Company whose large mill was located in Frazee MN. Nichols Chisholm acquired a large parcel of pine forest from the White Earth Reservation and established a Headquarters Camp at the south end of what is now known as Long Lost Lake in southern Clearwater County.

1917 Nichols Chisholm Headquarters Camp at the south end of Long Lost Lake

1917 Nichols Chisholm Headquarters Camp at the south end of Long Lost Lake

This large operation employed five hundred men between the headquarters and the seven out camps within a fifteen-mile radius. The main camp was a small community deep in the woods miles from anywhere.

Headquarters Camp 1916

Headquarters Camp 1916

It consisted of a roundhouse that included the blacksmith shop, an office, two bunkhouses and a store along with three horse barns for over two hundred horses. The kitchen and dining room was about one hundred feet long and thirty feet wide with four tables, one in each quarter. Each table was set for fifty men. The best cooks available were hired. Some permanent workers had their own homes.

Inside Headquarters Camp Nichols-Chisholm Lumber Company

Inside Headquarters Camp Nichols-Chisholm Lumber Company

Headquarters Camp operated all year, logs were hauled nearly all summer. Besides the loggers there were blacksmiths, machinists, mechanics, ferriers, saw filers, axe grinders, cooks and camp flunkies. There were woodcutters who supplied the wood for the kitchen, to heat the buildings and power all the steam powered engines and machinery. The clerk that handled the payroll had his own house and driving team.

1908 Clerks office in the Headquarters Camp.  Frank K. Gravel, Inspector, standing 2nd from the left.

1908 Clerks office in the Headquarters Camp. Frank K. Gravel, Inspector, standing 2nd from the left.

He visited the smaller camps at least three times a week to check on supplies. There also was about eighty acres under cultivation, some milk cows, pigs, and a large garden. Jack Meister was the superintendent of the logging operation at Headquarters Camp.

The average camp had twenty sledding teams of horses in the woods each day. It took five men and a team about an hour to load a load of logs. The swampers were the labor crew. There would be forty or fifty of these men, tramping trails cutting the tall timber that was in the way of the sledding teams, trimming trees and helping out in any way they could. There would be about ten saws falling the trees, three men to a saw, two sawyers and an axeman to undercut the trees. About forty men, two per saw, would be bucking up, that means measuring and cutting the trees into logs.

Sledding Team

Sledding Team

C.W. and Art Snyder, ages 15 and 18

C.W. and Art Snyder, ages 15 and 18

By 1908 it became more and more impractical to sleigh haul timber and construction was began on the Nichols Chisholm railroad. It was a unique land locked railroad and did not connect to any other railroad. Logs were sleigh hauled to various points along the railroad, loaded onto cars and railed to Commonwealth Landing on Elbow Lake. There they would be dumped from the trestle, assembled into booms, towed across a chain of lakes and driven down the Ottertail River to the mill at Frazee. During the winter they would be stockpiled on various area lakes near spurs of the railroad.

Nichols Chisholm logging train

Nichols Chisholm logging train

The company used four locomotives, all wood burners. The first engine was known as One Spot and was an American type rod engine. The next three were Lima Shays numbered 2, 3 and 4. The Shays were used for the heavier work of hauling on the rougher spurs as they were slower but more powerful while One Spot was used to haul on the main grade between Headquarters and the Elbow Lake landing.

Nichols Chisholm engine.

Nichols Chisholm engine. his Shay was one of the three smaller locomotives operated on narrow gauge railroad spurs hauling longs to the main line. The main line used standard gauge rails. This picture was taken in 1910. Pictured are J. Gear, Cecil Cox and Loren Lemon.

Steam Jammers straddling track over which Empty cars were pulled into position for loading

Steam Jammers straddling track over which Empty cars were pulled into position for loading

Steam Jammer straddling track over Note Lima Engine

Steam Jammer straddling track over Note Lima Engine

In 1917 the timber was about depleted and men became scarce because of World War I. The company started to wind up operations and by 1918 had ended logging in the area. The rails were pulled up as the spur tracks seized operating. The Lima engines were dismantled and shipped elsewhere. The One Spot was partially dismantled and left in the woods.

Before they left, in an attempt to get rid of the slash they had failed to burn in the winter, the spark screens were pulled from the locomotives and they were run up and down the tracks throwing out embers. The resulting fires got rid of the slash but also burned through the forest, leaving charred stumps and fire damaged trees that can still be seen today. Railroad spikes along with roads that follow the railroad grades are other reminders of this busy time in the great pine forests of southern Clearwater County and the area around Long Lost Lake.

Map of the area around the Nichols Chisholm Headquarters Camp and Railroad

Map of the area around the Nichols Chisholm Headquarters Camp and Railroad

An interesting localnote about the Nichols Chisholm Lumber Company and Headquarters Camp was provided in a 12/07/2007 letter from Long Lost Lake property owner Dan Chilton. Dan writes, “In the summer of 1872 a company consisting of Absalom Campbell, Charles Campbell, William Chilton and Timothy W. Chilton (my grandfather) built a dam on the Ottertail River and constructed a sawmill, near what is now Frazee, Minnesota. They operated the mill for a short time and then sold it to R.L. Frazee. Frazee added a flourmill. These mills burned in 1889. Mr. Frazee sold the property to A.H.Wilcox, who rebuilt the dam and the mill. In 1897 he sold the property to the Commonwealth Lumber Company. This company was reorganized in 1904 and became the Nichols Chisholm Lumber Company.” (Taken from the publication “Frazee Yesterday and Today 1891-1966”)  Chilton further writes, “It was the policy of the lumber company to hire teams of horses from the local farmers to be used during the winter months. My grandfather would lease two of his farm teams, thus saving winter feed and receiving income. About once a month he would butcher and one or more of his sons would take a load of meat to the lumber camp, sell the meat, collect the team rent and check on the condition of the horses. One of those sons was my father, Edward G. Chilton.”

Another local resident Greg Scherzer reports his great grandfather Otto Scherzer and grandfather George Scherzer Sr. also rented horses in this manner to the lumber company from their homeplace in Callaway MN.